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Training Your Gun Dog with Birds: Get Pups Into Contacts Early

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April 09, 2012

Training Your Gun Dog with Birds: Get Pups Into Contacts Early

By Chad Love

Regardless of how well-bred your dogs are, or how much natural talent they possess, the old adage "birds make bird dogs" still holds true. Getting your pup into bird contacts early and often is a crucial part of a young dog's education.

That's why, with two pointing dogs and a retriever to work this spring and summer, the subject of obtaining, raising, and training with birds is something on which I'll be spending a lot of my time and energy.

Some guys use pen-raised birds with a callback pen or Johnny house, others use wild-trapped pigeons, and some trainers even use homing pigeons that can be used on distant training grounds and then allowed to fly home to the loft to be used over and over again (provided you don’t shoot them, of course).

I've primarily used a combination of trapped pigeons and pen-raised quail for my training. I like the idea of not having to pay three to four bucks apiece for quail that tend to be somewhat fragile when I can (hopefully) trap nearly indestructible barn pigeons for free, but on the other hand I find that it's also a good idea to utilize both, depending on your needs or specific training goals.

But I'm curious to hear what your favorite training bird is. Pen-raised gamebirds like quail or chukar? Or do you trap or raise pigeons (more on trapping and raising pigeons in a forthcoming blog post) for your training birds? Any thoughts on the relative merits of one versus the other?

Comments (13)

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from Mark-1 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Pen raised quail and the use of callback pen or Johnny house...if these are what I think they are.

Planting birds is important IMO since the dog will not think you're crazy and/or stupid for ordering it to a specific place/cover...when there is nothing there for a climax.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 1 week ago

I don't have the room or desire to have bird pens here in the city limits. Probably against bylaws anyway. However, I do have a birdfeeder that I keep full and hanging right outside the big dining room window. Sure keeps that Brittany pup inspired! She's always on point watching them in the back yard or sitting in my late wife's dining room chair looking out the window.

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from Sayfu wrote 2 years 6 days ago

No planted birds for me, but I do find a farmer that will allow me to shoot barn pigeons, and then it is dove season to expose, and get my labs excited about birds. Problem with those birds that I have with my dogs is one of them anyway, doesn't like getting loose feathers in their mouth, and they readily come off, especially with doves.

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

Sayfu, that's not an uncommon thing to encounter with labs retrieving uplands. Once you get that dog workinng on pheasants or something that will run when wounded, that may solve your problem. The dog will have to catch the bird and every time he drops it the bird will take off running again. Won't take more than one crippled bird before dog figures it's gotta bring that bird to hand. And I have yet to see a hunting dog that will not chase and catch a bird running away from it.

By the way, they are looking for some trap shooting tips from you over in the Answers section.

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

Planting birds is not necessary for teaching a dog blind retrieve. You can use treats for young pups or even toys that have some scent. I have even used tennis balls. They must have some kind of odor. Pearl can find some of them in the brush next to the park courts that have been there since at least last summer.

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from chadlove wrote 2 years 6 days ago

Interesting,OH, on the blinds. I don't use birds to teach blinds, I use bumpers and various pattern blinds (short three-legged pattern lining drills, basically) to introduce the concept of blinds to my pups,really short line-of-sight stuff in a mowed area at first and then gradually lengthen as they gain confidence, and then of course it's also reinforced by everything you do to teach a dog to handle, but that's a blog topic...

As for trap, they'll have to ask Phil about that. I rarely shoot trap, but Phil's a true expert.

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

Sorry, Chad, that was directed at Sayfu. Should have been more specific.

Even hiding treats around the house is a great way to get a pup started paying attention to simple directions. When I come home from bird hunting I'll usually play "the game" (and they know that word well!) with every bird before I clean it. I put the dogs somewhere where they can't peak out the window, then go hide a goose in the back yard (up in the boat trailer, in the woodpile, in a lilac bush, etc.) then let the dogs out to find it. They will eventually learn to look at me to get a hint where it's hiding. Then go from there. I also play the game in the field when geese have stopped flying. I can walk out into the fields up to a half mile (no kidding) and stash it. Then I'll walk around in circles out there so they their bearings get screwed up. All the time, they have been sitting waiting and watching at the edge of the field. They are not released till I get back. Of course, when they're pups you start the game close, like across the room, and work your way out from there. It's surprising how quickly they catch on.

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from RES1956 wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Much to my sweet wife's dismay, I will ususally keep a few ducks in the freezer, usually ringnecks because they are black and white (and don't taste as good as mallards) to train puppies with during the feather indoctronation period. Ringnecks are good because they are easy for 3-4 month old puppies to mark and are smaller than mallards so a correct hold can be taught and are easier to carry.
Occasionaly I will hold over some doves, but the loose feather issue is best dealt with on freshly killed birds, IMO.
Once the puppies are 6-8 months old they are participating in HRC hunt tests and are picking up mallards anyway.
Pigeons are hard to beat for training a pointing dog, cheap, plentiful and dogs will point them just as they do a gamebird.
And, Sayfu, did I mention they are looking for trap shooting tips over in the Answers section? (OH :))

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Chad,
On teaching blinds, the goal is to get the dog running big in a straight line until it finds the bird or is whistled to stop for further directions, right?
To do this the dog must pick an object at a distance for reference to run to. This must be taught and the way I have been doing it is to use a white 5 gallon bucket placed at about 200 yards with a pile of bumpers by it.
This should be done in ankle high cover so the dog can't see the bumpers and has to focus on the bucket to get him running big on the line.
Once you have him running big, remove the bucket. If he starts hunting short, a nick on the e collar and a verbal 'BACK!!' will get him driving on.
If you don't have the luxury of a very large, close cut area, 3 buckets will do for your T work when you are doing 3 handed casting drills.
I guess that's my retriever trainer tip of the day,,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Unfortunately, I don't get to shoot a lot of ducks up here. I have used goose wings for training in the past but they need to be kept in the freezer or they get ripe real fast. I have never had any trouble with a pup figuring out the transition from fetching toys/tools to feathered critters. Usually, they go along with me and I'll play with them with the first couple of birds I shoot and then they're off to the races. In Opal's case she charged right after the first bird I knocked down. Right after she tracked and pointed it! That was, however, pretty remarkable.

A bit of a funny story about birds in the freezer. When I got home from goose hunting that fateful morning in October 2009, my daughter met me in the driveway having just recieved the phone call about my wife's car wreck in Eastern Ontario. Fortunately, I only had one honker and I just threw it in the freezer and ran for a phone to try booking a flight. Before the funeral next week everyone was coming with food, of course, and my sister-in-law took a lasagna dish to the freezer. Suddenly we heard a scream from the garage. Of course, the bird was frozen with it's eyes open, etc. Her first reaction was that I had stuffed some poor live bird in there to die a horrible death. It provided a moment of a desparately needed comic relief.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 5 days ago

RES, I would think you'd be freezing teal for pup training. Talk about an ideal size and no feathers coming off either. Perhaps they are just too good to eat to waste for that purpose?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 1 day ago

Honker,
You are spot on regarding teal on the table in my house. Another problem is that we have not had enough teal in the past few seasons to reliably collect enough bluewings during the early season to save any for training.
With puppies, if ducks are in short supply, I always save some wings to attach to bumpers with duct tape to get the feather familiarization thing done. It is amazing that a puppy who has only mediocre interest in fetching a bumper will double time it to one with duck wings attached to it,,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gundogco wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

How do you transfer your dogs excitement from tennis balls to birds? I guess I should have started when she was a pup
Blake,

Gundogco.com

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Post a Comment

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

Sayfu, that's not an uncommon thing to encounter with labs retrieving uplands. Once you get that dog workinng on pheasants or something that will run when wounded, that may solve your problem. The dog will have to catch the bird and every time he drops it the bird will take off running again. Won't take more than one crippled bird before dog figures it's gotta bring that bird to hand. And I have yet to see a hunting dog that will not chase and catch a bird running away from it.

By the way, they are looking for some trap shooting tips from you over in the Answers section.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Pen raised quail and the use of callback pen or Johnny house...if these are what I think they are.

Planting birds is important IMO since the dog will not think you're crazy and/or stupid for ordering it to a specific place/cover...when there is nothing there for a climax.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 1 week ago

I don't have the room or desire to have bird pens here in the city limits. Probably against bylaws anyway. However, I do have a birdfeeder that I keep full and hanging right outside the big dining room window. Sure keeps that Brittany pup inspired! She's always on point watching them in the back yard or sitting in my late wife's dining room chair looking out the window.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 6 days ago

No planted birds for me, but I do find a farmer that will allow me to shoot barn pigeons, and then it is dove season to expose, and get my labs excited about birds. Problem with those birds that I have with my dogs is one of them anyway, doesn't like getting loose feathers in their mouth, and they readily come off, especially with doves.

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

Planting birds is not necessary for teaching a dog blind retrieve. You can use treats for young pups or even toys that have some scent. I have even used tennis balls. They must have some kind of odor. Pearl can find some of them in the brush next to the park courts that have been there since at least last summer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chadlove wrote 2 years 6 days ago

Interesting,OH, on the blinds. I don't use birds to teach blinds, I use bumpers and various pattern blinds (short three-legged pattern lining drills, basically) to introduce the concept of blinds to my pups,really short line-of-sight stuff in a mowed area at first and then gradually lengthen as they gain confidence, and then of course it's also reinforced by everything you do to teach a dog to handle, but that's a blog topic...

As for trap, they'll have to ask Phil about that. I rarely shoot trap, but Phil's a true expert.

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

Sorry, Chad, that was directed at Sayfu. Should have been more specific.

Even hiding treats around the house is a great way to get a pup started paying attention to simple directions. When I come home from bird hunting I'll usually play "the game" (and they know that word well!) with every bird before I clean it. I put the dogs somewhere where they can't peak out the window, then go hide a goose in the back yard (up in the boat trailer, in the woodpile, in a lilac bush, etc.) then let the dogs out to find it. They will eventually learn to look at me to get a hint where it's hiding. Then go from there. I also play the game in the field when geese have stopped flying. I can walk out into the fields up to a half mile (no kidding) and stash it. Then I'll walk around in circles out there so they their bearings get screwed up. All the time, they have been sitting waiting and watching at the edge of the field. They are not released till I get back. Of course, when they're pups you start the game close, like across the room, and work your way out from there. It's surprising how quickly they catch on.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Much to my sweet wife's dismay, I will ususally keep a few ducks in the freezer, usually ringnecks because they are black and white (and don't taste as good as mallards) to train puppies with during the feather indoctronation period. Ringnecks are good because they are easy for 3-4 month old puppies to mark and are smaller than mallards so a correct hold can be taught and are easier to carry.
Occasionaly I will hold over some doves, but the loose feather issue is best dealt with on freshly killed birds, IMO.
Once the puppies are 6-8 months old they are participating in HRC hunt tests and are picking up mallards anyway.
Pigeons are hard to beat for training a pointing dog, cheap, plentiful and dogs will point them just as they do a gamebird.
And, Sayfu, did I mention they are looking for trap shooting tips over in the Answers section? (OH :))

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Chad,
On teaching blinds, the goal is to get the dog running big in a straight line until it finds the bird or is whistled to stop for further directions, right?
To do this the dog must pick an object at a distance for reference to run to. This must be taught and the way I have been doing it is to use a white 5 gallon bucket placed at about 200 yards with a pile of bumpers by it.
This should be done in ankle high cover so the dog can't see the bumpers and has to focus on the bucket to get him running big on the line.
Once you have him running big, remove the bucket. If he starts hunting short, a nick on the e collar and a verbal 'BACK!!' will get him driving on.
If you don't have the luxury of a very large, close cut area, 3 buckets will do for your T work when you are doing 3 handed casting drills.
I guess that's my retriever trainer tip of the day,,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 5 days ago

Unfortunately, I don't get to shoot a lot of ducks up here. I have used goose wings for training in the past but they need to be kept in the freezer or they get ripe real fast. I have never had any trouble with a pup figuring out the transition from fetching toys/tools to feathered critters. Usually, they go along with me and I'll play with them with the first couple of birds I shoot and then they're off to the races. In Opal's case she charged right after the first bird I knocked down. Right after she tracked and pointed it! That was, however, pretty remarkable.

A bit of a funny story about birds in the freezer. When I got home from goose hunting that fateful morning in October 2009, my daughter met me in the driveway having just recieved the phone call about my wife's car wreck in Eastern Ontario. Fortunately, I only had one honker and I just threw it in the freezer and ran for a phone to try booking a flight. Before the funeral next week everyone was coming with food, of course, and my sister-in-law took a lasagna dish to the freezer. Suddenly we heard a scream from the garage. Of course, the bird was frozen with it's eyes open, etc. Her first reaction was that I had stuffed some poor live bird in there to die a horrible death. It provided a moment of a desparately needed comic relief.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 5 days ago

RES, I would think you'd be freezing teal for pup training. Talk about an ideal size and no feathers coming off either. Perhaps they are just too good to eat to waste for that purpose?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 1 day ago

Honker,
You are spot on regarding teal on the table in my house. Another problem is that we have not had enough teal in the past few seasons to reliably collect enough bluewings during the early season to save any for training.
With puppies, if ducks are in short supply, I always save some wings to attach to bumpers with duct tape to get the feather familiarization thing done. It is amazing that a puppy who has only mediocre interest in fetching a bumper will double time it to one with duck wings attached to it,,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gundogco wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

How do you transfer your dogs excitement from tennis balls to birds? I guess I should have started when she was a pup
Blake,

Gundogco.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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