Once the dog begins to grasp the command, Bouldin reinforces it with a lead. “If the dog needs some persuasion, I’ll stand beside him, clip a lead to his collar, and put it under my foot,” he says. “Then I’ll slide my foot along the lead and pull up on it at the same time, which forces the dog’s head to the ground.”
Dogs have a hard time seeing the big picture, and most won’t lie quietly for long before springing up again. Bouldin anticipates that behavior and continues to raise the bar.
“If I’m training a young dog and I’m lying in my yard [as if in a layout blind with the dog on his left], I’ll put the lead under my back and then pull it under me with my right hand until he lies down again,” he says. “Once he’s down, I’ll slip him another cookie.”
Like most trainers, Bouldin eventually transitions his dogs to an e-collar. “They go through the basic obedience with a pinch collar,” he says, “but once a dog’s got it, I’ll put an e-collar on him with the receiver on top of the neck (not under it, which is the normal position). As soon as he tries to stand, I’ll say ‘down’ and then nick him. He’ll move away from the nick, and that will drive his head toward the ground. And once he’s down, praise is just as important as correction. I let him know I’m happy about it. I discourage petting, because dogs that get petted are always rooting around for your hand, but I will give him a cookie treat.”
Of course, getting a dog to lie beside you—or sit quietly in a blind—is relatively easy at home. Getting that same dog to obey you in the field when ducks or geese are working the decoys can be a struggle. So Bouldin raises the training bar still further.
“I’ve got a winger, one of the contraptions that throws dead ducks during a hunt test,” he says. “I’ll go out and set decoys all over my yard. Then I’ll lie down in the decoys and make the dog lie next to me. I’ll flip the winger, which will throw the bird (or bumper) right over me. Then I’ll grab the lead with my right hand and pull it under my back when the dog tries to stand up.”
In the field, Bouldin fine-tunes his dog’s obedience by letting somebody else call the shots on incomers while he makes sure his dog remains steady. It is great training because it’s the real thing, and any dog worth a cookie will be straining to hear the command to go.
“My dogs think their middle name is Take ‘em! ” Bouldin laughs.
The upshot? If keeping your dog hidden doesn’t always get you more birds, keeping him under control will certainly make you more popular with your hunting partners, who just might invite you back on the next hunt. And that means more ducks for both you and your dog.