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Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Bird Hunting Dog

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If dog is a man’s best friend then a hunting dog is a hunter’s partner.


The role of dog is great when you’re going about normal life, but there is something different about owning a dog that is capable of hitting the field and the woods to hunt some birds. It’s great to always have a willing hunting buddy ready to head out and chase some birds.

Choosing a good hunting dog is a subjective proposition. You could talk to five different hunters and receive five different recommendations. You might even have your own idea of what kind of dog you want to get and train to be your hunting partner.

Before getting started realize that nearly every breed of hunting dogs needs attention and activity. If live a relatively busy or inactive life then a hunting dog may not be the right choice for you and your family. Hunting dogs are bred to hunt and be active and without this they can become destructive and even develop dangerous personality traits for themselves and for their owners.

For those of you that are brand new to hunting with a dog this is a post for you. The post will be very basic and will take you through all the beginner’s steps and thoughts for buying a bird hunting dog.

Different Options for Bird Hunting Dogs

There are three basic types of hunting dogs:

  1. Spaniels
  2. Pointers
  3. Labrador Retrievers

Each of these dogs has been bred for specific reasons and all have their advantages and disadvantages in the field and the woods. Usually you can tell from the name of the dog you’re looking at just what kind of hunter they will be.

Again, you can talk to different hunters and get different responses for the type of dog that will be the best for you and your favorite type of hunting.

If you’re unsure the type of hunting you’ll be doing or are really looking to do a variety of bird hunting including pheasants in the field, grouse in the brush or another kind of hunting then you can’t go wrong with what is an all around breed - the spaniel.

Some swear by the spaniel. The springer spaniel and other spaniels do well in the all around sense that they do things well and even do some things extremely well. They carry birds with an eye toward being careful just like a retriever and they can also stay on point like the pointers. This takes some training and work, but the spaniel is really a great choice for those that are looking for an all around good hunting dog.

Naturally, the spaniel likes to stay in close quarters. For those looking to hunt birds in the thick brush this is the ideal setup. You can be sure your dog will stay within 50 or so yards at all times as they work the brush looking for the birds. You’ll be able to stay close for commands and for any shot opportunities.

Spaniels are naturally flushing dogs. They like to flush out their prey and even catch it when possible. This will take some getting used to for the new hunting dog owner. You’ll have to learn how to tell when the dog is on the bird, which is different from a pointer, which gives the unmistakable sign that there is a bird in the brush or in the tall grass in the field.

Pointers are the next choice for many hunters. As mentioned above, the pointer has a definite look when they are on the birds. These dogs are hard workers and are very eager to do their job and make their owners happy with the job they have done.

If you are looking to cover large tracts of land on a day long hunt in the woods or field then you’re looking for a breed of pointers. They are bred to travel long distances and really it’s what they’re best at doing.

Pointers are naturally obedient. They are disciplined dogs, which make them great for experienced hunters and even great for beginning bird dog hunters. They thrive on being disciplined in the field and doing their job just as expected. For the hunter looking for perfection in the field you might find a more fulfilling experience with a pointer breed.

Finally we have the retriever. These dogs are very common among hunters and non-hunters. You’ll find your breeds of labs and retrievers in this group including the popular golden retriever and the various lab distinctions. It’s a great dog for families because of their laid back, easy going nature.

As the name states, the retriever is bred to bring back game to the owner or hunter with little no damage. The other two dogs can do this just as well, but it’s surprising how well even the young dogs will do that are bred for retrieving.

Generally, retrievers are known for their ability to quarter in front of the hunter to flush birds. There are slight tendencies when they are about to flush a bird. This will be something the hunter will need to learn and adapt to as the dog and the hunter go through the training process.

Each of the dogs in these groups can and will do all of the different aspects of upland bird hunting. There are subtle differences between the different types and those slight differences are what make them all great choices even though some will swear by one specific type because of their personal preferences.

The First Months of Hunting Dog Ownership

Expectations.

It’s important to go into hunting dog ownership with the right expectations. Owning a puppy and a dog can be a lot of work on its own. When you add hunting and training to the mix you’re looking at some difficult and frustrating times.

Remember, the puppy has no experience with the training. All they have is their instincts and being young they will also make mistakes as they learn what is right and what is wrong.

You’re also in the same boat. You’ve never trained a hunting dog before. It’s going to be a learning experience for both of you, but it’s something to enjoy for the next ten years. Think of it as an investment in making life more enjoyable for you and your new hunting buddy.

It goes without saying, but find a good partner organization or single person to assist with the training. Commit to taking lessons together with you and your new dog. As the training moves along you’ll need to practice on your own time. This will give both you and the dog time to learn the tactics for hunting, but also to learn the nuances of each other. Not only will you be looking to learn the subtle cues from the dog, but the dog will be learning to do the same with you.

The training partner you have should give you instruction on getting the dog used to guns. Most will tell you to ease into the sound of gunfire. They might even give you something for at home like a DVD or computer program that allows you to adjust the sound of a gunshot so the dog can learn to accept the loud noise.

Final Thoughts

Getting your first hunting dog is exciting. There is a lot of work ahead of you and time you’ll need to put in with the dog. It’s really a journey to go through the training with your dog, but as time goes on you’ll become a better hunter right along with your dog.

On top of the experience of training you’ll be forming a friendship that will last for a good ten years. You and your new hunting buddy will have countless hours to spend in the field and the woods. It’s exciting and something new to add to your lifetime of hunting memories.