For over two decades, George Hickox has shown all levels of owners how to train great bird dogs. As the hunting season nears, it's incredibly important to reinforce good gun dog training procedures and attempt to break bad habits. Below, find some of George's best tips and tricks on bird dog training.
Training a dog does not have to be a Herculean challenge. Most often it takes more time and effort to fix a problem than it requires to train a dog from the get-go if the training is done right.
I have outlined a few tips that will hopefully help with the training and performance of your dogs.
1. Dogs learn by association.
As trainers, we need to fully understand how strong the powers of association are for the canine. The dog is going to associate – pure and simple. Therefore, if we want a dog to respond a certain way all the time, we as trainers must be consistent. If a trainer sometimes commands “Here,” sometimes says, “Let’s go,” and other times says “Come on,” that is not consistent. Pick one command and stick with it.
2. Dogs were not born understanding the King’s English.
Incessant talking to a dog only teaches the dog to tune you out... “Over here, c’mon boy, that’s a good dog, let’s go, hop in the car” is a bunch of rhetoric that the dog cannot possibly understand. You might as well said, “Go get the keys and start my car.”
Habits are hard to break, but constant yakking at a dog will not develop a dog that responds to commands with reliability.
1. Introduction to the gun is a big deal.
Just because Fido has a million dollar pedigree does not insure he cannot be made gun shy. Gun shyness is one heck of a serious problem. A gun shy dog is not much of a gun dog. Err on the side of caution and assume the dog will have a problem with the gun. Be paranoid. The proper window of time to introduce a dog to the gun is not a question of age. The benchmark I use to tell me when to introduce the dog to gun shot is as follows: when the dog is questing for game confidently, has been introduced to birds, and is aggressively chasing birds. This is the benchmark I use whether evaluating a pointing, retrieving, or flushing prospect.
2. If a dog has a tendency to self-hunt or ranges too far out, carry a bird in your vest.
Take the dog to an area void of birds. Preferably an area that you can see the dog when he is “out there.” When the dog is out in front, plant the bird that you are carrying in your vest close to you. Call the dog back. When he comes back, he finds a bird. After a few consistent repetitions of not finding birds down the field and finding birds near you, he will get it.
3. The number one criteria for selecting a pup is genetics.
Do not shortchange yourself for years to come by accepting anything less than the best family tree you can find.