Is there anything a dog can't do?
WORTHINGTON -- Training a dog is pretty fun stuff.
When I see dogs do certain things, I just wonder how they can be taught the wide variety of tasks they seem to do so well. If you think about it, there is an exhaustive list of things a dog can be trained to do.
You have your airport drug-sniffing dogs, police dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs in military theatres, dogs that parachute with special operations forces and every kind of service dog helping humans do all kinds of things. Then, there is the hunting dog that hunts every kind of bird. Others hunt raccoons, fox, rabbits and any other animal the human needs help bagging.
I met a really cool dog the other day that was a service dog. When, I asked the owner what the dog did, she told me the dog keeps her blood sugar stable.
I asked how a dog could possibly determine if a human's blood sugar was right. She told me the dog could tell by her smell, if blood sugar levels were off. The dog would scratch its paw on her leg until she tested her blood sugar level and made the necessary corrections.
I was blown away. Is there anything a dog can't do?
Dogs can be taught to go find sheds, which are the antlers dropped every winter by deer and other large mammals.
Hunting for sheds is an activity used by hunters to determine if there are any big deer or elk on their property. It gives the hunter a good idea if large animals exist that you never get to see. Hunting for sheds, which is done in the spring, is also just a great way to enjoy the outdoors during a time of year when there isn't much else going on.
Teaching a dog to hunt sheds, in the simplest form, is just a matter of hiding antlers and, then, rewarding the dog when they find one and retrieve it to you.
Dog training is a combination of patience, knowledge and repetition. This is true no matter what you are training the dog to do.
I am going to train my youngest dog Tracer to do blinds, which is a retrieve a dog makes with the help of the handler.
A blind is a retrieve when the dog has no idea where the target item is located.
A blind retrieve in training would go something like this: I would hide a dead duck, pheasant or other bird in the tall grass and, then, walk about 100 to 200 yards back to the truck.
Then, I would take Tracer out of the truck. He has no idea where the bird is and it is too far away for him to smell it.
With the use of a combination of voice, whistle and hand signals, I would guide Tracer to the general location of the hidden bird.
When he gets close to the bird, he will smell it, locate it and bring it back. This is a blind retrieve. Less than 1 percent of all hunting dogs can do this kind of work.
There are a few things the dog needs to know before you can teach it to do blinds.
First and foremost, the dog has to be trained to sit on the whistle. One big blast on the whistle is the command to sit. Tracer can be running around the yard and, if I blow the whistle one big time, he will sit, no matter where in the yard he is at.
In order to guide the dog to the bird, you need to be able to correct the dog's direction, if it is off course.
If the dog is running off course, you need to blow the whistle. The dog will turn to face you, sits and looks at you and waits for your next command.
A well-trained dog will not move until given the hand signal. When I give the hand signal, the dog will make a course correction based on which direction I point my arm and hand.
Most hand signals will not be accompanied by any voice command. The dog can and should make it to the bird with only hand signals.
The better trained the dog, the fewer hand and whistle commands will be needed. I have seen dogs make 200-yard blind retrieves with only the initial voice command from the handler.
Other dogs, that are not as experienced, might need 10 or more hand and whistle commands to get to the hidden bird. Most dog owners have never enjoyed the work of a handling dog.
Blind retrieves are most common in duck hunting, where the hunter shoots two or three ducks in one flurry. The dog sees the splash and swims to the first bird. The other two birds are floating dead in the decoys and it is almost impossible for the dog to distinguish the dead duck from a decoy.
The handler sends the dog with voice, hand and whistle commands to each of the other dead birds.
Hunters, with dogs that don't handle, need a pocket of rocks to throw at the dead bird, so the dog can see the splash and make the next retrieve. I have seen duck hunters toss expensive shot gun shells over-and-over in an attempt to get the dog to go. This method can work, but it is costly and not very classy.
Pheasant hunters use blind retrieves less often. In pheasant hunting, I have used blind retrieves to send the dog across a creek or other impediment that I could not cross. It saves the hunter from the long walk back to the road or to the nearest bridge, so they can get on the other side and get back to the fall. In many cases, by having to walk all the way around, the hunter looses the location of the downed bird and it is never recovered.
Spring temperatures make you want to get outside. Last year on March 17, I took a motorcycle ride to Sioux City, Iowa, for the weekend. It was 70 degrees.
It looks like this spring will be a little different.
With normal temperatures, March still makes me want to get outside. Dog training is one more reason to get outside and do something that gets your heart rate above resting.
Be it a service dog that helps people regulate their blood sugar levels or a hunting dog that can do blind retrieves, there is a special place in my heart for all dogs. Four dogs tearing around in my fenced backyard can make the entire place look like a construction site.
I love spring, my wife hates it. But when the frost comes out and my yard firms up and again looks like a yard, I love it even more.
Do you have any idea how much mud can be carried on 16 different paws?
Mud or not, life is not the same without a dog -- regardless of how well it's trained.