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Q&A with a professional dog trainer

4/26/2005

Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.


Pups will be pups

Mike,
I have a 7-week-old Lab puppy that is retrieving already and has learned the sit command, but when I put him on a leash he grabs it with his mouth and pulls when I'm trying to walk. What is the best way to stop this behavior?

Thank you,
David Patierno


David,

I really don't think you have too serious of a problem. You've just got a 7-week-old pup.

We don't expect such a young pup to heel, you just want him to lead. A good retriever likes to carry things in their mouths, so be encouraging. Take the lead out of his mouth carefully and I think you'll be fine.

Seven weeks old is very young to teach these types of skills in a serious manner. Use two to three minute sessions, very short, very focused and very positive. I think you're putting too many expectations on your pup at such an early age.

We like to use the puppy walker. They have a little collar built into them and the lead stays above the puppy's neck making it more difficult for him to reach the lead while walking.

At this age all we really want the pup to do is drag the puppy walker lead around the house and step on it learning to give to the lead as he drags it about. He may amuse himself for a while by chewing on it or carrying it but soon will move on to other things.

If you allow him to drag the lead around the house, he will get out of the habit of wanting to carry it. It's a good sign that he wants to have things in his mouth. You're going to want that later on in the training and in the field so don't discourage this behavior.

Confused about birds

Mike,
I have a problem with a dog I have. First a little history:

I bought Zoe when she was five weeks old from a breeder in Colorado. She is a German shorthair. For the first year we have been working on the basic obedience commands — sit, stay, here, come and heel.

She has learned all of these things quickly and easily. I have taken her out in the field twice, she never pointed any birds but ran through coveys both times and didn't know what to do. As summer went by I worked with her in the back yard with a wing on the end of a line and she will point the wing and hold that point.

Here is my problem:

I started using live birds hidden in the grass and as we walk through the field she will catch wind of the bird and briefly pause but continue on like she trying to avoid the bird, she does know that the bird is there but wants nothing to do with it. But here is the strange part: I threw a crippled bird on the ground to see if she would at least retrieve the bird. She immediately chased after the bird and proceeded to eat it. She has never eaten one or ever tried to catch one in the back yard.

So here my question: What can I do to get her to point birds in the grass and how do I keep her from eating any of the shot birds?

Sincerely,
Confused


Confused,
You do have a bit of an interesting dilemma. You started well getting the obedience control down and the puppy to flash point on the wings. You may have put your puppy on birds too early. I like to get the pup steady on the wings tossed about on a string on the end of a cane pole, making the pup hold steady to the point. I can walk around them while on the point before I take them out and put them on birds.

The second thing I'd do is tie a live pigeon in a harness, attach that to a string and a pole. Let the bird fly about but the dog can't catch it because you can snatch it up and make it flush when you need it to. Set the pigeon out, let the dog watch it, tease him a bit and get him to point in this manner before you put him on a wild bird. Therefore, you have control.

Another interesting method is an electronic launch mechanism. You can hide the launcher in the grass and put the bird in it. The dog does smell the bird, works in on him, but if she wants to go after the bird, catch it and eat it as your dog does, you can flush the bird and release it. The bird gets away. The dog learns if she's not steady, she flushes the bird.

One of the flaws in putting the birds out too early as you did with the cripples, the pup can catch those and a bad habit gets started early. Let's go back to the basics and see if we can rectify some of the problems. Keep her off birds she can run up very early until you can get a steady point. Don't put crippled birds out that the dog can catch. Hopefully, with patience, the pup's genetics will kick in and her passion for birds will intensify.

You may have created a second problem with delivery to hand now. Start working on your retrieving skills and later get to your condition to hold process (as seen elsewhere on this site) to get the pup to deliver the bird to hand by using bumpers, Deadfowl trainers, and feathered bumpers early on in the training so your pup gets used to bringing things back and carrying things in her mouth without destroying them.

Pigeon picking

Mike,
You mention in the article that pigeons are easy to get for training. Can you give me some ideas on where to get them?

Thanks,
Mark Stuckey


Mark,
Pigeons are usually quite plentiful in most areas of the country.

You can talk with people around grain silos. They often have traps out or you can go out in the evenings and knock a few down with pellet guns or shotguns and put them in the freezer for training.

Another place you can find them in the city is under any overpass. We use big fish nets that you can buy at any store, tie them on the end of long poles. Use a spotlight under the bridges. Usually the pigeons are very still as the light temporarily blinds them. Take along a small cage to put them in and it makes for a good night's outing.

Now, given the new security concerns in our cities, you might want to check with the local police before you go out under bridges with long poles and flashlights at night. If you let police know, they are usually more than happy to get rid of the nuisances under the bridges.

Many cities also have people involved in animal control. These birds often get inside buildings and cause havoc. They may put out traps or would be glad for you to come capture the birds yourself. I have a friend in a local town giving me 30 or 40 of them at a time that were caught in a building by the police who were trying to get rid of them because they can become quite a health problem.

There are good sources in the rural areas as well as in the city. Some people raise pigeons as a hobby. You could put an ad in the paper to discover these people.

Pigeons are economical birds to train with and are very hardy. Many of the methods for which we use pigeons involve harnesses and tethers. We flush the bird, re-catch him, put him up and use him again the next day. Pigeons are great training aids and I encourage you to use them.

Best of luck!
Mike Stewart