Introducing Puppies to Birds, Spaniels

Introducing Puppies to Birds, Spaniels

Tom Ness

"Before introducing a puppy to birds," Tom said, "I want him to be retrieving a dummy reliably. Straight out. Straight back. Every time. I also want him to have his permanent teeth. To start out, I rubber-band a wing onto the dummy and toss it for a few retrieves. If all goes well, I switch to a cold, dead pigeon or quail."

Tom insists on a proper delivery, that is, he wants the puppy to deliver right into his lap as he crouches down. If the puppy is slow or sloppy-mouthed, Tom gets up and moves away, which usually encourages the puppy to chase after him. In the rare cases in which that doesn't work, he attaches a light cord to the pup's collar so he can control him. But one way or another, he gets the kind of delivery he wants before moving on.

Next, out in the field, while working the puppy into the wind, Tom "rolls in" a dead pigeon or quail when the youngster isn't looking. When the pup is moving away from him, say, off to his right, Tom tosses a dead bird about 10 to 15 yards ahead and off to the left. Because they're moving into the wind, the pup will scent the bird next time he swings around in that direction. What a pleasant surprise for the puppy when he finds it!

And, of course, after all the above preliminary work, he retrieves the bird straight to Tom.

After a few of these rolled-in dead birds, Tom starts rolling in clip-wings--live birds with the flight feathers of one wing either removed or taped so the bird cannot fly. When the pup approaches a clip-wing, the bird tries to escape by flapping its wings and running away. The pup chases and catches it. Wow! What fun!

Introducing Your Puppy To Birds

Don't miss tips on how to train your pointer here.or your retriever here.


This encourages what spaniel folks call a "hard" flush. In a hard flush, as soon as the dog scents the bird, he drives immediately in to flush it, whereas in a "soft" flush he first hesitates, perhaps even flash-points, before going in for the flush. A hard flush eliminates the bird's option to run, forcing it to fly immediately. Therefore it is highly effective in hunting pheasants.

After several clip-wings, Tom starts planting dizzied live fliers, which the pup flushes and chases a long way. Tom doesn't start shooting fliers over the youngster until he has been gun-proofed, quarters nicely, obeys certain whistle signals (turn, stop, and come back), and has been trained to retrieve only on command.

"That way," he said, "the dog is steady the first time I shoot a bird over him."To introduce each new species of bird, like chukars and pheasants, Tom starts by giving the pup a few tossed retrieves of a cold dead bird, then with a warm dead bird, then rolled-in clip-wings, and finally planted fliers.

As a final thought, Tom added: "I use and recommend a slow, graduated, and steady approach. So many people shoot fliers over their spaniels too early, and thereby teach their dogs that flushing and chasing will be rewarded with a retrieve. Later when they do steady their dogs, they face a much tougher job, one they might never really complete.

"Consequently, they sometimes use too much pressure in trying to steady their spaniels and thereby get into all sorts of serious and totally unnecessary problems, pointing and even blinking, which is easier to avoid than to cure, believe me."

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