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My First Bird Dog: Time for Help from a Pro

“I’m glad you called me when you did, most guys wait until about a week or two until the season starts,” said Tony Roettger of Roettger Ridge Kennels, when I called him the last week of July, “And there’s not much you can do at that point.”

Even before I got “Sprig,” my first bird dog, I’ve held the fanciful idea of doing all the training myself. But training DVDs and good intentions will only get the first-timer so far. The honeymoon stage of having a puppy has been great, but it was time for a dose of reality, not to mention live birds and open space.

“Sprig” works on her flush under the guidance of professional trainer Tony Roettger (left). Photo courtesy Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Part of my hesitancy, aside from my own eagerness to “do it myself,” in calling a professional was opening me – and my dog – up to constructive criticism. Chalk that up to years of competitive sports and having my fill. But that was mistake number one. Roettger, like many professional trainers, is more interested in working to meet your goals (in my case, simply an obedient hunting companion) as opposed to weeding through dogs and producing the next field champion. “I feel that the training is a servitude to the world of people just needing a little help and motivation with their dogs,” Roettger says.

Rather than sending my dog in for training and picking her up a few weeks or months later (certainly a viable option in some circumstances), I signed on for “handler coaching sessions” so I can be the one working with my pup while Roettger provides guidance and the gun.

It’s a group of amateur, novice and first-time handlers that show up for the once or twice-a-week sessions, meaning “Sprig” gets the opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and I get to watch other dogs/handlers and “talk dogs.” Some owners bring their children, and a few of the veterans are in their 70s, so it’s fun to witness the love of bird hunting and dog work stretching across generations.

Gushing aside, “Sprig” has some serious work to do. Her “listening” skills have gone sketchy with birds now in the equation, and she seems to show me one new issue per week that needs to be addressed. But I’ve enjoyed the sessions so much that I’ve signed up for a full year. I couldn’t stand watching that training DVD anyways.

Have you ever enlisted the help of a professional dog trainer?

Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.

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

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4 Responses to “My First Bird Dog: Time for Help from a Pro”

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  1. John O says:

    My first dog Gus, who is coming into his second season, is a great example of what you are writing about. I was a first dog owner, and wanted a DIY solution. I read the books, I sat down with Gus and explained my intentions, and after that we enlisted the help of our friends at Valhalla Hunt Club in Colorado. Seriously I started Gus off at about 12 weeks, and he was a great hunter at opening day at 11 months old- if my talent had matched his we would have had our limit each and every day last season.
    What I have learned is that if your dog is not a part of you, and hunting FOR you (as Wolters says)then you are up for a challenge. If they are your partner and have the basic skills, then you are going to enjoy a great bird season!

  2. John O says:

    One thing I didnt make clear- I did not have to leave Gus for an extended period of time; by working together with the help of the professionals we ended up with a great experience that we now own together. It took 7 day per week training for the last two months, but we did it with their guidance on our own.

  3. @John O – sounds like you and “Gus” have a great bond. Thanks for sharing, and good luck to you this hunting season! – Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

  4. D.J.Clark says:

    I too had the best intentions of handling all of Dakota’s training on my own, but by mid-summer, I realized that I could probably use some professional help. I had been introduced to John McIltrot, owner of Serenoa Kennels in Broadview, MT, by a friend-of-a-friend, so I called John up one day and he asked me to come up to his ranch so that he could “take a look at Dakota.” John raises English Setters and trains them as gun dogs and for falconers. I ended up sending Dakota up to work with John for a total of almost 6 weeks with a 10-day break in the middle where she was home. She’s doing great . . . learning to be steady to wing and shot. She’s still probably too young to be completely steady, but she learns fast. I’m picking her up on Saturday and I look forward to getting some upland work in with pheasant season only a month away!

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