iHuntFit Upland Training

Whoa, Part 2: Training Upland Bird Dogs

In Whoa: Part 2 we are going to discuss the first six months of bringing your new hunting dog home.  These first six months of your puppy’s life are the most important part of their training, and during these six months you can mold you dog into the type of hunter you want.

When you bring your puppy home at around 8 weeks, the training starts immediately. As a trainer you want you dog to be comfortable in all situations, so it is very important to let them experience as many things as possible and to make sure they have very positive experiences. If your puppy experiences a negative situation either try to make it positive (with a lot of petting and keeping a calm manner) or take them out of the situation and replace it with a positive one.

In the first month of training all of my sessions last less than ten minutes, and during these sessions it is all about fun and creating a bond with the puppy.  During these sessions I keep it very simple and in a controlled environment. By a controlled environment I mean no distractions, including other animals, and people.  I begin with name recognition and the “here” command for the first 5 minutes of each training session.  I put the dog on a small load rope (5-10ft).  Then as we walk around, periodically stop, say the puppies name, give the command and give a small jerk on the lead.  The jerk should be nothing more than an annoyance to the dog.  Continue the slight jerk until the puppy begins to head towards you. When the puppy completes the command, give them extensive praise.  This should only be done a couple times per session and always end on a good note. During the last 5 minutes of the session I put the puppy in two different uncomfortable positions. First, I put the puppy on a wobbly surface and make it stand still even if it is for just a few seconds.  This is very important, especially for pointing dogs.  For the last part of the session I pick up the puppy and cradle it with their belly up. During this the dog will wiggle and squirm but do not let it down out of this position until the puppy holds still for a few seconds, and as always, give them a lot of praise.  

iHuntFit Upland Bird Dog Training
Here is a German Shorthair experiencing a wobbly surface and being prepped for “whoa” training.

After the first month, the next four months are all about getting the puppy used to noise and excited about birds.  A bad experience with noise can be the end of a great dog.  I start off getting a dog used to noise when I feed them.  I use metal bowls and toss and bang the bowls around the whole time I’m prepping the puppies food.  This way the dog realizes that if they put up with a noisy human they get a reward.  As a veteran trainer told me, “make the dog think that humans are the noisiest damn creatures on earth, and they just have to get used to it to get their reward.”

The next area of focus during these months should be getting the dog excited about birds.  The best way to do this is to use pigeons. Hide the pigeon in tall grass and let the puppy find it.  Keep the experience laid back and don’t put any pressure on the dog.  Most puppies are timid at first but if you let them ease into it and make it positive every time your dog will be a bird finding machine.  If you don’t have pigeons readily available I have found either a wing or a dead bird will do in the beginning.  As a trainer, you have to do more work to get the puppy excited over it but it will still create a drive for birds.  Be careful when training with wings or dead birds. The dogs will start to realize that the bird can’t get away and they will begin to try to catch it.  With retrievers this isn’t a big deal but when training a pointer it becomes a serious problem in the long run.

During this time, working on the dogs retrieving is also a fun way to switch up the standard training day.  As with all training, keep it controlled and positive.  I start in a hallway where the dog can’t go anywhere with the retrieve but back to me.  I only do this a couple times making sure to always end on a good note.  Once the dog gives me consistent retrieves I’ll move to the yard, and on a short lead I’ll start with small retrieves and eventually work my way out to longer retrieves, always ending on a good retrieve.

iHuntFit Upland Dog Training
Rambler on a short retrieve. This is always a fun way to mix up your training to keep it from being too repetitive.

By month six your puppy should be starting to bloom into a great hunting dog.  If you feel that your dog has not yet gotten to where you want it to be don’t worry and continue to take the training nice and easy until you feel it is ready.

The six month mark is where I begin “whoa” work with pointers.  For retrievers this would be the time to start working on their “place” command, and to continue with their retrieving.  Since I train pointers I will go more in depth with what I do for “whoa” work.

Whoa is the command I use to bring the dog to an abrupt stop or to keep them stopped on point.  This takes a lot of time and consistency but if done right it will keep your dog from busting birds.  To be technical, teaching this command to the dog started five months prior when the trainer made the puppy stand still on a wobbly surface.  The only difference is adding a verbal command to it.

To begin the command portion I put the pup on a wobbly surface and in a calm but stern voice I say, “whoa.” When the dog stands still for a few seconds give a release command and praise the dog.  When I say a release command I mean the command that let’s the dog know it’s ok to move.  For a release command the trainer wants something uncommon so in the field it wont be released on accident and bust a bird.  My personal release command is “bop.”

After you feel that the dog is doing good it is time to move off of one uncomfortable training surface to another.  I usually move my dogs to a “whoa” board.  It is simply a 2ft x 2ft piece of ply-wood for the dog to stand on.

Place the dog on the ply-wood and give the command.  During this time I have the dog on a short lead and begin to walk around it. If the dog moves, pick it up, set the dog back on the board and give the command again.  When you can finally make a full circle around the dog release it and give it a lot of praise.  Eventually you will be able to work your way farther and farther from the dog and it will not move.  You’ll even be able to tug on its lead and it wont move.  Finally after you feel the dog is ready for the yard, take them out on a small lead and walk the dog around.  Periodically give it the “whoa” command and make it stop.  Keep this to just a couple times per session.

iHuntFit Upland Birds
Rambler on a whoa board while waiting to be released.

These first six months of the puppy’s life are filled with experiences that can make or break a dog, and as a trainer, they can make or break you as well.  But if you follow these steps, have patience, and create a solid bond you will have the makings of a great team.

iHuntFit Upland Bird Dog Training