Sunday, June 06, 2010

Gun Breaking A Young Bird Dog

This is a quail. He’s full of life, proud of who he is and more than willing to meet me halfway on any issue. Am I just going to blow him away?

Well, no. At least not this time.

He’s a pen raised bird from Bob the setter breeder’s flight pen. Bob connected me with the litter owner where we got Dottie. Bob competes in field trials which is hunting and shooting game birds on horseback with a pointing dog out front while being judged by others for style points, braging rights, trophies and to enhance their dog’s bloodlines (charging more for pups).

He goes as far away as Texas to compete and he’s real serious about it. So serious Bob raises his own pheasant, quail and pigeons for use in training his dogs. He allows hunting buddy Scott and I to train our dogs on his ranch.

(Scott's 2 year old setter, Penny)

My buddy Scott has a female setter named Penny from one of Bob’s main stud dog litters. Thursday Scott called and asked if Dot and I would go to Bob’s ranch with him and Penny to work some live birds. Since nothing was going on here at the bunker I said, “let’s go”.

Dot will be one year old on the 20th. This is only the second time she’s been on live game birds. She’s ready to gun break. If not executed carefully gun breaking a dog has the potential of creating a gun-shy but loving house pet, not a good field dog.

(Dottie on point, we need to work on her style but at less than a year old, not bad)

Gun breaking a bird dog is very simple. First consider dog behavior. Dottie has been cowering during thunderstorms. My first setter, Mookie always did. Spec, my last setter was impervious to noise of any kind. Neither were bothered by fireworks. But drop a pencil on the kitchen tile on a quiet evening and either of them might jump.

(Scott released his birds for Penny to work, since she's a lot farther along in field training than Dottie is)

What’s most important in gun breaking is that the dog has pointed and flushed a bird before shooting a gun. The dog gets so jacked on that bird nothing else matters. When the bird is in the air and the dog has sight of it fire two shots from the starter pistol (always begin with small calibers). I did this Thursday with Dot.

The preferred way to train the dog on scent is to have a ready supply of live game birds and a wide open field. For training I’ve used pigeons, chukkar partridge and quail, whatever is cheap and available.

Tossing out a group of birds into a field is fine, we did this the first time we wanted to get Dot jacked on birds. The few dozen quail released into the field scattered to the woods where she pointed one after another. But we didn’t shoot. The object was for her to get used to the fact that a wild prairie had these fun, flying feathered creatures. She chased them as if nothing else in the world mattered. It worked.

For gun breaking I use a bird launcher. It’s a spring loaded metal box with a sling. By placing a bird into the sling, latching the spring and hiding it into tall grass the bird will stay put. There is a string leading to the trigger, some more expensive models have a remote control.

The plan is to get the pup close to the box to see if she gets the scent. All of mine did in the past, they are hard-wired genetically to sniff birds. Once on the scent we use a command called whoa, and by repetition the dog easily understands they are to remain staunch on point. It’s good to stroke the pup and lift it’s tail to reinforce what it is you want her to do.

Next I circle around, grab the string, pull, and the sling will launch the bird about five feet in the air. At this point the pup has focused all of it’s interest on the flying bird. It’s OK to allow the pup to chase the bird. It’s at this point two shots are fired from the starter pistol. I did this exercise six times and each time she got better. Using this method the dog associates the gun with the birds and become impervious to the sound.

Next time I will fire my Browning sweet 16 and try to down the birds. That way she will get to catch up to the bird, get a mouth full of feathers, receive a lot of praise and have even more fun. Me too.

NOTE: All birds used in this training exercise were not harmed. Next time that will change.

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