Bird Dog & Retriever News

August / September 2003 issue Page 24

 When should I introduce the gun in my pointer pup's training?
By Bob and Jody Iler

Picture your hunting dog,
stretched out in front of
the fire or curled up on the sofaas you gather up your hunting gear and bring out the gun case, he is instantly awake, tail wagging and ready to go! Or you're heading out to the field, the sound of gunshots in the distance, and your pup can barely contain his excitement. It is a common belief that our pointing dogs ­ simply by virtue of their breeding ­ are going to love the sound of the gun. After all, the gun means birds, and birds are what they're bred to find, right?
This is not necessarily true. Yes, there are many dogs that have been shot around at an early age with no adverse effects. If you've had one of these dogs, you've been lucky. Developing a pointing dog properly to the gun does not involve luck. It doesn't mean that you take your dog out to the shooting range to "see if he's gun-shy." If he wasn't, he may be when you take him home! A pointing dog, as we've stressed, will range farther afield to find the birds, and point and hold a bird for you until you arrive to flush and shoot. This means you are often fairly close to your dog when using your gun. On the other hand, your flushing retriever will be quartering out in front of you within shotgun range, and will hit his flush at more of a distance from you when you shoot.
Gun development should not begin until your pointer pup is enthusiastic about birds ­ meaning that she is out in the field hunting, finding, and chasing birds. She may or may not be pointing at this stage, but that's not necessary for this part of her development. What is important is that her mind is on the birds and that she is full of the drive and zest to hunt ­ the pup's age is not as crucial as the pup's birdiness.
In the last issue, we covered the initial phase of birdwork in the field ­ getting your pup out into lots of birds. You should spend about a month on this phase before beginning any gun work. The point to remember is that pup's mind must be on the birds, not the gun, when it is introduced. If your pup is hunting half-heartedly, timidly, or pottering about eating grass and checking back with you often, it would be a mistake to try to shoot around her at this time. You must learn to read your pup ­ watch her body language. A tail drop and slow hesitant behavior in the field means that you may be pushing too hard. Birdwork at this stage should be fun and exciting ­ spending more time on this now will pay off later.
We often find that our soft pups must be brought along more slowly than the bolder, thicker-skinned ones. However, many of these pups change when introduced to birds, becoming very bold and bird-crazy in that scenario, while remaining shy in other situations. Softness and sensitivity is a personality trait that simply means gentle handling is indicated ­ but a bird dog's love of birds is genetic whether he's soft or bold ­ it's either there or it isn't! Time will tell. Give your pup that time before you hurry the gun.
If your pup is ready, let's begin!
Our method of gun development may seem slow to those who like things to happen quickly and right on schedule, but we'll guarantee that it won't make your puppy gun-shy. You'll need a popgun or a couple of blocks of wood that you can carry in your vest, a 22-caliber rifle or starter pistol, a 32-caliber blank pistol, and 4-10, 20, and 12-

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