Commands in the Field

By: Ryan Eder – President, Upland Gundog Association LLC, Goldeneyes Retrievers

If someone were to ask you “what commands do you use most in the field” what would your answer be? Are we even aware half of the time of what we are saying to our dogs while hunting? Is our perception accurate? We’ve all had those days where we spend more time yelling out of frustration, and of course on those days we sure do not want to be asked this question! All kidding aside, vocabulary between a dog and handler is important. These commands are the basis for how we handle our dogs in hunting situations, and of course need to be accounted for in our training both early stages, and maintenance training throughout our dog’s life.

There are no set commands; we all have our own preferences in reference to what “commands” we like to use. For example, some say “here”, and some say “come”. Both commands mean the same thing. I will not tell anyone what specific commands to use, but I will dive into what types of commands we need in the field with our dogs, and all other situations that arise from hunting with dogs. These commands are also critical in the home. Keep in mind that we all hunt with different types of dogs and pursue different kinds of game as well so while the vocabulary may not align in all cases, conceptually the basic necessities should be fairly consistent.

It all comes down to basics
Having control of our dog is not just a domination thing; it is critical for their safety, as well as the safety of others in the field. We need our dog to come when called, leave us to either pursue a bird or make a retrieve and also remain steady or still to not disrupt a hunt, be in our way or get themselves into harm’s way. The vocabulary for these commands varies, but your basic HERE, HEEL, SIT and STAY come to mind. For pointing dog folks, we tend to use WHOA as a command also, which simply means “don’t move”. Where else can these commands be applied?

We need to recall our dogs all the time, whether in the yard or field. Let’s not forget traveling with our dogs to hunt tests, field trials or hunting trips requires us to have our dogs in new places where we need to make sure they come when called. Imagine a road side motel parking lot where you unload gear and have to tend to your dogs. It is critical that they obey this command to avoid getting near a road, or disrupting others. The same applies in the field when a dog ranges too far, or has to be called back for any reason.

As a waterfowl hunter, my dogs almost always operate from the HEEL position (at my side). Once I tell them to heel, then SIT, they are not supposed to move unless instructed to retrieve a bird, or move for any reason. When we upland bird hunt, I always have my dog at the Heel position while walking into the field to prevent them from hunting ahead or too soon and busting birds prematurely.

Sit / Stay
As mentioned previously, a waterfowl dog may not have a more important command than SIT. In most cases, SIT is simultaneous with STAY and means to remain in that spot until instructed otherwise. Not only is this important for steadiness in the blind, but there are all kinds of random occurrences in the field (upland bird hunting or waterfowl hunting) where we simply need our dog to stop what they are doing and sit for safety or strategic reasons. Imagine a dog that is coming back from a retrieve and a new group of ducks comes in. It is very convenient to have a dog that can sit on command (or whistle) to minimize movement and allow hunters to work the birds. Of course, we want to do this only if we can take safe shots at the ducks with our dog in the field. The same is true for upland hunting with a dog. We may want a dog to stop and remain in a sit position to avoid crossing a barb wire fence or road.

This command may have a couple of different meanings, but the two most common are either sending a dog on a blind retrieve (applicable to upland or waterfowl hunting) or sending a dog on multiple retrieves. Imagine shooting 4 ducks in your decoy spread and sending your dog to pick up the birds. Each time you send the dog back out, you may use the BACK command. The same is true if we shoot a couple of quail or pheasants.

“Hunt ‘em up”
Almost always we have an instance where we are not sure where the bird landed and running a blind retrieve proves difficult because we as handlers aren’t even sure where it is! Or the bird is wounded and has begun its escape! A command that means “go find the bird” comes in handy, so “hunt ‘em up”, or “find the bird” seem to be quite popular.
Our vocabulary in the field can be whatever you choose as a handler, but remember it needs to be consistent! I have always found that a simpler vocabulary works best, and minimizes confusion on the dog’s part. Good luck this season!