Dog Training Manual

First of all, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with both you and your dog. We know that there are other trainers out there and we sincerely thank you for trusting us to train your best friend.

The purpose of this text will be to hopefully provide you, the owner, with an information resource that will, with a bit of luck, aid you in being successful with your dog once it leaves my kennel. Every dog that undergoes training at Professional Gun Dogs, takes my reputation down the road with it when it goes. Consequently, I have a vested interest in making sure that you are successful when you get home with your newly trained pheasant fiend, mallard muncher, quail killer…….. you get the idea. A satisfied customer will tell 5-10 people about his/her positive experience, whereas an unhappy customer will tell about 30 people what a knuckle dragging derelict you are. So to that end, the following are some tips and insights into my training methods that will hopefully help set you up for success.

What To Do When You Get Home

Ok, you made it home with old munch and mangle, now what do you do? First things first, give the dog a day or two to just “chill out” as the kids say. He has just been taken out of the environment that he has become comfortable with, and will need a day or two to get settled in. First of all make sure that you put the e-collar on the dog and have your transmitter set to 1, the lowest setting. Also make sure that the collar fits properly. It must be snug on the dog’s neck to make sure that the points are making proper contact. Start in the yard with the dog on a check cord, (20-30 feet long). Begin by just letting him fool around, after a while call the dog back to you with either the “Here” command or use the whistle and a series of short blasts. The dog will respond to either one and knows this command very well by now. If the dog fails to respond immediately, push the stimulation button on your transmitter and give the command again. Remember that the dog has been trained to learn to turn off low level stimulation by complying with the command. Your dog knows what to do, you simply need to convince him that he has to listen to you and not just his trainer, and yes the dogs do know the difference. By now I have spent several months with your dog and it has accepted me as his/her leader. Your job at this point is to take over that position as leader and the best way to do that is in the yard where you have the dog under complete control. Some dogs naturally resent not being the “Big Dog” and will try to push your buttons to see if you are really in charge. If you curtail this behavior early, you will save both you and the dog much time and frustration.

So, back to the subject, after you have worked on the “Here” command, shorten your grip on the check cord and give the dog the “Whoa” command. He should stand perfectly still as you move about the yard flushing imaginary birds. If he moves even an inch, push the stimulation button on your transmitter, you remembered to put the collar on the dog right? Be sure to have your transmitter set to a low stimulation setting. Level 1 or 2 is all that is needed to reinforce the command. If the dog moves toward you and will not  stop, just pick him up and put him back in the place that he originally vacated and start over. When I am finished whoa breaking a dog, they know the command very well, it is just a matter of letting them know that you, the owner, can enforce this command. Also remember that young dogs need frequent reminders in order to retain information for long periods. Just keep the sessions short so that they don’t become tedious for both the dog and you. Ten minutes to a session, three or four times a week are all that is necessary.

This is also a good time to work on the “Kennel” command. This one is pretty self explanatory, but just make sure that the dog complies the first time that you give him the command. Don’t get in the habit of talking to your dog. Give a COMMAND and make it stick. Just be sure that the dog is comfortable getting into the kennel or truck. If it is new to him, give him a break and introduce it to him slowly so that he understands that it is a safe place. But let’s assume that the dog has been in the kennel before and he just doesn’t want to go. Press the stimulation button, make sure that you are using continuous stimulation, and give the “Kennel” command again. Remember that the dog gets one free pass, if you have to repeat the command it will be accompanied by some stimulation. Once the defiant dog is in the kennel tell him how good he is. Then let him out and repeat until he goes in on the first command. As I said before, if it is a new environment give him a chance to get comfortable before you use to collar.

 FIELD WORK

This is the meat and potatoes of this whole business, right? Please remember that until now your dog has been working on planted pen raised game birds. The birds that he will encounter in the wild will not be nearly as forgiving. Young dogs have to learn how to properly approach wild birds i.e. get close enough to hold them, but not so close that the birds flush. This brings up Rule # 1; carve this one in stone like you are Moses getting instructions from God. Never, and I mean NEVER shoot at birds that your young dog has not pointed and held. If the dog flash points and then dives in on the birds, just let them go. If you insist on shooting at every bird that you encounter, I would suggest that you consider purchasing a good lab. You may as well, because if you persist with this behavior, it won’t be long until your young covey buster is running up every bird in sight.

The proper thing to do is to refrain from shooting and call the dog back to the place where he should have pointed, whoa him there and then make like you are flushing another bird for him. Make him stand there for a minute and then release him to continue hunting. Don’t get frustrated, the only way that a young dog can learn is to make mistakes, and they all have to go through this period. If you stick to your guns and only shoot birds that he points and holds until you get there, he will quickly adjust his strategy to include you. He already knows the right thing to do from what I have taught him, he simply needs to learn how to approach these spooky wild birds.

If at all possible try to work the dog in areas that are known to hold good quail populations. Quail are vastly easier for pointing dogs to handle than pheasants. In reality, it takes about two years for most dogs to learn to reliably handle the crafty ditch parrot. This is not to say that you should not hunt your dog for pheasants, just be realistic in your expectations. Some dogs that are very careful seem to learn how to handle pheasants very quickly, but for most it is a trial and error process. If you are not lucky enough to have access to good hunting grounds, look into a good hunt club or shooting preserve. You will probably be able to purchase a few birds to ensure that your dog has some success. Remember that these birds will not fly as well as wild birds and every precaution must be taken to prevent your dog from catching one.

For the sake of your sanity and to give you hope I will relay the story of Jiggs the English Pointer. Jiggs was quite possibly the ugliest dog that I have ever owned. He was also one of the most deadly on wild pheasants. He is gone now, time takes its toll on us all, but during the course of his lifetime we literally killed hundreds of birds together. He had a tremendous nose and would hunt tirelessly until the tip of his tail looked like it got caught in a blender. Now; I have told you that so I can tell you this. His first year was a complete disaster. He ran so hard and fast that he would just blow through bird scent. He did point and hold several coveys of quail, but pheasants remained a mystery. I had resigned myself to defeat until the last day of the season. For me the last day of pheasant season is really more important than the first. It allows me to take stock of the progress that my dogs have made through the year and is like that final bite of cake after a great steak dinner. I usually finish the day by smoking a good cigar, (a Partagas Black Label is hard to beat), and watch the sun go down on another season. Anyway, closing day found me and Jiggs giving it one last stab. We worked several fields with no luck and were headed back to the truck when it happened. Jiggs slammed into a hard point and I thought to myself that it must be a quail since the cover was so short. When I walked in on his point there was a rooster pinned behind the only cover available, a Yucca plant. He flushed and I dropped him like a bad habit. I was ecstatic, and so was Jiggs. I placed the bird in my vest and turned toward the truck with a spring in my step and hope in my heart. We hadn’t gone 50 yards and the scene was repeated. Another point another rooster, all of this after weeks of trying and failing, what made the difference that day? Blind luck maybe, divine intervention perhaps; the truth is I don’t know. All that I do know is that from that day on Jiggs had IT, whatever IT is, and was henceforth a certified bird killing machine. Why have I taken the time to tell you a story about a dog which you will never have to privilege of hunting with? To hopefully give you some encouragement and let you know that not all dogs follow the textbook. Chances are that your dog will adapt to wild birds much quicker and you will never have to experience the level of frustration that I experienced with Jiggs. But if you do, don’t loose heart, give me a call or better yet come out hunting with me and I will try to help.

Miscellaneous Thoughts & Tips

Never take your dog the field without the E-Collar. How are you going to enforce a command if he does not comply? Never give a command that you are not in the position to enforce immediately. It does no good to go catch the dog and then scold him for not coming when called, he has already forgot and will only learn to avoid you when your blood pressure is up.

  1. Try to hunt your young dog alone as much as possible. It can be hard to explain to a hunting buddy that he is not to shoot any birds that your dog has not handled properly. It is best to save buddy hunts for the dogs second year. By then you should have a real “brag dog”, and your buddies will be duly impressed with your dog handling prowess. (Don’t forget to tell them who trained this little wonder dog!!!)
  1. Keep other dogs out of the mix. Let’s suppose that your dog has found and pointed a covey of quail. All of the sudden here comes your buddy’s dog (Ole flush and bust). The problem is that your buddy’s dog is not nearly as well trained as yours and as a result rushes past your dog and busts the birds. Let us further assume that your “buddy” then compounds the problem by managing to scratch down a couple of birds. How long do you think it will be before your dogs’ training comes undone and he starts to just flash point and bust the birds himself?
  1. Try to start every hunt by giving the dog the “Whoa” command before turning him loose to hunt. This puts you in charge from the beginning, and gets the dog focused.
  1. Let’s assume that your dog has established a point and you have moved in to flush and shoot. If that dog takes even a small step, tap him with the collar and tell him “Whoa”. As I approach a young dog on point I always give them the “Whoa” command. This anchors the dog in place, or at least it should. After I have given the initial command I don’t give it again. Remember that they get one chance to comply; I just tap them with the collar to remind them of their manners if they do move. Make certain that your collar is set to a very low setting. We don't want to over do it and create a negative association with birds. Moving after establishing a point is called creeping and if allowed to begin can quickly progress into intentionally busting birds. Watching the dog while trying to flush the bird and handle a gun requires you to be watching and thinking about a lot of things. All the more reason to hunt alone so that neither you nor the dog is distracted or endangered by the presence of another hunter. We don’t need another Dick Cheney incident. Sorry Dick, I am a Republican but I just couldn’t resist.
  1. Along those lines; if you do take a friend hunting, explain to him that he is not to talk, hack, whistle to or otherwise annoy your dog. This is your dog and you don’t need any help handling him, you are the boss. Also explain that the dog is expected to deliver all shot birds to you and not to the person who shot them. You can hand the bird to your buddy after you give the dog a squirt of water and send him on to continue hunting.
  1. By all means, practice your shooting. Imagine your dog’s frustration as he finds and points bird after bird only to have his inept owner fail to connect with shot after shot. Go to the trap range or better yet the sporting clays course and burn some powder. If you miss and he pees on your leg, don’t blame me. 
  1. Don’t try to direct every move that the dog makes in the field. It is man’s nature to want to control things, but let this one go. With experience the dog will learn which spots hold birds and what areas should be skipped. Learn to trust your dog. Remember that he is doing the hunting; you are just along to close the deal. You have been practicing, right? Use the whistle and collar sparingly and only to keep the dog in range. If you talk to them too much they will soon begin to tune you out.
  1. Don’t hunt him too long at a time, lest he come to regard this stuff as work and not fun. Ideally, you should have two dogs so you can give one a break while hunting the other.
  1. Carry some water with you in the field. Most dogs will learn to drink from a squirt bottle. If you walk a mile your dog may cover 3-5 miles depending on how fast and big he runs. Wouldn’t you get thirsty? Also remember that he is down much lower to the ground and will not benefit from a cooling breeze like you will. Make sure that he doesn’t get overheated. Remember that a dog can take a ton of cold but only an ounce of heat. 
  1. Use the wind. When you pull into a field think about how the wind is blowing and hunt accordingly. This sounds elementary, but you would be surprised how many people just plow through good bird cover without any regard to the wind direction.
  1. When you approach your dog try to come in from the side so that he can see you coming. Most dogs don’t like to be snuck up on from behind. I usually circle around and come in from the front. This way you can hopefully cut off any birds that are attempting to make an early exit.
  1. What if the dog points but you can’t flush a bird? One of two things has happened, either the dog has pointed old scent or the bird simply didn’t hang around until you got there. In either case tap the dog on the head and tell him “OK” this should release him and he will resume hunting. If the bird has moved on most dogs will be able to relocate and point them again. If you are hunting pheasants you will have to get used to this scenario.
  1. What about “Crap birds”? As long as you don’t shoot any for him he will eventually loose interest and learn to ignore them entirely.
  1. What about rabbits, deer, ect…? This is really a problem for some dogs. They are unabashed bunny bandits and have no remorse as to their affliction. This is the only time that the upper end of the collar should be used. When I say upper I mean make that dog think that the devil himself has got a hold of him. Before long he will understand that those bunnies may be cute but they really bite. You have to be careful here and only do this when you are 100% sure the dog is on a bunny run. I don’t say a word when I do this, just use the collar, and be sure that the dog is in full chase before dropping the hammer on him.
  1. Think about the cover that you will hunt with your young dog. Don’t hunt milo fields and expect your dog to be able to stop the birds from running. Those rows are perfect little highways, especially for pheasants. Focus on grassy areas near food sources. My personal favorite pheasant cover is harvested wheat that has been let go into weeds. Preferably fire weeds that are about waist high. This is ideal cover, the birds will be here all day, and they have both feed and cover in the same location. Concentrate on roosting/resting areas until about an hour after first light, after that birds will move to feeding areas and hunting dense vegetation like CRP grass and creek bottoms becomes less effective. Focus on thick cover areas from about 10:00 a.m. to about 3:00 p.m. when the birds are resting.
  1. If the weather is nasty, by all means go hunting! Some of the best hunts that I have had have been on terribly nasty days. The more miserable the weather, the more likely it becomes that the birds will hold for your dogs point. Throw in a fresh blanket of snow and you have the makings of a terrific day.

Thoughts on Guns, Loads, ect...

During the course of guiding hunters from around the country, I have had the opportunity to hear and see about every misconception and mistake that a wing shooter can make. You are probably asking your self “What makes this guy think that he knows it all”. Good question, the answer is that I don’t know it all. However twenty plus years of chasing wild pheasants, shooting sporting clays and trap have given me some insights that will hopefully prove useful. Remember that everyone is an expert on one thing, their opinion.

Whenever I hear a guy tell me about the new fangled bead or sight that he has just had installed on his gun I cringe and brace myself for a barrage of flying lead and unscathed birds. This is total crap. Your eyes can only focus in one plane at a time. So think about it, if you are looking at the end of your gun at that pretty new sight, you aren’t looking at the bird. This results in you stopping your swing and shooting behind every bird. Game over, end of story. Look at the bird in the eye and never take your focus off of him until he tumbles to the ground.  Your brain is a marvelous computer, swing through the bird and let your brain tell you when to pull the trigger. You don’t need to lead the bird by two feet or three feet or any other amount of “lead” as I have heard many people say. Sure these guys take out the occasional bird, but these are the exception not the rule. When the bird gets up the first move that you should make is with your feet. Don’t get in a hurry! Take a short step in the direction of the bird. After your lead foot is set push the gun forward with your lead hand, keep your trigger hand relaxed. With your eyes still fixed on the target, push your lead hand through the target and slap the trigger as the barrels pass through the bird. The momentum of the moving gun will carry your barrels through the bird and build in the proper amount of lead. To you it will appear that you are shooting right at the bird. The English call this method Move, Mount, and Shoot. Unfortunately what most people do is Mount, Aim, and Miss!!!

Let’s nip another misconception in the bud. A shorter and lighter gun is a liability, not an asset. Those short barrels put less weight in your lead had. Sure these guns are “Snappy” or “Quick” to handle but let’s review a little physics lesson. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that “An object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and direction unless acted on by another force” What does this mean to the shooter. Given that we know that mass and inertia are directly related, those light short barrels that you are so proud of surely do start fast but unfortunately their low mass also means that they stop quickly as well. Heavier, longer barrels are simply more forgiving to shoot and will result in more dead birds and less cripples and misses. The only exception to this would be those who hunt woodcock, grouse, or quail in extremely dense vegetation where snap shots are only shot that you are likely to get.

Another mistake that is made by most shooters is using too much choke. First of all, even the cheap field loads that we shoot today are far superior to what was the standard even twenty years ago. The result is that given the same amount of choke, today’s loads pattern tighter. This is the result of better wads, harder shot, and progressive burning powders that ease the load down the barrel and thus leave more shot undeformed. I'm speaking here of good quality loads, not the cheap junk that you buy at the big retail stores. Show some respect for he game and use the best quality ammo that you can find. I shoot an over/under, is there anything else, and kill 90% of my birds with the bottom barrel which is choked Improved Cylinder. My top barrel is choked light Modified. Leave the Full Choke at home and you will kill more birds and I will bet that you will have fewer cripples as well.

Years ago I tried shooting #6 shot in the bottom barrel and #4’s in the top. This was an idea that proved to be better in theory than in practice. I ended up getting the loads all mixed up and it took too much time to sort them out in the field. I ended up making a compromise and shoot #5’s exclusively. For pheasants it is hard to beat the Golden Pheasant load put out by Fiocchi. For quail I prefer #6 or #7 ½ shot in standard field loads. If you are quail hunting in areas that may hold pheasant, go with the #6 shot. 7 ½ doesn’t carry enough punch for any but the closest of shots on pheasants.

I have shot Over/Under guns for the better part of twenty years now, and personally feel that they are superior to their pumping and auto loading brethren. The double gun has a balance, feel, and smoothness that the other formats can’t duplicate. A double gun is made to shoot; pumps and auto loaders are made to cycle shells. Which will probably come in handy since you will almost certainly miss quite frequently, thus necessitating several follow up shots at every bird. The shot shell guys will love you though. But let’s put this nasty little point of debate behind us. The real point is that your gun must fit you and shoot where you are looking. The industry makes most standard guns to fit the average man with an average build. Your height, weight, facial structure ect… will change the point of impact. If at all possible find a good quality gun shop proprietor or better yet a sporting clays instructor to help you find a gun that fits you properly. This small investment of time and money will pay life long dividends. Once you have that gun shoot it often. For the upland hunter there is no better game than sporting clays. Trap is OK but if you shoot it start your gun from the “ready” position instead of mounted like competitive trap shooter do. You are trying to hone your upland shooting skills, not run a perfect 25 straight.

We back all of our dogs with a 30 day performance and health guarantee. The dogs that you see on our site have been trained, in total or in part, right here at Professional Gun Dogs and we stand behind them 100%.

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