Birds play important role in training hunting or gun dogs
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might have seen my post about the ducks that were recently delivered to our kennel. Pheasants will arrive shortly. This post prompted someone to ask, ‘What are live birds used for in training?’ I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about this subject.
I often hear from people who have trained their retriever without the use of birds. They contact me because they are confused that when they take the dog hunting, it will not retrieve a bird for them. Unfortunately, this is quite common, and it all comes down to lack of exposure.
Exposure is key when training retrievers for hunting
Hunting (gun dog) retrievers need to be exposed to many things and situations prior to heading to the field or blind.
Some of the things include:
- water (swimming)
- heavy brush
- duck calls
- being and retrieving around other dogs and people
- and, of course, birds.
If the first time your dog is exposed to any of the above is on a hunting trip, you are setting your dog up for failure and a very frustrating trip for yourself.
Plan for exposure in a training environment
Your retriever needs to learn what a bird smells like and that it is okay to pick the bird up. They also need to learn that birds can move and flutter and how to handle and chase down a wounded bird.
Your job, as a trainer, is to put your retriever in these situations in a training environment where they can learn how to deal with birds. Many dogs need encouragement to pick up or chase down the bird the first few times. Multiple exposures may be needed before the dog feels comfortable retrieving the birds.
Regular use of birds a must for retriever training
Many breeders will introduce the puppies to a bird prior to you bringing it home, but this is no where enough exposure. You must make birds a part of your training on a regular basis.
At Otter Tail Kennels, I use dummies for a lot of drill work but for marking sessions, I prefer to use birds. With very young dogs, I will use pigeons, but will quickly transition to ducks and pheasants as the dog gets older. Using pigeons for older and bigger dogs can result in mouth issues because the pigeon is so small in relation to the dogs’ mouth size.
By the time a dog has gone through one of my programs, it has retrieved hundreds of ducks and or pheasants. This makes a huge difference when the dog finally hits the fields or blinds. Our clients can attest that retriever’s that have graduated from our programs perform with gusto during the hunt.
Final thoughts on the importance of using birds to train retrievers
Your retriever, whether you plan to use him for hunting, hunt tests, field trials, or a mixture of all three, will be retrieving birds. Therefore, it is vitally important that your retriever training program include exposure and use of live and dead birds.
One advantage a pro retriever trainer has is they often have birds available for training. If you find yourself in need of a pro, please consider me. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I am always willing to talk dogs.
Until next time happy retrieving.