John's Journal...


Why Clark Doesn’t Use A Dog

Click to enlarge Editor’s Note: Ducks and geese rained from the sky like a giant black cloud. Although making an exact count was difficult, the cloud appeared to have 300 to 400 ducks in it, a flight of 20 speckle-bellied (white-fronted) geese and about 50 Canada geese. I waited in my Ameristep bale blind for Bob (Rip) Clark of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, to call the shot. When I finally heard him say the words I’d been waiting for, “Take ‘em,” the Canada geese had dropped down through the swarm of ducks and were right in front of my layout blind.

I noticed when we hunted from the bale blind out in the fields that Clark kept his yellow Labrador retriever, Winchester, in a crate in the back of his truck until after the hunt was over, instead of putting the dog in the blind with him and his hunter. Clark explained that, “The bale blinds are difficult for the dog to Click to enlargeget in and out of, and the dog can’t really see what’s going on through the bale blind. So, often he’ll get a little fidgety. Too, I don’t bring the dog into the bale blind because he’ll stay out in the field until he finds all the birds that are down. Many days we’ll have flight after flight of ducks and geese coming in right behind each other. If the dog is out in the field looking around for downed birds, he’ll spook the flights trying to come into the decoys. I’ve found that I’m more efficient in the fields running around and picking up the birds after the hunters have shot rather than to have the dog out in the field. If I see a flight coming in to the decoys, I can just lay down flat and let the flight come in, or if I’m close enough to the blind, I can get into the blind before the flight reaches the hunters. But when a dog looks for downed birds, it’s not looking up for incoming flights. But, I do bring the dog on the hunt to pick up birds that have fallen a long way from the spread or that may become lost if we don’t have the dog with us.”

Clark explains that some of the hunters bring their dogs with them when they come to hunt at Dog ‘N Click to enlargeDuck, and he’s quick to say, “I’ve seen some pretty bad dogs on these hunts before. Most of the dogs the hunters bring are house pets and totally out of control, which creates a problem. But from what I’ve seen, the problems aren’t really the dog’s problem. The hunter usually is the problem because he either hasn’t trained the dog properly or he doesn’t handle the dog properly in the blind or in the field. All the guides at Dog ‘n Duck use Labrador retrievers. These dogs have good dispositions, and they are strong enough to break through the ice at the end of the season to make retrieves across frozen ponds and lakes. We not only need a dog that’s steady, but we have to have a dog that will make a blind retrieve, because many times the birds will fall where the dogs can’t see them. The dog has to be able to run out from the blind, stop and turn around and look at you when you blow a whistle and be able to take hand signals so you can direct him to the downed bird. The better the dog is, the better your hunt will be, because if you can direct your dog to the birds, it will be out and back in a hurry and won’t flare ducks and geese that want to work to the decoys.”

Clark remembers a hunter who brought a rowdy dog into the blind with him. “The hunter couldn’t control the dog, so he tied Click to enlargethe dog to his seat,” Clark said. “We were hunting from blinds that were made of aluminum frames, and we had covered the front of the blinds with weeds and straw. When the first flight of ducks came in, the very second the hunter came up to shoot, the dog lurched forward, broke through the blind and went running out into the field, still tied to the rope and dragging the hunter’s chair. The dog did pick up the duck that the hunter had shot and proudly brought the duck back to the blind dragging the chair behind him. Although the hunter was ready to shoot his dog, the dog hadn’t really created the problem. The hunter had just failed to train the dog to sit steady for the shot.” Clark laughs when he talks about hunters and their dogs. “Dogs don’t have a huge vocabulary. They function best with one-word commands. I’ve seen hunters talk to their dogs when the dogs were out in the field like they would talk to a person. For instance, I’ve seen hunters say things to their dogs like, ‘Rover, don’t go over there. You should be over here on the other side of the blind.’ You can see the dog looking at the hunter and cocking his head to the left and right as if to say, ‘What do you really want me to do?’ Dogs don’t have the ability to reason when they hear a sentence like humans do. If you want to train a dog to hunt waterfowl, use one-word commands to let your dog know what to do.”

To learn more about Dog ‘N Duck, call (780) 913-1337 or (780) 416-3825, e-mail, or visit



Check back each day this week for more about WATERFOWLER'S HEAVEN WITH JOHN E. PHILLIPS...

Day 1 - The Beginning of a Great Hunt
Day 2 - Exciting Hunts At Dog ‘N Duck
Day 3 - When To Make The Call And Aggravating The Guide
Day 4 - Why Clark Doesn’t Use A Dog
Day 5 - Sky Carp



Entry 272, Day 4