How to Train a Poodle to Bird Hunt

Hard
2-4 Months
Work

Introduction

When most people think of hunting dogs, they picture a Spaniel, a Retriever or a Pointer, but a Poodle is not the first thing that comes to mind!  However, the smart, athletic Poodle is a hunting dog, bred for centuries to be used as a working breed in Europe.If you are planning on training a Poodle to use as a bird hunting dog, be sure it is a Standard Poodle. The Standard Poodle has just the right combination of prey drive and natural retrieving ability to make an excellent bird hunting companion. Poodles are very versatile and can be used as water dogs or upland bird flushers/retrievers.  While water dogs usually retrieve ducks, geese, and other waterfowl that have been harvested by hunters, upland bird dogs locate and flush birds such as quail, pheasant, grouse, and partridge from heavy brush or cover so hunters can shoot the game. The dog then retrieves the downed bird and brings it to his handler.

Defining Tasks

As with many complex skills, bird hunting is best started with a young dog whose natural abilities can be shaped. Older dogs can also learn to bird hunt, but may require more patience. Poodles are intelligent and sensitive, responding best to positive reinforcement. If you are using your Poodle as a water dog, you will need to get him used to working in water. Start with safe bodies of water to create a positive experience for your Poodle. Expose your dog to wilderness terrain and gunfire. Poodles tend to quarter naturally and have a good prey drive, so are motivated to locate and flush game birds.  Retrieving downed game on command will require teaching your dog to wait while game is downed and then respond to a command to retrieve birds when released. They'll then fetch the bird either in thick brush or water, retrieving it unmangled, and return it to the handler. Motivate your dog to perform this task, teach him to fetch, and reward retrieving behaviors. 

Getting Started

To teach your Poodle necessary flushing and retrieving behaviors, tame birds, dummies, and bird carcasses can be used to shape desired skills and behaviors. Using a favorite toy to reward retrieving behavior is a popular training method with Poodles. Other dogs can be useful models to shape hunting behaviors as well, as your Poodle can learn by watching and working with a more experienced bird hunting dog. With every training method, you'll want to display patience and perseverance in order to shape your Poodle into the ideal hunting partner.

The On the Fly Method

Effective
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Step
1
Acclimatize to hunting environemnt
Take your Poodle out in wooded areas where birds are present. Encourage looking for birds, quartering or hunting close, and get your Poodle used to terrain, gunfire, and the sights and sounds of hunting. If your dog will be working in water, expose him to water.
Step
2
Teach to follow directions
Practice off-leash recall and obedience commands that will be necessary for directing your dog to wait behind a blind, freeze when a bird is located, and retrieve game. This can include things like 'Sit', 'Stay', 'Down', 'Fetch', and 'Come'.
Step
3
Pair commands with behavior
Start pairing natural hunting behaviours with verbal commands or hand signals. When your dog sets, give a command such as 'Freeze' or 'Whoa', then give a release command, so your dog flushes the bird or a command that will be used to release your dog to revive from behind a blind. This can be used when hunting waterfowl or after upland game birds are downed.
Step
4
Hunt with others
Take your dog out hunting with other experienced sport dogs. Keep your inexperienced Poodle on a leash, at first, and let him observe the other dogs at work. Gradually start letting him hunt off-leash with other experienced dogs.
Step
5
Put it all together
Start taking your Poodle out and utilizing hunting directions to guide natural behaviours. Reward success with praise, treats, toys, or a combination of the three.
Recommend training method?

The Tame Bird Method

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Step
1
Introduce to tame bird
Introduce your Poodle to a tame, pen raised bird, like a quail or pheasant in a pen. Get your dog excited about the bird, but ensure the safety of both animals by having a professional or a helper nearby to step in if necessary.
Step
2
Teach freeze command
Teach your dog to freeze with a check cord and a freeze command, such as 'Whoa'. Practice until well established, as your dog will need to be able to hold position for long periods of time.
Step
3
Look for tame bird outdoors
Release the bird in a contained outdoor area and allow your dog to look for the bird, keep him on a long leash to prevent harm to the tame bird. Make sure to maintain control of the situation and keep sessions short to avoid stressing out either animal.
Step
4
Practice setting
When your Poodle locates the tame bird, give the command to freeze and set. Reward your dog for freezing. Restrain your dog if he rushes to protect the bird but do not punish your Poodle. Instead, work on the 'Whoa' command until he is more reliable with it.
Step
5
Start working off-leash
Once your dog is responding well to the set/freeze command, start training him to locate a bird, and ask him to freeze or set him off-leash. Start practicing and using this skill in an actual hunting scenario.
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The Retrieve and Release Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Play fetch with a ball
Play fetch with your young Poodle. Use a tennis ball and ensure your dog learns good release skills by using two tennis balls or substituting a toy or treat for bringing back the ball. Work to establish and practice the commands, as they will come in handy later on.
Step
2
Acclimatize to hunting situations
When your Poodle is ready to start hunting and retrieving, take him out with other dogs upland or duck hunting so he gets used to the sights and sounds of the hunt. Acclimatize him to gunfire and waiting behind blinds with other hunters and dogs. Use experienced hunting dogs to show your Poodle how to behave.
Step
3
Replace tennis ball with dummy
Start using dummies instead of a tennis ball for retrieval. Throw the dummies up in the air, or plant them at various distances, and direct your Poodle to retrieve and bring the dummies back to you.
Step
4
Practice blind retrieving
Practice blind retrieve directions by planting the dummies in a straight line to the right or left and directing your dog with hand or verbal signals to retrieve dummies that he did not see planted. Start using bird carcasses or a soft toy covered in bird scent once he is retrieving the dummies effectively.
Step
5
Retrieve with others
Start introducing your Poodle to actual retrieval situations. Have a more experienced dog present, if possible. Provide directions and reinforce successful retrievals. Have more experienced dogs retrieve where inexperienced dogs fail. Do not punish your Poodle for not retrieving correctly. Instead, keep practicing and exposing him to other dogs working and actual hunting situations.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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