Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
During the past several months, at least six readers have told me that they’ve purchased a puppy and are preparing their new pup for the 2009 upland bird season. What could be more exciting than having a new best friend and hunting companion this fall? Especially, if you’ve spent hours, days and weeks training the pup.
No matter how much time you’ve spent with your pup, no matter how much training the pup has received either by the owner or a professional trainer, don’t expect too much. Delmar Smith, the pointing dog training guru of the 1970s, commented in his book Best Way to Train Your Gun Dog, about new owners of young dogs calling him and crowing that they have a “natural”. They have a puppy sure to amaze all observers during the upcoming bird season.
Delmar always chuckled at these proclamations since he knew what often happens with these phenoms…they fall apart under real hunting conditions. Conditions with wild birds, often multiple scent cones, wild flushes, running birds, blowing wind and all the other factors which affect a pointing dog’s performance.
Most professional trainers will tell you that a pointing dog, if properly trained, reaches maturity during a three to five year time period. There are simply too many variables for your pup to perform consistently at an early age. Again, don’t expect too much. As mentioned in earlier columns, dogs are not machines. Even in the upper echelons of pointing dogs, a champion level dog will simply forget about staying steady to the flush; he’ll break and chase as though he’s never received two minutes of training. Mike Gaddis, in his fine book Zip Zap, discusses the frustration during witness of dogs breaking during either flush or shot during preparation for the National. These dogs have seen the finest trainers and training methods known to date.
I’m not aware of any readers training for the National; however, secretly, we would all like, ultimately, to have a “brag” dog. A dog that is the envy of our hunting friends. So your new pup falls apart on opening day. Don’t in the least bit be discouraged. A puppy being confused and losing focus is a true “natural”. If you remain patient and consistent with your training methods, the pup will eventually be your “brag” dog.
Here are a few tips to help you and your pup. First, if your dog is under one year, don’t be upset with your dog breaking point, chasing birds or even bumping birds. All of these mistakes are normal for a pup and there should be no punishment or scolding.
Secondly, under no circumstances should you use an ecollar for correcting a puppy for mistakes in the field. Put the ecollar away. After careful study and yard introduction, you may begin using the ecollar after the pup’s first year in the field. An ecollar is never a substitute for well thought-out yard training.
Thirdly, don’t carry a gun the first few days of hunting this fall. Handle your pup rather than hunt over him. Invite your son, daughter, wife, friend, or whomever, to be the shooter. You can’t properly handle a pup in the field and carry a gun. Your pup needs 100% of your attention.
And last, if you have the time, take your dog west to Saskatchewan where you can get 100 flushes per day. He’ll figure it out in a hurry.
The above are immediate suggestions. For the long term, simply plan on a continuous training program right through next summer. You’ll be amazed at the maturity your young dog will demonstrate during his sophomore year of hunting. Your “brag” dog might be only one year away.