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|Hopefully, when you toss the bird the dog will tear after it. Perhaps the dog will immediately grab the bird. Or maybe it will cautiously approach the pigeon, getting up the nerve to tentatively smell it and make sure it's not a threat. In the latter case, be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and your pup won't be trained in a day either. Let the pup advance at its own pace. Put a piece of duct tape over your mouth and resist saying, "Find the bird! Find the bird! Where's the birdie? Good dog! That a way!" Remember, the fewer distractions, the better.
If you are introducing a pup between six and 16 weeks old, keep in mind that boldness comes in numbers. Two or more pups on the ground at the same time will give each other confidence. They'll act like a street gang and be a lot less timid.
It is important to remember that you are not training to retrieve; you are introducing the dog to birds. If the dog grabs the bird and runs for the woods or starts gnawing it, don't shout, "No!" or "Here!" in an angry tone. Your objective is to develop the dog's confidence. Don't have a check cord on the dog now either, as this will be one less distraction for the dog, and you won't have to resist the temptation to pull the dog to you when it has the bird in its mouth.
You can solve the problem of the dog running away with the bird by using some sort of corridor. I use snow fencing to create an alley, which I later use for retrieving work. If the dog picks up the bird and brings it to you, by all means take advantage of your good fortune and praise the dog. If the dog is mouthing the bird, smelling it or tugging at the tail feathers, simply walk up and give the dog an encouraging pet and toss the bird out again.
Once you ascertain that the dog is not intimidated by the pigeon and enthusiastically pounds after it, you are ready to move to the next step. In the case of pointing dog training, I next use a harnessed quail. I use a bamboo pole with a piece of clothesline attached to it that is in turn attached to the quail harness. A five or six-foot length of line works great. The quail can fly around but not away. I take one or more pups out in an area with good visibility and toss the bird. I can twitch the quail to excite the pups. When the pups rush for the bird, I fly it by lifting it off the ground with the pole. I don't want pointing pups catching the bird, as the more they catch, the less likely they'll be to point. It is hoped that the
In the case of flushing and retrieving breeds, the sessions will remain in the snow-fence corridor. I'll tape the wings on a pigeon or use rubber bands to bend the flight feathers together so the pigeon can flap but not fly away. I'll toss the flapping bird down the corridor with the flusher/retriever in full pursuit. Once the dog is bold and confident with the flapping bird, I'll progress to fly-away birds.
With both flushing and pointing breeds, I then let quail out of a Johnny House recall pen. I hold the dog by the dog collar and let it see the birds walk out. I then release the dog, which should act like it was shot out of a cannon. I let the dog chase and become a bird junkie. This is not the time to command "Here" and try to instill obedience. Let the pup have fun. The dog should now be enthusiastic and confident around birds. I plant some flyers (pigeons, quail, chukar or hen pheasants) in the training field and let the pup loose. I like to have enough birds planted that I can assume the dog will find some to chase. Once the dog is aggressively chasing birds, I am ready to introduce the gun.
I need an assistant to introduce the dog to gunfire. I have this person stand 75 to 100 yards away with a .22 crimp pistol as opposed to a .22 starter pistol, a pistol that fires 209 primers or a shotgun. A .22 crimp makes a low, piercing sound. I tease the dog with a rubber-banded pigeon, then toss the bird. The pigeon will flutter out 20 to 30 yards with the dog in hot pursuit. Just as the bird is about to touch down, with the dog thinking, Gotcha!, I wave my hand to instruct my assistant to fire the pistol.
The dog should not acknowledge the sound. I then toss a few more pigeons, with my helper firing just as the dog is closing in on each bird. This way, in the dog's mind, every bird is shot and my assistant never misses. I have the assistant move closer over a period of days until I can fire the crimp from my side with the dog showing only focus on the bird. I then repeat the entire procedure with 209 primers, then a .410, then a 28, a 20 and finally a 12-gauge shotgun.
The only thing left to do is to introduce the dog to a rooster pheasant. Taping the wings of a cockbird, I toss him out in plain view of the dog. Once I see that the dog is confident enough to charge after a rooster, I'm ready to plant gamebirds in my training field and shoot them. Hit or miss, the dog won't have a problem. Now we are well on our way to developing a gundog and can progress in our training program with confidence.
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