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(First in a series, if nobody takes too much offense!)

I get thousands of questions every year from viewers of my TV show. I try to provide helpful answers to all of them … on the show, in messages and emails, and on Facebook, where fans usually have much better responses than mine!

But some questions are just too tempting to let languish as written, let alone put to rest with good advice or an insightful comment. They are sincere and earnest, but for some reason they’re crying out for an insincere answer … if you take them with a grain of salt, tweak a word or two, or just have the right (or wrong) attitude. To those whose (altered) questions are answered below, thank you for your kindness – you are the Dean Martin to my Jerry Lewis. Don’t we all need a few more laughs in our lives?

Oh, and kids: don’t try any of this at home. Don’t let your parents try, either.

Q: For someone who is starting out with his first hunting dog, what can I expect to go wrong? Thanks, Clew Liss.

A: The editor says there are not enough bits or bytes here to answer your question in this blog. Please purchase my new 1,438-page book on the topic. Here is some advice from Chapter 367, “Minor adjustments to your lifestyle”:

Invest in a GPS collar – it’s good insurance should your spouse decide to leave you as she’ll be much easier to find. Practice sleeping on the couch. Don’t worry about other hobbies, non-hunting friends and relatives, as the laws of physics and the space-time continuum will eliminate any free time you had pre-puppy.

And from Chapter 762, “Economizing with your new dog”: buy paper towels by the truckload, but forego expensive chew toys as the leg of your wife’s heirloom Louis XIV armoire is already paid for. Go to veterinary school. Dog food is an expensive luxury as long as you leave the door to the walk-in pantry open.

Q: What is the best method to convince your children to not undo your dog’s training? Signed, Bigmis Take.

A: I would build outside kennels. While it may get cold and wet, they’ll get used to it, and the whining and yelping should cease fairly quickly. In the long run you’ll have fewer behavioral problems. Supply plenty of fresh water, offer some indoor time to socialize, and take your dog out periodically to visit them.

Sometimes, things just work out. Those “best-laid plans of mice and men” actually are best. Maybe you have a similar story; here’s mine:

I’m working hard on Flick’s pointing the moment he hits scent cone, rather than creeping in to see the bird – or launcher. I’d say on training pigeons he’s 80% reliable, so we are getting there as long as my pigeon supply holds out!

But yesterday, it was the bonus during one training session that clinched things. After two good performances on training birds, Flick locked up again. Hmmmm.

As I approached, a valley quail skittered away in the sage brush. Flick stood, skitter-less in the face of temptation. At the little bird’s flight, he broke, eventually returning to stand again where he started.

It’s progress.

What’s your report?

Right now. Hurry up.

Timing really is everything. So is “thinking like a dog.”

Look up “immediate gratification” in the dictionary (it’s a fat, heavy book with a lot of words in it – look it up, er, well, you do remember those, right?) and you’ll see a picture of my dog Flick. I’ve written and spoken many times about how I believe dogs think in a linear fashion, and how timing any command/praise/correction is critical, must fit into the tiny niche allowed in the dog’s thought process.

Virtually every good trainer knows or at least senses this. Among the pro’s I’ve worked with, most will use it to their advantage, whether they know it or not. But a recent conversation with Brad Higgins of Higgins Gun Dogs put an exclamation point on the topic. See if it might help you both train a little better …

It is the belief of many, including me, that a dog only has room in his head for one thing, a single next step, solitary priority. In most cases, that priority is in his best interests, not ours. Bird, food, safety, comfort, love, come to mind (hey, we’re talking dogs here!). When Flick gets what he wants, he has then cleared his mental inventory and has room for the next need/want/priority. And maybe, just maybe, your command.

Would it help if we fit our priorities into our dog’s logistics? Probably. Of course, if you’re a master trainer with different methods/motives, or have access to unlimited cooperative wild birds year-round, you can ignore my suggestions. But for the rest of us, just sayin’.

Example: Flick is working on locking up the moment he scents bird. No “roading,” creeping, or dilly-dallying until he actually sees the bird or the bird launcher. On bare chukar slopes or behind a covey of scampering valley quail, we might get one more safe shot per day with him pointing sooner rather than later.

Instinctively, he will do this. Or, enough “wild” birds may teach him. Unless he’s gotten away with the sneaky behaviors noted above or worst, caught a planted bird. Which Flick did, several weeks ago. So, we are back to Square One, carefully stage-managing his search to ensure he hits the scent cone hard and with nearby adult supervision. Once he’s pointing, the bird flies ASAP and so does a dead bird he can redeem as his reward for a job well done.

Point-flush-retrieve is 5-10 seconds total because well, he’s a puppy, and an instant payoff is the fastest way to learn. In other situations, the dog’s goal may be different – food, girls/boys, going home … and we need to keep that in mind and use it to our advantage – we are supposed to be smarter than our pupils.

Yes, we are extending the length of each portion and some day, (some day!) it will be a leisurely approach to a steady dog, some picture-taking, loading and closing the fine English SXS, and finally, a flush. Once the smoke has cleared, the still-quivering-but-otherwise-solid Flick will be released to retrieve – to hand, of course. I just hope my baseball-catcher’s knees hold up until then!

The point is, thinking about what a dog wants is one thing. Thinking about what a dog wants right now, is a different kettle of fish. Speed up your thinking process and you may speed up your training, too.

What’s your plan?

One of our goals – retrieve to hand, every time.

On a long drive back from the last TV shoot of the season yesterday, I reflected on a number of priorities for this spring and summer … anticipating fall with a mature Flick, more “fun” hunt time than usual, and a chance to explore the west a bit more than most years.

Rising above it all were my expectations for Flick’s training and how I could help rather than hinder. You know that feeling, too, I’ll bet. There are times we might be better off letting the birds teach our dog!

Toward that end, to help me and perhaps you, here are some random thoughts for “training season.”

  1. Think like a dog. Understanding his perspective (literally and figuratively) might be a sound foundation on which to build expectations and teach skills. He really is all about pleasing himself, not you. The sooner you understand that his goal is bird-in-mouth, not a pat on the head from his human, the better. And if you’re thinking fear of the e-collar is the best motivator, please stop reading and sell your dog.
  2. Be consistent. New command, new word. Always use the same one. In my own mind, I’m trying to work through the command and outcome before I start teaching it. I’ve played with some pretty famous musicians, and none of them ever regret a dress rehearsal.
  3. Raise the bar. If a dog is “phoning it in,” he’s not challenged enough. Yes, repetition is how dogs learn. But why not raise your expectations and forestall boredom for both of you? Retrieves from the table, blind retrieves and dead bird searches are all similar, but incrementally more difficult versions of the same command/skill.
  4. Baby steps. Dogs only have room for the next thought. Pile too many on top of that, and he might retrieve your cat. Classical musicians learn the hard parts first, no matter where they are in the score. I take that a step farther and start at the last portion so it gets easier as we learn.
  5. Think twice before you set up training scenarios. Who doesn’t love a dog slamming into a rock-solid point, then maintaining that rigidity through the wing-shot-fall? Consider the worst case before you bring your dog into the picture and stage-manage it for flawless execution. In this case, know the wind direction, use a checkcord if you need to, ensure the bird can’t be caught, and if necessary, have a gunner drop that bird so you can concentrate on the dog.

You have your own list and I wish you luck. Add to this one, if you like, in the comments section or on Facebook. Maybe we can compare notes in the field this fall.

This week on the show …

This week on Pursuit Channel “We Deliver The Outdoors” Monday 10 p.m. Pacific, Tuesday 8 a.m. Eastern and Saturday at 9:30 PM Eastern …

Southwest Kansas has seen some good hatches, and “Wild West Country” had one of the best last year. We explore Horsethief Reservoir’s pheasant habitat with shotgun world record holder Dave Miller of CZ-USA, get a look at a new CZ shotgun, and learn a lot about shooting and wild ringnecks.

Learn more about dog training, public-land access, win a hunting trip to Ruggs Ranch, get shooting tips and wild-game cooking advice too!

Pursuit is available on Dish Network Ch. 393 and DirecTV Ch. 604, and a ton of other streaming, FIOS and other set-top and online devices.

Wingshooting USA is made possible by: Fiocchi Ammunition CZ-USA YETI Cabela’s

Training time: huh?

Beeper, bell, brush … it may not be disobedience as much as noise!

Next time your dog disobeys you, don’t jump to the inevitable conclusion. It may not be recalcitrance. He may not be stubborn. There’s a chance he’s not disobeying. Did you ever think he may not be able to hear your commands?

When I attached a video camera to one of my dogs, it was clear from the playback that there are vision challenges when looking to a tall human for direction. Thanks to the microphone on that camera, I’ve learned that it’s an audio circus down there, too.

Depending on who you believe, dogs hear up to ten times better than us. So, many of the annoying little pops and crackles we hear sound like a freeway accident to him. Think about what he encounters down there: tags jingling from his collar, or a bell, brush crashing, screeching wind, footfalls on dry leaves, maybe a beeper collar right behind his ears, his own panting. All might be overpowering your frantic commands yelled into that auditory chaos.

Or, your Lab’s ears might be hammered by a flock of Canada geese honking, or the churn of moving water as he looks to you for a line. Maybe there’s another whining dog in the blind, or at a hunt test there could be dozens of barking dogs staked out nearby. It’s no wonder dogs bungle their job once in a while … they can’t hear our commands for all the chaos at ground level.

If there’s doubt in your mind about whether your dog can hear you, why not add hand signals or a whistle just in case? Or, call his name and wait for acknowledgement before giving the command. Then you’ll be able to recognize the difference between disobedience and distraction, and he’ll be a better hunting partner.

We pay, they don’t

Zero. Zilch. Nada. He doesn’t, but we DO pay.

In every speech, at all the presentations I do, it is still surprising to learn how few of us know this, so bear with me as we delve into ancient history for a moment. Back in the depths of that “real” depression in the 1930’s hunters banded together (anglers followed a parallel path) and begged Congress to tax us. Yep, tax us, when millions were out of work and the country was languishing.

We succeeded when the Pittman-Robertson Act became law in 1937, and created the Federal Aid to Wildlife funding mechanism. It has since raised 12 billion dollars that goes from the Feds, back to state wildlife management agencies to pay for staff, land, management, equipment, and related projects. Here’s how it works:

Guns and ammo are levied with a 10-11 percent excise tax when they are transferred from the manufacturer to the dealer or distributor, so we end-buyers never actually see it. But you’d see the damage if that tax wasn’t imposed. Ditto if fewer of us bought hunting licenses, paid the upland surcharge or waterfowl tag.

There’d likely be no game wardens enforcing our laws. Biologists would be history. Walk-in hunting would simply go away. Trap-and-transplant programs, gone. In most states, P-R funds make up 75 to 85 percent of a game department’s budget, so all we’d have left is a few pencil-pushers at the state capitol, riding herd on a few do-nothing staffers. It would be the Wild West again, and wildlife would lose.

Because the ugly truth is, mountain bikers don’t contribute a nickel and the guy shooting calendar photos of deer and ducks hasn’t paid a dime. Foodies who rave about “wild game” cuisine, hikers, wildlife watchers and kayakers pay zilch to support the wildlife they swoon over while complaining about us getting in the way of their view.

Sometimes I say it just to get their hackles up, but if those Audubon Society members want to really help their ruby-throated hummingbirds, if the little old ladies in tennis shoes want to ensure there are always cuddly critters to amuse them in the woods, they should buy a hunting license. And a duck stamp. And a shotgun or two.

But ultimately, we all know that ain’t gonna happen. It’s up to us. So turning more couch potatoes/harried parents/interested observers into hunters is the only way there will be game to chase and critters to marvel at. But there’s more than one way to skin that cat (pun intended). I’ll make your life easier, in the next installment.

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