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Why Your Bird Dog Will Benefit from Having Multiple Jobs

Sporting dogs with multiple jobs tend to be do really well in the field, and be much easier to control at home.

Why Your Bird Dog Will Benefit from Having Multiple Jobs

Dogs that are learning, are dogs that are thriving. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

We often have a skewed view of bird dogs, which is most evident when we are in the puppy shopping phase. The process usually involves an internal debate on what we expect our new recruit to bring to the table, and tends to downplay or totally ignore, what we bring to the table.We want a dog that will be a pheasant flushing machine, or simply live to lock up in a tripod point over a covey of bobwhites. There’s nothing wrong with narrow, focused dreams, but there is a movement afoot in the dog space that is really centered on looking beyond their primary job.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so much more common to see folks running bearded dogs than ever before. These wirehairs and Drahthaars represent some of the most versatile breeds out there, but they aren’t the only bird dogs that can handle a wide variety of jobs. It wouldn’t be difficult to make the case that nearly every bird dog on the planet is being underutilized in some capacity, because most can handle multiple jobs. Better yet, they thrive on being asked to perform a variety of tasks in a bevy of different settings.

training a blood tracking dog
Tracking dogs are becoming more popular in the US, which is good news if you want to train your bird dog to do more than point or flush birds. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Go-With-The-Flow Dogs

This is something Rhett Hall, owner of Iron Point Kennels, prides himself on—with not only his dogs, but also his overall training style. “Training versatile dogs has helped me,” Hall says, “because we drastically underestimate their abilities. I started thinking this way mostly to break up the training monotony, and then I realized how important it was to a dog’s development and my ability to work with them better.”

Hall, who lives in North Dakota, might start out with steadiness drills in the morning to prepare for duck season. During the midday that same dog might engage in some upland-related training, and during the evening it could get a chance to work through a staged blood trail in the interest of big game recovery.


training a blood tracking dog
It's easy to think narrowly when it comes to a new puppy and our favorite upland hunts, but most dogs are capable of handling plenty of jobs in the field and at home. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

“The training that goes into big game recovery,” Hall says, “is way different from training for the duck blind. All of it is beneficial to the dog, however. The more jobs they are trained for, the more they’ll ignore distractions and stick to whatever task is present. That helps them in every outdoor pursuit, but also when you take them to the hardware store or your kid’s soccer game.”

Hall’s last point is maybe the most welcome side effect of asking a lot of a dog. The more they learn to offer up specific behaviors in a wide variety of situations, the easier they are to handle. Plus, they grow more confident and comfortable even when faced with unfamiliar settings. Instead of defaulting to anxious behaviors due to stress, the dog with multiple jobs often learns to readily accept change and essentially, go with the flow.

Of course, there are a lot of individual variables that go into this but it’s best to look at adding jobs to your dogs répertoire as plus for them—and you.

What Bolt-On Tasks Are Best? 

When shed dogs became all the rage about a decade ago, the most common concern was that training for antlers would somehow detract from a dog’s bird hunting abilities. Anyone who introduced their dog to antlers learned pretty quickly those concerns were unfounded. Our dogs can handle a lot of tasks and can pretty easily learn what behaviors are expected out of what tasks.


Click Here to Watch the "Shed Training" Video

Essentially, taking an upland dog and teaching it that the early spring months are all for antlers, only helps them. They get to keep hunting, you get to keep handling. Now, taking that same upland dog and deciding it’s time for them to earn their keep duck-wise, will produce some challenges.

A dog that is trained to smell birds and do its best to get those birds to fly, is going to have a tough transition to duck hunting at first. It’s unnatural for dogs to sit quietly at your side, while waiting for all of the action to happen, and then finally, get the okay to go for a retrieve. That’s a heavier lift, but also really beneficial. The steadiness associated with waterfowl hunting certainly extends into your home life with your dogs. It’s a great skill for them to understand, and a great skill for us to have to teach them.

Now, ducks may not be much of an interest to a majority of the folks who run pointers, but other outdoor pursuits might be. Hiking or biking with a dog, kayaking, and general outdoor adventures are always better with a four-legged cohort. Training your wide-ranging pointer to stick close on a hiking trail or perfectly match your pace on a mountain bike can be a great idea as well.

shed hunting dog
One of the most popular bolt-on jobs for sporting dogs involves finding shed antlers. This is a great way to extend your hunting season and keep your bird dog active and working. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Learning To Thrive 

Before we wrapped up our conversation, Hall told me a story about training one of his dogs to pick up the paper drink cups that race runners discard along the route. The idea hit him while his wife was running a half-marathon and he had two hours to kill.

“I just did a little hold conditioning with her,” Hall says. “After that, every runner that pitched a cup onto the ground, became a moment for her to do her job.” This might be a weird example, but it speaks to Hall’s control of his dog. It also speaks to the dog’s inherent desire to pick something up, to handle a new job, and to ignore distraction.

training a blood tracking dog
There's a reason certain breeds are becoming more popular by the year—versatility. Many of the popular European breeds are hard-wired for multiple jobs, which can make them a great choice for expanding your hunting and outdoor opportunities. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

This is all good because working dogs need jobs. The more jobs they have, the more training you’ve got to do with them. The more proper training they receive, the more they learn to obey, but also think for themselves. Plus, you learn to work with them, and you learn what they need to be happy and healthy.

It truly is a win-win situation, so take a look around. What other roles could your sporting dog be playing in your daily life, or maybe your life as a hunter each fall? There’s something out there worth pursuing, and you have months of the off-season to start working on it.

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