Bird Dog Training

Jim McCann

Bird dog training

Bird dog training is a popular pastime for upland bird hunters and waterfowl enthusiasts in Alaska. In this video seminar, Hunt Alaska magazine Contributing Editor and upland-bird hunting expert Jim McCann shares his in-depth knowledge of how to train your bird dog puppy, and the things to focus  on when you first bring the dog home. 

Jim prefers pointing dogs and his breed of choice for the last 25 years has been the Brittany pointing dog. He recently got a new puppy, so this seminar shows you real-world training and results with Jim’s new pup. Jim first makes it clear that getting a bird dog pup is a serious, but rewarding, commitment, so be sure you are ready to take that on. He then states that you first have to choose the breed and type of dog you want: pointing, flushing, versatile, etc.

Jim suggests that you visit breeders, go to club meetings and attend training seminars. This will help you determine the breed that’s best for you. Towards the end of the seminar, he lists several clubs to investigate. 

Bird dog training with a new pup is all about consistency and fun. Jim says that you should be patient and not expect to hunt with the pup for at least the first nine months. That time is spent training your pup, and Jim states that the training happens from your whole family, so make sure everyone is on the same program. 

Bird dog training needs to be fun for the puppy. Don’t lose your temper, never hit your dog, and keep sessions brief but consistent. When you first bring the dog home, make sure everyone handles and holds the puppy a lot. Give the pup lots of safe things to chew on. The pup needs his own toys to chew on and should not be allowed to chew on anything else. Expect to supervise the puppy constantly so it is not chewing on items that it shouldn’t or could harm it. Bird dog training first starts with basic puppy training.

The next thing Jim discusses is coming up with a set of commands. He calls it “show pup” which is showing the pup what is right and wrong. Jim goes through the basic commands he uses including good boy, no, ok, whoa, sit, kennel, here. Jim makes a solid point in that he is trying to reinforce good behavior and not reward bad behavior. He suggests printing out the commands and putting them on the refrigerator so everyone is using the same command for the same action.

bird dog trainingNext he discusses leash introduction for the puppy. He does this early on by walking the dog on the leash in the house. Jim discusses how he trains the dog to stay with the whoa command, and how that evolves into the pup learning the here command. Jim uses a repetitive whistle as part of the here command. 

Jim highly recommends that you hire a professional bird dog trainer to work with your dog. Bird dog training from a professional will usually produce a better hunting dog and is well worth the money.  Jim cautions the viewer not to expect that after training that you will have a great bird dog, he states that you should work with the trainer so that you can build upon the initial training. 

Jim trains all of his dogs to go into a crate/kennel, for a number of reasons. The pup learns through repetition and encouragement to become kennel trained. Jim tells you how to get the pup to  calm down before exiting the kennel, and also when eating.

Bird dog training includes teaching the dog to go to the bathroom outside. He uses the outside command. He uses the hurry up command to get the dog to relieve themselves faster.  After getting basic commands ingrained, Jim begins bird dog specific training. He introduces the dead bird command and makes plenty of noise around the house to introduce the pup to loud noises. He stresses not to take your pup to the gun range to get it used to gunfire. There are ways to introduce the pup to gunfire, but overwhelming the dog with gunfire and making them gun shy is the wrong move.

Jim takes his pups to the woods where they will be hunting. This gives them the chance to smell birds, hear the sounds and get used to being in the field. With any luck, they will find a ruffed or spruce grouse and potentially even point. This helps build the dog’s prey drive and is a critical component of bird dog training.

Bird dog training is all about consistency, making it fun for the pup, and reinforcing good behavior. Using Jim’s “show pup” philosophy, you can begin to turn your new pup into a great hunting  partner. Every situation is a training scenario until the pup is eventually a fully trained bird dog.

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