Stephen Faust, the owner of Stoneybrook Outfitters & Gordon Setters, chases woodcock and quail from the big timber of Minnesota to the tangled briars of his native North Carolina. Recognized for breeding and training gorgeous Gordons, he knows there are two training challenges that can give bird dog owners fits: Introducing puppies to loud noises and acclimating them to water. His approach to each is similar: Start early. Go slow. And be prepared to back up—literally and figuratively.
Faust is a proponent of early neurological conditioning, so to get puppies used to noises, he starts conditioning them in a mud room that also houses a washing machine and dryer, and he purposefully mows the grass right next to the kennel, so the dogs have been in an intermittently loud environment since their first weeks.
To move to sharper, louder noises, he bangs a couple of pans together as the puppies are eating. Start quietly at first, and then slowly increase the volume. “If one flinches, then I stop and reassure it immediately. Pick the puppy up and love on it and let it know it’s safe. And I’ll back up a bit and try a different distance.” But eventually, he’s pounding on pots right beside the dogs. “I’m barely five-and-a-half feet tall on a hot day,” he says with a laugh, “but I get right over them.”
Next, he moves to firing a training pistol with the dogs outside. Again, the trick is to start a bit away from the dogs and gradually move in as they tolerate the pistol report. As you get closer, it helps to play wing-on-a-string or otherwise distract the puppy with a fun game while you shoot the training pistol. “It generally takes three or four weeks to go from the pans to the training pistol,” Faust says. Once the puppies are accustomed to the training pistol, he moves straight to a shotgun. “It’s just as loud as the pistol. There’s really no transition.”
He introduces his Gordons to water in a similarly incremental way. While retrievers might take to a pond like a duck takes to water, pointing dogs can require a more methodical approach. But the focus is still on fun. Faust eschews a local farm pond for long hikes in the woods. “We have a lot of creeks nearby, and they simply learn to follow me when we hit the woods,” he says. “If I bring an older dog along, that helps. But starting off with creeks is not nearly as daunting to puppies. They can see the other side. To a little puppy, a pond might look like it’s an endless sheet of water.”
For young dogs that balk at even a trickle, Faust coaxes their front feet into the water at first and reassures them with praise. “I don’t force it,” he says. “It will happen. And a creek that has a hole deep enough for swimming makes for an easy transition.”
Another trick: If possible, he starts this lesson out on a scorcher. “There’s nothing like a hot day to teach a dog that it’s cooler in the water.”
This story is part of a series of articles on sporting dog training tips from Eukanuba Pro Trainers. See the series here:
>> Advice for a Young Dog’s First Dove Hunt
>> Introducing a Bird Dog to Noises and Water
>> Retriever Training at the Clays Course
>> The Importance of “Whoa” for Bird Dogs