How I Start My (Bird Dog) Pups
Published in the Summer 2017 Issue of CEB-US Magazine
Ella X Ithaca (2016 “M” Litter)
Any time we discuss dog training it’s important to remember that there are a million ways to skin a cat, and as many ways to start a pup. I don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules for training, and I’m not sure that the things I do with my bird dog pups up to 16 weeks would even qualify as training by some. Most pups will be teething in the 16 – 24 week range, during this time I try to keep my criteria and expectations low for my pups. Some pups will even experience a fit with their teeth beyond 28 weeks. Some will soldier through teething and others will fall completely apart, I don’t hang too much merit on how well a pup handles this time in life as I’ve not been able to make any correlation between attitude during the worst of teething and general attitude later in life. So, essentially pups get free reign to be pups with me until around 8 months of age. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be working or are not under evaluation, just that I won’t normally write a pup < 8mos off as soft or weak.
Once a dog or bitch turns 8 months in our kennel the expectations go up and the training becomes more a little more strenuous. They’ll continue to work at their own pace, but the standouts will begin to separate themselves from the rest. If all has gone well all pups will be hunting hard, handling loosely, pointing staunch (steady to the flush), backing, and be well conditioned to gunfire. Essentially, 8 weeks to 8 months is all about exposure and growth. My hope is to have a bold, confident, natural young bird dog to start really training on the back end of puppy development. I’ll attempt to break it all down chronologically below.
8 weeks and earlier (Selecting a breeder and litter)
We EB folks are lucky when it comes to finding qualified breeders. The breeders listed in the directory at the CEB-US website have all signed a pledge regarding hip dysplasia in the breed. Of course responsible breeding doesn’t end with a hip x-ray, but it’s a step in the right direction and the breeders listed are publicly supporting the breed club. I will buy pups from parents without working titles, but only if I know the parents well and think that they are worth having a pup from. If you are new to bird dogs, working titles help discern breed worthy dogs from the rest. A google search will supply you plenty of opinions regarding the selection of a litter. Here’s my advice, take your time and get to know the breed before deciding on a breeder. I’m a firm believer in picking the litter, not the individual pup, but if there are a few available for me to select from I’m going home with the pup that displays the most bold and confident attitude in the bunch.
Ella X Ithaca
Considering all vaccinations are current it’s important to get your pup out into the world. They are still fragile and susceptible to disease so practice caution when selecting new environments to expose and socialize your new pup. I avoid club grounds and pet stores during this time as they are harbingers of canine bugs, but I’m everywhere else I can get with the pup. I want them exposed to everything possible during this time (woods, water, field, slick floors, dark rooms, loud noises, trucks, and… of course, BIRDS). There are no rules for bird contacts for my pups before 16 weeks. I start with locked wing pigeons because they are durable and can’t flog the pup. Once the pup is confident whipping up on the pigeon, I’ll start tossing them winged quail and introducing light .22 blank loads at distance while the pup is in full chase and high as a kite. We will graduate to winged chukar and pigeons, and eventually to healthy quail where the pups will learn that the birds are capable of escaping them. They’ll be dragging a small, light check-cord most days. When pups are hunting hard, chasing, and demonstrating toughness and gun tolerance they’ll be gang run on pre-released and johnny house quail on a near daily basis.
Ella X Ithaca
If time allows, I’ll begin “charging the mark” (clicker style training) with my personal pups. I believe strongly in the power of this type of training when used in tandem with more traditional methods, but there is way too much information to cover to include marker training in this article.
16 weeks on
Ella X Ithaca
After week 16 the pups will continue daily gang runs and begin some of the more individualized work. Pups of this age will be introduced to pigeons in launchers and hopefully be brought steady to wing without any influence from me. They’ll spend much of their down time on the chain gang with their cohort. I’ll begin light yard work and introduce the pups to the remote collar in this time. If all goes well when pup is in his or her adult mouth and encroaching on sexual maturity (7-12 months) we’ll have a strong, confident, hard hunting, natural bird dog to get started with.
Ella X Ithaca
I’m certain that volumes could be written on what I’ve left out of these few paragraphs. This is just a mix of things I’ve learned from others and my own intuition. I hope I haven’t made too many blatant mistakes. Let ‘em roll.
I was lucky enough to spend a few days under the tutelage of Rob Jagerzsky last year and have since incorporated much of what he taught me in regards forward quartering and use of the wind. I won’t dare attempt to explain any of this as I would surely miss the mark.