You have decided to train your bird dog. Fantastic! Here are some tips for beginners.
It’s easy to fall in love with a pretty face. However, when training a bird dog, it makes good sense to start off with the appropriate puppy. Decide, before you even start, if you want a pointer or a retriever. Starting young is one key to training a great hunting dog.
This means going to a reputable breeder who stands behind his or her pups. How do you find a reputable breeder? You can start off by asking your hunting buddies where they got their dogs. Or you can check with the American Kennel Club. While you aren’t looking for a show dog, the AKC can still give you good information on reputable breeders and also how to spot one. We also have a small list of dog breeders on our site you can review.
Make sure you can see where the pup is being brought up. You’re looking for cleanliness, roominess, and for the dogs and puppies to look healthy. Eyes should be bright, snouts should be moist but not runny, pups should be lively and friendly, and the puppies should be well-fed without being overweight.
Reputable breeders make an effort to match their puppies with the best and most responsible owners and may even ask you to sign a contract. Some responsible breeders will reclaim their puppy if you are no longer able to care for him or her. They should be willing to answer questions and the puppies should not shy away from them.
Also, responsible breeders won’t let you take your puppy home before about 8 or 12 weeks. However, you should be able to visit. Ask about nutrition! If your breeder is close to your home, ask about veterinarians as well.
Early Care and Training
Trainer Tracy Divelbliss suggests blowing a whistle every time you feed your puppy. This way, the puppy will learn to associate good things with your whistle. You can start very basic training, too. Throw a tennis ball and get your puppy to retrieve it. Offer lavish praise for correct behaviors. Positive reinforcement is the ideal way to train a puppy. Divelbliss only hands out negative reinforcement for biting or licking (because licking can lead to biting). Negative reinforcement includes the command: No!
Early commands should also include sit, heel, and stay. Sit is a great first positive command because it’s easy for you to teach and for your puppy to learn. Sit also teaches a pup that good things happen during training. Plus it works well as a means of introducing your dog to the more advanced concepts of heel and stay. Heel is important because you give your dog a lesson in sticking by you and in following your lead. Stay is important because it can quite literally save your dog’s life and prevent them from running in front of a car. Use these commands while walking your puppy in your neighborhood as that will help him or her get better socialized. Your puppy will need a smaller puppy collar, like the kind found in our Puppy Training Kit.
For Divelbliss, the best first hunting command for a pointer is whoa. This is achieved through use of a whoa board, which is just a small board which could technically be made from sanded scrap wood. The other required piece of equipment is a so-called suitcase leash. The suitcase leash clips to the dog’s collar and wraps around the dog’s haunches.
A regular leash can be made like this by using a suitcase wrap, which is to clip the leash to the collar as always, run the leash under the dog’s belly and loop through the leash handle. Keep the loop either under the armpits or behind the ribcage (this is better for female dogs). The correction is a short one, which the puppy essentially does on his or her own. This form of correction keeps the puppy from pulling. It forms almost a harness and the idea is to teach your puppy that staying with you means good things are happening.
The whoa board is also used for this type of stay command. Whoa means ‘don’t move’. Using the board means the dog has a defined space they know they cannot leave. Positive reinforcement is key – which means positive as in lavish praise, and reinforcement as in repetition and practice. Whoa is good command for pointers as it keeps them from also flushing the bird.
For retrievers, Divelbliss substitutes sit and stay for whoa.
For all types of dogs, the kennel command is helpful – it’s a command to go into their crate or kennel. Not only is this necessary for sleeping at night, it’s also needed for transporting your puppy in a car.
Your puppy will need to be able to get across open fields and heavy cover, so get your dog started by just allowing exploration.
Introducing water training and swimming will pay off later. Even upland dogs may need to cross a creek, so make sure they are used to the water and are not afraid of it.
Dummy and Bird Training
Start off with hunting dummies, the right size for a puppy, like in our Pointing Puppy Starter Training Kit and in our Retriever Puppy Starter Training Kit. Use training scents to get your puppy familiar with birds.
Gun Dog Magazine suggests your puppy’s first introduction to birds be to a cold, dead pigeon, in a quiet place, free from other distractions. Let your puppy hold the bird but be prepared to gently stop any shaking or biting behavior. This will help prevent later mishandling of game.
But there’s nothing like the real thing. The Valhalla Hunt Club gives two tips for getting your puppy started with live birds. One idea is to join a local hunt club or training club, either of which should provide access to a variety of birds and terrain for training.
Another option is to have a field where your pup can run and your own game-planted birds. That is, you can get birds (pigeons are good for this as they are easy to work with) and place them in specific spots in the field for your dog to point or flush. You can also buy a portable recall pen. Either way, you can get your puppy used to birds and how they smell, sound, and move.
If you are just getting started with the essential equipment for training, check out our beginner kits we have put together. They include the Pointing Dog Starter Kit and our Bird Dog Starter Kit. And when you’re ready to graduate to gun work, move up to our Pointing Dog Trainer’s Kit and our Bird Dog Training Kit.
Your puppy only wants to please you. Bird dog training should be easy and fun for both of you. Make it another way for you and your canine best friend to bond, and you’ll be pals for life.