As I alluded to in my Post Season Evaluation article, now is the time to begin making changes for next year. I’d like to share with you how I tackle my end of season reflection when it comes to dog training so I can grow with my dog over the months between now and next opening day.
The very first thing I like to do when evaluating where I’m at with my dog is to make a list of “Good and Bad”. The Good are the things I’m pleased with or the things I think Mackinaw does well, the Bad are things he and I need to work on. For example, Mack hunts dead better than any dog I’ve ever owned, his nose is exceptional and I recognized this when he was very young. In fact, right or wrong he often hunts with his nose in the air like a pointing dog, I’ve seen very few labs able to do this effectively but he does. That is a mark in the Good column but due to this ability I’ve been lax at making him super solid with hand signals.
An example of Bad for us is that Mackinaw isn’t the steadiest dog in the field. In fact, if I don’t completely trust the people I’m hunting with on a dry land hunt I won’t take him as I don’t want him getting shot. He’ll be in the truck on stand by for cripples but not in the field. This is something that I’ve been lazy on. He’s rock solid during training sessions and steady over water but breaks horribly when it’s game time on dry land.
Previously I stated that I’m a bit lax with hand signals because I trust my dog’s nose. I have a tendency to get him close and let that marvelous nose do the work. The downside to this is that when I really need to stop him and direct him he doesn’t always listen immediately. He will “check in” once he starts having difficulty finding a bird and then I can dial him in tighter. That falls into the “Bad” column and is something we are always working on.
However, another check in the Good column for Mack is obedience… he is incredibly compliant and will honor my commands to astonishing ends. For example, I can and do call him off of birds that I deem are too dangerous to retrieve. I’ve witnessed dogs perish on our western rivers because they were swept under ice shelves or into sweepers and log jams. I’ve also seen more close calls than I care to count. Being able to keep your dog from these perils is imperative. In fact, now that I think about it, Mack’s steadiness over water is a mark in the Good column and with some work we should be able to get it to translate to dry land.
I could obviously go on breaking down the Good and Bad of my dog but I think the point has been made. Evaluate, set goals and work toward those goals in the coming months.
There is one more thing I’d like to say regarding this topic; there’s no need to feel bad if you don’t have the time, wherewithal, or to be honest, the inclination to work on these things yourself. I prefer a DIY approach but that’s me, I know an awful lot of folks who go the professional trainer route and that’s just fine, in fact knowing yourself well enough to employ outside assistance is a good thing. However, if you’re a DIY guy I’d highly recommend using an online training course such as Cornerstone Gundog Academy to help you get the most out of your training. However, you go about it, the time is now to begin making corrections for next season.