George Hickox School of Dog Training Articles
Properly introducing a dog to guns and birds is of paramount importance. A dog that blinks birds, turns off at the flush or heads for the truck at the first shot is not worth a tinker's damn in the field. Purposeful avoidance of birds, flush problems and gun-shyness are environmental or trainer-induced problems. Dogs are not born gun-shy; they are made that way.
In dog training there is no such word as "democracy." Sending a dog to retrieve a crippled greenhead from icy waters or a downed hot-footing pheasant from a slough is not an optional request. The dog should not have the choice of complying based on the water temperature, cover thickness or simply whether it feels like working. Neither should the hunter have to throw rocks to a floating bird and plead with the dog to fetch; nor, worse, jump into the water to show the dog how to do it. And bringing back crushed birds unfit for the table is unacceptable as well. The solution to all these problems is the forced retrieve.
In my training schools, workshops and previous columns I have stressed the importance of genetics. Genetics plus training and nutrition equal a bragging-rights shooting dog. I encourage everyone to buy a dog with the best genetics they can find (or afford). For me, one indication of good genetics is an untrained dog that hunts with wild abandon, running with an almost maniacal purpose of finding birds. It's easier to reel in a dog than cast it out, and a dog that doesn't venture too far may actually lack hunting desire and drive.
Training a young dog is an art, a science and a religion, as helping a genetically sound pup to become a world-class bird dog is a passion that requires a substantial commitment of time. Self-trained dogs are normally delinquents. When you purchase a pup, you make a pledge to bring that dog along right, and just as with other arts, sciences and religions, there are guidelines. If you adhere to the following 10 Commandments of Bird Dog Training, your chances of producing a first-rate gundog will be much improved.
By the time hunting season rolls around, sportsmen everywhere will have invested many hours in preparation. Old side-by-sides will have been cleaned and proper shells purchased. Boots will have been oiled, decoy lines unraveled and vests and hats retrieved from the attic. Evenings and weekends will have been spent on the sporting clays course brushing up on shots that proved difficult during the past season.
The most frequently asked question regarding dog training is undoubtedly, "When should I start training my pup?" The easy response-and correct answer-is from the first day the new dog is acquired. More difficult questions concern when particular commands/abilities should be taught/trained for and what levels of performance should be expected?
Holding point is the most important job your pointing dog has. A pointing dog that busts birds before the sportsman can approach is best relegated to cleaning up able scraps. If you aren’t going to train your dog to hold point, leave it home while you go hunting.