Want to see some very cool bird dog training rides? Just attend a field trial or AKC hunt test if you need some great ideas for your next dog training ride. You will see everything from the minivan weekend warrior to the hard core semi driven gooseneck with slideouts. Some are outrageous, but some of these outfits just make sense. Dog training trailers can be a nice option if you just want to hitch up and go. Or if you have the means, a dedicated dog truck can be a great way to go.
For the hardcore field trial competition folks, a combination for horse and dog hauling is essential. Some even have small living quarters to the front. I have seen both the fancy and the functional and everything in between.
For simply moving dogs and people to competitions and the training grounds, the chassis mount units are great. There is room for many dogs and plenty of training and/or hunting gear.
One of my favorites if you are on a budget is the camper shell conversion. You can pick up a used camper shell for around $500 and then create the compartments with plywood. The dog doors and hardware are the only additional cost. Plus, you still have the full length of bed underneath for hauling gear.
This is my Ford Ranger with an aluminum flatbed and a custom made dog box. Fits my four brittanys and training gear, better yet it fit my budget. I opted for one vehicle dedicated to dog training and bird hunting.
Many folks do not want to raise an 8 week old puppy. They prefer not to deal with the potty training, chewed couches, and stress of starting from scratch. A good option for those folks is to locate a started dog. Started dogs typically are 12 months or older and have been begun the training and obedience. They are referred to as started dogs because they are not done yet. They usually have the basics of hunting like pointing, gun intro, bird introduction and retrieving.
A started dog is usually just lacking the experience of a hunting season or two under their belt. Sometimes they just need to get into the field and learn from experience. Often they are potty trained, AKC registered and current on all their vaccinations. We found this 3 year old female brittany dog in the local classifieds. She was just taking up space and playing third fiddle to a couple of nice English Pointers. Her owner just wanted her to go to a good home. We feel like we found her one. We will be getting her hips OFA certified as well as a thorough checkup at the Vet.
In our training group we have worked with quite a few young puppies this past year. They ranged in age from 7 weeks all the way up to 17 months old. Many of them came from pet homes where they had never once been exposed to birds or a hunting situation. We like to start them all the same way once we get them into the field. The first phase of bird dog training is the introduction to birds. I feel this is one of the most important steps in bird dog training. You absolutely have to have a dog that likes birds if you hope to enjoy hunting with your dog.
There is no better way to get them comfortable around birds than using live birds. Some like to start with a wing on a string, but live birds are best. We most often use live pigeons since they are quite hearty and relatively easy to find in the lower 48 states. When possible and affordable we use quail and other gamebirds as well. Smaller birds are best for younger dogs since you want to build confidence in your hunting buddy. A bird that is the same size or bigger than your puppy can be really intimidating. Not good.
We try to keep training sessions short and positive. It should be fun and exciting. If your puppy will chase the bird then pick it up, you are well on your way to having a bird dog. If not, you may have a great pet on your hands. Holly is the lab puppy pictured above. She had zero hesitation on this clipped wing pigeon. She chased it a good twenty yards and promptly snatched it up and brought it back. Good dog.
We have raised a few litters of bird dog puppies in the last several years. Needless to say we have learned some important lessons along the way. Some lessons we learned the hard way and some we learned from other breeders. Either way we have gained some valuable knowledge about raising healthy puppies. I feel like some people get a little too invasive when whelping a litter of puppies. We have to remember that canines have been having healthy litters for hundreds of years without our help. A mother’s instincts are strong and typically right on.
The number one cause of premature death in puppies (less than 7 days old) is chilled or cold puppies. A dog house in the backyard may not be the warmest place for newborn puppies. They can be aided greatly by a simple heat lamp or electric heating pads. One of the best we have seen is the Lovett’s Heated Whelping Nest. The price is pretty expensive but if you save one puppy it is worth it. Warm puppies are healthy puppies, they digest food better and in turn grow and develop faster.
One of the things we will feel is important in bird dog training is early introduction to birds. Puppies with the pointing genes can display the desire to point at an early age. Some folks use the wing on the string, but I much prefer to use live birds. We use pigeons or bobwhite quail when introducing puppies to birds. We want to make sure that they have a positive experience the first time out in the field. The Brittany puppy pictured above is pointing a live pigeon at 9 weeks old.
We typically will remove the flight feathers from one wing so the bird cannot fly away but will still flap and flutter. This motion and action gets the puppy excited and makes them want to give chase. I think that is fine for puppies to do. I like to see them give chase, catch the bird and pick it up in their mouth. These are the basic tools you need to create a bird dog. If a young puppy likes birds and has a strong prey drive, the rest comes easy. Live birds are very important in bird dog training. Dead birds and wings are not much more than chew toys at this age.
A few words of caution. First, make sure to use a bird that is equal or smaller in size than your puppy. A big bird like a pheasant is not a good option for a first bird introduction. We want the puppy to feel confident and sure of himself. An adult pheasant can and will attack something smaller than itself. Not good. Second, be sure to remove or cuts the primary flight feathers on one wing of your training bird. Your puppy will be very disappointed if their first bird flies away to the next county. Last, be patient and make sure it is a positive experience. Don’t scold puppy or get discouraged if they don’t do it right the first time. Give lots of praise and be sure to end on a good note. Limit your session to 2-3 tosses or retrieves. Leave your pup hungry for more.
I have joked around for the last few years that the “Pointing Lab” was a mythical creature, like a dragon or a unicorn. People swear they exist but nobody has ever really seen one in real life. Now I’ve seen a lot of nice labs, and I have even seen a few that actually pause before they flush the birds up. But, I have never seen an actual bonafide pointing lab up close and in action. For me there was only one way to find out if they really existed. I got online and went to GunDogBreeders.com and I bought an 8 week old male yellow pointing lab. I figured my pointing dog trainer should be able to handle it.
Well, the first thing that happened is that my kids insulted me by saying this is their favorite puppy we have ever had (I raise brittany dogs as a hobby). This yellow lab pup named “Ace” promptly won the kids over by fetching sticks and balls and anything they could throw and he could carry. He had good manners and put up with the abuse and annoying things that kids tend to do with young puppies. Ace has been a joy to have around and he is at my feet constantly following me around the yard. He hardly ever barks and he’s even tidy about where he uses the bathroom.
This month we brought him home a fat goose to sniff and play with to see if he liked the smell of feathers. He liked it a lot and even tried to haul off with the big old goose that was twice as big as him. There is a reason that labs are the most popular hunting dog in the USA bar none. I think I am beginning to find out why. Next week he will go spend a few weeks with a pro trainer and we will see if there is any pointing dog inside. If nothing else, I can always learn to hunt waterfowl.
Hunting dogs need to work year round, they are most happy when they are doing what they love. Since hunting season only lasts 5 months in the best case scenario, what do we do the other 7 months? I think this is where field trials and fun hunt competitions were invented. I can just see a couple a southern boys jawin’ at the coffee shop bragging about their bird dog long after the season has ended. “My bird dog flushed 17 coveys of quail in one day and retrieved every bird I shot to hand, across a river, uphill, both ways!” says one. “Oh yea, then how come nobody seen it?” prods the other. “My farms got some quail down in the holler, bring your dog and we’ll show you who’s best.” The challenge is thrown down. What happened later that day with several onlookers was the beginnings of field trial competition.
Back in the diner the next day they decided on a few ground rules and they invited some other gents to compete the next weekend. Pretty soon they start bumping quail and training bird dogs after work each day. Honing their dogs and getting them ready to show the boys up at the next weekends field trial. The upside was that these bird dogs got off the porch in May and June and got to chase some birds. Come fall they were in top physical condition and ready for the hunting season like never before. Not a bad idea. Think about it. What does your bird dog do all spring and summer?
This year I was able to send my dog Sis out with Ben Garcia of Hideaway Kennels to compete in field trials. She is still young but I wanted to know if she could hang with the big dogs. Several of the trials she placed in were competing against other pointing dog breeds as well as brittany dogs. Sis gets to run nearly every day on quail, chukar and pheasant on a 5,000 acre private ranch. Not to mention being trained and handled by a professional dog trainer. Field trials are not for everyody, but I think it is one great way to keep your dog working year round.
We have been using carded pigeons for years, especially when introducing young dogs to birds. While visiting a pro trainer this past week I learned why homing pigeons are crucial for bird dog training. They fly away and can’t be caught. If you are lucky enough to have wild birds nearby, then you can get the chase out of your young puppy the natural way. The late Bob Wehle would take his young english pointers for hundreds of walks in the quail woods. The puppies would quickly learn that they cannot catch those birds. Then they start to stand and hold point more staunchly.
For us folks that don’t have wild quail in the backyard, we make do with good ol’ homers. With a small pigeon loft and a good flock of homing pigeons you can teach the same thing effectively. The best part is they fly home and get back in the loft to do it all again the next day. With strong flying birds your dogs can chase till their blue in the face. Eventually, the dogs learn two things. First, they are never going to catch the bird so why try. Second, and most importantly if they check back in with you there always seems to be more birds. These two lessons are the foundation for building a reliable hunting buddy.
Your pigeon loft doesn’t need to be fancy. An old shed or barn can be converted easily to hold 20-30 birds. Pigeons can last for years if you keep them healthy and meet their basic needs. Many racing pigeon lofts will gladly sell you birds that have not been flown yet. Then you can imprint them to your loft and get them homing in no time. For pigeon loft plans check in with the pigeon loft experts. Below is a simple shed conversion my pro trainer Ben Garcia uses at Hideaway Kennels in Colorado.
I had the opportunity last week to visit with Ben Garcia of Hideaway Kennels. He has an amazing bird dog training operation in Colorado. I was dropping a female brittany puppy Sis off to continue field trialing with Ben. Also, I was able to watch and meet a few potential stud dogs that he has at his kennels. It was nice to meet these stud dogs in person and get a feel for their temperament and personalities. You get a lot better feel for a dog when you can watch him run on birds and point.
I was able to spend a couple of days with Ben and watch him work. He is a very accomplished bird dog trainer and field trial handler. We will be having him out again this fall to teach a bird dog training seminar in Utah. He is one of those rare trainers that has a natural feel for dogs and what they are thinking. His training methods and systems provide the dogs with the best opportunity for success. I really enjoy training bird dogs, but watching a pro is very humbling. It was fun to learn some tips and tricks to help me with my own bird dog training.
Had a fun time this week training my English Setter Jess. She is doing really well and stands her birds nicely. She has a great nose and runs a nice gun dog pattern. She opens up at times to the edge of All Age. We are to the point where we need to switch to bobwhites and no more pigeons. She is ready to go to the next level.
In the video you will see that she marks the bird, goes to and picks it up. Then she proceeds to take her bird and run off with it. Some would think this is a big problem. I think it will be pretty easy to get her turned back to bring the bird in. The main thing is she likes to carry the bird. A little encouragement and a few retrieving drills will get her coming in. One thing at a time.
In regards to pointing dogs, I asked my training buddy the other day. “Would you rather have a dog that points and doesn’t retrieve well, or a good retriever that does not point well?” He answered wisely that if the breeding is sound, both pointing and retrieving will come quite naturally. But if he had to choose, he would take the pointer that doesn’t retrieve well. The thinking that you can always force fetch or teach the trained retrieve.
Brings up a great point in selecting a bird dog. When you see the dog that performs all the tasks with precision. You don’t really know if it is natural or if there was a lot of time and training put into the dog. As a breeder I want the dog that has all the tools genetically present. The more natural the easier the training will be.