De-Bugging Your Gun Dog [Back to Monthly Pro Staff Articles]
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Bugging is the act in which a gun dog refuses to look straight ahead when they're being lined up for a blind retrieve. Their head will swing from left to right or up and down. The dog avoids looking straight ahead where your hand is directing them to go.
Debugging is when the handler notices this behavior and takes action to stop it. I got together with Pro Staff team member, Dave Dahlberg, and together we organized some information on why bugging occurs and methods to solve the issue. Dave owns and operates Colorado Gun Dogs and Rolida Kennels, which is located just outside Denver, Colorado. Dave has been training retrievers for over 25 years, which has given him a lot of experience with a variety of personalities in dogs. Dave and I agree that some gun dogs are naturals that seem to be born to hunt, some take fine tuning and hard work, and occasionally, he'll get one that just won't make the cut. A client of Dave's observed that his dogs were returning to the line with wagging tails, whereas some other people's dogs ran back to the line timid and had their tails between their legs. This got Dave and I thinking that a good attitude can make all the difference when training a gun dog and why some may be less likely to develop a bugging habit. A good attitude=less bugging!
Dave explains that "bugging can be caused by waiting too long while lining up to send the dog on a blind retrieve. The dog starts to feel pressure and becomes unsure. This can lead the dog to not want to perform. If a handler constantly calls their dog back from a poorly lined blind, the dog may become disheartened. If your dog is unsure, feels the pressure, or is continually being called back, you can break the dogs' confidence and create a bugging habit." Dave and I agree that confidence is imperative. If the dog is confident in you and their prior training, then they won't start bugging. They'll look right down your hand and fire off the line.
It is best to avoid bugging all together by following these steps.
- Start out with a well-tempered healthy retriever.
- Don't overdue the training. Work with the dog, and then rest them. Throw a few fun bumpers to keep their spirits up followed by "good dog."
- Don't set your dog up to fail. You want to build their confidence throughout their training. It takes time to develop a good hunting retriever, and you should use many building blocks to create success.
- Always try to shoot plenty of live birds for your dog; these are referred to as "live flyers." The live flyers will keep the level of excitement up which maintains the dog's positive attitude.
- Avoid training in harsh conditions such as extreme hot and cold. Harsh conditions could lead to poor training attitude.
- Make it fun and rewarding so your dog develops a good attitude towards the blinds.
- If you are in a situation where you need to de-bug a dog, here are a variety of things you can do:
- Instead of using bumpers on the blinds, use birds or a live clipped-wing pigeon. This will get the dog excited and develop a good attitude about the blinds.
If you notice a lack of confidence in the dog, take a step backwards and simplify the blind. Build the dog's confidence back up before progressing again.
- It is better to use attrition rather than an E-Collar correction. By adding collar stimulation, you're adding to the stress.
- Start by using a pattern blind so that the dog becomes comfortable before transitioning to cold blinds.
- Even if the dog is not lined up, do not take too long to send them. If the dog looks up at you, do not make eye contact, just send them. You can always handle the dog afterwards to get them back on line.
- Have balance in their training program. A good pat on the head and "good dog" can go a long way. Mix it up a little by using marks then blinds.
If you are still having bugging problems seek out a professional trainer to help you.
If you follow these steps, seek help when you need it, and make the training experience rewarding for all involved, you are well on your way preventing a bugging issue with your gun dog. Good luck, and enjoy training with your hunting companion!
For more information on debugging your gun dog, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Or contact Dave Dahlberg at www.coloradogundogs.com