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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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A young dog handles her first pigeon with ease.
Spaniels Online:
“Do you have to worry about attitude when your working with dead birds or is the excitement of a new object and new smells enough to keep their attitude high?”

David Lauber:
“You always have to be concerned with attitude in a young dog. Once the young dog is retrieving the dead pigeons consistently, we immediately take them out to the bird pen. This helps to bring the dogs attitude up yet another notch. The bird pen is a 20-yard x 5-yard pen, with a top on it. We take the puppies out to this pen and let them chase a couple of flying pigeons. Often times, they will hoot and holler having all kinds of fun. One thing I like to do is to lightly dizzy the pigeon and put it on the ground for the dog to find. This will help develop the dog’s flush. What we are trying to do here is to teach the puppy early that if he chases the bird it will fly and if he chases the bird long enough he will eventually catch it. If all we do is throw birds from hand, for the young dogs, they may be caught by surprise when a bird flushes in the field.”

“When they finally catch the bird, we encourage them to bring it back to us, being sure they don’t ’munch’ the bird and kill it. Chances are they will try to play with it, because it new to them, it’s alive and trying to get away. You want to encourage them to pick up the bird like they were doing with the dead bird earlier. If they don’t bring it back to you, don’t make a big deal about it, just go to them and take the bird away from them.”

Spaniels Online:
"At this point, if the puppy does not bring the bird back to you, would you pick the pup up and call it a day or would you continue?"

David Lauber:
“At this point in the spaniel training process, we want to get the pup as excited about chasing birds as we can. However, we only give him two birds in a session. If one of the birds flies around the pen for a long time we would be satisfied with the session. Then we would take him out to the yard and review retrieving with a dead pigeon.”

Spaniels Online:
"When can you expect the dog to start retrieving the live pigeon like he has been retrieving the dead one in the yard?"

David Lauber:
“As you can tell, during this phase of training we are working on a couple things simultaneously. On the one hand, we are working on the chase/flush, and on the other hand, we are working on the retrieving. Each step, so far, has been part of a structured process that builds upon itself and leads us to the next step where we expect the pup to begin retrieving a live ’clip-wing’ pigeon.”

“When introducing a young dog to a ’clip-wing’, we go back to the hall or confined area and do the same thing we did before. However, this process will probably take longer than all the retrieving work we have done thus far, with the rag, the dowel, and the dead pigeon. The primary reason for this is because the pup is now handling a live bird and the bird is going to fight and the dog may not know exactly how to react. It becomes a cat and mouse game, “I’ll let you go and I’ll catch you again.” This is where patience really comes into play. If you have a dog that is a strong retriever, he probably won’t have much problem at this stage. However, you still may want to use a check-cord at this stage. When he decides he is not going to bring the bird right back, you give it a slight steady pull, don’t jerk or pull hard on the cord. Apply just enough pressure to get them to bring the bird back to you.”

“This whole process sets the stage for yard work. Now, when you go out to yard you can use the check-cord to correct retrieving issues. Remember this is all a learning process for the pup, he’s young, he might not know what’s going on, and he might just try to see what he can get away with. When used properly, the check-cord takes away many of his options and gives us the desired result - A dog that handles birds properly and retrieves to hand.”

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