NO BIRDS…NO BIRD DOG!

Jonny house

A Recall Pen Used to Flight Quail

ONE SIMPLE FACT: NO BIRDS…NO BIRD DOG!

Understand that the more time spent in the quail field the less your dog will want to retrieve to you. This means you may need to keep working on the retrieving away from the field. Keep the field a good place and view it as there is NOTHING your dog can do wrong in the field. A few things we ALWAYS adhere to while in the quail field are NO talking, NO whistle and NO encouragement.

Dogs have been domesticated and most want to be around us. When you put them in a new situation, there is likely to be some apprehension. As such, any noise we make will take their attention away from the field’s smell, birds and noises and change their focus to us. This is true of encouragement. SHOULDN’T THE BIRD BE ENOUGH ENCOURAGEMENT? If your dog has some talent, there is no way that you encouraging it will be as rewarding as it finding a bird.

Although we do not allow any talking, whistle or encouragement, we DO help the dog the first couple of times in the quail field as follows:

We will ALWAYS bring an inexperienced puppy/dog by the pen (that is where most of the free flying birds will be) because we want the session to be successful and a positive association to be made with the field. Initially, do not let your dog get tired prior to finding any birds.

If we saw birds in another direction, we will start to walk in that direction. We do not call the dog but it will see us and follow. This allows an association to be made that is positive (birds).

Run the dog into the wind at first. It is an inexperienced dog that needs all the advantage it can get.

The quail pen we are using will hold up to 100 birds. We put 75 birds in it the first week of this exercise and another 100 birds approximately one month later and we will probably have about 25 still in the pen by the end of the third month. In addition, we are finding about 30-40 birds in the field each time we run the dogs. That means that each of the four dogs or so that we have in the quail field is getting about 10-15 bird contacts three times a week, or 30-45 birds a week. This works out to about 120-180 birds for EACH month (June/July/August)!

There are two points that I want to make here about costs and exposure. In one month, I will estimate 125 birds per dog. If we used pigeons it would cost about $3 to $4 per bird so let’s say $3.50 and the birds would fly off. So for one month, pigeons would cost $437.50…PER DOG! So now I would be at $3,500 in bird costs with pigeons for the four dogs. I have purchased 175 quail and paid $492.75 FOR A TWO OR THREE MONTH’S SUPPLY OF BIRDS! Obviously, cost is one of the major reasons we use quail for the initial bird exposure, as well as the dinner table.

Quail in the woods along the creek
                                Quail in the woods along the creek

No Birds…No Bird Dog

Regarding exposure, if you want a bird dog, you need birds. If you want your dog to learn to trust his nose, you need birds. We will run the quail field through the summer and the puppies will come away with at least 250 bird contacts each. Think about that. Our puppies will be between 20 and 25 weeks old at the end of the typical summer and will have had over 250 bird contacts. Most dogs will not see 250 bird contacts IN THEIR ENTIRE LIFE! Do yourself a favor and get a quail field or send your dog out for the initial bird work with a knowledgeable trainer.

I will now give you some information on EXACTLY what four recent dogs did in the quail field so you will have a better idea of what to expect with your dog if the light turns on quick regarding birds or if it is a little slower developing. Rita and Cain were about 20 weeks old and ran the quail field for the months of June and July. Rita was a little ahead of Cain but both puppies were out hunting about 50-75 yards away and routinely ran back to us when bored or they did not find birds. When they found/smelled birds, it was a different story and they would take off up to 200 yards. We ran these puppies last so the birds would be more spread out and so that the session would be more challenging. We want the more advanced puppies to work and start associating that if they keep running/hunting then they will eventually find birds.

Trot was about 26 weeks old and was slow developing as compared to Rita and Cain. It was only been about one week that Trot has showed ANY interest in the quail. Although properly introduced to birds and a nice retriever, Trot just was not interested. I needed a way to get him jump started to see if there was a dog inside of him so I broke a wing on one of the quail and threw it for Trot. As it could not fly, Trot was successful at getting the bird and I continued this for one full session. It seemed to help, as Trot showed glimpses of interest. In this case, unlike Rita and Cain, we would not start the gun introduction UNTIL he was aggressively chasing the birds NO MATTER HOW LONG IT TAKES!

Cooper is a lab that is about one-year old and was in for training. We were working on bird exposure, introduction to the gun and basic obedience. Cooper came to us with some basic obedience but no bird experience. He did a very nice job in the quail field and it became difficult to get him to come back. As such, we completed e-collar conditioning so that we can call him back. Also, we finished the gun introduction. He had just over one month of the quail field and for the better part of a month, we laid the foundation for control in the yard and we used the rest of the summer to put it all together. At the end of the summer, Cooper found birds in gun range, flushed them and retrieved them. Isn’t that pretty much what we are all looking for?

These four dogs are an example of the differences each of our dogs can exhibit. We had two dogs that really turned on to birds and were put in a position to attain a very high standard. We had one dog that was slow in development and needed to be exposed more than the typical field-bred English springer spaniel. We also had one dog that was average with the quail field, but we needed to jump ahead quicker due to his likelihood of becoming a rebel in the field. The secret is birds and if you make your dog bird crazy, you will be able to work through many mistakes down the road in your training.

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