Opening Day of Dove Season – Are Our Dogs Ready to Go???

We Must Not Overlook Focusing on Getting our Retrievers Ready for the Hunt!

Chris Yielding | | All Hunting Articles
Posted 08/25/2023

It’s that time of year, the excitement has been building and dove season is just around the corner! We have worked our dove fields, gotten our camo out, and polished up our guns. We can hardly wait for opening morning, to feel the rush of birds coming in and the blasts of our shotguns going off!

It doesn’t take much for us to be ready; tell us tomorrow was opening day and we could be ready at the drop of a hat. But, the same cannot be said for our trusty ole retrievers. A lot of the time, they have taken the summer off just like our kids have. Their days have been spent laying in the shade and playing with our kids in the backyard. If this is all the prep work they get before opening day, we are flirting with a disaster.

How Important is Pre-Season Tune-Up?

First off, lets look at it this way. Would it be a good idea to lay around on the couch during summer, watching TV and eating junk food, then running in a 5K in early September? Obviously not. That is a pretty good comparison to how our dogs would feel if we took them out to the dove field the first weekend of September with no prep work.

Here in the south, the big opening dove hunt can be a scorcher. Highs in the 90’s with extremely high humidity can make these hunts unbelievably hot, and if we weren’t out there shooting birds, or at least shooting AT birds, there is no way we would be out there.

We all know how energetic our bird dogs can be. They get fired up when they see our camo and shotguns, knowing what excitement is instore. There is no way to slow them down, so if we have not put in the time getting them back into hunting condition, we are setting them up for potential harm.

Another important aspect of the pre-season tune-up is, in addition to conditioning, the review and work on the skills that they have and even a little improvement on them if the conditions allow. By setting up our late summer sessions the right way, we can cover both the conditioning and the skills training with the same drills, killing two birds with one stone (pun intended!).

How Difficult and Complex is it?

It sounds like a lot of work, but getting our retrievers back into shape at the end of summer should not be too overwhelming. If we start after the 4th of July and go through the end of August spending three or four days a week throwing bumpers in the back yard, we will see a world of change in the shape of our hunting companions.

At first glance, it can sound intimidating. But we need to keep it in perspective. We don’t have to spend an hour or more on each session, setting up complex HRCH level training drills. Simple, straight as an arrow drills work great for this. And once more, we only need to spend 15-20 minutes each time out. The best thing to do, at least starting out, is to simply throw some single or double marks in the yard, sending him full speed after them. Over time, as he starts to get his wind back, we can increase the distance of the marks as well as the number of marks to retrieve. Early morning or late evening is the best time to work our dogs during the heat of the summer, as these are the coolest parts of the day and dogs can perform much better with the cooler air.

Keeping Watch on the Heat

No matter how physically sharp he seems, we must not take our focus off of watching him for signs of getting overheated. If he starts showing signs of being too hot and exhausted, such as excessive panting, slower than usual runs, or not sitting up straight, it is time to close the session. Give him a ton of praise then put it all up and let him rest.

Doing this a few times a week will quickly get him back into great hunting shape. If we stay consistent with our training sessions, we should see consistent improvement in his strength and endurance. Seeing this improvement each time gives us the reassurance that our sessions are helping us reach our goal with him.

Another step for the conditioning work, after we have been working land marks a few times, is to take him to the water. Although the dove hunt most likely will not involve water retrieves, the water work will help to build up his strength and stamina. There is no need to overdo it with the water work, a little goes a long way at this point. But a few sessions with the water will most definitely help get him ready for the first hunt. But, once again, do not overlook the heat when it comes to water work. Although we often think of water as cooling, when he is out there swimming non-stop, he is getting as hot, if not hotter than he would doing the retrieves on land. It is important to always keep close watch on how he is handling the heat.

One last option, depending on your set-up, is to simply ride your side-by-side or your four-wheeler and have him run along side you. We don’t need to go full speed, just fast enough to keep him at a jog. This can be a fun time for both of you, helping your bond and getting him some good exercise in at the same time.

Skill Work During Summer Sessions

These late summer training sessions have multiple benefits; on top of building up his strength and stamina, they also help to fine-tune his retrieving skills. No matter how great our dog performed in late January in the flooded timber bringing greenheads back, after a summer off with no training, we cannot expect him to be at his best with no refresher work before taking him to the dove field. Heel work, steadiness, and delivering to hand are all skills that should be refreshed before we take our high-drive retrievers out to the field.

If he appears to be solid on all of these skills once we get going with our refresher work, after a few sessions we can start working to advance his skill level. We can work in whistle stops, hand signals, or even just make the distances of marks a lot longer. What ever we feel is best for training and improvement, this is a great time to incorporate those into our practice work.
We want our dogs to be at their best, and it doesn’t take much for us to accomplish this. Three or four short, 20 minute sessions a week will reinforce the previously learned skills while getting them in top retrieving shape at the same time.

Don’t Lose Focus During the Hunt

We also need to be watchful on that opening day. We must pay close attention to our hunting partners and make sure we do not push them to hard with the heat. If they start showing signs of getting too hot, we have to be ready to call the hunt off and get them somewhere to cool off. We also need to make sure and have water available for them during the hunt to try to prevent them from overheating.

Let the Fun Begin!

The opening weekend of dove season, the first hunt in many months, can be so exciting. We do not need much prep time for it; the only thing that might suffer from no prep time is our shooting! But everything else will be fine. However, our furry hunting buddies need more time to get ready and it is our responsibility to give them the attention they need so they are ready to go when that first bird is dropped!

With just a little time and attention, we can have our dogs ready to be in high gear when dove season starts. Doing so can set us up for a good dove hunt, and set the stage for months of fun, exciting hunts once duck season arrives!

About the Author : Chris Yielding
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Chris is a high school teacher in Arkansas, and trains retrievers on the side. He has been training as a side job for nearly a decade, training for clients all across the south. He also enjoys writing articles about training, as well as other outdoor activities. He has been published in many local and regional publications.

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