Winging It! Introduction To Birds by Gary Adair
Watching a well-trained bird dog working a field or forest is an exquisite sight to see, poetry in motion some would say, and my main purpose for going afield. When contact is made on a running rooster or tight-sitting covey of bobwhites, that’s when the real beauty begins to unfold. But getting pup to this level of dogdom does not happen overnight. Patience, persistence and a proper introduction to birds is what turns the above depiction into a true reality.
Although bonding with pup and basic obedience skills are fundamental steps towards creating a well-mannered bird dog, and should be implemented at the onset, birds are what make the bird dog. Yet live birds such as pigeons, pheasant, chukar, and quail are one of the last things pup needs during the initial stages of training. Why? You don’t want pup associating any negatives with live-bird exposure like being pecked, scratched, or frightened by flapping wings or the flush to birds he may be hunting in the future. Since training could be hampered or altogether derailed, this is why I prefer to start my pups on wings.
In addition to eliminating the above mentioned negatives, wings help to build pups confidence in preparation for live-bird exposure and intro it to the smell and feel of what’s to come later down the road. Wing training can begin much earlier in pup’s life as opposed to using live. I introduced my male Sage to wings when he was a couple days old and had him somewhat retrieving them at three-weeks of age. The earlier the better is my philosophy and I use wings as an integral part of my training program.
Another benefit to using wings as a training tool is their simplicity. No need for a big production, just wings. A fenced-in yard and or narrow hallway in the home. By using this set-up, not only is pup kept in a safe and controlled environment, he will be in familiar surroundings which helps to ease the training process.
While not everyone has the advantage of starting pup before eight-weeks of age unless you are a breeder or plan a litter, don’t fret, exposure to wings can begin shortly after bringing a new pup home. Actually you could start the day of pup’s arrival, but waiting a few extra days or even a week will allow pup to become better accustomed to his new home and the “strangers” in his life. Although I don’t adhere to this, it is recommended, especially for first-time trainers.
When the decision is made that it is time to intro pup to wings, remember to keep things fun, and that short sessions approximately 5-15 minutes long are better than longer ones. I use several of these training periods around the house each day just tossing wings around pup while observing his reactions. I’m not looking for anything other than building the pups confidence and desire here. If he points, retrieves or pounces on the wing, so much the better. Just remember that wings are not chew toys and excessive mouthing leads to hard-mouth. An easy remedy is to implement a nylon or wire-bristled hairbrush minus the handle in lieu of the wing every other session.
Once I see that pup has become bold and has a heightened interest in the wing, I begin hiding wings in the yard during lowlight hours. This teaches pup to use his nose and lays the groundwork for the hunt. Additionally, I incorporate the phrases, “Find it” or “Hunt it up” during these sessions and work on retrieving skills “Get” and “Drop“ and honing of pointing instincts “Whoa“, as well. When it appears things are coming together like hunting, finding, pointing and retrieving, pup is ready to graduate to live-bird exposure.
This is all there is to it. Wings help to build confidence in pup, ease the transition to live birds and can even aid in the training for introduction to gunfire. The best part is that this program caters to those who are limited with their time. With just a short session in the morning, 5 to 15 minutes before and after dinner and another session right before bedtime, you will be well on your way to the dog of your dreams.