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The Weimaraner is often chosen as a family pet for its unique silver, grey, or blue coat and it’s striking good looks. But the Weimaraner is, in fact, a hunting breed. Weimaraners were developed in Germany and are able to hunt a wide variety of prey as they are strong, fast, great at tracking, and have a strong prey drive. Introduction of bloodlines from pointers over the years has made these dogs especially adept as bird hunting dogs. They are able to track, point, flush, and retrieve, all skills that are useful tools for a bird hunting dog.
These sensitive, active, intelligent dogs have a reputation for sometimes being a challenge to train. When training a Weimaraner to hunt birds, it is important to allow his natural talents to shine. Work with and encourage his abilities, have patience, and use positive reinforcement to shape natural behaviors. It is important not to discourage a sensitive Weimaraner by introducing too many new things too fast, providing harsh correction, or overwhelming your dog.
It is important to start training a Weimaraner to hunt as young as possible when natural hunting behaviors can be more easily molded. Older dogs can be taught to bird hunt, however, it may require more time and patience to harness the skills of an older dog.
You will need to get your dog familiar with following bird scent trails. You'll also want to teach your dog to stay close to you, or quarter, to cover an open field where a bird may be located. Your dog will need to be familiar with guns so he is not startled when flushing a bird for hunters to harvest. If you want your dog to point or retreive, you will also need to teach him to freeze when he locates a bird so you can take the shot, or provide a command to flush the bird. To retrieve game, your dog will need to learn not to run off with or mangle birds, but to return to you and release it.
When training a Weimaraner, you may want to use treats to reinforce desired behavior. Toys that will encourage your dog to release birds to you are also handy. Many trainers use a check rope when training bird hunting dogs to keep their dog to range close to them. Tame birds and bird scent are also useful for training bird dogs.
Before heading out bird hunting, you will want to ensure your dog has good obedience commands and excellent off-leash recall. Tracking collars can be used if your dog taking off is a concern, but with good recall, you shouldn't need one.
The Wing it Method
Take out to wilderness
Get your Weimaraner used to gunfire, birds, and wilderness terrain. Take your dog out on a long leash in an area where birds such as pheasant or grouse are present. This will help expose him to a variety of situations and environments.
Expose to guns and birds
When you see a bird, or when one is accidentally flushed, hold your dog and fire a shot with a hunting rifle if it is a safe area to do so. You can also consider using a pistol with blanks. Encourage and praise your dog. You may want to start with gunfire at a distance in order to acclimate your dog to the sound.
As you are hunting, 'catch' your dog doing the right thing. When he freezes and points at a bird, reward with a treat and praise. When he flushes a bird, pair the act with a command you will later use to direct flushing birds. Reward and encourage your dog for displaying natural hunting behavior that you like while ignoring behavior that you don't.
Teach your dog to fetch a bird carcass and bring it to you. Give him a treat or a favorite toy in exchange for bringing the carcass to you and releasing it. You may want to work on commands such as 'Fetch' and 'Drop It' to make this process easier.
Put it together
Put it all together! Practice directions to freeze, flush, and retrieve. Start using your dog in actual hunting situations, but keep in mind that learning takes time. You'll want to be patient with him throughout the learning process.
The Tame Bird Method
Lay scent trails
Lay a scent trail by dragging a bird carcass or using purchased bird scent. Teach your dog to follow simple trails and reward with praise, food, and play at the end of successfully found trails.
Introduce a tame bird
Use a pen raised bird like a quail or chicken and introduce your Weimaraner. Get him excited about the bird, rewarding for curiosity and investigative behavior.
Practice in controlled environment
Find a contained wooded area. Many local sport dog and hunting clubs will have facilities for training bird dogs that are fenced and provide cover for birds. Allow your dog to scent, scan, and locate birds while on a long leash to prevent harm to the bird.
When your dog locates a bird, provide him a command for the desired behavior. You can command him to either flush or set/freeze. Guide and reward your dog for positive progress towards the appropriate behavior while ignoring mistakes.
Take him bird hunting
Once your dog is responding well, start working off-leash, allowing your dog to scent birds, and providing direction and commands. When he is working well in a controlled environment, start taking him out to wilderness areas and work on hunting actual quarry. Be patient and provide consistent direction to continue to hone your dog's skills.
The Check Rope Method
Attach a check rope
Use a check rope which can be found at an outdoor sport store or gun dog supply store. This rope is rigged around your Weimaraner so that when you pull on the tail end of the rope, it will tighten on your dog's flank. This can be useful for direction and recall.
Pair command and stop
Take your Weimaraner out for a walk with the check rope. Say 'Whoa' and step on the end of the check rope to make your dog stop. Never yank on the rope, as this can cause harm or injury. It should only be used for gentle direction.
Practice when birds are present
Take your dog to a wooded area with game birds present. When your dog sees a bird, say 'Whoa' and step on or pick up the tail of the rope. This can help reinforce the need to freeze when a bird is spotted.
Increase set time
Ask your dog to stand and freeze, or point. Start with short periods of time and work up to longer time periods. Reward him and praise him for the appropriate behaviors while ignoring any mistakes.
Once your dog starts anticipating you and freezing before you grab the check rope when a bird is located, you can remove the check rope and practice setting commands off-leash. Remember to brush up on your dog's off-leash recall before moving to this step.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 05/31/2018, edited: 01/08/2021