Best time to train a young dog afield? Right now

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Training drills and planted birds are an obvious good start to bird dog development, but if you really want a rock star, get after whatever wild birds are available to you.

I’ve recently spent some time hunting with a few friends who have first-year dogs. The birds we’ve been after have all been public land roosters, and to be honest, it’s been a blast watching those youngsters try to figure out pressured pheasants.

The dogs have all passed plenty of obedience training and some upper-level drills, but aside from preserve birds, haven’t had any exposure to roosters that dodge death on a daily basis. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but given the pressure on public land this fall and the sheer amount of predators we’re seeing, it’s probably not too far off.

Either way, the mixture of wild birds and young dogs provides some truly light bulb moments. These happen during training as well, but somehow it just feels different to watch a dog in a dynamic environment realize that the scent he’s really digging is leading him into cattails, or that it’s telling him that it’s time to run full speed or the game will be over.

Wild birds and quality hunting experiences are tougher to find than training drills and pay-to-play pheasant shoots, but they are invaluable to a dog’s development. It’s not limited to roosters either! Everything from ruffs to woodcock can teach our dogs not only how to hunt, but how to problem solve and react to the exciting world of bird hunting.

This is why, despite late-season conditions and the crowding, it’s worth it to get young afield. You might get a bird or two, or you might go home empty-handed. But one thing is for certain: Your pup will get an education, which is what really matters when dealing with a young dog.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Hunting, Tony Peterson

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