Owning a Good Gun Dog

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Published on: May. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

In a stand of flooded hardwood timber, on opening day of duck season, a hunter waits. At his side, sitting on a portable tree stand lashed to a pin oak, a chocolate Lab scans a pewter sky. Suddenly, the dog perks his ears and sits erect. The hunter reads this signal and spies a lone drake wood duck, wings cupped, sailing between the trees.

With the woody at 30 yards and closing, the hunter shoots and the duck tumbles. The Lab leans forward, his attention locked on the downed duck.

"Back!" the hunter commands, and the Lab leaps into the water. With chin flat against the surface, the retriever swims hard to the bird. As he picks up the duck and turns back to the hunter, a half dozen green-winged teal buzz past, just over the treetops. The hunter drops one. The Lab pauses to mark where the teal fell, then quickly returns the wood duck to his master.

The hunter grabs the Lab by the back of its collar and pulls the dripping dog back up on the tree stand. He gives the dog a congratulatory pat on its shoulders, takes the bird and praises the dog.

Taking little notice, the Lab sits and leans forward in anticipation of retrieving the teal.

"You like your job, don't you?" the hunter asks with a smile, and then barks the command, "Back!" The Lab hits the water with a splash and cuts a wake to the second bird.

This is work from a well-trained gun dog--both exciting and practical. For many hunters, a gun dog is an important and enduring investment; one that should not be made lightly. If you have been thinking about buying a gun dog, here are a few things to consider.

Your Disposition

The first question you should ask is not whether a dog is right for you, but whether you are right for a dog. Are you patient, or do you have a short temper? Are you disciplined concerning routines, or do you tend to quit when routines grow old? Do you accept responsibility for your mistakes, or are you prone to place blame elsewhere? Honest answers to these questions will reveal whether owning a gun dog is right for you.

Gun dogs achieve their greatest performance through effective training programs carried out by patient handlers. Patience is central to the training process. When a lesson is

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