Bird and gun introduction

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Starting a bird dog puppy isn’t much different than other kinds of dogs. Adequate socialization to people and other dogs along with good nutrition, abundant exercise and consistent expectations will go a long way to ensuring future success. But there are two additional lessons that can make or break a bird dog’s future.

These are the introduction to birds and gunfire.

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Birds first!
In the puppy training programs we offer, we call this step “bird and gun introduction” and that’s not by chance. It should be approached in that order.

The most natural way to start is also the most exciting to a bird dog—birds. Love of birds should be in their genes.

The first step is to make sure the dog knows it has power over the bird. (We use carded pigeons and quail in our training. Both are good options.) Allow the dog to chase and catch a bird. We pull off some wing feathers so the bird can fly a short distance. Ideally, the dog will chase the bird, pick it up in its mouth and bring it back. Even if the dog doesn’t do all three steps, the most important part is to mouth the bird, proving it is bold and confident towards the bird.

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Some dogs catch on immediately; some need three to four opportunities and a few will need more. If a dog isn’t showing great desire to get the bird, wait a few days and then try again. But once the dog has shown that it is bold, stop. We don’t want the dog to catch another bird that hasn’t been shot.

While the desire for birds is genetic, getting excited at the sound of gunfire is not. On the other hand, a dog isn’t born gun shy. Negative association through improper exposure to gunfire or other loud noises can be difficult—if not impossible—to overcome.

The best way to introduce gun fire is when the dog is distracted by something else exciting. Again, we use birds.

Use a small-bore shotgun or training pistol and wait until the dog is focused on chasing a bird. When it’s in full-chase mode at least 30 yards, fire the gun in the opposite direction. If the bird introduction was done correctly, the dog shouldn’t even notice. If the dog shows any reaction to the sound, just ignore it.

One shot is enough for the first session. During the next several sessions, slowly start shooting sooner until you’re shooting as soon as the bird is flushed. Finally, wait until the dog is hunting and fire a shot into the air.  If the dog looks for a flying bird, then it has made the correct association.

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Don’t take your puppy to the gun range to see if it’s gun shy. (It might be after that!) Don’t be in a hurry to get the lessons over.  Let the dog set the time table. Don’t try to take shortcuts.

Proper introduction to birds and gunfire—in that order—isn’t something to take for granted. Most dogs will take to them easily and with confidence. But take your time and do it correctly. You’ll set the foundation for many years of good hunts.

Enjoy the process!

Photos above:  Tana (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) enthusiastically chases a pigeon, catches and retrieves it. Photos by Brad Gudenkauf, owner of Tana.


    We can’t say enough about how much joy Timber has brought into our lives. His first hunting season was filled with great experiences—his “million-dollar points” took my breath away! He is definitely on his way to being the dog of a lifetime. Thanks for helping to make it possible! Quotes End
    ~ Keith
    Pointer, CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer

    Lucy……. everybody loves Lucy! I am serious. I don’t know what she has got but you can’t help but smile every time you watch her. She is so calm and nice when you stop and pet her…..she just soaks it up…..but take her out side and she is all systems go! I could not be any happier! Thank you for all your help and another wonderful dog. Quotes End
    ~ Mike
    Setter, CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay

    I can’t believe I got one of your dogs. Quotes End
    ~ Jeff
    Setter, Northwoods Grits x Houston's Belle's Choice

    Never took a shot all day. Last 45 minutes, took Buddy out just trying to see if I can get him to move with me and respond to the collar. Shot 4 birds over him. He looked at me with, “Hey, I was born for this.” Quotes End
    ~ Joe
    Pointer, CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen

    Daisy put on a world-class performance tonight—best hunt of the year. In an hour and a half she had 9 finds which included 16 birds. She worked the running groups like a master. This was all with NO WIND, dead air. What a night.....and I did not have to say a word to her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Quotes End
    ~ Bill
    Setter, Blue Chief x Blue Blossom

    First and foremost, on behalf of our entire family, thank you very, very much for the wonderful experience throughout the whole process of us acquiring a puppy from Northwoods Bird Dogs. It is obvious you are both very knowledgeable and committed to raising and training quality dogs, and we’re happy to be recipients of that. When we left your place on Friday, we all agreed that we got the best one and she was meant to be for our family!! EVERYBODY LOVES HER SO MUCH!!! Quotes End
    ~ Gregg
    Setter, CH Ridge Creed Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay

    When I think about all of the hunting I have done with Izzie this first year, I think what I like best is her adaptive nature. I have hunted her in the woods in MN and WI, on all the desert birds in AZ and have run her off horseback. In each case she quickly and naturally figures out where to be and what to do. Loads of style, quick learner, so much natural ability, great instincts and pleasant to be around. Thanks again and keep breeding pointers with these qualities. Quotes End
    ~ Jeff
    Pointer, CH Westfall's Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer

    Thank you once again for allowing me the opportunity to own one of your fine bird dogs. I’ve had the pleasure of hunting over a number of dogs in my lifetime. Zada has drive and intelligence, a rare combination in a young bird dog. Quotes End
    ~ Tom
    Setter, CH Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay

    Roxy has been an outstanding addition to our family. She is full of life and our children absolutely love her. Quotes End
    ~ Joe
    Setter, Northwoods Grits x Houston's Belle's Choice

    Piper (who we always knew was a kind of an eerie bird savant) has become even more so. She pointed (on the clock) at 7 seconds out, and I said, "That's my Piper." She continues to be a delight, and the most amazing dog I've ever seen as she pairs incredible drive with critical thinking and the world's sweetest temperament. Thanks again for all your remarkable work which gave me such a wonderful friend. Quotes End
    ~ Roberta
    Setter, Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost

    Duke has had a fantastic season with several points, but this one tonight on a woodcock is about as "classic" as they get! He pointed 19 woodcock this evening and a ruff. At this point in the season he has pointed sharptails, huns, ruffs, woodcock, and pheasants; and he's backed on all of these as well as sage grouse! Still looks at me when I miss though... Quotes End
    ~ Tom
    Setter, Blue Shaquille x Houston's Belle's Choice

    Took the dogs out on a morning woodcock hunt on Sunday. It was a memorable day. Each dog had some pointed birds and each dog had retrieved birds. Could not ask for anything more. Quotes End
    ~ Mark
    Three Pointers, CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Nothwoods Prancer, Dashaway x Fallset Fate

    So proud of Finn for a 9-month-old pup! On one bird he locked up 70 yards in front of me and held 5 minutes or more until I busted through a bog to get to him and flush the bird. And then, he won’t even give me time to praise him afterwards – he retrieves and then takes off looking for more! Feeling pretty fortunate to have one of your dogs – especially from Oscar. Quotes End
    ~ Todd
    Setter, Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis

    I thought I would drop you a line to let you know Frisco is loving her new job…hunting. She naturally loves retrieving and the size of a pheasant is no problem. Other hunters are very pleased as well as us with her disposition; she is so pleasant and well mannered. Frisco listens well and doesn’t go hunting off on her own. She also gets along with other hunters’ dogs. Quotes End
    ~ Rick
    Setter, Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon

    Wanted to let you know that Hartley, Lacey and I are still having loads of fun together! He’s a fantastic dog and we can’t commend you both enough on your dogs and breeding program. Quotes End
    ~ Nick
    Setter, Northwoods Grits x Houston's Belle's Choice
    Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
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