Quail hunting dogs must be well trained as they will spend a lot of time with and around their owner. The better the quail hunting dog is trained with basic obedience the better the quail hunting dog will hunt quail in the field and be enjoyable as a pet.


by George Hickox


man-hunting-with-dogTraining a young dog is an art, a science and a religion, as helping a genetically sound pup to become a world-class bird dog is a passion that requires a substantial commitment of time. Self-trained dogs are normally delinquents. When you purchase a pup, you make a pledge to bring that dog along right, and just as with other arts, sciences and religions, there are guidelines. If you adhere to the following 10 Commandments of Bird Dog Training, your chances of producing a first-rate gundog will be much improved.
1) Socialize Your Pup
I can’t stress enough that puppies not properly socialized will never reach their full potential. In my experience, pups isolated from positive people contact prior to 12 weeks of age are a trainer’s albatross.

I recently received a letter from an individual who had purchased a six-month-old dog. Since birth, the dog had been kenneled with its littermates, and when anyone approached the enclosure all puppies had sought refuge in the doghouse. At eight months the pup was reticent and timid. I was sorry to have to tell the owner that because of this lack of socialization it would be almost impossible to make his dog into a first-rate hunting companion.

During your dog’s first six months it is critical that the pup comes to know and love you and that you learn to understand the pup’s developing personality. You will see the pup mature and its ability to concentrate increase. A key ingredient in training is to know when the dog is ready to learn as well as when it’s ready to move on.

To properly expose the pup, take it for walks where it will be introduced to new scents, people and other animals. Let strangers spoil it. Pup needs to see the world, not just your backyard.
2) Keep Your Pup Healthy
Establish a relationship with a local veterinarian, and keep pup’s preventatives for parvo, distemper, adenovirus, coronavirus, leptovirus, rabies and heartworm current. Regular checkups will ensure that pup stays healthy and free of parasites. Vaccinating against Lyme disease may be recommended if this tick-transmitted disease exists in your area.

Check pup’s ears and skin for mites and fleas as well as its teeth for tartar buildup. A table where the pup will get used to being off the ground and handled at eye level is a great training aid and makes it easier for you to give a thorough canine health care exam.

Use a quality chicken- or meat-base food. Do not feed too much protein to your growing pup. Slow, even growth is preferable to fast growth. A premium chicken-base food in the 24- to 28-percent protein and IS-to 20-percent fat category is about right.

The amount you feed will change rapidly as pup grows. The benchmark is being able to feel the dog’s ribs. Do not overfeed, as a fat puppy is more prone to hip and bone disorders. And always be sure pup has an ample supply of fresh water.
3) Do Not Rush Training
I tell clients in my dog training schools, “If I wanted my son to be a plumber, I wouldn’t give him a wrench on his first birthday.” In other words, do not expect unrealistic feats from your pup. Too much early formal training may take style and pizzazz out of a youngster. It is wiser to err on the side of caution.

Pup will need to learn certain commands from a safety standpoint and for acceptable behavior in the house. For example, early on you will want to teach the pup “No” and that biting is intolerable. You can also start teaching “Here” by running away from the puppy saying “Here, here, here.” When the youngster gets to you, reward it with a treat, an “Attaboy” or a pat.

When the dog is 10 to 12 weeks old, you can begin teaching “Sit, Hup” or “Whoa.” Don’t make the dog comply for long periods. Your job at this stage is to show the pup what the command means, not demand that it responds like a pro. I don’t like to teach “Sit” to the pointing breeds before I teach “Whoa.” Pups that are taught “Sit” first have a tendency to sit when being taught “Whoa.”

If you have a pointing breed, you can play “wing on a string,” but don’t overdo it. This is a sight game and, if overdone, may encourage creeping. I play this game only to bring out the pointing instinct in dogs up to 12 to 14 weeks old. Developing retrieving instincts early is beneficial. Use a rolled up sock, dog training dummy or tennis ball. Start the pup off retrieving in a corridor so it cannot run away with its prize. The object you use for these sessions should not be left around for the dog to chew on; it is a treat.
4) Be the Pack Leader
It is imperative you understand that pup is a pack animal. If you are not perceived as the pack leader, pup will do whatever it wants whenever it wants. That dream of a well-behaved gunning companion will become a nightmare featuring a bird busting rebel hunting out of range.

I’m not saying you need constantly to project a tough-guy image, but I do believe it is necessary to be a fair boss. It is much easier to establish yourself as pack leader early on than to try to realign an 18-month-old delinquent.

An effective way to establish yourself as boss is to place two fingers into pup’s mouth behind the canine teeth while grasping the dog’s lower jaw with your thumb. Pup will try to pull away and get your fingers out of its mouth. Don’t talk; just keep your fingers where they are. The dog will eventually accept that you are in control.

Also, don’t strike a dog with your hands. You don’t want it to become hand-shy. Picking the pup up and handling it, using the training table and touching the pads of the dog’s feet will help the young dog understand that you’re in charge.

5) Train by Repetition
Consistent performance in response to your commands should be one of your training goals. This is accomplished through repetition, as a dog learns by rote, much as you did when learning multiplication tables. Keep in mind that a dog’s attention span is limited; therefore short, frequent training sessions are far more effective than longer but fewer lessons.

Get into the habit of saying a command only once. Say the command, then make the pup comply. A well-trained dog performs the first time and will only do this if you demand excellence. If your dog learns it does not have to obey “Here” the first time, you may just lose it to a speeding truck on a back road.

6) Don’t Overhandle
I have a friend to whom I’m going to give a roll of duct tape and a pair of handcuffs for Christmas. The duct tape is to place over his mouth and the handcuffs are to prevent him from flailing his arms needlessly while training his dog.

A command from my friend goes something like this: “C’mon, Baby, pick it up; hey, Sweetheart, bring it on over here; good girl, fetch it to Daddy; c’mon, you know what to do.” And all this is accompanied with waving arms and pats on the chest and thighs. My dogs are not that smart; they respond better to one-syllable commands such as “Fetch.” All that sweet talk simply confuses the dog. Again, say the command once.
7) Use Building Blocks
All training experiences interlock. Each level of training must be solid if you’re to eventually hunt over a showcase gundog.

It is improbable that your dog will be steady to wing if it is not staunch on point. Think of your training as building on the dog’s experiences and the commands pup has learned, and understand that your dog, no matter how intelligent, is no Einstein. The teaching of commands must be broken down into sub-parts. “Throw me the football. . . . No, pick it up first.” Thus, the command “Fetch” involves running or swimming to the object, picking it up, returning to you and making a proper delivery.

Your training, particularly at the more advanced levels, such as teaching blind retrieves, will proceed more effectively if you build one command on top of another, making sure that every command is solid before moving on.
8) Don’t Lose Your Temper
As a trainer, you are a teacher first and foremost. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to wear the hat of disciplinarian at times; you will. However, there are a few principles involving correction that will serve you well.

Don’t discipline a dog for not complying with a command it does not understand. I once saw a handler command “Whoa” to his setter as the dog was chasing a bird. The handler then captured and disciplined the dog. In this case the owner had not taught the pup “Whoa.” Thus, the dog had no idea why it was being corrected.

A dog must be corrected at the place of the infraction at the time of the infraction. If you command “Sit” at point A and the dog moves to point B, don’t discipline it at point B. Bring the pup back to point A and demand that it sits. If you command “Here” and the dog runs off before eventually returning, do not discipline the dog. It will think it is being disciplined for coming back to you.

Don’t discipline because you are angry or frustrated. Correct in order to teach the dog you are the pack leader and demand your commands be carried out once they have been taught. If you lose your cool, end the training session. Dogs are very aware of body language and if you are agitated, your dog will short-circuit and become confused.

Don’t resort to a “quick fix” by using an electronic dog training collar to punish your dog. A dog must be conditioned to electronic training, which I will cover in another article.
9) Expose Your Dog to the Gun Properly
“I brought my dog to the gun club to get him accustomed to the sound of gunshots.” Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

There are dogs that, having never heard a gun, would be just fine if a rooster flushed in their face and a barrage of shots followed. However, assume this wouldn’t be the case with your dog.

Getting a pup used to loud noises such as banging pans and shutting doors is beneficial. But when I introduce a dog to the gun I want the dog confident around birds first. The local preserve is the ticket, if you do not have birds available for “home use.” When I introduce the dog to the gun, it has chased a lot of quail and pigeons and is bold and confident around birds. Throwing a taped-wing pigeon or releasing it via a bird launcher so that the bird flies 30 or 40 yards with the dog in full pursuit, I fire a cap pistol just before the pigeon comes to the ground. Everything in the dog’s mind at this moment says, I’ve got you, bird! I’ve got you! The dog’s focus is on the bird and, because the pup is bold and confident, the gun is not an issue. I then proceed cautiously and, over time, work my way up to a .410, then to a 20-gauge, then to a 12.

10) Expose Your Dog to Birds
This is what it’s all about- the button popping pride of watching your pup develop into a world-class shooting dog. The more birds your dog is exposed to, the more experience the youngster gets, the better bird dog it will become. But your dog will first need to learn to hunt. It won’t learn this in the backyard sitting perfectly, holding a dog training dummy in its mouth. Birds, birds, birds. This is the key to your dog learning to hunt. If you don’t live in an area where Pup can find lots of wild birds, join a hunting preserve or lease a farmer’s field and use pen-raised birds. The bottom line is that if your dog does not see birds, it will never become an accomplished bird dog.


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