Proper Introduction to Birds and Gunfire - An Interview with David Lauberby Geoffrey English
Last month we spent time talking with David Lauber, regarding the proper way to introduce dogs to birds. This month we will continue that discussion as he explains moving from yard work to fieldwork with birds and introducing gunfire to young dogs.
If introduced properly, a well-bred young spaniel should show no hesitation retrieving pigeons.
Photo by: Geoffrey A. English
"Geoff, as I stated last month, the answers I present during this interview are only one way to solve a problem. In dog training, we often have to try many different approaches before we find an approach that works with a particular dog. This is where the advice and experience of reputable professional trainers comes into play. By constantly refining their training program, professional trainers can often avoid the inevitable pitfalls facing a novice when training a dog. A well thought out training program, built on experience, can often be the difference that makes or breaks a field trial champion."
"Last month we left off at the point where a young dog has been introduced to a ‘clip-wing’ pigeon in the yard. At that point, the dog had been introduced to the check cord during yard work, setting the stage for moving into the field, however, we have not touched on gun-breaking. When should we start thinking about gun-breaking our young spaniel?"
"Well, before we move to the field we are already working on gun-breaking. Gun-breaking begins when the dog is young, by banging two pans together at feeding time. Before feeding the dogs, we start off about 10-15 yards away from the pen, where the dogs are, and bang together two pan lips softly while heading toward them. We don’t have to crash them like cymbals. We keep this up and watch them to see what type of reaction we are getting from them. Nine times out of ten they just sit there and look at us like, "what the heck are you doing?" We continue doing this twice a day at just before we feed the dogs. Once they get use to this, we start to bang the lids together a little harder, making the sound a little louder. We keep this process up until you actual start shooting over the dog."
"Another thing that works pretty well is to allow a young dog to hear gunfire in the distance before formally introducing them to the gun. We stake our young dogs out and let them watch the older dogs work. This accomplishes two things, first it excites them, and secondly they start to hear gunfire long before we start shooting around them. This works well because the young dog starts to develop a positive initial association with the gunfire, at a distance. When we first begin this process, we are very careful to make sure that the gun closest to the puppies does not shoot as we move up the field and get closer to the pups. We make sure the gun furthest away does all the shooting. That way we are not introducing loud gunfire prematurely. You don’t necessarily have to stake the dog out to accomplish this, often just having the dog in the kennel while we are shooting over older dogs will accomplish the same thing."
"What indication should we be looking for from the dog that indicates he is ready for the field and the gun?"
"Before we go to the guns with the dog, we want to make sure they are retrieving consistently in the field while quartering. Then while they are quartering, you want to have the opposite gun (if the dog is at the left-hand gun, the opposite gun would be the right-hand gun) to shake a bird to get the dog’s attention and throw it in the air and shoot before the puppy gets there. Timing is very important; you need to make sure that the puppy is as far away from the gun as possible. This process will get them use to the gunshot, plus it’s going to reward them with a retrieve. Soon they will say, "Hey, when a gunshot goes off, there will be a bird on the ground." You want to do this before ever giving him a flush. The same concept holds true when giving the dog a bird to flush. You want to make sure neither gun shoots directly over the top of the dog."
"You’re going to tell right from the first shot if the dog is going to like or dislike the gunshot. If he shows any little hesitation on the gunshot or his tail goes between his legs, you will need to back off a little. You’re better to back up a step instead of pushing ahead."
To start, don't worry about how he picks the bird up, just encourage him to bring it back to you.
Photo by: Geoffrey A. English
"How would you go about backing up?"
"The first thing we would do is to make sure the dog does not hear gunshots while quartering in the field. Second, we would give him more time on the "chain-gang" and let him listen to the gunfire a little more. You’re better off stepping back a bit then trying to push forward and cause problems. We have never, knock on wood, had a dog that we could not fix by following this procedure. I have seen a couple dogs that would jump or drop their tail on the shot, but after a couple of times their attitude changed once they realized there was going to be a bird on the ground as a result of the shot."