, Gloucester, MA

August 23, 2013

Outdoors: Training An Upland Bird Dog

Dave Sartwell

---- — I have trained dogs all of my life. Like children, each and every one of them has been different. To get a dog to respond to you, you first have to know what it is you want the dog to do, truly understand the temperament of your dog, and then apply consistent, gentle, firm, and loving training over a long period of time.

Bird dogs, by their nature, want to please their owner. They want to get out of the house or kennel and run and play. If you make this time together fun, they will eagerly await your approach every day. You can use fear to train a dog. You can get a dog to obey, but if you want a dog that has joy in its step when you enter the woods, training with positive re-enforcement is the key.

An upland bird dog puppy will point naturally at about six weeks old or less. Take a bird wing and tie it to a line of about eight feet long. Attach this line to the end of a fishing rod. Put the puppy on the lawn and drop the wing about six feet in front of him. The minute he notices it, give the wing a twitch so the puppy sees the movement. Nine times out of ten he will simply stop and point. Learning moment.

When the puppy points give him praise and soft touches. He learns immediately that you really like his reaction to the stimulus. Do not make him point long, but re-enforce the action every time he does it. With a puppy their attention span can be short. Do not overdue because it will stop being fun. But, present the training opportunity every day.

There are three things you initially want a young hunting dog to do. The first is to stop. The second is to hold. The third is to go away. You will notice I did not mention the words come or retrieve. Those will be worked on later.

Woa. There are several reasons you want a dog to stop on command. The first is of course for her own protection. Railroad tracks, car roads, harm from other animals, etc. are all reasons you want your dog to obey the stop command. Once stopped you want to have your dog stay there until you can get to him. However, once you have taught your dog to stop on command it will blend into the “woa” command once she has pointed a bird.

You can start this control in your kitchen. Put her dog food in the dish. Make sure your puppy is on a lead. You can start this out with the sit command. Hold the dog on the leash and say “sit.” Gently push down on her hind quarters until she does. If she pops right back up, push her down again gently but firmly and repeat the “sit” command. Immediately then say “woa”. She needs to understand that “sit’ is the action down and “woa” is the staying part.

If she stays for even a few seconds, say “go ahead” and let her tackle her food. Do this every time you feed her so that she knows that before she is going to get food she has to obey you. Remember “sit”, “woa”, and “go ahead” every time. The “sit” part is the easiest. It is the “woa” is the hardest. If she starts to move forward, anticipate this and say “woa” with a little re-enforcing tug.

Once she gets this down, extend the time you make her sit before you give the go ahead signal. And, when you give the sit command, raise your hand in the stop position. She will soon learn to respond to the physical gesture as well as your words. They same is true of the go ahead command. I like to reach down and tap her backside to release her but a simple wave forward also works. If your dog is older, this is an ideal way to start to gain control.

Now try this while you drop the leash. The easiest way to do this is to get her to sit, stand behind her and slowly put the leash on the floor and walk away a bit. Make her understand that the command does not need a physical restraint to be re-enforced. If at anytime she bolts, go right back to the beginning steps until she realizes there is no option but obey. As this gets better walk around in front of her. Then try leaving the room. She must understand to stay sitting until you release her.

The “woa” command is where we are eventually leading, but she needs to sit first. You will be amazed how quickly the average dog will pick up on this training. The next step is to take her out in the yard and repeat these commands without the presence of food. I do use treats as rewards for good behavior, but not every time. Keep these training sessions very short and then reward the concentration with a lot of free roaming play time. Yoy are trying to develop a team member that loves to perform as opposed to a robot who only does it out of fear.

Take your puppy into the woods and let them play around. Watch them as they follow a scent. Play hide and seek. Let them get lost and have to follow your scent to find you. If your mate wants to join you, have them hold the puppy using the “sit” and “whoa” command until you run ahead out of sight and hide. The dog will work It out. Be happy when she finds you and give her a pat and a tickle, rewarding her tracking ability.

Now is the time to introduce quail or pheasant. I like quail as a puppy trainer because pheasant can be a bit imposing for a little tyke. Take a quail in hand and tie long strips of a sheet or shirt to its two legs. This will prevent it from flying very far. Command the dog to “sit” and “whoa”. In front of the puppy let the quail go on the ground. It will either run or fly.

The puppy will be excited and every dog wants to give chase. Don’t be too demanding at first about the commands. Let the dog run to the bird. Within three or four releases really start to demand “sit” and “whoa”. You will be amazed how quick your new found hunting companion will respond. And, if you are lucky enough to get a point as the puppy approaches the bird, grab the leash, hold the dog and gently whisper “whoa”. You have the start to a life-long hunting companion.