When I initially contemplated training Prinz for upland hunting, I was working with Don, who primarily hunts with pointers and has never hunted over a poodle. His thought was to train Prinz to run big then sit when he first hits the scent cone then wait for me to release him to flush the bird or flush the bird myself. This would probably be fine, but the more common approach (and more natural for us) seems to be to teach the dog to hunt in range, flush the bird and stay steady to flush, meaning he’ll sit as soon as the bird takes flight and remain sitting until released for the retrieve. Using this method I should not have to be running to catch up when I see he’s on a bird (I hate that), and should be able to easily shoot the flushed bird with him remaining in place until released. Prinz’s tendency, especially in newer territory, is to hunt close anyway, so this makes the most sense for us.
I just finished an excellent book by Kenneth Roebuck, on training spaniels and retrievers to hunt upland. I am using his process to train him to a very high standard that I think will be best for his innate hunting style and tendencies, and the way that I want to hunt. The more I learn the more I truly believe that a poodle is more similar to hunting with a spaniel than a retrieving breed, though there are similarities to both. The added complexity is their smarts, which makes the teaching process more like teaching a border collie. They pick up little things you don’t want if you’re not careful… a movement or a subtle difference that you don’t realize you’re doing. But, they pick things up very quickly if you are a skilled trainer (which I’m most certainly NOT, thus the need to be constantly learning and growing as a trainer!).
The basic process involves incremental steadiness training –
- Stays steady while you toss a dummy or bird while standing next to him
- Stays steady while you toss it standing away from him.
- Sits remotely to a whistle toot, followed by a shot, then stays steady when you throw a bird or dummy until you release him to retrieve.
- Sits remotely interrupting his hunting pattern, then stays steady to shot and fall.
- Next step is remote whistle sit, release a live bird from my bird bag and he must remain steady while a friend shoots the bird.
- Then you can plant the bird and have him hunt for and flush it, and cue him to sit when the bird flushes. A few times of this, and he recognizes the flushing bird as a new cue to sit (“the new before the old becomes the same”).
- Separately, I work on quartering pattern in range using planted birds, following a scent trail etc.
Once those pieces are solid I’ll be ready to take him upland hunting. Ken recommends that on the first couple upland hunts, you bring someone to do the shooting while you focus on your dog, a very sound piece of advice (Unlike duck hunting where if your dog is steady, it’s fine to go it alone, maybe even better)
We’d already been working on some steadiness training but Ken’s book really takes you through the process and so far it’s been a success. There are clear milestones you need to be able to reach before moving on to the next step. Right now, we’re very steady to thrown dummies or birds with a shot fired, remotely or by my side. I’m working to get him more solid on interrupting hunting with a whistle sit, followed by a simulated shot bird. Once I can remote sit him interrupting a hunt, then fire the dummy launcher or bird launcher and he stays steady to fall, he’ll be ready for me to release the live pigeons while he stays steady. I would say he’s about 90% reliable steady to shot and fall, so we just need to get that more solid before the next step, live birds. Perhaps another week or two of reinforcement. That will give me some more time to work on training my pigeons to home straight back to their loft, I’ve lost two of them to hawks already. :o(
Ken also discusses training the non-slip retriever for waterfowl hunting and I think Prinz is getting pretty reliable in this area. He can mark and retrieve and stay steady to shot and fall and behave himself in the blind until I need him. Some more work is needed with the directional hand signals but I’m able to send him out, remote sit him and cast him in training, I am starting to be able to move him around the field the way I want. It’s really exciting to see everything coming together.
Here’s a look at a training session where we hung out in a blind for a while before sending him for a couple marked retrieves, and another where we were working on steady to shot followed by a lining drill to a pile. These are a few weeks old, so we’ve progressed a bit but I liked these videos. I’m not that great about recording sessions but when I do, it’s always very instructive and I catch things I wouldn’t have otherwise.