Pup Catching Birds
By Paul Fuller

A common question Iím asked is whether there is harm in a puppy catching a bird. The theory is that if a puppy catches a bird it will be much harder to get the puppy to remain steady on point during future training. For the puppy, busting, chasing and catching a bird is much more fun than standing on-point. I should mention that the issue of catching birds is almost exclusively with pen-raised birds. It very seldom happens with wild birds. In todayís modern world, very few gun dog owners have the opportunity to train exclusively on wild birds.

As weíve discussed many times in this column, all dogs are different. There are very few rules that apply uniformly to all dogs. Some dogs become steady on-point naturally and others require more time and training. Letís look carefully at this question of catching a bird.

As we discussed in last monthís column on steadiness, the natural instinct of the predator (our puppy) is to chase and catch their prey (the bird). However, for the pointing dog, this doesnít provide the hunter with an opportunity to harvest game. Instead, if chasing and busting takes place, we have a very helter-skelter situation in the field.

Some trainers feel that once your pup catches a bird, youíll spend the remainder of the pupís career afield trying to correct the chase. If it only happens once or twice during training, I donít feel thatís true for the majority of pointing dogs with reasonable genetics and proper training. Another philosophy is that a pup needs to chase and catch birds to develop the prey instinct. For most dogs, remove the ďcatchĒ from the sentence and Iím fine with that statement.

Another factor in this equation is the quality of the pen-raised birds being used. The best birds are those that have been flight conditioned in their confinement. Large scale bird propagators use large fenced areas to force the birds to fly and, therefore, strengthen the wings. Try to get flight-conditioned birds. Also, Iíve found that chukar are harder for a puppy to catch. We allow our puppies to chase chukar around the yard; they never catch them. Once the pup learns theyíre not going to catch the bird, theyíll start flash-pointing and then elongating their point. The bird is teaching the puppy to point. And, itís all been done without the pup every tasting a bird.

If the pup does catch the bird, donít make a big issue out of the transgression. If you scold the pup, heíll think birds are a bad thing and to avoid them. Thatís not good. If you teach the pup that birds are bad, youíll have a blinker on your hands. A blinking dog, once it scents a bird, will avoid it by pretending it doesnít exist. Simply and gently, take the bird from the pup without praise or condemnation.

Having said all of the above, having a bird in a pupís mouth is the ultimate reward for their work and pushes the prey drive even more. However, we control this through the retrieve training process. First, however, we need to get our pup conditioned to the gunfire. After carefully conditioning your pup to gun fire, begin shooting birds that have been handled properly by the pup. Send the pup for the retrieve. Theyíll eagerly mouth the bird and taste the feathers. Unless you have a natural retriever, you may not get a complete retrieve. A proper retrieve is a completely different subject and needs a separate column. At this point, you simply want the pup to taste the bird that has been shot.

In summary, if the pup runs down one or two birds and resulting in a catch, it will take a little more work to steady-up the dog but itís not a disaster. Continuous catching will provide a greater challenge in steadying your pointing dog.

Paul Fuller has been an outdoor writer since 1971. Heís the host and producer of Bird Dogs Afield TV. Paul can be contacted at paul@birddogsafield.com

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