Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
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"When you start shooting over the dog, do you want to mix up birds that "fly-away" with retrieves?"
"When you first start giving the dog flushes, you don’t want to miss any birds. You want to get all the birds down that so the dog builds a strong association between birds and gunfire. Risking a miss and trying to get long marks out of a young dog goes out the window at this stage. This is where you, as the handler, need to know your guns. Some guns can let the birds get out there and still knock them down and while others can’t knock them down at twenty yards. The number one goal here is to get the bird down so the dog gets the retrieve."
"Once you have the dog quartering well, retrieving and has experience with gunfire we can start to extend him a bit. You know as well as me not every bird is going to get shot. So as far as "flyaway" birds, you don’t need to plan to let any fly away, that will happen naturally. On that bird that does get away, a lot of puppies will chase and chase and chase, you think they will go clear to the next county. At this point, we have to be patient and once you see you have their attention you take a clip-wing out and toss it into the air and blow your "come-in" whistle."
"What we are doing here is starting to associate the "come-in" whistle with the possibility of a bird being there. Sometimes we have a puppy that figures out early that if he chases the bird, he is not going to catch it, therefore he doesn’t even bother. That’s not a bad deal either; as long as he keeps a strong flush we don’t get too concerned with "no chasing". This is where the proper balance between clip-wings and "fly-away" birds is important to keep the flush strong. This is all a step-by-step process. We start retrieving in the yard, then quartering in the field. Then move to finding clip-wings with their nose and retrieving them back to the handler. Then finally move to allowing the dog to flush birds. While all this is going on, we have been conditioning the dog to loud and sudden noises. Then we let the dog chase for a while and keep shooting birds until the dog is ready to be steadied."
"When would you start the steadying process?"
"Well that depends. Different people have different feelings on the proper time to steady a young dog. We typically have most of our dogs steady by a year old. However, many professionals prefer to wait until the dog is a year and a half old before steadying him. It all depends on the amount of time the pro has with the dog and how the dog is doing in training. If you have a dog that is lackadaisical about his training, you might wait until the dog is a little older before starting the steadying process. It’s better to error on the side of waiting until the dog is older before applying the level of control on the dog necessary to steady the dog. Once the control is applied, you can’t really step back without confusing the young dog."
"How does the type of bird effect the dog during this whole process? When should you introduce wild game birds, like chuckar and pheasant?"
"Well, there are a number of things to consider when you select a bird to train a dog on. The first is the temptation factor. The size of the bird and the level of temptation it offers the dog often go hand and hand. The larger bird, like a cock pheasant, makes more noise when it takes off and tends to fly lower then pigeons, which tend to go straight in the air."
"When it comes time to move from one type of bird to the other, it makes sense to do some yard work with the dog before bringing him into the field. For instance, when introducing a dog to pheasants we will take a dead bird or a clip-wing and toss it around the yard a few times to get the dog use to the smell and allow him time to become familiar with the bird before moving to the field. This way you reduce the surprise when the dog sees the bird for the first time out in the field. When you move a dog to a bigger bird you have to be on your toes a little more. Whether it’s worrying about the dog breaking or handling the larger bird, you need to be prepared to handle the situation before it unfolds. This is where professional trainers really earn their money. They are able to apply their years of experience to head off any problems long before they occur."
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