Tips for training bird dogs and hunting dogs

  1. It is advisable to carry bottled water with you for your dog’s drinking water when away from home or fill up jugs of water your dog is accustomed to from your home. If you suddenly let your dog drink water that is treated with a water softener, and the dog has been accustomed to harder water, Pooch may get diarrhea. This leads to dehydration and can quickly ruin a hunt.
  2. In the field carry a pair of hemostats, an antibiotic eye ointment without steroids, and 2 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. The hemostats can be used to remove imbedded foreign objects such as glass, thorns, or porcupine quills. Treat eye injuries as soon as possible and get the dog to a veterinarian. A couple of ounces of hydrogen peroxide poured down the dog’s throat will make the dog vomit immediately. If the dog has ingested a poison, make the dog vomit and get it to the vet. Do not make the dog vomit if he has ingested sharp objects, such as chicken bones.
  3. Speaking of vets, know where the closet medical help is available before an emergency arises. The time to try to locate a phone book is not when your dog needs immediate attention. If you are away from home, locate a veterinarian service that offers after-hours emergency service.
  4. I can’t stress enough that puppies not properly socialized will never reach their full potential. In my experience, pups isolated from positive people contact prior to 12 weeks of age are a trainer’s albatross.
  5. I recently received a letter from an individual who had purchased a six-month-old dog. Since birth, the dog had been kenneled with its littermates, and when anyone approached the enclosure all pups had sought refuge in the doghouse. At eight months the pup was reticent and timid. I was sorry to have to tell the owner that because of this lack of socialization it would be almost impossible to make his dog into a first-rate hunting companion.
  6. During your dog’s first six months it is critical that the pup come to know and trust you and that you learn to understand the pup’s developing personality. You will see the pup mature and its ability to concentrate increase. A key ingredient in training is to know when the dog is ready to learn as well as when it’s ready to move on.
  7. To properly expose the pup, take it for walks where it will be introduced to new scents, people and other animals. Let strangers spoil it. Pup needs to see the world, not just your backyard.
  8. This is what it’s all about-the button-popping pride of watching your pup develop into a world-class shooting dog. The more birds your dog is exposed to, the better bird dog it will become. But your dog will first need to learn to hunt. It won’t learn this in the backyard sitting perfectly, holding a dummy in its mouth.
  9. Birds, birds, birds. This is the key to your dog learning to hunt. If you don’t live in an area where Pup can find lots of wild birds, join a hunting preserve or lease a farmer’s field and use pen-raised birds. The bottom line is that if your dog does not see birds, it will never become an accomplished bird dog.
  10. Consistent performance in response to your commands should be one of your training goals. This is accomplished through repetition, as a dog learns by rote, much as you did when learning the multiplication tables. Keep in mind that a dog’s attention span is limited; therefore short, frequent training sessions are far more effective than longer but fewer lessons.
  11. Get into the habit of saying a command only once. Say the command, then make the pup comply. A well-trained dog performs the first time and will only do this if you command excellence. If your dog learns it does not have to obey “Here” the first time, you may just lose it to a speeding truck on a back road.
  12. I tell clients in my dog training school, “If I wanted my son to be a plumber, I wouldn’t give him a wrench on his first birthday.” In other words, do not expect unrealistic feats from your pup. Too much early formal training may take style and pizzazz out of a youngster. It is wiser to err on the side of caution.
  13. Pup will need to learn certain commands from a safety standpoint and for acceptable behavior in the house. For example, early on you will want to teach the pup “No” and that biting is intolerable. You can also start teaching “Here” by running away from the pup saying “Here, here, here.” When the youngster gets to you, reward it with a treat, an “Attaboy” or a pat.
  14. When the dog is 10 to 12 weeks old, you can begin teaching, “Sit, Hup” or “Whoa.” Don’t make the dog comply for long periods. Your job at this stage is to show the pup what the command means, not demand that it respond like a pro. I don’t like to teach “Sit” to the pointing breeds before I teach “Whoa,” as pups that are taught “Sit” first have a tendency to sit when being taught “Whoa.”
  15. If you have a pointing breed, you can play “wing on a string,” but don’t over do it. This is a sight game and, if over done, may encourage creeping. I play this game only to bring out the pointing instinct in dogs up to 12 to 14 weeks old.
  16. Developing retrieving instincts early is beneficial. Use a rolled up sock, dummy or tennis ball. Start the pup off retrieving in a corridor so it cannot run away with its prize. The object you use for these sessions should not be left around for the dog to chew on; it is a treat.
  17. Get your dog into shape and toughen its pads before the first day of hunting season. Running your dog slowly for long distances is the best initial conditioning. A dog embarking on a full day’s hunt with soft pads can be bad news. If the dog gets torn pads, it may be out of commission for quite some time. Do not run the dog on asphalt. Hard-packed dirt and sand are ideal surfaces for conditioning work.
  18. Whenever possible, hunt your dog into the wind. The dog will produce birds if the wind is blowing scent to its nose, rather than away from its scent gathering radar.
  19. Make sure all of your dog’s vaccinations, heartworm, and tick preventatives are up to date. Coyotes, foxes, rodents, and parasites are lurking out there. Be prepared.
  20. Make hunting fun for you and your dog. Don’t expect your dog to do things that you haven’t trained it to do. Also remember that the dog doesn’t understand the King’s English. Don’t expect excellence from a young dog in its debut or from a dog that is untrained. Give your pup the experience and make it a happy time.

Click Here to read published articles by George Hickox on dog training and handling.