Controlling Range

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is how to control the range of my bird dog.  It’s a good question because we want dogs that hunt for us rather than us hunting for the dog.  And, have you ever hunted with someone who is constantly calling their dog?  Rather annoying, right?

The range of a dog is determined by genetics and training.  For most foot hunters, a medium to close ranging dog is preferred.  Although the Garmin Astro or Alpha or SportDOG Tek  makes it much easier to keep track of our dogs today, it’s no fun constantly looking at the screen to determine where our dog is located. We all strive for a dog that is under control and hunting for us.

Regarding genetics, if you’re starting with a puppy, look for a pup from parents that hunt within the range that fits your hunting style. Also, I wouldn’t overlook cover dog field trial offspring.  These dogs have proven ability and the nose to find birds.  Don’t be afraid that these dogs will run too big for you.  For raw material, you would rather have a dog that you bring in than a dog that you have to push out.

Once you’ve selected your young star, then training takes over.  If you bought your puppy from an experienced breeder, the youngster has been introduced to the outside…grass, light cover, etc.  The first six months should be play time and a time to learn basic obedience commands, the most important being recall.  Let the pup run about the yard chasing butterflies, song birds, etc.  Around seven months of age, put a quail in a small pen or crate and let the pup smell and get excited about the bird.  It’s not permitted to catch the bird…just get excited about the bird.  After the bird drive instinct has been activated, you may begin light drills to control range.

For a young pup, we like to begin range training with shoelace drills.  These drills encourage a back and forth hunting pattern.  Simply walking into a field and changing directions, similar to a shoelace, will encourage your puppy to develop a productive search pattern.  If you’re going to whistle train your pup, a two tweet on the whistle each time you change direction will help as your training advances.

I’ve been with hunters who advocate almost a continuous verbal contact with their puppy.  They feel that constant chatter will keep the pup close.  I actually feel it has the opposite effect.  Constant chatter gives the puppy of feeling of security and allows them to reach out even further.  Silence is golden in dog training.

Once you feel you pup is ready for birds, plant several birds in a small area; say an acre.  Make sure they are flight conditioned…we don’t want our young recruit catching birds early in his training days.  The theory here is that if the pup finds birds in front of him, in a relatively small area, he won’t have to range far.

Next, go back to the shoestring training but using birds.  If you have a couple of helpers, it’s easier.  Plant birds where the shoestring makes its turn.  Have the helper call the puppy in a happy voice.  The pup will run to the helper, discover a bird and then get called to the next helper where he’ll also discover a bird.  Once birds are introduced, always give your puppy the advantage of wind in its face.

A trick I learned from a professional trainer, for a pup that has run beyond the desired range, is to throw a bird out perhaps twenty yards in front of you and then call the dog in.  When he comes to his recall, he’ll locate the bird and think that finding birds is easier when closer to his master.

One important preface to all range training is to make sure your dog responds to calling his name.  Prompt recall makes all training much easier.

Save your throat from constant calling and teach your dog to hunt within range.  It will be a much more pleasant day afield.

Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman.  He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.