5 INEXPENSIVE – Must have bird dog training tools that are essential to training a bird dog of any function. (Pointer, Flusher OR Retriever)
With spring turning to summer and the bulk of the training season right in front of us, I thought it would be a good time to review what I deem the 5 most essential and fundamental of bird dog training tools. All of these items are inexpensive to source or build. Let’s jump right in:
ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOOL #1 – LEASH & COLLAR
I’m grouping these two items together, as one won’t serve without the other. Leash & Collar seems obvious, right? Ever compile a list of the applications?
This is our point of contact for corrective measures. This is our means of working the dog and directing him to conduct this work within our desired parameters. We teach heel, here, whoa and kennel with these tools. We do patterning drills. We keep pup from catching birds. We keep pup out of harms way (canine, cars, etc). We coax pup “here” to keep them honest when we’re building cooperation in obedience and retrieving. We use this tool throughout the progressions of steadiness training.We rig a suitcase handle around pup to show him, in a gentle yet effective manner, that there is no way to avoid compliance with our direction.
The Leash & Collar are the most essential tool of all, in training a bird dog! If I could only have one tool, this is it!
3/4″ tightly woven nylon rope from the hardware store. Should be very pliable off of the spool. 12 feet for a standard obedience leash and 20+ feet for a field work check chord. $.89 cents/ft.
Brass swivel snap (won’t rust) from the hardware store. $1.89 ea. Secure to one end of the check chord using a bowline knot. This knot can only get tighter with time and/or pressure. With tieing this knot, give yourself a loop approximately 5 inches in length so you can stick your fingers in there and have close quarters control of pup, if need be.
The opposing end of the check chord can be knotted using a figure 8, which will serve as a bumper for your hand when your doing field work. This knot can also be quickly undone with little effort, when you progress in field work and want to let the pup drag the check chord around through cover. This will ensure the knot/chord isn’t snagging on brush and sending the dog ill-timed mis-information. Having the dog drag it around during field work still provides you with a means of regaining control of the pup if he points scent, which is critical in the early stages of search & point sequences.
Once your check chord is assembled, soak it in water for a bit and hang it out in the sun. It will firm up, which makes for a more rigid, tangle-free set up. You will be much better able to manage 20 feet of it in this condition.
For every day wear, training and hunting, I use 1 inch nylon colors, coated with a thin layer of rubber. These collars wont shrink or retain odor like a leather collar. I rig up some extra hunting collars with bells and beepers. The 1″ wide collar holds a genuine Swiss bell tightly in position on the neck – keeping it off of the jowls which could irritate the pup, especially when his jaw is dropped low while holding/retrieving a bird. We don’t want to give the pup any negative associations with carrying a bird around in his mouth, right?
A collar should have a welded D-Ring that is of an adequate gauge of steel that it will not bend or break. I also prefer the traditional belt buckle fastener vs the plastic quick coupler. Buckles will remain buckled.
I order my collars from Lion Country Supply ($6.95) and have brass nameplates riveted on to the collars for a nominal fee. I simply put my phone number and “REWARD FOR RETURN” on the brass nameplate. This is some pretty inexpensive insurance, all things considered.
This combo of Leash & Collar is inexpensive and offers the most flexible of systems.
NEXT: ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOOL #2 – TRAINING PLATFORMS
Improvise. This can be a simple and portable 2’x3′ sheet of plywood or an elaborate, elevated platform built on posts with decking boards. Whatever you may have left over from that last project. I’ve even used a thin sheet of plastic, in a pinch. An extension of the training platform is the training table, where an entirely different set of fundamentals are put in place, but the methods are the same.
Conceptually, we’re talking about giving the canine a place to associate with as a “safe zone”. Also, a place that is meant for absolute compliance. When we advance in steady sequences – where we are asking the dog to remain stationary while we flush birds in front of him, we can make corrections to the dog and he will associate those corrections with previous obedience (whoa) training done back in the yard (without birds) – ie, he will not associate the pressure we are putting on him with birds, potentially causing problems to crop up, such as “blinking birds”.
I also train my Griffs on the training platform during retrieving drills. Teaching pup to return to the platform with a bumper or bird and then positioning the platform on your left side will be converted to retrieving in any situation – to the left side, where a right handed gunner wants the bird presented. In addition, getting the dog up on an elevated platform puts you in a better position as a handler to restraint the pup through retriever steadiness drills. You want to strive to develop a pup that remains on the platform until sent for a retrieve (steady to fall), so he is in a better position to mark multiple falls.
There are two other variants of platforms that I use. One is the whoa barrel and the other is the crate.
ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOOL #3 – THE WHISTLE
Communication. Projects further vs voice commands.
Note the homemade lanyard with a lack of any thin, metal hardware/swivels to fail or tangle in the field. Also note the flush counter which is incorporated into the lanyard.
I prefer a plastic, pea-less whistle, as I hunt a lot in the late season when cold could cause issues with the alternatives. I also have the lanyard knotted tightly against the base of the whistle. This takes all of the play out of the whistle – so that it cannot spin around. With this system, I put the lanyard around my neck with the top of the whistle facing my chest. When I bring the whistle to my mouth, the blast hole is always facing up – ensuring the sound is projected out, as intended. Simplicity. Reliability.
I rigged up 3 of these red whistle sets some 10 years ago and still have all 3. I do have a black whistle on my duck call lanyard, for obvious reasons.
ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOOL #4 – RETRIEVING BUMPERS
For a single dog owner, a half dozen rubber bumpers can last a long, long time and six bumpers would be enough to facilitate efficient training sessions for marking and retrieving. This is the most inexpensive option. Some canvas bumpers might come at a cheaper price, but in my experience, the canvas can wear and it also holds scent – which could be a turn off to a dog. Stranger things have happened.
Of course, there are more elaborate aids – such as the Dokken Dead Fowl Trainer. These life like foam injected training bumpers offer the size, weight and feel of a real bird. I am a firm believer that this helps the dog develop a proper carrying method. I also think its bigger diameter helps keep hard mouth at bay. A dog that has to open it’s jaws farther to carry an object will have less tendency to put a death grip on it. As a parallel, I think the worst bird for retriever training is the quail. If I suspect a dog may be developing some hard-mouth tendencies we’re done with quail and I will revert to a duck or goose size Dokken, to attempt to nip the issue in the bud.
ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOOL #5 – THE STARTER PISTOL
You can’t have a bird dog without conditioning him to gunfire. While this will be the most expensive of the 5 Essential Training Tools, you do not need to spend upwards of $300 on a stainless model. I do strongly urge you to NOT run out and buy the cheapest model you can find either. My first starter pistol was $29.95, and that was evident within 30 seconds of taking it out of the box. The model pictured here is a mid-priced matte finish with walnut grip. Sound build. Sturdy. Reliable.
Perhaps an even bigger consideration with this investment is the price of the blanks. It is conceivable that even a single dog owner will need to fire 1000 rounds in a summer of training. There is a big spread in pricing on the various calibers of blanks/primers. One alternative is to buy equipt your shotgun with brass plugs that work with primers. This is a good option for retriever training, where we hope the dog picks up marks off the direction the barrel is pointed. For the bulk of the field work, where I am managing a check chord/dog, bird launchers and firing a few rounds, the pistol is just simply more practical.
There you have it – the quick & skinny on what I deem the 5 most essential tools in our arsenal.
More practical training advice to come. Subscribe to our feed today and get all of our content right in your inbox.