How to Introduce Dogs to Birds
The best methods for when and how to begin training your hunting dog!
As a dog owner, whether it’s your first dog or your fifth dog, training a dog always comes with a lot of questions and apprehension; especially, with hunting dogs. Maybe you’ve dreamed of hunting birds with a dog for quite a while; however, training a hunting dog can be more complicated than you think. You may find yourself asking a few essential questions about the best training methods and practices.
Every training step is important, and it’s important to know which ones to take in order. Let’s go over a few steps and best training practices to introduce your dog to birds while building a trusting relationship together.
When to Introduce Your Dog to Birds
The best time to introduce your dog to birds is when they’re young and still in the learning stage. It’s recommended to introduce your hunting dog to birds around the three-month time frame. The dog should be old enough to chase the birds down.
Size of the Bird
You want the bird to be big enough that your dog can’t fiddle with it, yet small enough to be easy for them to pick up. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to introducing birds, you have to make sure the size of the bird is conducive to your dog. If you have a smaller puppy that you're introducing to a bird, you can use just the bird’s wing, or if you have an older dog, you can use a whole frozen bird.
Let the Bird Size Grow with Your Dog
As your dog grows older, you should begin introducing him to larger and larger birds. The best birds to use are quail, pigeons, chuckers, pheasants, and mallard ducks. If you don’t have access to these birds, we recommend introducing a type of upland bird such as a pheasant, quail, or chucker, and at least some type of waterfowl bird such as a goose wing or a dead mallard.
This is an ideal method because you want the dog to at least be able to smell those two different types. Remember, the first time a dog sees a bird, he may have a variety of different reactions. When you first show your dog the bird, you should present it in such a way that he is excited about it!
Best Practices to Introduce Your Dog to Birds
Make Sure Your Dog is on a Leash
First of all, play with your dog a little bit, and get him excited about it. See if he'll take it out of your hand, and then just walk him around on the lead. This is the most important time
of the training to have the leash on.
It’s a lot of responsibility to give a young dog a bird, so it's important to have the leash on your dog so that you can curb any bad habits before they develop. You don't want your dog to learn to just run away with the bird.
Throw the Bird Like a Retrieve
Start throwing the bird like a fun retrieve! If you pick the right dog, he's going to be excited since he has a lot of natural prey drive and retrieve instincts. Once your dog becomes familiar with and is excited about the bird, you can begin to throw it longer distances. You can do remote throws with the bird, and you can also have the dog start to use his nose to find it.
Hide the Bird from Your Dog
Next, you’ll want to start practicing hiding the bird from your dog so he can practice finding and retrieving it.
The best way to do this is to hide the bird in a location that has a nice airflow and cover it just enough to hide it so that it’s not visually apparent to your dog. Then, bring your dog in and allow him to notice it with his nose and find it in the grass.
Since your dog is going to have to depend on his nose, it helps to bring the dog downwind of the bird so he can smell it easier. It’s important at this point to not make a lot of noise so you don’t distract him.
Once he finds the bird, you can reward your dog by letting him run around for a while and praising him while he’s holding the bird. Allow him to hold the bird for some time so he understands that's what you want him to do.
Remember, this operation is not to make a perfect bird dog out of your dog. This operation is just to get the dog excited and to start teaching the dog to make an association with the way a bird smells and the bird itself!
Start Introducing Your Dog to Larger Birds
Now that you have your puppy picking up smaller birds, you can start introducing larger birds. As you move up the chain of larger birds, you may notice different things, specifically negative behaviors. However, if your dog tends to hold the bird nicely and it doesn't seem like they're picking up any bad habits, then you can continue. Just remember, the most important part of this process is to build excitement and association with birds.
You can start introducing your dog to bigger birds, such as mallard ducks. The first time you have him do this, you should try to get him excited and confident about grabbing the bird. Once he takes the bird, just move around and show him that he can't have the bird unless he keeps his head up.
If he drops it, move him right away from it. If he carries it, praise him! And when you receive him, put your hand under his neck so he can't put his head down on the ground with the bird, and praise him like that.
Reinforce Correct Behaviors
A lot of times, when you throw a bird out for the first time, dogs will go out there and start playing with it. If he does this, give him a recall and bring him in with or without the bird.
If he comes in without the bird, simply go out there and pick it up yourself and start over. The dog will learn that he will not be able to have the bird at all if he plays with it.
The only way he can have it is if he carries it back to you. It’s important to teach the dog that he can’t have it unless he does it the right way.
Training a dog comes with many challenges as you deal with different breeds and personalities. Having the right knowledge and equipment makes this process less stressful.