Bringing home an 8-week-old, 15-pound mess of teeth and unbridled fury is absolutely…well, crazy. You’ve done the research, watched the videos, bought the food, kennel and supplies, and read the books. Your hopes are high and the ideal hunting dog is pictured clearly in your head. And then training a puppy begins.
Jobo is my furry yellow sidekick, a 10-month-old yellow lab, with a ton of personality and even more drive in the field. Jobo will primarily be a waterfowl dog, retrieving in fields and over water, but will also pheasant, dove and grouse hunt. I have learned more about dog training, and Jobo, in the past few months than I could have ever anticipated when we brought home an adorable yellow furball.
Here are some general tips and tricks I’ve learned along the journey:
Ignite the fire, they’ll do the rest
Introducing your dog to their ‘birdy’ side is vital to their success. Saving wings from birds during your season and freezing them for your upcoming pup is an inexpensive and great tool to introduce them to birds. Let them investigate, play and get interested in the wings, always supervised and within reason. The more exposure and excitement, the better! Tying the wings to fishing string and pulling them across the yard is an easy way to let them chase it and keep the excitement going. Foster the ‘birdy-ness’ and keep it fun!
It’s the little things
The end result of a bird dog is a compilation of a lot of little things. Use every opportunity that you have to train---having them sit before they can eat or sending them to eat on their ‘retrieve command’ are great ways to incorporate training into everyday activities. They’ll be able to expect and utilize these little commands throughout your training!
It’s not set in stone
Once you have a command or a retrieve down, don’t stop there. It’s not set in stone and repetition is key! Keep utilizing basic commands such as sit, stay and come in a wide variety of situations even after they have learned them---it will make every aspect of your training smoother!
Remember your pup is still just a pup!
It’s easy to let your expectations get the best of you, and even harder to know what they should be doing at what age. They will be far from perfect for quite some time---and that’s okay. Train, but just remember to let your puppy, be a puppy!
Recognize the dog days
It’s bound to happen: You’ll load up the gear, set out for training, get all set up...and one, two or three retrieves in you’ll realize it’s just not going to be a good session. It could be them, it could be you, but recognize when it’s not beneficial to either of you to keep training and be okay with calling it quits five minutes in. This will save both your patience and progress! It is important to end training sessions on a positive note. Make sure your puppy always wants more.
The training never ends
It is a guarantee that you will learn something new on every hunt and continue to find things to improve upon. While out in the field, note things you and your puppy could improve on and then replicate them for your training sessions. It is an amazing experience to be able to continually grow alongside your bird dog!
Take the backseat
The first hunting season should be all about them. Be prepared to trade the shotgun for the shock collar and fine tune the steadiness, retrieves and all aspects of the hunt! Continuing to encourage what the two of you have worked on during training will ensure your pup is a fine tuned hunting machine.
I can tell you first hand that training a bird dog is inarguably one of the most rewarding and exhausting things that you can do in your life. And it is entirely worth it. The bond that grows and the relationship that training together fosters is unparalleled. Hunting becomes less about the hunt, and more about the retrieve.. and it’s a truly beautiful thing.
Huntress View team member Renee McKeehen is from North Dakota and is a Regional Representative with Pheasants Forever North Dakota. Follow her on Instagram at @nayelizabeth_.