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CONTEST: What’s Your Greatest Bird Dog Training Success?

"Sprig," an English cocker spaniel, with a retrieve on a training pigeon. Photo by Keryl Ashbach

“Sprig,” an English cocker spaniel, with a retrieve on a training pigeon. Photo by Keryl Ashbach

Two months into the force fetching process with “Sprig,” my year-and-a-half old English cocker spaniel, I ran into the proverbial wall. A particularly grueling session had shaken my confidence and left me wondering if I could do it. A couple indoor sessions were a bit noisy - look up the ear pinch force fetch method – so my apartment neighbors were likely wondering about my condition as well.

So I called Tony Roettger, the professional dog trainer who leads the weekly training group I’m part of. “You’re almost there,” he reassured me, “We still have half the summer to work this out. You’ve come this far, so now it’s time to finish it off.” The next few field sessions didn’t yield any progress, but I did see signs of a coming breakthrough during weekly drills. Small signs, but signs nonetheless.

Last week in the training field, “Sprig” found the planted pigeon and flushed it. On the report, she marked the falling bird and raced over to it. There was no pulling at feathers, no playing and no butter-mouthing as there’d been countless times before. No, this time Sprig dutifully picked up the bird and raised her head, trying to pinpoint my location. When she spotted me through the tall grass, she raced over and sat down right at my feet, handing her prize over on command. No whistle, no words until “Drop.” She knew what she was supposed to do, and appeared to have plenty of fun doing it. After well-deserved pats on the head, she leapt into my arms. Breakthrough!

“That’s why I love training dogs,” Roettger said as we exited the field, “Many days it feels like you’re beating your head against a wall, but then you have days like this and it’s all worth it.” To “prove it,” Sprig followed up by going four-for-four on bird retrieves during the next run. Heck, maybe I’ll have her steady to wing and shot yet this year…

Now it’s your turn. In the comments section, share your greatest bird dog training success. What issue did you overcome? What technique(s) did you institute to prevail? These moments happen at every level, so whether your experience was with a puppy, an intermediate dog, a field veteran or a master hunter, please share in the comments section. Three (3) readers will be randomly selected to win a SportDOG four-pack which includes one canister of each – SportDOG Brand Hip/Joint Supplements, SportDOG Brand Digestive Enzymes, SportDOG Brand Hydration Supplements and SportDOG Brand Performance Vitamins.

Happy training!

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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10 Responses to “CONTEST: What’s Your Greatest Bird Dog Training Success?”

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  1. Matt says:

    I had tried several methods to whistle train my GSP, and then talked to a guy who directed me to play on the breed’s natural inclination to quarter. He explained that whistle training a pointer should consist of two commands. One blast to get them to change direction, and a series of short blasts to get them to come. Very simplistic, and the best part is that all you need is a 30-40 foot check cord. When the dog is heading in one direction, and I wanted her to change directions, you hit her with the whistle, and then the check cord. It only took a couple times of getting spun around 180 by the cord for Stella to figure it out, and the same thing with come….the check cord gave me the control. The best part was the following season when I took her out for follow up training, with the cord, and found that she remembered everything and the cord wasn’t necessary. Stella is going into her 6th pheasant season this fall, and I’ve received a lot of compliments on how well she works compared to other shorthairs that hunting companions have hunted with.

  2. Steve Washburn says:

    Greatest secret I have is to leave teach the dog basic commands, then let it hunt. I feel I can train any dog in 2 weeks, it takes 2 months to train the hunter. The hunter needs to learn to read the dog, not tell it where to go, unless it’s leaving the area, keep it hunting close and not over correct. They are better hunters than we are, have better noses and instincts and are bred for what they do, so let them HUNT

  3. Mandy says:

    I have a dog from a long line of mutts, none of which are hunting breeds. He was a rescue from a shelter. I got him for a pet but ended up teaching him to be a bird dog and a obedience competition dog with many titles and ribbons. He will find birds, flush, and retrieve to hand on land and in water. I have never trained a hunting dog and never been bird hunting in my entire life so we both learned from trial and error. Our first time out he had 6 flushes. I was so proud of him! Now we’re both hooked. He helped a man with no dog locate a crippled bird that ran off and burrowed in a field. The smile on that man’s face after getting his lost bird just made my day. I find it interesting thing to watch people’s reactions to seeing him in the field. He gets all kinds of strange looks until they see his birds. This year will be his second season out and we can’t wait.

    this is a link to a photo with his first birds https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/47452_520678424627518_2074584117_n.jpg

  4. Tim says:

    This is my first dog and my first time training a dog. I am constantly surprised when I go out and start working with the dog and he successfully reacts to the command that we have been working on. I have to say that I am truely enjoying the entire process and I think the dog is training me as much as the other way around. I have taken the dog out to a game farm for the first time. He flushed and retrieved ALMOST perfectly and I have the tail feathers tacked to my wall to prove it. I am looking forward to getting him out for “real” hunting.

  5. Greatest moment of dog training for me is taking a clients already gunshy dog and turning it around. Seeing the moment when the light comes on and bird hunting becomes fun. That is the ultimate experience in training.

  6. Dorran says:

    Thanksgiving weekend of 2011 I purchased an English Springer Spaniel, Ryder, my first bird dog. The training process was a learning experience for both of us as I had never attempted to get a dog to listen to commands beyond ‘come’. I did a lot of internet reading, some book reading and dvd watching, progress was likely slower for me than the pup. By spring we had a firm grasp on basic control commands. Throughout the summer we continued to work the commands, play hide & seek and fetch with a dummy (not me, really). We progressed to exposure to some pigeons and occasionally “hunted” pheasants in the neighboring fields.
    When fall came the first hunt I went on was with a friend and his dog after Hungarian Partridge. Needless to say, my pup was not quick enough to react and didn’t have a good learning experience. The next time I took Ryder out was after pheasant season opened, it was obvious he was much more confident with the scent of the pheasant than the huns. Several hunts later he was really growing in his ability to mark where a bird went down, then follow it up with retrieval. After an unsuccessful outing for pheasants my son and I explored a new area where we were told Chuckars had been known to hang out. Immediately we jumped a large covey, too far out for a shot. We pursued the covey as it dispersed and came across one smaller group. One of our shots did not ring true and the bird hit the ground running. With hesitation I held my tongue as the dog disappeared over the hill, out of sight. Less than a minute later my trust was rewarded when Ryder crested the ridgeline, bird in mouth, the ultimate reward for a new bird dog trainer.

  7. Jerry Ewasiuk says:

    September 4th, 2008. I Started work with my new Brittany Patch at 10 months. Never before trained a dog so with very basics started him on pigeons. He was a pleasure to work with and seemed like a sponge, absorbing and loving every minute of it. November 11th,Remembrance day in Canada Patch & I were invited out Pheasant hunting by two other Brit owners with the intention of letting him run with the older dogs for a bit of socializing and experience. A great day out and with the other two dogs pointing up five of a six bird limit for us we swung back toward where we had parked our trucks the day near an end. A holler from one of my Buds that my 11 month old Pup was on point brought a “Ya Right” response from me. He was serious, and as I hoofed it up that big hill I found my Pup on a perfect point, eyes telling me right where that Rooster was parked. It cackled and came up over my head and as I whirled the 2nd shot from my old Winchester dropped it. Patch then broke and I couldn’t believe my eyes, he picked it up and retrieved. It took about 20 minutes before he tired of his 1st bird but the smile on the faces of my hunting partners and myself will forever be etched in my mind. One friend looked at me and with the widest grin said “Jerry you don”t know what you’ve got” and the Patchman has yet to prove him wrong.

  8. Thanks all for commenting, three of you were randomly selected and were sent private notifications. Good luck to each of you and your pups this autumn. – Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

  9. Dog training takes a lot of patience but it is fun. The moment you see how your dog improve really makes your heart happy.

  10. Some great ideas here. I would suggest NOT taking food, human or dog, to the dog park – a war may break out. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts.

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