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As the goose hunting season comes to a close, many hunters and their dogs look forward to some time off. While we love a cold brew and a weekend at the beach, a successful hunter knows the offseason is a time to sharpen his or her skills and the skills of the dog. Just like any other athlete, your dog needs some offseason training to stay sharp for its first Missouri goose hunting trip of the new season.
Fun in the Sun
Because summer temperatures are far higher than what we see during the hunting season, you will need to properly pace your animal during training. Work the dog too hard and just like a human, the heat will takes its toll. The trick here is in getting some good, hard workouts in while still allowing both you and your dog to enjoy the training.
Work to Improve Endurance, Retrieves, and Lines
A very basic drill to run the dog through that is fun and lends itself to some nice rewards for the dog is the cone drill. This will help the dog improve its retrieving skills as well as its endurance. Set up three cones with two bumpers each creating a triangle 50 yards away from the center point at the bottom of the triangle (you will have a cone 50 yards dead ahead, and one to your right and left at the same distance). Show the dog the line and send him to retrieve the bumper. After each successful retrieve, rotate around until the dog has retrieved all of the bumpers.
In addition to improving its retrieval skills and endurance, this drill can be modified to help the dog improve its lining. If the dog has a tendency to drift offline, which is not abnormal given certain landscapes and weather conditions, conduct this drill with a single cone along a fence line or wall. If available, use an area that has a ditch, mounds, or some obstacles. The dog will learn to run through them instead of around them, keeping a straight line, as it needs to do when hunting. You should notice a significant improvement in how the dog is able to hold its line the more you practice this drill.
Using “Real” Conditions as the Season Approaches
At the end of military training, recruits are introduced to live fire training. The reason being they need to know how they will react with live bullets flying over their heads. In this matter, your dog is no different, as you want to begin to introduce real hunting conditions prior to the dog being in the field. As the season approaches and your offseason training wraps up, it is time to introduce the dog to gunfire and real birds* again.
You can do the same retrieval drills you have been doing all summer, but now you will substitute live shooting and real birds for the dog to retrieve. Have the dog heeled and fire off multiple shots just as you would in a real hunt. Now, instead of bumpers, the dog will be retrieving an actual bird. You will probably see a noticeable jump in the dogs step as it realizes they are goose hunting for real again.
*Before using live birds, check with the local gaming department to ensure using live birds is acceptable during the months you are training (you may need to get a special permit to use live birds). If not, you may be able to stockpile some birds during the hunting season and freeze them for training. We would recommend wrapping the bird in heavy masking tape to prevent a mess as the bird thaws out.