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  • Writer's pictureBobby Dwyer

Puppy Training and Development: Part 4

In the Field and Yard

The training goal at this point in training is just to bring out his natural abilities and encourage the behaviors we want through fun games. In the puppy’s eyes we’re playing, in our eyes we are training. I have broken down portion of training into separate jobs for the dog: Pointing, retrieving, trailing, shed hunting. The reason for this is so that if you have decided that your dog will not have one of these jobs you can just skip it. For all phases of this chapter I recommend keeping a check cord or puppy drag line attached to the dog just in case he wants to play a game of chase.


The first step here is just trying to get the puppy to point and chase without actually using a live bird for the first few times. The reason for not using a live bird is because a live bird might flap a timid puppy in the face and scare him off birds. So to bring out a puppy’s pointing instinct I start with a fishing rod and a bird wing. I tie the bird wing to the end of the fishing line and let out about 5 feet of line. With the puppy in the yard I just flip the wing in front of the puppy and let him see

it. Most likely he’ll try to catch it so we will just flip it behind him or another location. Chasing is what we want but we don’t want him to catch it. If he doesn’t point on the first few times thats okay, just put him up and then try again the next day. I’ve seen some dogs never point a wing but lock up when they smell a live bird. This is an exercise in sight pointing. If the dog has pointed, don’t continue this exercise. We want the dogs to point from scent and if this is overdone then we are teaching the puppy to use his sight to point.If the dog has, or hasn’t, pointed the string you can then move onto live birds. At this point you will need a few live pigeons. Now we are going to use a live

clipped wing pigeon for the next drill. The goal of this drill is to bring out the puppy’s desire to chase and a clip wing will definitely do this. To clip a pigeons wing just use a pair of scissors and trim the major flight wings from both wings. For the first few times I recommend cutting most of the flight feathers because the less feathers it has the easier it will be for the puppy to catch it. Take the pup out into the field with clipped wing in hand and if the pups recall is not great then maybe snap a check chord onto him so you can catch him. Tease him with the pigeon, let him smell it, get him excited and then give it a toss. Since you have already showed the puppy the bird and it flies away like a flush, it is okay if he catches the bird. We are solely working on chasing a bird and not working on pointing. If he catches the bird and brings it back to you praise the pup and let him hold it for a while and enjoy his prize. Gently take the bird and say “drop” and praise for the drop. Do this for a session or two. If he clamps down and wont release the bird you can flank him to force him to drop. If the pup kills the bird by chomping, make a mental note and freeze it for a training bird. If he doesn’t kill the bird put it away for the next training session, it will recover quickly. Next get another pigeon and clip its wings again but leave a little more of the flight wings so it can fly a little further. Repeat the process described above. The goal is to increase the pup’s drive to chase and get him to chase the bird for further distances. If the pup points the bird at anytime then give verbal praise, walk up and flush the bird so the chase continues. At this point you should have a very excited dog anytime he sees or smells a bird. How you go about the next step depends on whether you have homing pigeons or not. If you don’t its not a problem, but I recommend trying to raise

homing pigeons since buying kill pigeons will get expensive. If you don’t have homing pigeons or any strong flying game birds we are going to use a pigeon pole. A pigeon pole is a tall pole (around 10 ft) with a long (100 ft) string attached to the top of the pole. For this I recommend using a high visibility para-cord so you can see it in the grass and won’t get too tangled up. For the pole you can use any tall post or you can zip tie a long PVC pipe to a T-post that you have driven into a field. The goal is to simulate pointing in the field but this gives the pup many opportunities to point and allows you to have control of the bird. Hide the bird in a tuft of grass so the dog cant see it, go get the pup, attach a check cord onto his collar, and start walking the pup into the scent cone. Hopefully, he smells and points the bird, then have a helper walk up and throw the bird away from the dog. Don’t restrain when the dog chases since this is not a steadying drill. Allow the dog to run up and, hopefully, point the bird. Repeat this process for a few sessions to strengthen the dogs pointing instinct. If the pup doesn’t point the bird use the check cord to prevent him from catching the bird and have your helper throw the bird. Sometimes a young dog won’t point but keep working this drill until he does. If you do have homing pigeons or strong flying game birds you wont need a pigeon pole. Instead you will use a lock wing pigeon or a bird contained in a tip-up basket or milk crate. Find an area with moderately tall patches of cover and while holding the bird by the wings you should brush the bird through the cover to add scent into the area. You can even pull a few feathers from the chest to scent the area. Now place the bird under the milk crate or tip-up in the patch of cover and go get the dog. Try to guide the pup upwind with the check cord to the scent cone so that he will get a face full of bird scent. Hopefully he points and then have a helper walk to the bird and flush it. When the bird flushes let him chase the bird and do not restrain him or shoot yet. If you shoot too early the bird may develop a negative association with a bird and start to blink birds out of fear of the shot. If the pup is consistently not pointing the bird you can try a few things. The first option is to plant the bird in the field under a milk crate or tip-up as described above but this time have a helper tie a long line to the crate. When the dog gets within 15 feet have the helper pull the string and release the bird. This will slowly teach the dog that it must point on scent or it’ll flush the bird. This simulates hunting wild birds that are skittish. If you have access to wild birds you can just let the dog run loose in the field and bump or point wild birds. The more bird exposure the pup has the better his point will become.


The goal here is to teach the mechanics of the retrieve. All a retrieve consists of is leaving the handler, picking up an item, and then returning with the object. If the puppy refuses to return to you then thats okay, we will work on the recall and over time he will start returning. The main goal for the first few retrieves are for the dog to pick something up and carry it in his mouth. If he has something in his mouth I verbally praise him and then really praise him when he returns. Getting a puppy to retrieve only requires a small canvas bumper, tennis ball, or kong toy. I also recommend snapping a small puppy leash or check cord on to his collar so you can catch him if he refuses to come back. Start with the small canvas bumper if you have one and take the puppy somewhere that is family closed in so he cannot run off when he picks up object. The reason we don’t use a hard plastic bumper is because the puppy is most likely teething and a hard plastic bumper could hurt his teeth. I use a hallway so the only direction he can go is right back to me. When he returns to me with the object I praise him and pet him without taking the object out of his mouth. This is very important. If you immediately snatch the item from the dog then he might not want to come back. By praising and petting him while he holds the item in his mouth we are encouraging a natural hold and carry. Once you’re ready to throw it again, slowly reach down, grab the item and gently pry open or flank the dog and say “drop”. If the puppy brought you the item then you want to throw it again immediately, don’t play keep away. Don’t overdo retrieving, since puppies have a short attention span you don’t want him to get bored and give up. Do only 2 or 3 retrieves a couple times a week. Leave them wanting more. If the puppy tries to run the other direction or play keep away you have two options; you can turn the other direction and try to get him to chase you, or try to coax him back to you with another bumper or even a ball cap.

Once your puppy is having fun retrieving one object and getting better, its time to start mixing it up. If you used a canvas bumper, now use a tennis ball, then a different canvas bumper, then a Dokken Deadfowl bumper. The goal here is to get the pup confident picking up many training items and not only become accustomed to one thing. Try to throw anything the dog might have to pickup in the future, just make sure its not too big since the pups confidence in retrieving is still low. I have seen dogs only pick up one kind of bumper or toy because the owner or trainer skipped this step. The pups retrieving is going well so not its time to introduce him to retrieving feathers. Use a frozen pigeon or quail if you can find one. I use a frozen bird instead of a fresh bird since a fresh bird could cause the dog to mouth the bird and if this happens too many times then he may become hardmouthed. Now, if you’re idea of a finished dog is one that will run blinds and take casts, or hand signals, at a distance to pick up birds then I teach the casts at a very young age. This saves me headache later down the line.

This phase can be tricky but let the dog develop and mature. Don't over do the retrieves and any bird contact is better than no bird contact. Remember, the puppy is never wrong!

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