Training a Bird Dog


Hunting is a very popular sport, and nothing makes it more enjoyable than working with a well-trained bird dog. Many hunters wonder “how do I make my pet dog a bird dog?”, but bird dog training can be a long and complicated process. This guide will help you to understand exactly the steps you need to take in order to successfully raise and train a hunting dog. Whether you are training a gun dog for grouse shooting in dense forests or a pointing dog for hunting in marshlands, here are a few pro tips and some expert advice to ensure that you make quick progress with your sporting companion.

How to Train a Gun Dog

The training of bird dogs involves utilizing their natural instincts and prey drive to retrieve game birds for hunters. Retrievers, spaniels, and pointers are some of the most common breeds of gun dogs. Although these breeds are common household pets, hunting retrievers don’t usually come from the same bloodline and breeding stock as the dogs that become household pets do. Hunting dogs are working dogs, and are usually specially bred from long lines of excellent hunting dogs.

Bird dogs are required to excel not just in obedience training and basic manners, but are required to remain disciplined and under control while performing complex tasks while in different outdoor locations. Training any dog to become a hunting dog takes a great deal of work and can be very challenging. Because of this, usually only dogs that have been bred for this purpose undergo training.

A gun dog needs to be self-confident and poised, but at the same time self-disciplined and remain under the control of the handler. This requires time and patience to achieve, and unless you have had first-hand experience training bird dogs before, getting help from a professional and specialized trainer is going to be a must.


labrador training to become a gun dog

This labrador is undergoing training in water retrieving using a bird dog dummy.

The key to good dog training for hunting dogs is good dog breeding. Because of the attributes necessary to make a successful hunting canine, it’s essential that a bird dog be breed with the innate abilities necessary to do the job well consistently.

It’s crucial that a dog be not only obedient and have a strong prey drive, but possess the right body shape, physical strength and have an excellent sense of smell. Working dogs are bred for their strong work ethic and high prey drive. These dogs will be busy with their handlers for long hours and must be able to ignore distractions and remain focused. They have to respond quickly to their handler’s commands and have a strong desire to please. They also need to have a great deal of endurance, and be physically strong and capable of running and swimming over long distances. But, the most essential requirement of any bird dog is the natural retrieving instinct.

How to Train a Puppy to Become Gun Dog


Getting a new puppy is a very fun and exciting experience, but puppy training can be very time-consuming and sometimes quite frustrating. Puppies are energetic and excited about experiencing the world for the first time, and the first few months are crucial to any dog’s development. This is the time when they must be socialized with many different kinds of people, other dogs and other animals, and receive proper house training, crate training and learn the basic obedience commands.

good-dog-training-begins-at-puppyhoodMost bird dogs are breed by dedicated working dog breeders for that sole purpose, and as such begin their training at an early age. Puppies that are going to become outdoor game retrieving dogs need to be guided and instructed in the correct manner, using consistent positive reinforcement training and have any behavior problems corrected before the escalate. By doing this, you can ensure that a new puppy fully realizes its potential and becomes both excellent working dog and a faithful companion.

In addition to beginning to teach a puppy obedience skills, starting instruction in the skills necessary to become a good bird dog begins with the trainer understanding the most effective methods to use for different kinds of dogs. Every puppy has a unique and individual personality and disposition, and training any puppy to be a hunting dog can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Before staring any puppy on any specific hunting dog training, you should ensure that your puppy has mastered all the following essential skills:


The Essential Requirements Before Beginning Hunting Dog Training

A puppy should:

  • Have the right temperament, build and coat
  • Have the right attitude and a strong prey drive
  • Respond well to obedience training from an early age
  • Have strong olfactory skills
  • Be fully crate trained
  • Be adequately socialized with other dogs and people


Crate Training a Puppy

Making sure your puppy is properly crate trained in essential not just to make your life easier but to keep your pet safe while traveling in a car or on an airline. All puppies should to be introduced to their crate once brought home for the first time. Their crate should be a safe and comfortable place for them to relax and rest.

Make sure you purchase a crate that is large enough to accommodate how big your dog will be as an adult (many companies now make dog crates with dividers to increase the interior space as your dog gets older). Keep plenty of fresh water inside and a couple of your puppy’s favorite toys and he should soon learn to love his crate. A crate is the safest method of transporting your dog in a vehicle, and it’s essential that your dog is able to remain calmly in a crate for an extended period of time while traveling to and from hunting locations.


All puppies need to be adequately socialized with other dogs of different sizes and breeds, other people and other animals. This will help to prevent behavior problems from arising later in life and ensure that your hunting dog doesn’t become fearful, anxious or aggressive towards unfamiliar people and animals.

Obedience Commands

Obedience commands are the foundation for all hunting dog training. Make sure that your dog is able to reliably respond to the following obedience commands:


The Basic Obedience Commands All Bird Dogs Must Know

A bird dog should be able to consistently respond to the commands while off leash with distractions:

  • “Come”
  • “Sit”
  • “No”
  • “Go to your kennel” or “go to your crate”
  • “Down”
  • “Wait”
  • “Heel”

All these basic obedience commands and skills form the basis and foundation for the more advanced hunting dog skills. Once your dog has learnt all these commands while off leash (which can take some time), you can progress on to these more advanced skills, which are specific to hunting dogs:

Hunting Dog Commands and Skills

  • Retrieve (on land and in water)
  • Pattern and line work
  • Backing on command
  • Double retrieves and blind retrieves
  • “Steady to shot” and “steady to wing” commands

A bird dog should respond to these commands by voice or by hand signals.


Training in the Outdoors

Young hunting dogs should be introduced to the kind of environments they will be working in as soon as possible. To make sure your dog doesn’t respond or react fearfully or aggressively to unfamiliar sounds, sights and scents, let your dog explore and play in fields, shallow water and undergrowth while safely on a leash at first. Later when your dog has mastered off-leash obedience commands you can let him run free and explore the outdoors on his own, which will help your dog gain confidence at being separated from you.


Retrieving Training with Dummies

Bird dogs can start to become acclimatized with their future work by retrieving training dummies. Later you can take your dog to somewhere where you won’t be disturbed and begin to train using a refrigerated dead game bird. This can be scary for a young dog, so slowly introduce the bird and show him that there is nothing to be frightened of. More assertive dogs may be tempted to bite or shake birds so proper instruction in how to handle a dead bird the first time they come into contact with one will help to prevent this.

Training for Water Retrieving

Most gun dogs will come into contact with rivers and streams at some point, so it’s best to introduce them to these different terrains at an early age.

Desensitizing Gunshots Sounds

It’s easy for a young dog to become scared of the sound of gunfire, but with proper desensitization from a young age this can be avoided. Introducing a young dog the hunting environment and where other hunters are working is the best way to make sure they become familiar and comfortable with the sounds of gunshots and people shouting. An experienced gun dog regards the sound of a gunshot as a reward signal of a job well done (like a clicker in clicker training). They know and understand that a when a gun fires it’s their opportunity to retrieve a game bird.

A Few Tips for Success with Bird Dog Training

hunting-dog-at-workAll this training isn’t quite as scary as it looks. It’s fairly straightforward to train a well-breed puppy in the the basic skills of crate training and obedience commands, and you can begin to introduce a young dog to the activities of a hunting dog by taking your dog outdoors to an open space and letting him explore while on a long leash. Then you can slowly introduce the other aspects of hunting dog training, including taking your dog to watch adult gun dogs and work and begin desensitizing him to the sounds of gunshots.

All puppies are energetic and can only concentrate for a short period of time, so it’s best to keep training in the beginning stages to short 15-20 minute sessions, 2 or 3 times a day. Imagine the process of training a gun dog as building a brick wall; you need to start with the foundation making sure that is strong and secure before laying any bricks. Once the foundations are strong and stable, you can start to build the first layer of bricks, then the second and so on. Each layer rests upon the layer beneath it, and with dog training each step builds on the skills in the previous step. So start out gently and slowly and gradually progress from there.

One of the best ways to make k9 training effective is to get organized and make a plan before starting. You can make a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your training progress, plan what you need to work on next and how to organize your time and also to make sure you don’t forget anything! You can find some excellent spreadsheet templates from Psychiatric Service Dog and from Karen Pryor’s Clicker

best dog training collar


As you can see, training a bird dog goes beyond just using positive reinforcement, clickers and dog training treats to teach a pet dog basic obedience skills. Bird dog training requires much more advanced skills, patience and a can take a great deal of time. Even with the use of modern aids such as dog training collars and video courses, it still usually requires some help from professional and experienced bird dog trainer to complete successfully. Nevertheless, the long hours of training and work will pay off. The personal satisfaction you will derive from working with a skilled and well-trained bird dog will be immense, and will lead to many hours of enjoyment for both you and your dog.

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