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Top 5 Pheasant Dog Owner Mistakes

Avoid the five mistakes for gun dogs and save yourself a lot of trouble: good genetics, check; good weight, check; stay cool yourself, check; e-collar, check; and lastly, keep an eye out for their well-being, check. Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

Since I just examined The Biggest Mistakes Pheasant Hunters Make, next let’s examine the biggest mistakes made when it comes to the other hunters in the field – the bird dogs.

The first mistake you can make is to buy a dog that’s not a hunter. Ask someone who knows a breeder of good hunting dogs, a pup whose parents are both field hunters…not some amateur starting out in his basement. You’ll pay more up front most times, but you’ll save a lot more down the road (No, I don’t breed dogs!).

Second, letting your dog get fat and not training them during the off season. I’ve seen many dogs following their owner, gasping for breath or put back in their kennel after an hour’s hunt because they are so fat and out of shape they can’t take hunting. Don’t get a dog if you can’t work it year-round; use your buddy’s – it’s better for you, the dog and hunting buddies.

Third, don’t lose control of yourself. I’ve moved away to the other side of the field to get away from clowns screaming at their out-of-control dogs. I’ve even left hunts over this or at least told the owners to get ahold of their emotions, kennel their dog and do some training with them before taking them out again.

Four, don’t go afield without an e-collar on your dog. There’s no excuse these days not to because you can’t train a dog enough, practically speaking for most folks, to make them work like they can with an e-collar. E-collars are also very affordable. E-collars were a big game changer for hunting dogs, like going from typewriters to computers. Get one. But be careful: you can screw up a dog’s behavior while hunting if you overdo it. Read the directions. I overdid it with my late, great springer, “Wolf,” one frustrating day when I borrowed a buddy’s e-collar and used it without breaking him in correctly. It took weeks before Wolf would confidently leave my side and hunt.

Lastly, watch them carefully afield. Dogs, tough as they are, are flesh and bone…they get hurt and can die. I lost a Brit, at age 7, in the prime of his hunting life when he was attacked by a coyote or badger in the woods. I tended all his wounds, but missed one hid deep in his thick chest fur. It got infected, got in his liver and killed him…all after spending hundreds at the vet.  Watch your dog close in the heat, especially a new dog you haven’t hunted in hot weather. My springer, “Hunter,” came close to big problems a few years ago dove hunting in South Dakota. I let him run because we were heading to a shaded pond. He got wobbly on me just at the pond, where I bathed him in the cool water. He came out of it, but I kenneled him for the rest of the day. Close call. Scary. With a dog, the hunt comes second, the dog must come first. No hunt is worth a dead dog.

Your thoughts?

The Nomad is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at mherwig@pheasantsforever.org.

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18 Responses to “Top 5 Pheasant Dog Owner Mistakes”

  1. Randy Z says:

    Great points. I am new to the world of bird dogs (well five years in now…) and have found myself making a couple of those mistakes along the way. I think it is worth noting that the e-collars CAN be a very effective training tool, IF used correctly. If not, you are wasting your time and money…on both the e-collar and the dog. Not spending the time to effectively train your dogs would probably be on my list of top 5, no matter what tools you chose for training.

  2. Pat says:

    Great article.

    One point I would add, especially to those who hunt the prairies, be aware of skin punctures from the tall grass.

    Just this year, my English Pointer developed a lump on her abdomen, near the right side floating rib. The vet first aspirated the lump and removed a lot of serum. The next day it was the size of good apple. The vet made an inch and half incision and inserted a drainage tube. The culprit, two very small grass seeds.

    The dry grass worked like a hypodermic needle and injected the seeds under the skin. The dog’s natural defenses kicked in and developed a large puss pocket. It was nothing overly life threatening, but it was $250 I could have used towards a new Benelli.

  3. Jenn A says:

    I love your quote, “With a dog, the hunt comes second, the dog must come first. No hunt is worth a dead dog.” My GSPs are my family first and my hunting dogs second.

    The other thing that I think is extremely important is to know WHO you are hunting with. Don’t trust that the person knows what they are doing and can be trusted not to get excited and take a shot that can be dangerous to both the hunters and the dogs.

  4. Mark Herwig says:

    Good point Pat……all my dogs have been punctured by grass stems, fences, you name it. I watch my dogs constantly for birdiness, of course, but also attitude…..are they limping, bleeding, panting too hard, slowing down, checking in, debris sticking out of them, vocalizations……..all this information helps me read what’s going on and make decisions accordingly for their welfare and the hunt.

    Jenn, I agree. I’ve heard hunters say, and I’ve said it too, that if you shoot my dog, you pay for the vet bill or to buy another one. That makes fellow hunters, especially rookies, very careful.

  5. Jessica C. says:

    Good article! I currently work at a vet clinic and see A LOT of ACL surgeries on labs, and some of them are hunting dogs that should be in their prime (4-7 years) but got hurt in the field because they were thrown out there after almost a year of becoming out of shape. Besides being our hunting buddies these guys are atheletes- what coach throws someone out on the field before practicing and conditioning? It’s not fair to set up a dog for failure from lack of training or injury from lack of conditioning.

    As far as safety in the field, my 6 yr old lab Dixie is always hunting hard and never slows down, that being said unless she is hurt very bad she will continue hunting and it’s hard to notice something’s wrong. She has gotten frostbite to the point that her nails seperate and her pads bleed, or thorns stuck in her and it doesn’t phase her the entire hunt. We keep a close eye on her and when we get home she gets a good bath and a close inspection, and we also have an orange neoprene vest from cabelas which has saved her from a few punctures and rips.

    One thing I would add to this list is sometimes it’s just best to trust your dog. Last winter we were in the field and Dixie kept getting really hot in this one clump of brush. She would stare it down, look at me, and I told her to ‘get in there’. She will do this ‘point’ sometimes if the bird is close and hunkered down. She started to go in like she was going to flush and quickly backed out and looked at me and turned and went to hunt elsewhere. I kept calling her back, thinking she was being lazy and didnt want to go through the thick cattails. I should have known better because she would never walk away from a bird right in front of her. After calling her back and getting the same results a few more times I became frustrated and went to flush the bird myself and I heard a growl. It turned out to be a very big, very aggressive raccoon. Instead of being lazy it was her way of saying “boss, something just ain’t right, let’s get out of here and leave it”. I guess I should have trusted my dog and her training that day, smart on her part, stupid on mine.

  6. Jessica C. says:

    Oh and another thing about those pesky grass seeds- I make sure to check my dog’s eyes, she always manages to get them in there and under her bottom eyelid or in the corner which results in a lot of goopy tears and eye crunchies, and sometimes her eyes can get puffy from it. If they get stuck in there I wash them out with eye drops. Luckily nothing as bad as some of those punctures though, never would have thought of that but good to know Pat!

  7. Steve Quesenberry says:

    I just started my 1-year old French Brittany on a walking routine. This is to get him really used to a leash when we RV but also used to walking at heel. Heel is just a suggestion to him even if we have worked at it for 10 months now. Second to this is strength building and endurance in both of us (I’m 62). Perhaps the single most important thing is to carry plenty of water. Since I live in California where it is hot and dry, we can go through a lot of water during a hunt. I have my camelback and two bottles extra for us in the field and have several extra gallons in the Tahoe. I made a small first-aid kit for him but need to add distilled water for an eye wash. If I travel I try to get the name and address of a Vet – just in case.

  8. Barry R. says:

    The last 2 sentences of your last paragraph should be handed out to anyone who buys a dog they intend to hunt with! Very good and logical article.

  9. Unless says:

    I’d like to add that you need to be extremely knowledgable in dog first aid. As an owner of a springer that is partial to gashing herself through multiple vests, I’ve become adept at dealing with most situations. My vet also showed me the proper use of a skin stapler and the last injury healed in about half the normal time, not to mention it was significantly cheaper. I also made a trip to the vet the next day for a checkup and antibiotics. When in doubt take a trip the the vet most injuries caught early enough can be mitigated without major down time.

  10. Jack Dennis says:

    You said it all uncontrollable dogs ruin a hunt for everybody. If you buy a Labrador make sure the breeder guarantees they are EIC and CNM clear.
    Another thing to watch out for in the field is bard wire it can cut your dog up and they won’t stop if they are on a bird, so check them often.
    Good Article, Mark

  11. Jean Viarengo says:

    I was VERY lucky when I purchased our first gun-dog for my husband. We had NO IDEA of what we were getting into, but the breeder showed me pedigrees – no champions, only a history of field champions, and then informed me that the only reason you want to buy from field stock is so you know you have hunting genetics – otherwise pedigrees are useless to the hunter. I was then lucky enough to meet up with a really good man, and great dog trainer who taught us about e-collars – - WOW!! talk about safety equipment! Many years down the road – 4 litters from my own dogs, and a house full of hunting fanatics! those first pieces of advise, which are all but identical to your list, stick with me, and stay true.

  12. Steve Horton says:

    Another mistake, is to forget the dog’s training while hunting. If my Pointer breaks point and/or flushes the bird, I let the bird go, as I do not want to reinforce bad habits

    Also, carry a dog first aid kit with you. And especially this year, always check for ticks. I assume due to the light winter we had, the ticks are really out in force this year.

    E-collars have really come a long way since I began using them years ago. I always like to have a beeper collar on too, so I can easily locate my dog in heavy cover. A lof of the collars now also include GPS tracking for your dogs, which is a wonderful addition to the traditionasl e-collar.

    And one other point for folks who hunt with other people’s dogs, never shoot at a bird when you cannot see sky below the bird. Some dogs, especially when young and not fully trained, will leap up after the bird. Please never take a chance shooting a bird if the dog is nearby, or you can;t see the dog, or if there is ANY chance of shooting the dog.

  13. Duane Bush says:

    EYE CARE is extremely important. Dont forget the eyewash and I strongly suggest rinsing at least twice per day. Mid day and end of day. Over the counter saline eye rinse from your local grocery store works fine. Many times the grass seeds can be so small they cannot be seen by human eye without magnification. I had 2 small bullrush seeds imbed themselves in my labs upper eyelid after a duck hunt. We rinsed and rinsed with no luck. Puffy weeping eyes and dog in great discomfort. After 2 trips to the vet my vet went in surgically and under anesthesia he located and removed the seeds. $500.00 plus later.

  14. Scott D says:

    Great points everyone! Here are some added (small points) I would also mention; paw care and re-check your dog’s chest and legs for cuts from fences and chopped corn stalks to name a couple. Don’t be afraid to kennel your dog for an hour during the day to give him/her some rest while you enjoy the hunt with friends and get to know their dogs. Your dog will have a stronger afternoon hunt and if applicable, a stronger tomorrow’s hunt. I also carry water with me at all times because water isn’t always available when they need it. All of our dogs get really thirsty and when you feel hot and thirsty just walking in the field, imagine how they feel. Good hunting!

  15. Irving C says:

    With temps in the 90′s and near 100 leave your dog inside and put off training untill it passes. Remember heat kills, just not worth it.

  16. david s says:

    Don’t forget about ears! A messed up ear can really ruin ones day.

  17. Rob Syler says:

    Give serious consideration to sending your dog to a reputable professional trainer. It’s an investment that has paid dividends for me. The trainer I used has several programs and sending my Setter to the Puppy program was money well spent. The pro can get the dog started on the right path and teaching the fundamentals to your puppy it will lay the foundation for a great future together.

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