Whoever coined the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” didn’t have kids.
My wirehairs have become table scrap ninjas. Before every meal, I place them at their spot in the hallway, command them to stay, and proceed to eat. And without fail, they slink underneath my children’s chairs unnoticed, until one of the kids squeals, “Ewww, he’s drooling on me!”
I take blame for this behavior. When we were focused on training, days were darn near military in routine. The dogs knew their place. They knew commands and, more important, the repercussions for not following those commands. I had my wife on board, and she kept the same high standards. That’s how, only 10 days after my first kid was born, I managed to stick a title on my first dog.
But times have changed. The iron fist I held over my wirehairs has softened.
It’s too bad, really, but I don’t regret it. Because while I initially thought it took unwavering consistency and resilience to train a gun dog to the highest level (and I still think that’s the case, to a point) I now realize it’s not nearly so black and white.
Dogs need consistency, they need clear direction and they need to know their place. But they also need the occasional ear scratch, atta’boy, or secret scraps slipped from the table.
My old dogs are learning tricks almost every day, and not from me. But it’s good knowing when we do get back at the training game—and we will very soon—there are plenty of tools out there to make the job easier…for old dogs and handlers alike.
Take a look at the following line-up of products to see what’s new, improved and/or essential.
Dokken’s DeadFowl Trainers
Dogs get bored. Take bumpers, for instance. If your 5-gallon pail of run-of-the-mill plastic bumpers is losing luster, switching things up may help push past plateaus. A brace of DeadFowl Trainers is just what the Dokken—er, doctor—ordered. Tossed, launched or planted, they certainly bring a twist to a standard retrieving drill. The DeadFowl Trainer’s unique design—hard on both ends, soft injectable foam in the middle—helps teach dogs proper hold and carry. And the free-swinging hard plastic head discourages shaking during a retrieve. $25
With the advent of smartphones, I never thought I’d own a wristwatch again. Garmin gave me the opportunity to bring this functional fashion back. Their Instinct smartwatch links to other Garmin gear. While the Instinct can track things like time and your heartrate, it’ll also keep tabs on your dog as it’s compatible with the Garmin Alpha, Astro, and PRO 550 Plus. And fear not, brush-busters: the Instinct is constructed to military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance, and features a battery life up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode. $299
ConQuest BirdDown Dog Training Scent Sticks
When Remy was a pup, he figured out pretty quickly that fetching was something he’d do on his own time. To motivate him, I zip-tied a bird wing to a bumper. The feel and smell of the feathers triggered something in Remy’s young dog brain that made picking up the bumper fun again. When the real thing isn’t practical, incorporate commercial scents into a training session. ConQuest BirdDown Scent Sticks are a convenient, less-mess way to add bird scent to training dummies. They’re water, saliva and weather resistant, too, which means scent lasts longer, assuring a more effective training session. $13
DT Systems BL Bird Launcher
“It takes birds to make a bird dog,” is a saying you’ll hear no matter what training circles you travel. And while wild birds are preferred, most of us don’t have 12-month access to free-range fowl. Using planted chukars, pigeons or quail in a controlled environment is a great way to simulate a fall hunt, and using a bird launcher like the BL series from DT Systems helps a ton. They’re versatile and transfer easily from a steadying tool for pointers to setting marks for retrievers. Unlike other launchers, the BL is unique in that it possesses a special door on the side to load birds after the trap is locked. It’s also expandable to 16 units, has a 700-yard range, plus a remote beeper to help you locate it in cover. $300
Zinger Winger Double Door Aluminum Dog Crate
Dog travel safety is underrated, and one of the biggest sins we dog owners commit is by purchasing cheap plastic kennels at the big box pet store. Do you and your hound a favor and invest in something as precious as they are, like the new Zinger Winger Double Door Aluminum Dog Crate. Its double doors add an extra layer of convenience and safety, plus they’re reversible to allow left and right opening. And in case of an accident, two doors allow for an extra escape route if one isn’t accessible. $849
LCS Bird Dog Trainer System
While each of these products can stand on its own, they all shine together. The Bird Dog Trainer 800 collar is a functional, multi-purpose remote trainer. However, it’s also capable of operating the LCS Better Bird Launcher, as well as the LCS Remote Backing Dog. You can pop the backing dog, launch a bird and correct your pointer all with one remote—the ideal one-man training program to get your bird dog in top form before hunting season.
Real Duck Training Dummy
My dogs are relentless chewers. And while we’ve worked out the kinks with things like shoes and furniture, given the chance they’ll destroy a training bumper in seconds. Which is why I’m gradually adding more Real Duck Training Dummies to my arsenal. They’re constructed out of a super durable poly firehose case, which is darn near indestructible even for gnawers like my wirehairs, then stuffed with granulated cork core. What’s that mean? Durability that outshines hard plastic, but with a softer mouthfeel. Plus, they float and won’t absorb moisture. $12-$21
Gun Dog Supply
One-stop shops are convenient, but there are certain things—such as dog handling gear—I prefer to purchase at a specialty store. From collars and kennels to whistles and smart watches, Gun Dog Supply has it all. Steve Snell runs the place, and with a home packed with dogs and plenty of training experience to boot, he’s keen on supplying anything a dog nut could ask for. Because he stocks what he sells, most orders go out the same business day (shipping is free on purchases over $99). Don’t like what you got? Return it within 30 days for a refund. No questions asked.