A Brief Guide To Training
A puppy is an interesting individual. He is willing to do anything to please you, especially if it fascinates him, like birds. So all you do is tailor your training program to the puppy and the puppy learns by doing. The first thing you must do is to buy a puppy from a genetic line that has a great deal of bird desire and an early, fairly long attention span. Springset puppies have an attention span of approximately 30 minutes. If he does not have a long attention span, he has something wrong with him, something that makes it hard to concentrate. The closer the bond between you and the dog, the better the bird work. The bond starts early with puppy training. Training is not the right word. Bonding and play training is what it boils down to. First you play with the wing and rod for about 3 minutes to train the puppy's eye to follow the bird. Pull all the wing feathers from a quail that he can catch! This is important - we definitely want the puppy to catch the bird! Work on low grass so he can chase the bird. The puppy must realize that he is a predator. Allowing him to catch the bird starts the fantastic Gordon Setter memory. (You will find as you work the puppy over the following weeks that he will remember where he has found birds before.) He will now remember the scent. Whistle to him to bring the bird to you and walk away from him. He should follow with the bird. Allow him to catch up to you, and throw the bird again with him seeing where the bird lands. He will go for the retrieve again.
We recommend that at this stage of his training that you use a whistle that means good things to him. As we start weaning the puppies we whistle to the puppies when we put the food down. The puppies quickly learn to come to that whistle. If you give a distinctive whistle to the puppy when you bring him home, he will respond. Use that whistle to encourage the retrieve.
Throw the bird several times (maybe 6), allowing him to see it each time. Use only Bobwhite Quail. Other types of quail won't taste good to the puppy, so they won't make the retrieve. Throw the bird into taller and taller grass so he sees it go in, but must find it by nose. He has now progressed from seeing the bird to smelling for the bird.
Now we enter into a different phase of puppy work. Tie the puppy up where he can watch what you are doing. Put the clipped wing bird away. Don't use it again.
Take three Bobwhite that are flight conditioned and more than 15 weeks of age (18 weeks is best). Dizzy them one at a time and put them down in front of the puppy AND UP WIND (the puppy cannot find by scent, if there is no breeze to blow the scent to him) in tall grass (12 -14 inches minimum height). Let him see you "plant" the birds. Plant the birds in a row 10 feet apart in front and upwind of the puppy (about 15 feet) in the tall grass. Let the puppy go. The heavily dizzied quail will stay until the pup points it. He may not point at first. If the bird flushes, the puppy will hopefully learn not to close in on the bird, and will point the second or third bird.
You have now worked a Gordon 20-40 minutes on it first training session. Work it again within two to three days and it will only need to work on birds one hour per week until five to seven months of age.
By the way, if you are using a quail call back, be sure it is fenced off so the dog cannot harm the birds going back in.
Pointing is a simple thing to encourage. It is possible to put birds behind fences and natural barriers like a dead fall. If the dog cannot get to the bird, he will have to stop his forward motion. At this point, out of sheer frustration if nothing else, they will point. This is being a smart trainer. Think about what you are doing before working with the baby puppy. Don't make it too hard, but on the other hand, challenge him. When we are talking about finding birds, we can work within a hundred foot circle with five or six birds and as they fly he will look to see where they are flying to in an attempt to find them. Don't discourage this. He wants to find the bird and he is learning that he has to be downwind of the bird to find it. These are things that are learned at this time by the puppy. Watch him, and learn from him. Make it easy for him to find the birds when you plant them at first. Then slowly increase the difficulty in finding birds by scent.
There are people out there that will tell you the bird's scent is always carried high, and they are wrong. The scent may be high, it may be very low in the grass. It may be swirling because the bird is behind a barrier of some sort - It may be eddying behind a tree. You must realize that the dog's job is much harder in execution than it may appear from a casual perspective. The dog's job is much harder, for example, than your is. You have a straight shotgun. You have all the advantages. All you have to do is put the shot in the right place to bring down the bird. His job is to find a needle in a haystack.
Once we have the dog looking for, finding and pointing birds, then you start expanding it with more birds, but make sure that they are flight conditioned. Do not use Coturnix Quail. That is the Japanese Quail. They taste terrible to most dogs. Use Bobwhite quail; they have a wonderful taste to the dog, and the he will gladly pick it up and carry it. Gordon Setters have a very soft mouth. If you have a bird that is only wounded it may fly out of the puppy's mouth and fly away.
As you expand the training area for the dog, you want to bear in mind that you are gradually making it more and more difficult with each training session. You only need to train once a week. You may exercise the dog in the area and let it run and get used to working in the area. The puppy will not know that birds are not down, and it will start working as though birds are near; it will just not find any.
You will find by observing your puppy that it will carry its tail high at some times, low at others, and it will rotate the tail wildly when it is working scent. As the dog becomes accustomed to the area, it will run better and better. You will find when it is pointing that the longer it points, the longer it will point. This is a building process that the dog goes through, regardless of the breed. I have trained many different breeds and all of them do the same thing. As they learned to point, they point longer and longer and longer until something distracts them or the bird flushes.
It is important that you remember NOT to train your dog to sit. When the dog is on point and you walk up behind him, he may sit. To the bird, this looks like the dog is rearing back to leap onto the bird, so the bird flushes. Now you may not be in position to shoot and so you miss the bird, and the dog has inadvertently flushed the bird. Again, I want you to think ahead in your training process so that you do not inadvertently train the wrong thing into the dog. You are the trainer - you are the one that has to do the thinking in advance.