When Your Dog Should Enter the Hunt
Young dogs take a while to develop into the hunting or field trial champion you want. Your knowledge that the pup you chose is from proven hunting stock is just the beginning.
I have been spoiled. During hunting and field trial seasons, I have always had older, veteran dogs to rely on. When my dogs are young, they go along on the hunt to feel the excitement generated by the by the older dogs. They do not go into the hunting field until their maturity level and obedience training shows they are ready.
I believe young dogs should not have bird contact until their obedience lessons are well learned. They should heel and whoa before ever seeing a bird. They should also know the commands here and come. Well bred bird dogs are birdie at birth; they do not need to chase birds to become birdie. Also, they do not need to be taught to point, they were bred to point. I honestly feel that bird work can be put on the back burner for a few months until the ground work of an obedient student and hunting partner has been laid in place.
A first time dog owner often wants to show off his new acquisition by shooting birds over him while his buddies look on at the hopefully masterful performance. I have been to numerous field trials where the owners of three-to-six month old pups will shoot cock pheasants over theirs dogs, sometimes only wounding the bird, but sending the dog for a retrieve. These owners do not realize what damage they may be causing the dog. If a pheasant is not cleanly dispatched when the dog goes for the retrieve, the birds beating wings can cause damage. Or worse yet, what if the young dog gets spurred in the mouth? The damage could well leave you with a bird-shy hunting dog.
Dogs, like people, have different personalities. You must learn to read that personality and adjust your training methods accordingly. Bring that pup along slowly and make sure you’re on the same page while training.
My eight year old German shorthair pointer, Riley, was brought along slowly. At nine months old, her focus was on obedience before she was introduced to birds. She was made to stand her birds for three months before a bird was ever shot for her. She was also force broke to retrieve at this time. To this day, she always remains focused when in the bird fields, remembering her early training. Because of this training, she rarely breaks to wing and shot. I am a firm believer that young dogs should be worked on pigeons. They are readily available and if not cleanly dispatched will not hurt the dog in any manner.
Introducing a young dog to wild birds too early may cause bad habits which will be hard to correct later. At this young age, you could very well encourage him to hunt for himself rather than for you.
Follow a good training program and allow your young dog to enjoy being a puppy. With early obedience lessons instilled, the young dog will know that he must listen to the boss at all times. If he should become distracted while in the field, a loud “heel” should bring him to your side. With the proper training, in a few years you should have a field trial competitor or a great all-around bird dog that enjoys hunting both with and for you.