When I first started training gun dogs, I didn’t always have a partner or bird boy to help throw marks for my dog, so I had to find a way to create effective training scenarios on my own. I tried just about everything I could think of. Some ideas worked, and others I chalked up as good efforts. If you happen to train mostly on your own, you might find these tips helpful.
Steady on a stand.
First, teach your dog to be steady and patient on a stand. It’s important for the dog to view the entire process, so position your pup properly. Put the dog in the blind facing in the direction where the training bumper will fall. Then walk away from the dog into the field. Make sure he’s paying attention, and launch the bumper in an arc high enough for the dog to see from his blind. After the dog has proved himself to be steady and patient, release him on a retrieve. If your dog breaks and runs after the bumper is released, then pick up the bumper again. Use this as a denial. Unsteady dogs are not rewarded with retrieves.
Remote-controlled launchers are invaluable.
If you’re training by yourself, remote-controlled launchers are invaluable. Launchers allow solo trainers to stand next to their dogs and catapult bumpers into the field. The launcher places the handler in close proximity to the dog, so reinforcing steadiness is easy. Once the dog is steady, the handler can then easily move around the field to offer the pup a variety of retrieves. The variety also holds the dog’s attention better and keeps him focused. There are many different models, from inexpensive handhelds to deluxe units complete with electronic quacks. I favor launchers that feature an electronic quack, as they also enable me to get the dog’s attention focused. Since bumpers fall from the sky after emitting an electronic quack, I can train the dog to first listen and then watch.
Use technology to your advantage.
Stream training videos from your favorite pro. There are great DVDs available covering a broad variety of subjects, from training a puppy for their first season to next-level setups. If you’re training by yourself, use all the tools at your disposal to learn and create realistic hunting scenarios to educate your hunting dog.
I’ve always enjoyed group training for the diversity that occurs, besides seeing handlers’ different methods, socializing, and working with different dogs—and certainly for the camaraderie. But if your only option is to train solo, or not to train at all, pick the former. It’s a lot more fun than just sitting around the house.