How to train a deer dog – I pulled out my GPS and set a go to for a low saddle with a nice looking gut running out from it’s far side. It was about 800 meters away and I let my mind wander as Fly trotted along in front. She only needed the occasional turn whistle to keep her heading in the right direction, and another low whistle to slow her down. Other than that, nothing was said. Tessa wandered along behind and got the occasional pat on the head as I stopped for a breather or a listen.
Soon enough we climbed the last few meters up the face and hit the ridge top right in the saddle. Fly trotted forwards with her nose in the air as we hit the warm breeze climbing up out of the gut. She lifted her tail so the little white tip pointed strait up in the air, and stood dead still looking, listening and winding. I waited, leaving Fly to make the next move. After a while she started quietly making her way down through the big pepper woods. She easily moved in near silence, while I had to step awkwardly over, under and around branches, sticks and leaves. 100 meters on, I quietly slipped a round into the chamber and flicked the safety on. I could tell we were getting close now. Fly was stopping every 10 or 15 meters to look and listen. She got slower and slower, and more tense as we neared the target. We had traveled a good 200 meters down from the saddle before Fly finally locked up. She had pinpointed the animal now and was as stiff as a bored. Her little tail was curled up so hard that the white tip now pointed up and slightly forwards. Everything about her body language was telling me that she knew a deer was right in front of us. She hadn’t seen the deer yet, but she had a direct wind from very close by, or she had heard it moving.
I stood waiting and listening, then I heard some quiet swishing and snapping sounds. I gave Fly a quiet “hiss” to make her stay where she was and held a flat palm in front of Tessa’s face for her to do the same. Then I started taking careful sideways steps, one at a time. Each step opened up a new sight path down into the gut. I carefully looked and waited for something to move after each step, but each time I waited I heard the quiet snapping and swishing sound coming from further around the corner. Finally I took the step that had me looking right where the sounds were coming from and strait away I saw antlers, then a bit of an ear and half a head. Finally the stag lifted his head from feeding, revealing his whole head and neck, plain as day less than 20 meters away. I glanced back at the dogs and everyone one was still where they should be, so I slowly raised my rifle and braced it against a handy pepper wood. The old mate didn’t know what hit him as I shot him right behind the ear. Fly had her first stag.
How to train a deer dog – Part 2
How to train a deer dog – Last time I gave you a bit of background about heading dogs and how I chose Fly. This time I’m going to tell you how I began her training. I am not going to go into the details of training every command like sit, come, stay and other general things like introduction to gunfire, water, and vehicles. These things are all whole articles in them selves and have been written about before. In this series I will stick to the things that apply to deer work and the specifics of what I have done with Fly.
Remember Fly was 5 1/2 months old at this stage. I got her going very quickly and early, but every dogs different. If you are starting out with a very young pup you should get your basics like sit, stay and come sorted and only move onto this type of training when your pup is ready.
How to train a deer dog – Long lines.
Long lines are nothing new in dog training. They have been widely used for a long time. A long line is a simple, long, light lead which gives you some form of control over the dog instead of having it running free while you train it. I use 4mm nylon cord with a small loop tied in one end. (See photo) You can either hold the long line in your hand or let the dog drag it around and stand on it when you need to stop the dog. How you use it depends on what your training for at the time.
Like I said, long lines are nothing new, but I will give a couple of very simple examples for those that might not be familiar with them.
Instead of calling the dog and hoping it comes. You can call it and gently pull it towards you with the long line. Do this with a dog that has no recall at all and it will be coming when called very quickly. Or instead of asking a dog to get in it’s kennel and then chasing it around the section trying to catch it if it doesn’t listen, you lead it into it’s kennel with the long line. It’s so simple that it sounds silly, but a lot of peoples dogs won’t come when they are called and won’t get in their kennels when they are told. And here’s the key. If at any stage you ask the dog to do something and it doesn’t listen, you have taken the long line off too soon. Every time you give the dog an opportunity to disobey a command is teaching the dog that it doesn’t have to listen to you. This is taking huge steps backwards and changing the way your dog looks at you forever. Avoiding this last situation is what the long line is all about.
In summary, long lines are a very easy and effective way of training that builds a good relationship between the dog and handler because you don’t have to yell at the dog, intimidate it or bribe it to make it listen to you. You can stay calm and happy while you gently guide the dog through each lesson and the dog never gets the opportunity to not comply. This way compliance becomes habit, the dog listens to you and is happy to do so.
How to train a deer dog – Walking in front.
Walking slowly out in front is an indicating dogs position of work, so this is where you want them to feel comfortable. I taught Fly to walk in front before I taught her anything else like a heel or a sit or even a stop. It was very simple and doing it this way worked very well. All I did was took her out into the paddock at home, gave her my chosen walk in front command (two short high pitched whistles) and let her go with the long line attached. I followed her around as she explored the empty paddock and stood on the long line every time she was about to go too far away. I kept her within about 5 meters. At this stage I didn’t give any command when I stood on the long line. This way the only thing Fly had to relate the corrections to was the distance between me and her. I kept the distance at which I stood on the long line consistent and and she picked it up very quickly. I was taking Her out for 10 minutes 3 or 4 times a day. She was walking nicely in front and keeping an eye on me within a week.
How to train a deer dog – Stop.
Next I taught Fly a stop command by giving her the chosen stop command (a low whistle) while she walked in front, and standing on the long line half a second later. Then we would wait a while. (I kept the length of times different so Fly didn’t try to anticipate the stop ending) Then I gave her my chosen walk in front command (the double peep whistle) and we moved on.
This is all we done for over a month. Fly was either in her kennel, or walking around out in the paddock, with the long line on, just keeping her close and running the stop drills over and over and over. It sounds boring and it was at times, but to Fly she was just going for a walk and was always happy to get out in the paddock. The long line was just a fact of life for her. She didn’t mind it at all and complying with commands became automatic. I kept running these drills until I was putting her through her paces and I didn’t have to touch the long line once for over a week. She was doing it all on her own.
Note: Don’t over do the stop drills. 4 or 5 in a 10 minute session is plenty. Focus on quality, not quantity.
How to train a deer dog – Turn.
At this stage I added a turn whistle. This is used in the bush when Fly is heading one way and I want her to go the other. To train a turn I gave Fly’s turn command, (two short whistles of changing tone) and simply walk in the direction I want to go or indicate the direction by pointing. Because I have done so much work on her ‘walk in-front’ and Fly is so comfortable there, when I do this for the first time, she turns with me, and stays in front, heading in whatever direction I am walking in. Fly picked this up fairly automatically and so should any dog that is comfortable walking in front, but you could use the long line to train this as well. Do this by giving your turn command, and turning the dog with a pull on the long line, and then let it take over walking in front as you walk in the new direction. Repeat this drill a few times and the dog will be turning when it hears the command and happily taking over in front. Now you have a turn command. It will come in very handy later on.
How to train a deer dog – Heel.
Next I taught Fly to heel. A good heel is a must for any dog and it is very easy to train. I use a voice command for this. I use “get in”, but you can use anything you like. To train heel, first I need the dog walking in front, then I give my heel command and gently pull the dog in behind with the long line and keep it there as I walk. If the dog tries to walk back in front I give my heel command again, change direction and pull the dog back in behind me all simultaneously. The change of direction really speeds the process up. You shouldn’t have any trouble with this. Heel is very easy to teach because the dog has a clear physical boundary to stay behind, which is you.
How to train a deer dog – Wrapping up.
Walk in front, stop, turn, and heel. These are Fly’s main commands. I have added a few more as we’ve gone along and I will talk about these in later issues.
Next time I will go over what I done to get Fly’s hunting off to the best start possible. This starts at home and on her first few hunts.
For a full step by step video series with everything you need to train your own deer dog from start to finish, check out The Deer Dog Training Blue Print.
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