The first 3 to 6 weeks is an evaluation for natural ability. These are the things I can't give them, like good nose, interest in birds, desire to hunt, a good flush and interest in retrieving for the spaniels and retrievers or pointing instinct for pointing dogs, mental stability, athletic ability, bid ability, etc.
If the dog makes the initial cut for natural ability the foundation "yard work" is generally next. Heel and Hup, for spaniels and retrievers, Whoa for pointing dogs, stay and come by voice, whistle, and hand signals in the yard. This work is critical as all else that follows is built on this foundation. My idea of yard work being properly done is a dog that is happy snappy and almost totally mistake free in the yard. This takes approximately 2 months. For spaniels and retrievers, if the dog will bring the bird close enough to catch the end of a short rope that the dog is wearing (15' approximately) initial field work, like that being done during evaluation, can continue. The whole thing hinges on whether the dog will bring the bird or not. If not, field work will be put aside until the foundation work is completely done so as not to create a major retrieving, delivery problem. In addition if the field and yard work can be done consecutively, progress is approximately half as fast on each step, because two things are being done consecutively, on alternate days, as opposed to concentrating on one step at a time.
For pointing dogs - Once the foundation work is done, whoa is applied to bird work to begin to staunch the dog up. The dog learns to hold point for gradually longer periods of time. Whoa is absolutely critical at this time. For spaniels and retrievers - Once the foundation work is done the retrieving program is next, The come command is applied to the dogs retrieving, canvas buck first, then cold dead pigeons, then live wing clips. Also a fair share of dogs (approximately 50%+) will have to be worked on the bench to teach the meaning of the words Hold and Give. Whether this has to be done depends on the dog. If they drop the buck a lot or refuse to let go of it, this will have to be taught to get a good delivery.
Formal field work will start at this time. For spaniels and retrievers, these dogs will be taught to quarter "windshield wiper motion" and to turn an the whistle, as well as come and hup in the field. The dogs will be worked on many wing clipped pigeons to set the pattern and to build the flush, also a number of fliers to chase at this time to excite the dog and get them running. Introduction to gun fire will happen at this time also.
For pointing dogs - Field work will start in a field with no planted birds at first. Come is applied to the field work in order to get the dog to begin to handle and to control range. Gun fire will also be introduced at this time. Bird work is done on alternate days in a different field, with a long rope on, in a controlled situation, as these dogs are not ready yet to find birds without a rope on at a distance. This brings us to about the half trained level, meaning started, by my definition. Approximately 4 to 4 1/2 months have been spent working the dog. Some folks may wish to stop here. If that's what they want, that's fine. As far as developing a young dog, in my opinion this is minimum commitment for time spent to have a useful dog to hunt wild birds with. I wish to stress the word MINIMUM. There will be plenty of times with a dog brought to a half trained level that the excitement generated from game birds will override the level of training the dog is currently at. When the dog doesn't respond to your commands as well as you wished, you have to remember this is because he is half trained only.
Next is the beginning stages of the finish work. This is a gradual, gentle process. The object is to have a dog with all the spirit and style and pace that they had in the first place, when we're done. Look at this as putting brakes on the dog. The first half of the training program was designed to bring out the natural ability of the dog. The things that have been selectively bred for, for a 100 years or more, training with the grain so to speak. Steadiness training "finish work" is quite unnatural to the dog, it goes against the dog's natural desire to chase game. When training against the grain, the only thing in the dog we have working for us is that particular animal's cooperativeness and the skill of the trainer.
Finish work can be quite complex.
"I just wish you could see how Blazer works on retrieving Ducks. Last week we killed 13 ducks in about 1&1/2 hrs. Blazer retrieved all with out any mistakes. We had as many as 6 down at once. The wind had drifted some out past 100 yards before he got them. He hit the water just as hard on the last duck as he did on the first one. On the last one I had to give him a pip on whistle and a arm signal, he turned on a dime and went right to it. He responds great on land or water to hand signals, whistle or vocal.
I thought I would have a fair to good dog when I got him but never thought I would ever have a dog as great as he is. I think he is as good or better than 95% of Labs on Ducks. The people I hunt with can't believe it when they see him work."
Lloyd Dale Kientzy
"Dakota has been an outstanding bird dog/companion. I have an endless amount of memories that were created by following her in the field and the next pooch will have a lot to live up to."
For spaniels and retrievers, to start the finish work I begin with no more chasing the canvas buck. This is very gently done in a controlled situation with a short rope on to prevent the youngster from chasing, as he's always done up to now. When he breaks "meaning chases" he is gently restrained with a rope and brought back to where he was hupped, and I go get the buck myself. When he waits until the command to fetch is given, the dog is allowed to retrieve the buck. I remain at this stage until the dog thoroughly understands the concept of steadiness. Once this is accomplished, on to a more tempting item, a cold dead pigeon. Having mastered that, a live pigeon. On alternate days field work with wing clips only. This is done to maintain the dogs desire to run. In effect to counter balance the control that's being put on the dog. As time goes on the dog becomes more reliably steady. In addition, all the previous routines that have been taught get sharper and sharper as they are continually gone over. Once the dog is reliably steady to thrown wing clips with shots fired, the last step is birds flushed off the ground. A good ratio is 1 flier for every 2 or 3 wing clips to maintain that flush. After approximately 6 weeks of killing birds over the dogs flush "several dozen" and all is well, the job's about over, with the exception of training the owner of the dog how to handle their already trained dog. This is a big part of the program here at Linden Kennels, as long as clients will allow me to help them learn about dogs and how to handle them. All owners are different just as all dogs are different. Some have a lot of aptitude learning about dogs, some don't. Novice handlers require more training than folks that have been through the process with several other dogs. This is not an additional charge, it is included, I figure I owe it to clients if they had their dog trained here. Never underestimate the value of lessons on how to handle dogs as you will definitely find it overwhelming at first. There is much to know as you will find out. A common question is: How long will it take me to learn to handle my dog? A good answer would be the rest of your life. Remember, no dog is owner proof.
For pointing dogs - As field work continues in a birdless field, handling and coming when called to control range gets more reliable. The same can be said for the staunchness training which is continuing in a different field. Once the dog is reliably staunch in a controlled situation I can start letting him find birds at a greater distance from me in the field. I'm going to start planting birds in the field that used to have no birds in it. The same area that handling lessons started in, some time ago. The dog will be dragging a short rope now, working at a distance in the bird field. As you can see I've combined the two separate routines into one now.
Much more tempting for the dog now as he's at a distance from me. As training continues the dog becomes more reliable in his handling as well as reliably pointing birds at a distance and remaining staunch. If the owner wishes the dog to be steady to wing and shot, now would be about the right time to start. This training would usually be carried out in a separate exercise with me throwing homing pigeons from my pocket "dog with rope on" until the dog becomes reliable. When he breaks, he's restrained with the rope and gently picked up and put back where he was before he broke. This will be continued until he's reliable, then shots can be fired as the bird flies away. Once again this is continued until the dog can be trusted. When I can combine all the routines into one lesson and the dog is reliable we're closing in on the end of the job. If retrieving is required this would be the last thing taught.
Approximately 90% of pointing dogs will have to be force broken to retrieve to get a decent job of it. This is approximately 2 months worth of work, as I intend to be as gentle as possible in order to keep the stress factor as low as possible for the dog. This is my least favorite job in dog training as I don't want to force a dog to do anything, but if you want your pointing dog to retrieve properly, generally there's no way around it. This is a brief description of what goes on here. I want to stress that the only appropriate way to train dogs in my opinion is a positive motivation system with lots of patience and repetition and praise. When I'm done with them they think there new name is "good boy" or "good girl". This type of system produces dogs with learning of a more permanent nature, they are happy and willing workers that are under very good control. The point is that you want an efficient dog that listens almost always and rarely aggravates you, this way you can enjoy your hunting trips rather than watching your dog run over the hill, out of control, flushing birds out of gun range. And just so we're all on the same page here, buying pups, having a dog developed, learning how to handle dogs, is a lot like playing poker. There may be times when I tell you something you don't want to hear but if it's the truth you'll hear it any way. I definitely want the people I hire to do various types of work for me to give me information straight up with no candy coating, most people do I think. In closing, don't be lured into thinking a couple of months or so of training and your dog and you are ready to go hunting because it's not true. Certainly if that's what you want to hear, all you have to do is make a few phone calls and you'll be guaranteed someone out there will tell you that. The truth is, it will take some time, you will have some money in it and there is some risk involved.