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Pup’s Opening Day

You have a young dog that is about to experience their first hunting season. If ruffed grouse hunting is your game and you live in the Continental United States, your opening day will be here very shortly.  Here are a few thoughts about how to handle opening day with your young dog.

Make sure that your pup has had several road trip experiences.  You don’t want truck fear and road sickness to be an issue.  This should be a fun experience for a young dog.  In fact, a dry run of a typical hunting morning is a good idea.  Load the pup in the truck crate, take a ride and stop at a field or woodlot.  Take the pup out, run them for a good hour and then put them back into the crate.  If all goes well, no problem.  If you experience fear or timidity, then repeat the exercise over the next few days.

At this point in time, we’ll assume the pup is well conditioned to the gun.  We certainly don’t want to create a gun-shy dog on opening day.

Although we may be anxious to shoot over our dog on opening day, a wise exercise is to let your hunting partner do the shooting and you pay attention to your pup.  Have you been working on breaking your pup from chasing on the flush or shot?  And you’ve been using pen-raised birds for the training?  If so, the excitement of a wild bird flush could be too much for the pup and the chase is on. Instead, set your pup up for success.  If your pup has been whoa trained, then in a soft voice give the “whoa” command using two syllables.  This is much better for a pup then a sharp whoa! If your pup is not whoa trained, then consider using a check cord.  The check cord will give you control over the pup.  The goal is to not let the excitement of a wild bird flush set-back the training process.

Another issue to think about is that unless you’ve been training your pup in different locations, the pup will encounter new terrain and cover than what he’s used to.  If the cover is thick and full of briars, consider a chest protector.  Most of the chest injuries I’ve seen or my dogs have experienced have been in their first year of hunting.

If you’re asking your pointing dog to retrieve, don’t make the retrieve more exciting than the point.  If you do, it’s easy for the pup to feel that if the retrieve is more exciting, why fool around with a point.

If you have an older dog that is well broke and bullet proof to outside influence, run the pup with the older dog.  Pups can learn a great deal from a mentor.  If you witness jealousy, then pick up one of them immediately.  You don’t want a pup busting the older dog’s point if the older dog is jealous.  You’ll ruin the older dog in one outing.

Don’t over work the pup.  One hour of hunting and then at least a one hour break is a good schedule for a young dog.  Keep it fun…not exhausting.

And, finally, no matter what age dog you’re working, make sure they are well hydrated.  Due to warm days, many dogs succumb on opening day due to heat.  Take good care of that pup.  He’ll be your hunting buddy for many years.

Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman.  He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show ( and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.

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