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As we are currently writing this article in the windy, cold month of January, it’s hard to imagine the stiff heat a Texas September can bring. Despite the weather, thousands of people countdown to September because with the heat comes Texas Dove season.

For those of us lucky enough to have a retriever friend in the field, it’s important to prepare ahead of time and keep a few important aspects in mind as we move towards our favorite time of year.

BACK TO BASICS
Your dog doesn’t have to be a field champion to Dove hunt, but all retrievers need a solid basic program before going to the field.
Obedience takes time and practice. Most retriever programs are geared in 3-4 months segments. A solid “sit” and “heel/here” command are a must. Training with birds (pigeons) is the perfect way to get your retriever ready for the fall. Strong marking is a must, as doves are fast flyers. A good retriever will have to be steady, under control, and mark well to make those strong retrieves. There are many programs that one can use to train. Find one that fits you and your dog, and then go for it! Always keep your program balanced to maintain a good attitude and eagerness in your dog. There are numerous trainers here in Texas. If time is critical, they can be of great service. Another resource for training can be to visit your local retriever club. AKC/UKC clubs are located all over Texas.
If your dog is older and trained, remember that off season workouts will keep them in shape and healthy. Make sure you are feeding a high quality dog food. We prefer a 30:20 ratio, 30% protein to 20% crude fat. Believe it or not, better feed keeps your dog cooler in the summer heat.

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COMMON SENSE
The excitement of opening day is not only felt by us, but by our retrievers as well. Realistic expectations are different for every dog. Do you have the rookie that’s new to the field or the veteran in his 3rd season?
A young dog in its first season takes more patience and guidance. Staying away from large groups and instead hunting with one or two fellow hunters ensures a quality outing for a young dog.
With a veteran, off season work is still just as important. Keeping them in shape will prevent injuries and overheating. We use swimming as a daily exercise to help condition our dogs for the upcoming dove season.
No matter what age your dog is, use common sense in the field at all times and always have a plan. Keep ample water for them, pay attention to shaded areas, and have a first aid kit on hand. Depending on the area, you may want to de-snake your dog and talk to your vet about the rattlesnake vaccine.

WINTER SEASON
We had numerous people say “My dog does not like doves”. Is it really the doves? Or the heat that makes it hard on your dog? Hunters should take advantage of the winter season. Small numbers of hunters, combined with a large amount of birds and cooler temps, makes the winter season an ideal experience for all dogs.
Having your dog join you in the field makes dove hunting even more rewarding. Having an off season program, using common sense in the field, and taking advantage of the different hunting seasons will help you and your dog have a successful and memorable dove season.

BY STEVE BIGGERS