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Reader Question: How Do You Get Your Pup Excited About Birds?

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August 27, 2012

Reader Question: How Do You Get Your Pup Excited About Birds?

by Chad Love

A question recently popped up on the Field & Stream "Answers" section about a young dog, a Brittany, who wasn't showing much interest in birds.

Here's the question in its entirety, posed by reader Turkeyhunter39:
I could really use some advice. I have a 5 month old Brittany that I am starting to train. Let me state that this is my first attempt at training a hunting dog. We have been working on basic obedience. I have introduced him to water and he loves to swim. He has been showing interest in birds and absolutely loves playing with feathers. So, I got him some live quail and have been throwing him some lock winged quail.

The first day, he was kinda into it. Now, it is as if he has lot interest in them. I got him to chase one for a little while today, but he really doesn't seem very interested. Am I doing something wrong? Is he too young. Should I give him a dead one? He doesn't really seem to be afraid of them, as the chasing today was when the bird was the most active and animated. Do I give him a break for a few days? Any advice would be appreciated.

Several readers gave suggestions, but I wanted to pose the question to Scott Berg, of Berg Bros. Setters. Scott is the breeder of my setter pup, Ozzie, and he and his brother, Ben train some of the nicest pointing dogs around. I bounce a lot of my own training questions off Scott, and since I've always been impressed in particular by how they develop young dogs, I thought Scott may offer some insight into this problem.

Here's his response:

When starting young pups on birds you want to provide experiences that ignite their natural instinct and abilities. By prohibiting the bird from flying you created an unnatural situation and consequently the dog’s natural response to game birds is not ignited. Your dogs interest should accelerate rapidly with just two or three exposures to the bird flying.

Perhaps the most common mistake made with young dogs on liberated birds is the use of weak flying birds. It does not take long at all for pups to gain confidence and learn they can catch weak flying birds. You should never use birds that are restrained from flying. Restraining the birds flight is likely to encourage poor manners around game. My advice is to seek out a training group with well conditioned birds, build a recall pen, or seek the help of a pro that has the birds and grounds to accommodate starting dogs properly.

BTW, 5 months old is plenty old. We like to start on liberated birds by 4 months of age and be done with this stage of development by 5-5 ½ months of age. They are ready to take hunting at that point. The pup in this video is only 14 weeks old and this is only her 3rd exposure to a bird. Note how she takes chase the moment the bird takes flight. We allow them to chase at first. That builds the pups excitement and at the same time allows us to introduce gunfire in a manner that associates gunfire with birds and fun. Within a couple weeks we can curtail the chase and we have a fired up about birds and conditioned to gunfire.

Hope this helps, Turkeyhunter39. Good luck, and keep us posted on your progress.

Comments (4)

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from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 33 weeks ago

I don’t like “rushing to produce”. Pro trainers produce since they deal with the money end of this business.

Dogs aren’t machines. They have good days, bad days. Sometimes the Energy isn’t there for a particular time. In short, Input A doesn’t always equal Output A.

A five-month’s pup is still a baby with the physical age limitations. Maybe the expectation for this pup is like ignoring the physical limitation of a five-year old kid to play Mozart!!!

I’d rather take my time training and not blow the pup’s mind making it necessary to start from the beginning.

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from spentcartridge wrote 1 year 33 weeks ago

Hard to argue with any of Scott's advice. The pursuit instinct is what you're trying to stimulate in the pup.

Above all you don't want them to get bored. Too much of anything in training will leave them less enthusiastic. Always end the session with them wanting to do more.

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from wisc14 wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

i agree completely mark-1

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I think most of us who responded to that thread agreed that maybe the fella was expecting too much too soon. My lab Opal was gangbusters at 3 months but she was exceptional. My Brittany was along for the ride last hunting season but did make a few nice points and attempted a couple of retrieves. Just before Christmas I mounted a bird feeder above the gate right under our large dining room window. The pup was allowed to jump up into my late wife's chair and watch the birds flying in and out to the feeder. That really got her wound up. All summer long she has been stalking the birds picking up fallen seeds on the other side of the gate. Comes in totally covered with seed husks and the occasional spot of bird poop. She is totally birdy now and I am chomping at the bit to get home to Ontario and out in the field for some goose hunting. After the 15th we can start on grouse and that should tell the tale. I have two other dogs working well so I haven't been in any big hurry to get the Britt going.

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from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 33 weeks ago

I don’t like “rushing to produce”. Pro trainers produce since they deal with the money end of this business.

Dogs aren’t machines. They have good days, bad days. Sometimes the Energy isn’t there for a particular time. In short, Input A doesn’t always equal Output A.

A five-month’s pup is still a baby with the physical age limitations. Maybe the expectation for this pup is like ignoring the physical limitation of a five-year old kid to play Mozart!!!

I’d rather take my time training and not blow the pup’s mind making it necessary to start from the beginning.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from spentcartridge wrote 1 year 33 weeks ago

Hard to argue with any of Scott's advice. The pursuit instinct is what you're trying to stimulate in the pup.

Above all you don't want them to get bored. Too much of anything in training will leave them less enthusiastic. Always end the session with them wanting to do more.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

i agree completely mark-1

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago

I think most of us who responded to that thread agreed that maybe the fella was expecting too much too soon. My lab Opal was gangbusters at 3 months but she was exceptional. My Brittany was along for the ride last hunting season but did make a few nice points and attempted a couple of retrieves. Just before Christmas I mounted a bird feeder above the gate right under our large dining room window. The pup was allowed to jump up into my late wife's chair and watch the birds flying in and out to the feeder. That really got her wound up. All summer long she has been stalking the birds picking up fallen seeds on the other side of the gate. Comes in totally covered with seed husks and the occasional spot of bird poop. She is totally birdy now and I am chomping at the bit to get home to Ontario and out in the field for some goose hunting. After the 15th we can start on grouse and that should tell the tale. I have two other dogs working well so I haven't been in any big hurry to get the Britt going.

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