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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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5) Train by Repetition
Consistent performance in response to your commands should be one of your training goals. This is accomplished through repetition, as a dog learns by rote, much as you did when learning multiplication tables. Keep in mind that a dog's attention span is limited; therefore short, frequent training sessions are far more effective than longer but fewer lessons.

Get into the habit of saying a command only once. Say the command, then make the pup comply. A well-trained dog performs the first time and will only do this if you demand excellence. If your dog learns it does not have to obey "Here" the first time, you may just lose it to a speeding truck on a back road.

6) Don't Overhandle
I have a friend to whom I'm going to give a roll of duct tape and a pair of handcuffs for Christmas. The duct tape is to place over his mouth and the handcuffs are to prevent him from flailing his arms needlessly while training his dog.

A command from my friend goes something like this: "C'mon, Baby, pick it up; hey, Sweetheart, bring it on over here; good girl, fetch it to Daddy; c'mon, you know what to do." And all this is accompanied with waving arms and pats on the chest and thighs. My dogs are not that smart; they respond better to one-syllable commands such as "Fetch." All that sweet talk simply confuses the dog. Again, say the command once.

7) Use Building Blocks
All training experiences interlock. Each level of training must be solid if you're to eventually hunt over a showcase gundog.

It is improbable that your dog will be steady to wing if it is not staunch on point. Think of your training as building on the dog's experiences and the commands pup has learned, and understand that your dog, no matter how intelligent, is no Einstein. The teaching of commands must be broken down into sub-parts. "Throw me the football. . . . No, pick it up first." Thus, the command "Fetch" involves running or swimming to the object, picking it up, returning to you and making a proper delivery.

Your training, particularly at the more advanced levels, such as teaching blind retrieves, will proceed more effectively if you build one command on top of another, making sure that every command is solid before moving on.

8) Don't Lose Your Temper
As a trainer, you are a teacher first and foremost. This doesn't mean you won't have to wear the hat of disciplinarian at times; you will. However, there are a few principles involving correction that will serve you well.

Don't discipline a dog for not complying with a command it does not understand. I once saw a handler command "Whoa" to his setter as the dog was chasing a bird. The handler then captured and disciplined the dog. In this case the owner had not taught the pup "Whoa." Thus, the dog had no idea why it was being corrected.

A dog must be corrected at the place of the infraction at the time of the infraction. If you command "Sit" at point A and the dog moves to point B, don't discipline it at point B. Bring the pup back to point A and demand that it sits. If you command "Here" and the dog runs off before eventually returning, do not discipline the dog. It will think it is being disciplined for coming back to you.

Don't discipline because you are angry or frustrated. Correct in order to teach the dog you are the pack leader and demand your commands be carried out once they have been taught. If you lose your cool, end the training session. Dogs are very aware of body language and if you are agitated, your dog will short-circuit and become confused.

Don't resort to a "quick fix" by using an electronic dog training collar to punish your dog. A dog must be conditioned to electronic training, which I will cover in another article.

9) Expose Your Dog to the Gun Properly
"I brought my dog to the gun club to get him accustomed to the sound of gunshots." Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

There are dogs that, having never heard a gun, would be just fine if a rooster flushed in their face and a barrage of shots followed. However, assume this wouldn't be the case with your dog.

Getting a pup used to loud noises such as banging pans and shutting doors is beneficial. But when I introduce a dog to the gun I want the dog confident around birds first. The local preserve is the ticket, if you do not have birds available for "home use." When I introduce the dog to the gun, it has chased a lot of quail and pigeons and is bold and confident around birds. Throwing a taped-wing pigeon or releasing it via a bird launcher so that the bird flies 30 or 40 yards with the dog in full pursuit, I fire a cap pistol just before the pigeon comes to the ground. Everything in the dog's mind at this moment says, I've got you, bird! I've got you! The dog's focus is on the bird and, because the pup is bold and confident, the gun is not an issue. I then proceed cautiously and, over time, work my way up to a .410, then to a 20-gauge, then to a 12.

10) Expose Your Dog to Birds
This is what it's all about- the button popping pride of watching your pup develop into a world-class shooting dog. The more birds your dog is exposed to, the more experience the youngster gets, the better bird dog it will become. But your dog will first need to learn to hunt. It won't learn this in the backyard sitting perfectly, holding a dog training dummy in its mouth. Birds, birds, birds. This is the key to your dog learning to hunt. If you don't live in an area where Pup can find lots of wild birds, join a hunting preserve or lease a farmer's field and use pen-raised birds. The bottom line is that if your dog does not see birds, it will never become an accomplished bird dog.
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