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Words of Caution on Training Pups from Scott Berg

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March 08, 2012

Words of Caution on Training Pups from Scott Berg

By Chad Love

I was browsing YouTube recently when I came across a video from Berg Bros setters in Minnesota (you may remember Berg. Bros. from my blog post on tips for buying a started dog). The video shows a five-month-old Berg Bros setter pup absolutely steady to wing on a flushed bird. It was a pretty amazing video for a dog so young, so I called up Scott Berg to ask him about it, and as I do every time I talk to a knowledgeable dog trainer, managed to learn something in spite of myself.

"Well, that was an unusual situation," says Berg, "And I'd caution anyone not to push for this type of result so early, or to even try this with a pup that young, but I had worked this pup on whoa, both on the bench, and playing fetch. I'd mix in whoa while playing retrieve. I'd throw a ball, then gently restrain him while saying whoa. When he was steady for a bit, I'd release him. It was a fun game and the retrieve was his reward. You want to make it fun for the dog. Keeping it fun is very important, and letting them learn on their own with wild birds or strong flying liberated birds."

When they put the dog into planted birds, Berg says it only took a few reminders to whoa (and strong pointing instinct) before the pup was completely steady to the flush. "I told my brother we had to film this because otherwise no one would believe us."

Again, Berg stresses that a steadying a dog that young through the flush certainly isn't typical, but the foundation for that kind of success--for any dog--is the proper early introduction to birds. "You have to remember, this pup was introduced to birds at 14 weeks old. We'd let him find birds, point, chase and just have fun. We shoot a blank pistol while the pup chases and stop the chasing once the dog has demonstrated they are fine with gunfire. What we want to do is simply bring along the natural talent the dog already has. If a dog is properly introduced to birds early, and that dog has the proper mental makeup, then everything else comes along."

"But," Berg adds (and this is key), "you've got to let them learn on their own and develop their innate abilities before you start trying to control it. And that's what that early introduction to birds does." But, Berg cautions, that's not to say you should immediately go out and throw your new eight-week-old pup into a bunch of birds. Things can go wrong that spook a pup this young. "Fourteen weeks is about the youngest we'll introduce pups to birds, and depending on the individual dog, 16 to 18 weeks is more typical."

Interesting, and it reinforces a theme common to virtually every good trainer I talk to: if you want to make a bird dog, you've got to get them on birds.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

My younger lab, Opal, pointed and retrieved her first bird, a hun, at age three months and three days. She was ready to go, I had nothing to do with it. Pearl was an early starter too, retrieving her first goose at exactely four months old. Pearl took some encouraging before we got to that point and I played with her a lot in the field. Opal, on the other hand, picked up the first bird I dropped for her. And she never looked back after that. They're flushers so I don't get too excited about steady to the flush. It's not that important to me. Also, the quicker they can get on a pheasant I have knocked down, the better the chances they'll retrieve it if it's only winged. Last fall they were both almost on top of a rooster when it fell and in spite of one hell of a merry-go-round with bird and hounds in the CRP lasting several minutes, we still lost it (didn't help when a sharpie got up thirty yards further down the field).

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

My younger lab, Opal, pointed and retrieved her first bird, a hun, at age three months and three days. She was ready to go, I had nothing to do with it. Pearl was an early starter too, retrieving her first goose at exactely four months old. Pearl took some encouraging before we got to that point and I played with her a lot in the field. Opal, on the other hand, picked up the first bird I dropped for her. And she never looked back after that. They're flushers so I don't get too excited about steady to the flush. It's not that important to me. Also, the quicker they can get on a pheasant I have knocked down, the better the chances they'll retrieve it if it's only winged. Last fall they were both almost on top of a rooster when it fell and in spite of one hell of a merry-go-round with bird and hounds in the CRP lasting several minutes, we still lost it (didn't help when a sharpie got up thirty yards further down the field).

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from spentcartridge wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

That is so cool. Nice work by a pup on a breezy day, too.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Chad, what is Berg's philosophy about starting a pup behind a well-trained mature dog? In the field my French Brittany pup seemed to learn the basics very quickly working behind my two older labs - HUP (hold up), BACK HERE, GET EM, LEAVE IT ALONE, etc. Actually, she is perhaps more responsive than the labs at this point. Her pointing came quite natural. It is interesting that when working alone she is not at all interested in flushing the birds like her mentors but rather works at getting them to hold. Very classy in her sneak and freeze. My younger lab will point but only if she stumbles on a bird that is holding for her. The older lab respects the younger lab's points but I don't think she had the pleasure of following the britt on point last fall. I have been very pleasantly surprised so far at how breaking in a pointing dog behind flushers has worked out. The biggest advantage I can see is that she has learned to work close. Perhaps that's something that would have happened anyway, although some other posts in another thread seem to indicate many handlers have to let their britts range quite a bit.

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from jamesti wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

sometimes you get lucky and get a pup like Chaos who almost trained himself. every thing i worked with him on he picked up very quickly and even taught me a few things!

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from chadlove wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

OH, I'm not sure, but I could sure ask him for you...

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from uplander12 wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

"The biggest advantage I can see is that she has learned to work close. Perhaps that's something that would have happened anyway, although some other posts in another thread seem to indicate many handlers have to let their britts range quite a bit."

I'm not sure that they have to let their britts range, but rather want their britts to range. Most pointing dog guys do not want their dogs under their feet. They want the dogs out covering ground far away from the hunter because the dog can cover more ground than a hunter can. There are times to bring a pointing dog in and have them work closer in small tracts of land, but in large areas the dog should be doing most of the work, not the hunter.

Tracking collars such as the Garmin Astro and the Sport Dog Tek have made pointing dog owners more efficient, allowing dogs to cover more ground without being lost and without the noise of a bell or beeper. Dogs who are well trained and "honest" on their game can be allowed to roam farther and find more birds. These are no substitution for solid training, though. Pointing dogs who rip birds at 500 yards are no better than a lab or spaniel that won't stay in gun range. .02

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Chad, what is Berg's philosophy about starting a pup behind a well-trained mature dog? In the field my French Brittany pup seemed to learn the basics very quickly working behind my two older labs - HUP (hold up), BACK HERE, GET EM, LEAVE IT ALONE, etc. Actually, she is perhaps more responsive than the labs at this point. Her pointing came quite natural. It is interesting that when working alone she is not at all interested in flushing the birds like her mentors but rather works at getting them to hold. Very classy in her sneak and freeze. My younger lab will point but only if she stumbles on a bird that is holding for her. The older lab respects the younger lab's points but I don't think she had the pleasure of following the britt on point last fall. I have been very pleasantly surprised so far at how breaking in a pointing dog behind flushers has worked out. The biggest advantage I can see is that she has learned to work close. Perhaps that's something that would have happened anyway, although some other posts in another thread seem to indicate many handlers have to let their britts range quite a bit.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

My younger lab, Opal, pointed and retrieved her first bird, a hun, at age three months and three days. She was ready to go, I had nothing to do with it. Pearl was an early starter too, retrieving her first goose at exactely four months old. Pearl took some encouraging before we got to that point and I played with her a lot in the field. Opal, on the other hand, picked up the first bird I dropped for her. And she never looked back after that. They're flushers so I don't get too excited about steady to the flush. It's not that important to me. Also, the quicker they can get on a pheasant I have knocked down, the better the chances they'll retrieve it if it's only winged. Last fall they were both almost on top of a rooster when it fell and in spite of one hell of a merry-go-round with bird and hounds in the CRP lasting several minutes, we still lost it (didn't help when a sharpie got up thirty yards further down the field).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

My younger lab, Opal, pointed and retrieved her first bird, a hun, at age three months and three days. She was ready to go, I had nothing to do with it. Pearl was an early starter too, retrieving her first goose at exactely four months old. Pearl took some encouraging before we got to that point and I played with her a lot in the field. Opal, on the other hand, picked up the first bird I dropped for her. And she never looked back after that. They're flushers so I don't get too excited about steady to the flush. It's not that important to me. Also, the quicker they can get on a pheasant I have knocked down, the better the chances they'll retrieve it if it's only winged. Last fall they were both almost on top of a rooster when it fell and in spite of one hell of a merry-go-round with bird and hounds in the CRP lasting several minutes, we still lost it (didn't help when a sharpie got up thirty yards further down the field).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from spentcartridge wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

That is so cool. Nice work by a pup on a breezy day, too.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

sometimes you get lucky and get a pup like Chaos who almost trained himself. every thing i worked with him on he picked up very quickly and even taught me a few things!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chadlove wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

OH, I'm not sure, but I could sure ask him for you...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from uplander12 wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

"The biggest advantage I can see is that she has learned to work close. Perhaps that's something that would have happened anyway, although some other posts in another thread seem to indicate many handlers have to let their britts range quite a bit."

I'm not sure that they have to let their britts range, but rather want their britts to range. Most pointing dog guys do not want their dogs under their feet. They want the dogs out covering ground far away from the hunter because the dog can cover more ground than a hunter can. There are times to bring a pointing dog in and have them work closer in small tracts of land, but in large areas the dog should be doing most of the work, not the hunter.

Tracking collars such as the Garmin Astro and the Sport Dog Tek have made pointing dog owners more efficient, allowing dogs to cover more ground without being lost and without the noise of a bell or beeper. Dogs who are well trained and "honest" on their game can be allowed to roam farther and find more birds. These are no substitution for solid training, though. Pointing dogs who rip birds at 500 yards are no better than a lab or spaniel that won't stay in gun range. .02

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