When to Take Your Retriever First Time Dove Hunting

Aug 15, 2019

Should I take my young retriever dove hunting this year?

The kids are back in school, football season is starting up, and fall is fast approaching. We can hardly wait until hunting season! But, the precursor to it all: Dove season.

It is nearly time to pull out the shotgun and clean it up. We are looking forward to trips to the outdoor store to pick up some shells. Before you know it, it will be time to fire the first shot that starts the rest of the season.

For those with a new puppy or a young dog, this is a time to decide whether or not to take it to the field. If you have been considering taking your pup to the dove field, here a few thoughts that will help with your decision.

If you ask around, some will say to take your pup out as soon as possible. They say: "It's a great way to let your pup see what it's going to be doing one day." Others say: "No way! That's a great way to ruin your gun dog quickly!" With all of the mixed messages, you may be having a hard time deciding what to do.

Age vs. Skill Level

First and foremost, let's talk about age vs. skill level. Retriever training is skill level based and not age level based. It is not necessarily the age of the pup/dog that determines its abilities. It is the skill level that your pup/dog is at in training.

With that said, if your puppy is from the age of 2 to 6 months old, we would recommend that you leave your pup at home for the sake of your training. There has not been enough time for you to teach your pup all the skills that it needs to be successful on a dove hunt at this age. In this situation, there are far too many things that can go wrong and can even cause permanent issues with your pup. 

Now you may be asking, "What if my pup is 7, 8, 9, or 10 months old?" At this age, we would still recommend delaying your dog's first dove hunt until next year. Your puppy may be excelling in training. However, most of the time your pup still hasn't had enough repetition or maturity to go on a dove hunt at this age. You might be able to get away with it, but you will not be benefitting yourself or your dog by going out too early.

Before reading on to the skills needed section, it is important to understand the different phases of learning your dog will go through when trained properly. You can read about that here. Once you have an understanding of that and how it impacts training your dog to retrieve dove, continue on below. 

At 11+ months, if you have been training consistently, your dog may be ready. Your dog may not be ready. You can evaluate and make the best decision for you and your dog. 

Skill Level And Skills Needed

On all basic obedience, you should be in the maintenance stage (last phase) of the four phases. When you are out in the field, it is important that you have control of your dog. Your dog needs to listen and remain at heel or place when asked to. This will keep your dog safe, and this will give you peace of mind. If this is your dog's very first time in the field, do keep an extra eye on your dog even if it is 100% in training. 

Now we are going to give a list of the rest of the skills needed:

  • Steadiness
  • Marking
  • Lining
  • Properly Introduced to gunfire
  • Comfortable with retrieving birds (specifically doves)
  • Preferably comfortable with whistle-stop
  • Must be Generalized to recall to the whistle 

Your dog needs to be generalized with varied distances with marking and generalized with multiple marks. If it is your dog's first hunt, you should start out with easy retrieves and build up from there. It is also important to have a dog that is comfortable with lining in varied terrains as well as cover. 

If your dog is generalized with these skills, you should have a successful dove hunt with your dog. Keep in mind though, that it might not perform as flawlessly as it does in training. A first-time hunt is a new experience for a young dog and should be handled with care. Throughout the first season, help your dog get accustomed to the experiences. Once you do that, your dog will be there for you for many seasons to come.

The best dove hunting dogs are the dogs that are trained at the right pace and introduced to the hunt at the right time. Knowing this is setting you up to know how to train a dog to retrieve dove properly which includes knowing when your dog is ready for the hunt. 

Other Considerations

Even though fall is right around the corner, the summer heat is still here. It is important to keep your dog cool dove hunting. Many dogs face heatstroke every season. It is important to consider the weather as a determining factor as well. If it is 80 or 90 degrees out and there is very little shade, you probably should show up for the last couple of hours of the hunt or leave your dog at home. 

You may also want to consider:

  • Number of hunters
  • Type of terrain
  • The hunters themselves (Do you know them? Are they safe, and will they be mindful of your dog?)

Final Thoughts

After reading this blog, take some time to evaluate your dog and see exactly where you stand. Don't sweat it if your dog isn't quite ready yet. You want your dog's first-time dove hunting to be a great experience.

Gun dog retriever training takes time. Being ready for a hunt requires some advanced retriever training to be done. If your retriever isn't ready, then leave it at home this year. You can enjoy your hunt, and start preparing your dog for the coming seasons in the fall and winter!

If you want the ins and outs of how to train your dog to retrieve dove, our Complete Gundog Academy or 52 Plus will show you everything you need to know. 


The CGA Team