Birdiness is a prized attribute in any gundog. Introducing puppies to birds is one of the first bits of preparation that can go wrong, and a stressed introduction to birds is an easy way to ruin your pup. Ideally, you’ll be able to expose your puppy to birds as young as possible (around 12 weeks), but if you’ve rescued an older dog, these tips still apply.
Take it slow, and start easy. Young puppies are very impressionable—meaning, what they learn now, will stay with them for life. Pup’s first bird encounter shouldn’t be with a pheasant rooster. The last thing you want to do is scare your puppy.
Begin with either a dead pigeon or a live, contained pigeon. Too much flapping could intimidate a young pup. Ideally, your puppy will be interested enough to poke, pounce on, or smell the bird.
Once your dog is happily engaged with the dead or contained bird, it’s time to introduce the flapping. With the bird on a tie or in a secure area, let pup investigate the bird, flapping wings and all. Depending on your puppy’s demeanor, you may want to keep on wing taped down. Your pup may pounce, grab a wing tip and drag the bird around, or become startled.
Remember, your dog’s reaction at this time isn’t indicative of their birdiness. If your pup was unsure about the suddenly running and flapping bird, take a step back. If your puppy consistently handles this step with aplomb, you can try throwing out a wing-clipped pigeon. Hopefully—and possibly with some direction from you—your pup will chase and try to flush out or point the bird.
For a more relaxed bird session, try an unplanned encounter. Get your dog out in the fields on a regular basis. You’re bound to encounter birds on some of those walks, and if not, you’re still conditioning pup mentally and physically for a hunt.
Picking up and carrying the bird is a-okay, but you don’t want a puppy who chews on the bird. If your pup starts chewing and biting the bird, gently take away the bird. Don’t be harsh; that could quell pup’s bird drive.
For the time being, wait to add additional exercises (like fetching or gun shots) to your bird sessions. Those things should be worked on separately, ensuring that no matter what, pups prey drive stays strong.
Introducing your dog to birds should, above all, be a positive experience. Not only do you want to encourage your dog’s natural birdiness, you also want to keep all bird work fun, all the time. When you move into more stressful training, you can revive and stimulate your frustrated or bored pup with birds.