A Dog Day Morning

Shawn Swearingen | https://www.instagram.com/shawn_swearingen/?hl=en | All Hunting Articles
Posted 02/09/2023

A season opening morning for young or experienced hunters alike can bring nerves of excitement. Add to the mix your dog’s first duck hunt and you aren’t going to get any sleep! Reasonable expectations and setting them up for a successful time afield is the only way to make sure you’ll both sleep soundly at night.

Sully, a deep red colored yellow Labrador, came home with us at 10 weeks from parents who were both hunt and field tested and who also hunted regularly. He wasn’t my first dog, having grown up and hunted with Labradors and Springer Spaniels, but would be my first on my own. Thankfully, my Dad was only a phone call away for advice. We trained and hunted our own dogs but there were plenty still that we may not have known or experienced. Resources and trainers seem plenty today. Be sure to pick a few brains, but don’t expect free advice from trainers who that is their livelihood. You need to have a training plan in mind before your dog comes home, no matter with a trainer or on your own. Also, be prepared for a few curveballs.

After coming home over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Sully started obedience training almost from day one in the yard. As he progressed, expectations and new challenges evolved. Laying a foundation of commands, working on introduction to water, multiple marks, denials, etc. A few duck wings saved from the previous season came in handy for developing the drive and his nose. All of this was done step-by-step, when he seemed to be ready for new information and challenges. Along the way, always reinforcing the basics of ‘heel’ and ‘hold’.

Lucky for us we weren’t going through it alone. A good friend and regular hunting companion got his first pup about the same time. Bouncing ideas off of each other, retelling of breakthroughs and lamenting when the pups were hardheaded. Being able to work and train the two of them together helped them in the process of learning to honor another dog’s retrieval and preventing ‘breaking’. Misery loves company, but so does the sharing of each other’s successes.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has an early duck season ‘split’ over the weekend of Columbus Day. We planned on this being a good time to introduce the dogs to hunting. We also knew a nice spot on a meandering small river that wood ducks liked to frequent at first light. Plenty of cover for two young dogs, a place to leash them to and a long walk in to burn off their (and our) nervous energy.

The humidity and buzz of mosquitos greeted us and another friend at the gravel parking lot that early October morning. The pups had taken time to play, train and together. Keeping the same commands we used during training and through the day-to-day life helped them know when it was time to play and when it was business. After the long trek, we waded across the meandering stream to where we wanted to set up. The pups enjoyed the water break and time to cool down as the decoys were placed. This wasn’t their first time around decoys either, having swam and retrieved through decoys at the local lake during the summer.

The haunting whistles of wood ducks cut the air before legal light. Sounds that these now older dogs make them scan the sky in anticipation. The morning’s action was better than we could have hoped for, resulting with seven wood ducks for three shooters. After the first salvo of the morning the flights paused long enough for both pups to get their first retrieves in successfully. The dawning light allowed them both to use their nose and directions we had trained all summer. Other flights followed soon after allowing them to get more repetitions in and allowing us to savor hard earned training paying off.

Having reasonable expectations of your dog and your time afield, based on how you’ve trained is the key to success. Build on the foundations over the course of the offseason. Doing a little bit every day when you can. Consistency goes a long way to instill commands to become second-nature and good habits for both you and your dog.

About the Author : Shawn Swearingen
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Born and raised throughout the forests and farms of Oregon. The 9-5 work life led him to the D.C. area in 2008 a few short years after college at Oregon State. Writing about the outdoors is one of the ways he is able to cope with living in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. He is also callmaking, wingshooting, gardening, fishing, and introducing his two young sons with his wife to the great outdoors in hopes to do as well as his parents were able. He is a regular contributor for Split Reed and Mossy Oak, as well as being published by Free Range American, Tom Beckbe’s Field Journal and Dirtbag Magazine.
IG: @shawn_swearingen