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Developing Bird Sense Using Dog Training Scents

How to help your gun dog learn to use their nose and become a better bird-finding machine.

Developing Bird Sense Using Dog Training Scents

Dog training scents can be instrumental in helping to unlock and evolve your dog's bird smarts. (Chris Ingram photo)

“Trust your dog’s nose,” goes the adage. If you’ve spent any time behind a good bird dog in the field, you’ve come to understand just exactly what this means. A good dog can point a single quail in poor scenting conditions or retrieve a downed duck in the thickest of cattails. Whether you’re running a pointer, flusher, or retriever, your bird dog is genetically inclined to utilize his sniffer to provide you with a serious advantage in the field. Learning to use their nose and developing the confidence to think through difficult scenting conditions comes from training and experience.

We spend hours researching to identify which breed is the best fit for us— but at the end of the day, we care most that our new recruit finds us birds. The most important feature on any dog is their nose. A dog has hundreds of millions of scent receptors in its snout and even a set of secondary organs to process the innumerable scents they encounter. And while good breeding and instincts can play a role in a positive outcome, it takes time and experience for a playful puppy to learn to follow his nose and become scent wise. Dog training scents are a tool that can be employed during the early stages of bird training or a means to keep experienced gun dogs in top-performing function in between hunting seasons.

Applying Bird Down ConQuest dog training scent to training dummy
Incorporating bird scents into your training program offers additional nose work and confidence building opportunities for your bird dog. (Chris Ingram photo)

Common Scents

There are several scent products available to support your dog training program. For most gun dogs, oil-based and rub-on wax scents are used and come in a variety of bird scents. There are also scent training products for deer antlers, furbearers, and blood trailing for your versatile dog. The oils can be applied onto or injected into your regular training dummies and life-like Dokken DeadFowl Trainers. Wax stick scents, like the Bird Down Series from ConQuest Scents and Dokken Dog Supply, are a no-mess, water- and slobber-proof option and work well with all of your training bumpers and DFTs. Scents can also be directly applied to grass and brush to enhance bird aroma when hiding winged-bumpers or planting live birds or put down as a trail to simulate a running or crippled bird. These simple scent products offer a gentle way to introduce puppies to bird scent prior to live birds. They also provide a viable option for those training without access to live birds or even used in conjunction with wings and training birds.

Dragging a scented training dummy to simulate a wounded bird
Training scents can be used in thick cover to imitate wounded or running birds. (Chris Ingram photo)

Developing a Nose for Birds

While a gun dog with bird smarts may get support from their eyes from time to time, their primary objective in the field is to locate bird scent through their nose. Many of our dogs are asked to perform double duty in locating—pointing or flushing—birds for the hunter, followed by hunting dead or retrieving downed birds to hand. They have to be able to use their nose to be successful at all stages of the game.

Brandon Mendez of No Limits Kennels in Heizer, Kansas, trains a variety of breeds and helps puppies and older dogs learn to use their noses to become scent wise bird dogs. While a dog is inherently going to use his nose, the objective of training is to make sure the dog uses their nose in the environment and manner that we want them to.

“Some dogs are very visually oriented, so we want them to become more scent oriented. Scent products are a great additive when used with your regular training dummies and can provide a great opportunity for dogs to follow their nose on a mark in thick cover or when tracking ground scent,” explained Mendez. He goes on to mention another scenario where scent products could be beneficial. “When you have a very bird-shy dog that isn’t picking up birds, a training scent might be advantageous in getting them to pick up something that smells similar to what you ultimately want.”

German Shorthaired Pointer picking up a training dummy
Help your bird dog unleash their full potential and learn to hunt with their nose. (Chris Ingram photo)

Mendez recommends not using these training scents when you’re trying to teach a pointing dog to point. “You don’t want to teach them to point something that doesn’t fly. These products have their place as a training aid, and they may serve as a supplement in bird training rather than a substitute for using live or dead birds. Flushed and shot birds put off other scents that might include blood, guts, adrenaline, and stress hormones, so these scent products might not smell exactly the same, but they should be helpful by being similar.”   

These products may be useful as steppingstones in bird work if you don’t have access to wild or training birds. If you could optimize and fast-track your dog’s ability to learn bird smarts even by the slightest little bit, wouldn’t you do everything you could? Give your dog every advantage in training just like you will during a hunt. Everything you put into your training will pay out two-fold when it matters most.

Yellow Labrador Retriever picking up a Dokken DeadFowl Trainer
Make the most of your off-season training by using bird scent and life-like training dummies to simulate would-be hunting scenarios for your dog. (Chris Ingram photo)

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