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Hunting Dog Training: Coming Up With A Training Plan – ChicagoNow (blog)

Everything I have read about hunting dog training stresses the importance of planning. Guess what I almost never do? Winner-winner-chicken-dinner! That's right: planning. But this year, it'll be different. Warmer weather is approaching, which means now is the time to come up with a hunting dog training plan.

A hunting dog training plan is an anticipated series of steps towards mastery. A good plan identifies the target behaviors,and breaks these down into little steps.  If you Google "Dog Training Plan", you can find a host of examples and even apps available to help you organize.  Here is one example of what a plan could look like.

One of the biggest touted advantage to having a plan is that it equips the trainer should a dog progress more quickly than anticipated. You can stay one step ahead of the dog. The trainer is equipped to make things more challenging if the easy things are too easy. Another advantage is just the ability to run it all through on paper before I apply the dog. By thinking it through, I can alter my priorities, rule out things that obviously won't work, and adjust some of the nuances. That way, when it is dog time, I am truly following a recipe and I can evaluate the dog rather than thinking or double guessing what the plan is to be.

Again, please understand. All of this is what I have been told. I have not experienced any of the above, since I have never really developed a hunting dog training plan. I'll let you know at the end of the training season if all this planning and record keeping have actually helped.

The Dogs

Zeke_in_snowTwo dogs are being trained this spring and summer. Zeke is a Llewellyn Setter that turned 1 year old in January. He is the cover dog for this blog. He is still a puppy and has a lot yet to learn. But he is at an age where he can learn and focus and not be quite so distracted.

DSC05659Shiloh is a 3 year old Brittany. This is my dog. He is a little old to be being taught some of these behaviors, but he is a smart dog and can learn.

Zeke's Plan Overview

This isn't the complete plan. It is just the overview of the behaviors I wish to teach. Two categories...must-have and nice-to-have-if-time-allows. First, the must-haves:

  1. Staunch
  2. Steady
  3. Back

And the optional-but-nice list:

  1. Retrieving
  2. Grouse practice

Shiloh's Plan Overview

The must-haves:

  1. Steady
  2. Back

And the optional-but-nice:

  1. Retrieving
  2. Rabbit work
  3. Grouse practice

Give me a moment here to explain some of these words:

Staunch:  What's supposed to happen is that the dog finds bird scent and stops moving. Statue-still. The nose is directed toward the bird. Staunch is when the dog remains still until the bird is in the air. In other words, the dog stands still and does nothing to cause the bird to fly. Shiloh has this, Zeke needs this.

Steady: This refers to the dog's behavior after the bird flies. Does it chase?  Does it wait until the gun is shot? Or does it wait until the handler releases the dog after the shot. I'd like to see both dogs steady until released, regardless of shot, no shot, a missed shot, or a dropped bird. It is safer for the dog in the presence of gunfire and saves the dog's energy if the bird is not shot.

Backing (also known as honoring): In the world of pointing dogs, this means that one dog will stop and point another dog, if it sees that that dog is on point. It keeps birds from being accidentally flushed. Both dogs need to learn this...it is just good manners in the field.

Retrieving: This is when the dog is commanded to pick up and return a downed bird. Birds can be sometimes hard to find, so this helps recover and keep from wasting game.

Rabbit work: I'd like my dog to point rabbits. I have some occasion to go rabbit hunting, and a point on a rabbit would be nice. But I am not willing to accomplish this at the expense of other, more critical training. Most pointing bird dogs are trained to ignore rabbits.

Grouse Work: Both Zeke and Shiloh have occasion to hunt the Nort' Woods for Ruffed Grouse. Grouse are a very skittish bird...if the dog even blinks, the bird will flush prematurely. Generally, a very hard bird to harvest. We can create training situations to practice for these birds. If time allows, we'll work on it.

That is my plan for the plan. All you who train your dogs...do you have a plan?  Will you start? How has it worked for you? Any suggestions for getting the most our of a plan? We all would love to hear it...please post a comment if you have any suggestions.

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