Bird hunting is hard enough — access to good ground, travel, logistics, and questionable shooting ability (at least for me). But you can seldom blame your dog for screwups in the field.

Next time your dog disobeys you, don't jump to the inevitable conclusion. It may not be recalcitrance. He may not be stubborn. He probably can't hear your commands.

When I attached a video camera to Buddy last season, it was clear from the playback that there are vision challenges when looking to a human for direction: shrubs, trees, rocks, hummocks all block his view. Thanks to the microphone on that camera, I've learned that it's an audio circus down there, too. Your verbal commands may be obliterated by the environment.

Depending on who you believe, dogs hear up to ten times better than us. So, many of the annoying little pops and crackles we hear sound like a freeway accident to him. Think about what he encounters down there: tags jingling from his collar, or a bell, brush crashing, screeching wind, footfalls on dry leaves, maybe a beeper collar right behind his ears, his own panting. All are overwhelming your frantic commands yelled into that auditory chaos.

Your Lab's ears might be hammered by a flock of Canada geese honking, or the churn of moving water as he looks to you for a line. Maybe there's another whining dog in the blind, or at a hunt test there could be dozens of barking dogs staked out nearby. It's no wonder dogs bungle their job once in a while … they can't hear our commands for all the noise at ground level.

If there's doubt in your mind about whether your dog can hear you, add hand signals or whistle just in case. Call his name and wait for acknowledgement before giving the command. Just remember to cut your dog some slack.

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