By Lynn Taylor
Training a pointing hunting dog can be a very simple process in some cases, and a long and complicated process in others. However, most people who wish to hunt with their dog, either for leisure or competitively, will find training a hunting dog to be somewhere in between those two extremes. Most hunting enthusiasts will agree the training process is greatly simplified if the chosen dog comes from strong hunting lines. Breeders who are seriously dedicated to promoting the dogs in their breeding lines as hunting dogs will take special care to ensure the litters they produce have traits which make them ideal for hunting. This is done through a process of selective breeding.
In searching for a good hunting dog of a particular breed, potential owners should look for kennels that breed specifically for hunting ability. Additionally, they should visit the parents of the puppy, and learn as much as possible about these dogs including the hunting abilities of the parents. However, even the best bred dogs will still require some degree of training. Many folks see a fine, trained gun dog in action and assume they could never accomplish that kind of performance with their own dog. If you devote some time every day to working with your pup on three basic commands – “whoa,” “come” and “heel” – and work toward getting to the point where the dog will unfailingly obey those three commands, you will have a fine bird dog.
“Whoa” is by far the most important of the commands. It simply means, “Stop and DO NOT move until released.” The dog must obey this command when it is given no matter how far away he is from you or what he is doing. It is useful in the yard, but it is essential when the dogs are working in the field. If you can “whoa” your dog at any time, you can then go to him and correct anything else he’s done wrong. If he is hunting too far ahead, you can use it to stop him. If he flushes some birds out on his own, you can use it to stop him and train on that offense in the very spot where he blew it. If he insists on goofing around with a shot bird he has picked up, if you can whoa him, YOU can go to him and get the bird from him. If you do it right, he will get the idea that bringing the bird to you and getting stroked is better than dinking around with it away from you.
You will also use the “whoa” command to keep you dog from interfering with the point of another dog when it finds birds and your dog comes up on it. This is called “honoring.” If you can stop your dog, it is then a simple matter to get him to come to you when you want. Most importantly, if you can stop your dog and have him stand still in one place, it is much easier to go to him and stroke and “love him up” for a job well done.
“Come” means “stop what you are doing and come in where I can get my hands on you.” If the pup picks up a shot bird and starts to wander off with it, if you can first “whoa” him to stop going in the wrong direction and then tell him to “come,” you will get every bird you shoot delivered right to hand. “Heel” simply means “walk by my side until I tell you to do something else.” Any time you want to go somewhere with the dog under control, this is the way to do it. Trained properly, a dog will heel unfailingly without a lead so that you can have both hands free to carry things like your gun and all the birds he pointed for you.
It is also important to have a release command such as “ok!” for each of these commands. It lets your dog know he has performed correctly and is now free to hunt for you again. Always take a lot of time to stroke and praise the dog in a pleasant voice when he performs correctly. Good dogs are born wanting to please. If you can show the dog in clear terms what pleases you and repeat that scenario over and over, the dog will become positively addicted to doing the correct action if he knows that by doing so, you think he is the greatest dog in the world.
Upland bird dog training is really just that simple. Even the best field champion is doing nothing more than obeying these three commands very well and using an extreme amount of talent to its greatest potential to find and point birds for his master. Most bird dogs today are being bred with more bird finding and hunting talent than ever before. All you have to do is spend a lot of time with your dog to get him to apply that talent for YOU so that the two of you will be a solid bird hunting team. Neither of you are able to get a bird without the other, but together you’re a team whose performance might someday earn you awards on the field trial course.
Read more articles by Lynn Taylor
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