Training Your Bird Dog
Q: My breeder told me his dogs have a lot of natural talent,
I'm not sure that I even need to plan on taking him through a training program.
What are your thoughts? Can expect him to do it all naturally?
The genetic potential to be a great bird dog is just that, the potential. To reach that potential your dog needs the experience. He needs both bird exposure and training. In short, he needs you to step in as his coach.
Without training and your assistance as a coach, all that your pup will have to direct him is his inherent desire for birds. In short, he will use his genetic toolbox to find and chase available prey. If that means chasing dove at the feeder in the backyard or squirrels across the top of the power line then so be it. He will pursue what is available in his environment. Chasing squirrels may very quickly become his focus. The emphasis there is on chasing.
In order to survive in the animal world a predator (ie: canine) will pick up the trail of a prey animal by either sight or scent. He will then pursue or stalk that prey until he makes the attack and gets his meal. It’s not natural for a predator to stalk their prey and then wait for another predator (ie: humans) to go in and get the meal.
That’s where training comes in. Through training we can teach our canine friends to locate our prey and wait there for us to go in ahead and shoot the bird. This is a controlled stalk...or a point.
There are some schools of thought that a dog, if allowed to chase enough, will soon learn they cannot catch the bird and begin to point and from that point forward we can successfully hunt with them. It is our experience that this generally does not hold true. If a dog chases enough a couple of things will happen. They will eventually catch a bird and they will develop the mindset of always chasing.
In our world today, many of the birds we work with and hunt are pen raised. These birds are more likely to not fly very well or very far. That means many times they will end up being caught. Success in catching birds after the flush will encourage a dog to chase.
Even when a dog is working wild birds they can catch them and will develop the habit of chasing. If you’ve come by our facility you’ve probably seen our old grey faced GSP, Abby. She was raised on a 47,000 acre ranch in West Texas. Talk about a bird dog’s paradise to run loose and chase birds everyday! And that is just what she did. Calculating the numbers of birds that dog chased in her youth is mind boggling. It’s safe to say she easily averaged a covey a day for the first two years of her life. And she caught her fair share of wild birds too.
With that experience that very few dogs are able to gain, what did Abby learn? To be an extremely proficient hunter and to chase every bird she could find.
So in order to have a proficient, yet steady bird dog that you can be successful hunting with, young dogs need to be provided with both the bird exposure and the training. The bird exposure will hone their skills at using their noses to locate game birds (instead of using their eyes to track the squirrel on the power line) and training to learn to stand on point until released.
If you can get your young pup out in a field multiple times a week it will really help him to develop his inherent instincts. Let him discover tweety birds, briars, water, and whatever else he may encounter. Learning to be comfortable with the sights and sounds he will find out in the country will help him. If you can get some game birds for him and introduce him to birds that will begin to develop that ability use his nose to find birds. Give him as many opportunities to find birds as you can.
At about a year of age you will want to begin formal training with your young dog. There are three basic behaviors that every well trained bird dog should know. Those are; go with you, come to you, and stand still. Training your dog those simple behaviors will help you to develop a dog that is steady on his birds and is a pleasure to hunt with.
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