"First off," Tim said, "I do not use birds to start a puppy's natural retrieving. No, I use bumpers for that, starting at about eight weeks. If I used birds, two bad things could happen. First, the puppy very well might start chewing on them, leading to hardmouth. Second, if I have to correct the puppy, like for chewing or not returning, the correction could affect his attitude toward birds. So I start a puppy's retrieving with dummies, not birds. Why risk it?"
Tim said that at about three months he introduces a puppy to birds in the field by planting them in wire crates. He isn't looking for a point; he just wants the puppy to get excited about finding birds. He encourages him to paw at the crate and so forth. But once the puppy's prey drive is aroused, Tim discontinues this phase.
When the pup is about six months old, Tim introduces him to planted pigeons. To do this, he "hard-plants" a pigeon by dizzying it, putting its head under a wing, and laying it down on that wing under a fishnet in heavy cover, where the dog can't see it. Then he coaxes the youngster into the area from the downwind side. If he points, great; otherwise Tim restrains him with the checkcord as soon as he shows signs of winding the bird. Normally, a dog will point when he feels the restraint.
"I continue doing this," he said, "until he points without the restraint, which takes maybe four or five contacts. During this phase, I put down only one bird per day for him."
Tim rarely allows a dog to chase a bird flushed in front of his point. He feels this is counter-productive and makes steadying the animal later much more difficult. But he makes an exception to this rule if a client brings in a dog with a weak prey drive for birds. Tim lets such a dog chase birds until he gets adequately fired up about them, which normally takes only a couple of chases.
Tim uses release traps to teach a dog to point as soon as he hits scent. He plants a homer in a release trap. If the dog doesn't point immediately when he scents it, Tim releases the bird to fly back to its roost. A few such experiences will convince the dog that he must point as soon as he winds the bird.
"This," Tim said, "facilitates transferring the dog from pigeons to wild birds. The dog that points promptly is ready for wild birds."
Tim uses different kinds of wild birds for different purposes. Chukars are strong flushers and fliers. Quail don't always flush and fly as well, but they seldom run. Pheasants are best for introducing a dog to moving or running birds.
Tim starts shooting birds over a dog's points after he has gun-proofed him and steadied him to flush. Here he uses gamebirds exclusively. After the dog points, Tim restrains him through the flush, which prevents the dog from jumping in too soon and discourages chasing. He lets him retrieve the first five or so shot birds.
"Usually," Tim said, "after your dog starts retrieving shot birds, he'll start breaking at the flush. When he does, go back to a planted homer, and fire a shot in the air as the bird flies away."
Thereafter, whenever the dog remains steady to flush and shot, Tim again lets him retrieve. If he tries to break, Tim restrains him and walks out to retrieve the bird himself.
Tim had three final thoughts: First, most of this training requires more human involvement than one person can handle (restraining and flushing; restraining and shooting; and so forth), so you need a knowledgeable assistant; second, using homing pigeons for the early stages of training saves money; and third, you should end every session on a happy note, like with a fun retrieve.
This tip is from Tim Muhr of Prairie View Kennel, 30400 MCR K, Brush, CO 80723; (970) 842-2722; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim has been training professionally for six years. He trains all sporting breeds for hunting, but mostly pointing breeds for the walking hunter. He trains dogs for and handles them in AKC pointing breed hunting tests and has titled many dogs at all three levels. He breeds German shorthaired pointers.