Dogs Hunt: Humans Shoot
In addition to training dogs and their owner/handlers for all these years, I have also guided bird hunts for clients and friends. Whether my partner for the day is also a dog training client, a guided hunt client only or an acquaintance the same issues usually arise at some time during our hunt. Many of these issues have to do with the particulars of their dog's performance or their handling of the dog. If it is a dog training client my role is clearly defined. I am being paid to comment on both the dog's performance and the owner's handling. If it is a hunt client only or an acquaintance, there needs to be an understanding that I will not comment unless it is desired by the client or friend. To do otherwise would be a violation of ethics, could cause an adverse reaction and even ruin a friendship.
One of my most frequent observations at the center of most canine/handler problems that arise in the field is the owner's failure to recognize a simple axiom-"Dogs Hunt-Humans Shoot"! Hunting with a dog is entirely different than hunting without one, changing the role of the human involved. Before explaining what I mean by this axiom let us first examine pre-hunt preparation. Well bred dogs hunt instinctively whether they are pointers or flushers. The owner/trainer's job is to teach them to do it for the shooter, and to refine their manners when doing it. The training process should take place before the dog is put into actual hunt situations where complicated and difficult demands will arise. Failure to properly train and prepare your dog for what it will face during the season is unfair to the dog, and will result in ruined hunts. The first season in your pup's life is, in fact, extended training, but pup needs to be properly prepared before expecting it to perform reasonably well in actual hunt situations. Once pup is properly trained, take it hunting and let it hunt, ,point or flush and retrieve as it has been taught to do. Do not interfere! Your job at this point is to shoot the bird that has been properly handled, and accept the retrieve.
This takes us back to the axiom "Dogs Hunt-Humans Shoot"! When hunting without a dog you zig zag, kick brush and do whatever it takes to flush desired game. You also must hustle to retrieve downed birds, especially cripples. When hunting with a dog you no longer work to produce game or to make retrieves. Your job is to simply shoot game and accept retrieves. The purpose of the hunt is to allow the dog to do the job it was bred and trained to do, and to revel in the moment when they do. Why is it so important to understand this role distinction? First, if you are competing with your dog's search for game you won't be 'ready when the dog does find its quarry. Second, you will interfere with your dog's actual performance. Observing your dog's performance is a full time task if you wish both to appreciate it fully and to make appropriate adjustments in its training. Once the game is found and shot you must also allow your dog to find downed game and complete the retrieve. Competition with "your dog will again send the wrong message, and pup will not likely ever be a sure, confident retriever.
Preparing your dog to properly fulfill its role of finding and retrieving game then expecting and allowing it to do so is critical for quality dog work and for successful hunts. Equally critical is preparing yourself to do your part which is to shoot and to shoot well. Not only are dogs ruined by hunters interfering with the dog's work, but also, by hunters who consistently miss shots, thus failing to do their part. Dogs cannot carry, mount and shoot a shotgun, unfortunately in some cases. Spend sufficient time in the off season honing your shotgun skills so you can do your part when the time arrives. I have never seen a dog take its handlers gun and shoot game, although I have seen some who gave the impression they would like to do so. On the other hand, I have often seen hunters interfere with their dog's hunt/search role and it’s retrieving.
"Dogs Hunt-Humans Shoot"!