Deer Dog Training Part 4
Deer Dog Training – Fly tracked and winded her way through the bluffs, literally following her nose. We were soon making our way down a tight goat trail under over hanging cliffs that were lined with goat sign. Finally I saw Fly hit a fresh mark. She started tracking with more intensity, and her nose stayed closer to the ground. A quick inspection revealed only the occasional light scuff mark in the beach leaves, but I knew I didn’t have to question the dog. I just followed.
We tracked up hill for a couple of hundred meters and then through a wide zig zag up the face before we turned and started sidling into the wind. Time and distance rolled over and soon we had been tracking for almost an hour and we had covered 1000 meters. Fly started working the steady breeze, then she finally switched from tracking to winding, and started to stalk. She got slower and slower and started stopping to look and listen, then she finally locked up staring up through the Beech trees. After a while I heard a stick snap and a quiet bleat. The goats were behind a wind fall and I would have to be very careful approaching. The bush was open, with nowhere to hide, and I was close enough that any change in wind would blow the whole thing. After some careful manoeuvring, I could see a nanny, but I knew there was more there and I wasn’t in a good enough position. The nanny walked into a small dip allowing me to move further around the face to where I could see a billy happily feeding, then I spotted a half grown juvenile just above him. I watched and waited until I was sure there were only 3. Then I shot the billy through the shoulders and reloaded as the nanny ran out of the dip and stopped right on cue. She dropped to the shot, and the juvie was easy pickings from there. I let Fly take me from goat to goat, tailed them and marked the kills on the GPS. We were over a kilometre away from where we first tracked off through the bluffs. Fly had taken me strait to the only 3 goats on that whole face, and all she wanted for doing it, was the chance to do it again.
So far I’ve gone over everything I done to get Fly ready for her first hunt. This time I will go over what I did to get her hunting off to the best start possible. First I want to go over two ideas that are very useful at this stage and I will end with another that is very useful all the way through. I will go over what I done with Fly on her first few hunts in between these ideas.
Deer Dog Training – First exposure / A dogs first hunt
Deer Dog Training – The way a dog deals with any new situation is very important. This is the way they can naturally fall back to when they get excited, under pressure, or have to react quickly. You can change this default setting, but it is something that can take one moment to set up, and a huge amount of work to change. So if you deal with a dogs first exposure to any situation in the right way, you reap the rewards. Do it wrong, and you can have a real battle on your hands. It is incredible, the changes and lasting effect (positive and negative) one moment can have. So it is important to plan everything and only let your dog do things the right way. Especially the first time.
Deer Dog Training – Training with success.
Deer Dog Training – Training with success is the most powerful dog training tool of all. Because a dog will repeat what ever behaviour has brought it success in the past. So if you shoot a deer over a dog while it is doing something wrong you are training it to keep doing something wrong. If you shoot a deer over a dog when it is doing everything right, you are training it that you succeed when it does everything right, and that good behaviour will be repeated. So it is very important that your dog is doing everything right. Especially with it’s first deer.
Wait until your dog is steady, quiet and points the deer before you shoot it. This is setting up the dogs default setting for exactly what you want. This way, later on, when the pressure comes on and things are happening quickly, your dog will be steady and doing what you want automatically. Then you can start mixing things up, and shoot a animals your dog isn’t pointing.
First exposure and training with success are very powerful tools that can only be combined once for every new situation your dog faces. So make your dogs first deer count, and be prepared to sacrifice animals to get it right. You will get them back ten fold once your dog is going well.
Deer Dog Training – Walking in front.
Deer Dog Training – I kept Fly in front, all of the time during her first hunt. This was tedious as she was unsure of her self at times. I let her take her time, and gently encouraged her, using the commands I had set up in previous training. The walk in front, turn, and stop. All I focused on all day was keeping her in front, and nice and close. I was careful not to put too much pressure on her. Instead, I focused on keeping her happy and confident. Within a few hours she was confidently working in front, taking direction and hunting well.
Deer Dog Training – Following the dog.
Deer Dog Training – The best way to build confidence and drive in a young deer dog is to follow it everywhere it goes. This is how you show the dog that you trust it, and that you’re interested in what it has to show you. It is important that you show the dog that you are committed to following it when it is onto a deer. Fly’s first exposure to deer was that when we got onto one, we stayed on it, and that I would back her up no matter what.
If your dog wants to take you somewhere on a wind or ground scent, during it’s first few hunts, just follow it for as long as you can. Later on, we can start to pick and choose, (I will talk about this later) but we teach a dog to lead, and take us to animals by following it. It’s very simple.
Deer Dog Training – Encouraging the stop.
Deer Dog Training – If your dog wants to stop, look, smell and listen, for any reason on these first few hunts, just let it. I want a deer dog to be careful, patient and observant, so I want to nurture and encourage this type of behaviour. I never rush Fly, and if she ever gets to fast or impatient I carefully encourage her to slow down. The only time I told her to move on, on her first few hunts, was if she completely relaxed and sat down, or if she acknowledged a non target species.
Deer Dog Training – Dealing with non target species in the bush.
Deer Dog Training – I briefly went over this last time, but there are 2 more important points I want to go over now. The main thing is to be very careful when disciplining a dog for taking you to non target species. I treat every indication as a target animal until proven otherwise beyond all doubt. I have found, that if a dog takes me in on enough target animals, one day there will be a possum, a hare, a bird or something else along the way that will momentarily distract the dog. So if the dog does acknowledge a non target species while on a hunt, I don’t automatically assume, that, that is what the dog is hunting. These non target species might just be a distraction on the way to a deer that is just over the next rise. I try to keep calm, quietly turn the dog away from the non target animal and encourage it to keep hunting.
The other key point on this topic, is that you don’t have to discipline a dog to teach it not to hunt certain animals. If everything is controlled, and a dog is only indicating as it should, calmly saying “leave it” and walking away works much better than serious negative reinforcement. Doing it this way keeps your relationship with the dog in good shape, and there are no knocks to the dogs confidence.
So I only shoot the animals I want to target and I turn away from, everything else. Fly quickly learnt what the target species were doing it this way.
Deer Dog Training – After the shot.
I get Fly to take me to every animal I shoot, even if it is laying on the ground right in front of me. And I get her to take me to every animal as if it isn’t shot at all. This is how I teach a dog to find wounded animals. I teach them on the easy ones, so the hard ones are easy. This is all in preparation for the worst case scenario, which is an animal that is wounded, but still fully mobile. In this case I want Fly to stalk after the deer very carefully, so I can get another shot. By treating all animals as if they can still run, it is the only way Fly knows how to do it. If the animal is dead, we easily find it, if it is heavily wounded, we stalk it and easily get another shot, and if it is lightly wounded and still fully mobile, we have the best chance of catching up to it as quickly as possible, and finishing it off humanely, without pushing it any further than we have to, or causing it any unnecessary stress. This is very important. I never send my dog out after a deer on it’s own.
I use a command for finding the animal after the shot. So when I shoot an animal, I give Fly that command, encourage her to find the animal, and praise her when she does. Doing it this way Fly quickly learnt that it was her job to take me to all of my kills. And it doesn’t matter to her if it’s 1 meter away, or 1 kilometre away, she will take me to it every time.
Deer Dog Training – Pulling off animals.
Deer Dog Training – I’ve already talked about the importance of following the dog on all it’s indications during it’s first few hunts to build confidence and drive, and I mentioned how later on you can pick and choose. What I meant by this is, once you have shot a good few animals over a dog and it is hunting very well you can call it off a scent and move onto another one. You might do this if the dog is tracking a deer on a ground scent, but the wind is wrong. Or you might be rushing back to camp in the evening, already overloaded with meat, when your dog wants to take you on a mission for another deer. In these cases you should acknowledge the dogs work. Turn with them and face the way they are trying to take you and give them some praise. Just a quick pat and a “good dog” in an appreciative tone is enough. Then choose a command for pulling away, give that command, and turn away. Keep it positive. Never growl at the dog or say leave it in a firm tone. You are saying “thanks, but no thanks”. If you do this right, you can call a dog off animals with no loss of drive at all.
Deer Dog Training – Balancing Pressure to maintain drive.
Deer Dog Training – Last issue I said I would go over “balancing pressure to maintain drive”. This is very important to understand if you want to get the best out of your dog. It is also a huge subject. I will try to keep it as simple as possible.
The main area where it is possible to decrease drive by applying too much pressure to a deer dog is through applying pressure to keep it close. Most dogs will want to pull further away as they gain confidence and drive through success. Even the best dogs need consistent handling with well trained commands to be as effective as possible. I have found, to expect a dog to stay at a set distance, all day, on it’s own, is to expect too much. The situation is beyond their understanding and reasoning. Also, a set distance for deer stalking is not ideal at all. Country and conditions change, and a dog needs freedom to work, track, wind and hunt to it’s full potential. The good news is, if we train a good dog properly, then it will stop when we ask it to stop, and it will move forward when we ask it to move forward. We can also have a turn command, and a well trained deer dog will naturally follow our direction of travel while staying in front. So we have all the tools we need to keep the dog at whatever distance we want. It is all up to us. What this means is, there is never any reason to place excessive pressure on a dog. If a dog is ever in the wrong place, or doing the wrong thing it is because we haven’t trained it correctly or we haven’t been consistent enough in our handling. Again, it isn’t about disciplining a dog with negative reinforcement. This should be a very rare occurrence. If things aren’t going our way, we need to work out what we can do to change them. We should never blame the dog.
When good dogs are well trained and handled consistently, in a way they can understand they develop incredible talent and drive. A great dog really is a wonder of nature on so many levels. Do the right thing by them, and they will give you more in return than you will ever be able to give back.
Next time I will go over my favourite ways of hunting over Fly, and some key points to getting the best out of your deer dog. There is still a lot to talk about.
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