Olivia St. James


Conversation : question

By 12 years ago

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I'm training my new dog to go bird hunting, what is the best way to teach him?

I have a new lab. dog, whom I am in the process of training to retrieve birds for me. This is my first time doing this and I figured I could use some pointers.
I had heard the best way of doing this was to start out with getting something throwing it and teaching them to bring it back. And then teach them not to be gun shy by working your way up from a .22, to like a 20 gauge or a 12 gauge. By having them there and shooting a couple of rounds.
None of my family members do bird hunting or train dogs to do so. So I am left to learn how to do this myself. That is the one and only way I have been told how to do it. If anybody knows a different or better way, it would be very much appreciated.


Mike Richardson

Mike Richardson

Work obedience first. Make sure the dog will sit and stay and follow your commands of NO and such first. Don't even try until you can cantrol the dog. You want to be able to calm them down or fire them up with words. Getting them to go in a direction you point helps as well. Buy a few videos and set up a training schedule.

Once you have the obedience down start with basic retrieves. Make sure when you start training you have the lab stay until you tell it to fetch. Hard habit to break later on. Get a pheasant wing or some tail feathers and stuff. When you introduce it get the dog fired up and use the word BIRD. Let them feel the feathers in their mouth and get used to it. You want them to really like this scent. Once retrieving is set and you introduced the dog to the bird scent. Have them sit and stay. Toss the feathers out and make them sit for you. They will be really excited to go get it but make sure it doesn't move until you tell it to. Once they can get the feathers and bring them too you and drop on your command, start tossing the feathers into spots where they cant see them. This will make them start to use their nose. Once they master this work with blind retrieves. Have someone hold the dog in the opposite direction and hide the bird. Once planted go back and give a "hunt em up" command or "find the bird" they will go and find the bird and bring it to you. If you have an opportunity to use frozen birds do that instead of just feathers. STAY AWAY FROM DOVES until you get them used to feathers. Doves feathers can feel funny in their mouth and cause them to drop the birds. Get them introduced to live birds early, quail or pigeons. Join a retriever club if that option is available.

I think for the gun shy aspect just start with loud noises and see how it reacts to that clapping your hands. Take the dog for a walk and take a cap gun. Start with popping a cap off as the dog is focused elsewhere. Intoduce the dog to guns first without taking a shot. Take your shot gun and work the action a bit and have the dog watch. Move to a 22 once the cap gun doesnt effect them. Every time you get the gun out have the dog come up and check you out while you are taking it out. Get them fired up then go out side with the dog and the gun. They will associate this as fun time. Move up in loudness levels as the dog gets more comfortable. You want them to be pumped when they hear the gunshot. When ever you shoot give them comforting words and praise. The dog will key in on your excitment.

Labs are awesome. Mine will be 2 on saturday. Biggest thing is get obedience down first, keep training time short at first. Think of how much you learned in school if you were bored and day dreaming of hunting.
John Jackson

John Jackson

Awesome information Mike! Obedience first!

Something to consider about a lab is that even though they are tolerant of water and great swimmers, excellent companion animals, and awesome retrievers, they also have a great nose for scent hunting. You may want to consider dual training for your lab in retrieving sheds (antlers). I am contemplating adopting a pound-pup to train up to retrieve shed antlers. Finding sheds is a great early spring activity and gives you a good idea what is on your property (and what to look for next fall). I'll post a site on another conversation about it.
Mike Richardson

Mike Richardson

i have a drop on shed hunting with your dog as well you guys can check out as well.. Great way to spend time with your buddy and scout for whitetails. That is the main reason i have my lab but she does well with birds. I mainly take her out for public land PA grouse. If you train your dog early what you want her range to be you wont need a shock collar. Labs stick pretty close and make great grouse dogs as well. No they don't compare to a pointing breed but fun to hunt with none the less. Probably the most versitile dog out there. Used for waterfowl, sheds, upland, seeing eye dogs, bomb sniffers, attack dogs, drug dogs, autism service dogs, you name it they can do it. LOL
Joe Overby

Joe Overby

Olivia, I do this for a living. My opinions vary GREATLY from the ones you have already received. Do yourself and your dog a favor and follow an established program. I would recommend Evan Graham's Smartworks. It seems to be written so the not so experienced can understand. He also has a DVD series that compliments the written program. The second piece of advice I can offer is to find a local training group OR reputable pro to help you. Training a new pup is VERY time consuming and often times not all "peaches and cream" like most would like to believe. The reward of successfully training your own dog is unbelievable. The heartache of hunting with a poorly trained dog is unbearable. Life is too short to hunt with an unfinished retriever.
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