Challenges and Triumphs of Training a Bird Dog Pup

Scout sight-pointing pigeons

I've had Scout for two months and we are finally starting to feel like we have a handle on this three-dog pack and what all that entails. Pretty quickly, Scout has asserted herself master-of-her-domain and pretty much terrorizes the other two dogs all day. They only reprieve they get is at night when she is crated up or when I'm out training or walking her.

Owning a bird dog has its own sets of unique challenges. From my experience these animals are highly intelligent, very active (hyper if you will), and very motivated to accomplish whatever they set their minds to (dig holes, chew things, basically destroy). It's what gives them the determination and grrr necessary to become successful gun dogs. I feel it's necessary to be very active and involved in their daily routine to set up good habits and avoid bad ones as quickly as possible. It's hard, especially if you work and can't be on top of them all the time. Luckily, until recently, my job allowed me to be home these first couple months and I was able to stay on top of the Scout situation most of the time.

The pack. It's hard to believe ol' Hazel used to be as dark as Scout.
I really regret not having an outdoor kennel-setup at this time. I believe that would have made a huge difference in aiding to raise a young pup. Next time we get a pup there will be a double outdoor kennel. I had one at our last home and I forgot how essential it is to have a comfortable safe place to store a pup where they can't damage anything. We've had patio furniture cushions destroyed, sapling trees chewed on, holes dug, a garden hose destroyed, sprinkler heads dug up, and more. It's amazing how destructive a motivated 15 pound pup can be. It's getting better and it will all be fine and the damage was actually pretty minimal. Scout is a very smart dog and she just gets bored. Who can blame her. An outdoor 8' x 12' run would have been a godsend and we will be putting one up this spring.

House breaking has been relatively easy. She picked that up pretty quickly and only had a few accidents. In the house she's fine but I've been pretty strict with making sure she gets constant trips outside. We crate trained her from the start and when we need her out of our hair that's where she gos. She obeys the crate command and picked that up rather quickly and enters it without a fuss.

puppy retriver training
We taught her sit and come, and we are working on whoa training. Sit was a 5 minute affair and she had it. I started her whoa training by using a training table (old desk). Once I felt like she had it on the table we moved to doing some exercises on the ground. On the table she is solid and I can even temp her with food and such and she still holds still. On the ground she is pretty good but tends to wiggle a little more, she's improving every day.  I reinforce whoa when we go for our daily walks and make her whoa at every street crossing and such. Before our free runs I make her whoa for a minute or so before I release her. It's coming along nicely but we have a way's to go still. I also have her and the other dogs stand at whoa for a minute or so before I allow them to eat.

The come command, has been a work of progress. She's getting more selective when she choses to mind and I'm going to have to put the hammer down and do some daily drills with her on a long lead.

Scout is showing signs of being a good retriever and she likes the game of it. However she can be   easily distracted so I keep the sessions short and sweet. I usually only do 3-5 throws and try to always end with a positive retrieve while she's enthused about it. She likes canvas bumpers, dokken bird bumpers and tennis balls. We also have a couple stuffed, plush animals in the house that she really likes to play fetch with. I let her carry around a rooster pheasant I brought home on the opener and she thought that was the bomb. She just ran around the yard with it, it was a sensation overload. She couldn't think of anything but getting her mouth on it. She wasn't rough but she didn't like the idea of letting me take it from her. I eventually coaxed her into bringing it to me.

I've also been introducing gun fire. My method is based on a couple things on the subject that I've read about, and some of the technique is from advice my Pudelpointer breeder gave me when I picked up Hazel as a pup. It's a bit of a process but helps ensure that your pup doesn't get bothered by gun fire or other loud noises. Using this method, my dogs can sleep through a 4th of July fireworks show and show zero signs of anxiety around or about loud noises. After having a pup for about a week, and if the pup shows that it's comfortable in its new environment I introduce noise during feeding time. Another part of this process I believe is to be consistent with your feeding schedule. I begin by banging the metal food pans together to signal it's feeding time. I do it softly at first but gradually increase the noise as the pup shows that it's not bothered by the noise. Eventually, I'm crashing the pans together so hard it hurts my ears, but to the dogs it means chow-time, so they get excited by the noise. At this point I back off a little on the pot banging and don't crash them together so loudly and start introducing a .22 blank.
.22 six gun with CCI blanks
 I use an old .22 single action revolver that's been in the family since the 1960's. That with CCI® .22 short blanks. These blanks have a nice loud pop. To start, while the dogs are eating I had my son fire off a blank from across the yard. The first time, Scout raised her head to see what the noise was but wasn't bothered. We continued that for a week or so then incorporated a second shot a few seconds after the first. After just a few times Scout didn't even acknowledge the shot. Then I had Jack take a few steps closer and repeat the process every few days. Within a few weeks we are now standing right next to her and firing the blanks while she's eating. She doesn't even flinch. I will continue doing that nearly every feeding until I feel she is totally comfortable with gunfire over birds. As we introduce birds we will repeat the process as the birds are launched and flushed. We will start by shooting 100 feet or so away from the dog as the bird flushes and slowly working up until we are shooting almost directly over her. Once she is comfortable with that we will repeat the process again with a shotgun. I will start with the 28 gauge and then repeat the process and work up the the point where we will be shooting a 12 gauge over her. If the steps are followed correctly it should create a dog that's totally comfortable around gunfire and such. So far so good with Scout on this process. No complaints from neighbors either. 😅

Sight pointing pigeons again.
Notice the GRRR hair puff on her tail.
That leads me to what we've been doing the last couple of weeks. We've been slowly introducing Scout to the homing pigeons and bringing out her prey drive. My pigeons are just starting to be homed and I'm finally comfortable to let them out. I started with 4 birds and I'm down to two. Two got away from me during the homer-training process and didn't come home. The two I have have been out several times and return home each afternoon so I'm starting to incorporate them into our training routine.

The first thing I did to introduce Scout to birds was when I'd open up the loft door to release the pigeons. Usually they flutter to the ground and scavenge for any loose food that has dropped from the loft. This created a great opportunity to allow Scout to sight point the birds and attempt to put a sneak on them. I accomplished this by just taking her on a check chord and allowing her to come up on them naturally while running around the yard. It worked beautifully. She sight pointed and then put a stalk on them and eventually got within 5-6 yards. I put the brakes on with the check chord and she would ease into a solid point and held it until the birds had enough and flew off. I did that a couple times and then moved it to another spot on the yard where I put a bird under a wire basket and again let her find it on her own. She pointed it again and I slowly lifted the basket and let the bird just kind of walk away. If she tried to lunge at the bird I checked her with a pop on the check chord and she would ease back into a point. After a few times doing this I felt she was ready for the launcher.

Best training tool we have.

I've had the launcher out in the yard and have triggered it near her to make sure it didn't scare her when we launched a bird. What I did was set it on the ground with a small Dokken quail bumper inside of it. She was instantly very interested and showed no hesitation around it. I backed her off it about 10 yards and then launched the dummy into the air. I would command fetch and let her run over and grab the dummy and bring it back to me. I did this all on a check chord so she was forced to bring it back to me. We repeated that process several times until we were pretty much within 5-6 feet of the launcher when it went off.  Scout never showed any apprehension so it all went really smoothly. If Scout had been frightened or apprehensive I would back off until I felt she was comfortable and then slowly move forward. None of my dogs have been scared by the launcher but I know its pretty common for a young dog to not like the explosive nature of this training device.  If my dog was sensitive towards the launcher I would take it very slow and deliberate and do everything at distance with food or something to help distract from the negative tension the dog is feeling. Then slowly move forward with the process as the pup became more comfortable.

Scout's second point in the yard on a bird inside a launcher.
She's a little closer than I'd like but she locked up solid the moment she got the bird scent.

The next step is putting birds in the launcher and letting her find and point them. We did that in the yard a couple times and now have moved that into some open national forest land near my home. I'm trying to simulate hunting as much as possible. I'm hiding the birds along the outskirts of a trail we often walk.   Eventually I'll put them in deeper cover but for now I want the finds to be relatively easy for her. So far Scout has done everything very well and I'm very pleased with her progress. She appears to have a strong pointing instinct. Time will tell what kind of dog she will become. Eventually she will have wild bird contacts and I'm hoping we can be at a spot where we are hunting wild chukar over her towards the end of the season.

Old Pudelponter getting chased by a Fruit Bat.
One thing I failed to mention is that I've been running Scout alone and with the other dogs in the mountains and fields to introduce her to this big wide world. She loves these runs and loves to search and explore. This is a very important step in a pups development. The wild world teaches them a whole lot more about hunting than anything I can simulate in the yard or at the little patches of ground that I've been placing birds at for her. Dogs need to see and smell it all.  They will quickly develop how to hunt and search during these fun runs. I try to do this at places with water so she gets used to going into water and swimming. So far she will cross small creeks no problem but she has yet to fully commit to swimming. It will all come in time. She's pretty fearless ands it's been fun watching her growth.

Following these steps, Scout has developed and is progressing very well. I'm sure if I'm patient eventually, she will develop into a top-notch hunting dog. At this point I just don't want to screw her up, but at the same time, I need to be willing to put her in situations where she can learn and grow. It's been a ton of fun and I look forward to watching her progress.

Scout's first field find and point on a pigeon.


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