Birds play important role in training hunting or gun dogs
If you are training your own retriever to hunt or compete, there is a long list of things you need. There is equipment you will need to buy, knowledge you need to obtain and help in the form of a training group or family member. But one thing that is often overlooked is the need to use both live and dead birds to train your retriever.
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, live and dead 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, we use dummies for a lot of drill work but for marking sessions, we prefer to use birds. With very young dogs, we will use pigeons, but then 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 our 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.
Can I train my hunting dog without live birds?
You can, and many people do, but your dog will be at a disadvantage when you put them in a real hunting situation. Your dog may not understand what he/she is supposed to be hunting, as the scent will be foreign to them. In addition, you will likely lose some birds as your dog learns to chase down a cripple or track a running pheasant.
Be prepared to be patient, since your dog is lacking the exact skills of working with live and dead birds, you may need to offer your dog more encouragement to get the pickup and delivery.
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.