I call it low-rider mode, because when my Lab gets on a close pheasant, she starts bouncing up and down and staring into the cover. It’s as exciting as anything I’ve ever done in the outdoors, and there is no question when Luna starts bouncing, a bird is going to flush.
It’s far different than when she gets on older scent, or catches a whiff of a rabbit or a fresh deer bed. You can see curiosity, but it’s not the same thing. Not even close.
A lot of folks ask me how to develop that kind of relationship with a dog, including eye contact and real teamwork. Part of it just boils down to the right training (and lots of it), but part of it stems from experience afield. The more birds you hunt together, the more in-tune the process.
But it’s not so simple.
You could hunt every weekend the entire pheasant season with your dog and you might not get the results you want. If there are several other people and dogs always with you, then the distraction factor goes through the roof and the dynamic changes. Ditto for hunting the easy stuff where your dog rarely will encounter fresh scent or the opportunity to develop his skills.
Dogs need positive experiences when they are learning, and large-scale distraction make that challenging. They also need success, and walking a few miles without a flush is a sure way to turn them off the hunt.
Like all good things, developing a solid working relationship with your dog will take work and sacrifice on your part. Tell your buddies you’re hunting solo for a while, so that your dog can suss out the ways of the upland world without being rushed or distracted. You’ll need to get into the cover with your dog, where the birds actually live so that you can increase the odds of more flushes, and more retrieves.
The good thing about this extra work? It’s the right route to the best hunting you can have with your dog for most of the dog’s life. That makes it all worth it.
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