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Discussion Starter #1
So I was lucky enough to go pheasant hunting this past weekend for the first time and had a blast. In a surprise to no one, a dog would have been a huge help in flushing out the birds, and I’m considering bringing along my 2 year old Duck Tolling Retriever next time for this purpose. He has pretty extensive agility training (competes at a high level) and isn’t startled by shots as he comes along with me almost weekly to skeet shooting, but has no formal field or hunt work. I don’t expect him to become a master overnight, or even at all (especially given his late start at this) but I was wondering if anyone had some recommendations on exercises or commands I could work on to make him more effective at this task? I’d also appreciate any feedback on if this is even a good idea to try, or if it would just be better to find a friend with a spaniel instead. Thanks!
 

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Retrieving dogs pretty naturally flush. If they have fresh bird scent, mostly they are going to get into cover after the bird(s) and flush them. Many people prefer their dogs to be steady to wing (sit at bird flush) and shot (sit or remain sitting after the gun goes off). If you are one of them, you need to teach your dog to sit at bird flight and sit when he hears a gun go off. Others just want their dog in hot pursuit as the gun goes off (wounded pheasants can run like crazy when they land and having your dog immediately pursue the bird gets them on top of the pheasant quickly). There are pro and con arguments for either approach, but if you don't teach steady to wing and shot be careful who you hunt with or you dog could get shot. Remote sits are important. When your dog is in hot pursuit of a running pheasant out of gun range, you need to be able to either run faster (with a loaded gun) or stop them till you catch up. Finally, and unnecessarily but nice to have trained, is a dog that handles. My dog had never hunted upland before and had no clue about coveys vs single birds. Hunting sharptails a couple of weeks ago, the covey flush with bird going every which way confused my dog; he wasn't sure which ones I shot. Being able to handle him to the shot birds vs the rest of the covey was just downright fun. Quartering while searching for birds is something many train for but I've never had to teach my Labradors and Goldens to do that, they just naturally quarter as part of teaching them to stay in gun range with a whistle "here".

In other words, the commands you must have are "here" if he gets out of gun range while hunting and "sit" if he gets too far away in pursuit of a bird. Both commands should be both verbal and via whistle command. Steady to wing and shot is optional and requires training the behavior but there is no verbal command.
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Since it sounds like you're looking for a "meat dog" versus one that competes, I would simply suggest taking the dog hunting. Wild pheasants are a challenging bird to hunt as there are countless ways that they react to being pressured and experience will be the best teacher. As Chuck mentioned, figure out if you want the dog to be steady to wing and shot or if you want him to go after the bird after it flushes. Mine follows the bird for the precise reason he mentioned. A wounded pheasant possesses a skill set that can befuddle even the best of dogs. Naturally, good shot selection can eliminate a lot of that, but it happens. I'd also add that most of my pheasant hunting is done solo, with just my dog. She performs better and I'm able to follow her nose (which most dogs figure out how to utilize rather quickly) and stay with her as she works the field. Mostly, a solid recall or sit is imperative. Roosters are run first birds and most hunters have experienced the dog taking off after a bird and watching it flush well out of gun range. To sum that all up, strong obedience and experience will be the best course in developing a good upland companion.
 

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Usually the hardest part with an inexperienced dog is getting them out away from you to hunt; and active in the game. For that it's oftentimes better to have them wild and no commands or control as you don't want to shut down their quarter..of course depending on the dog; your friends might dislike you if you let the dog run wild; as a uncontrolled dog can flush birds well out off range. After you get the dog away from you actively hunting, you need to have whistle commands or voice commands enough to keep the dog with-in gun range. Once the bird is engaged, you need to have a whistle sit for steadiness on the flush and a release command if your dog is the one to retrieve. This all revolves around the type of dogs your hunting with; Some hunters prefer an unsteady dog on wild game, as wild pheasants tend to wear Kevlar vests and will run significantly once they've been hit, so oftentimes you want the dog on them ASAP. I would ensure a good recall and steadiness once the bird is engaged; for safety . However the best bet is to let your dog quarter freely until they get engage the nose and develop momentum/drive; the easiest transition is to let them work with advanced dogs which allows them to learn the game. Otherwise you just might go out there and you dog look at you like your from outer space when you ask them to quarter.
 

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Hand signals to quarter help,, but a good "Sit" is fun..

 

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This was pretty much her first day at this Upland stuff... The obnoxious whistle was used for the first few birds, but eventually, if you keep the standard high, and not let them chase, they will auto sit.. Nice, quiet day hunting in the field, making very little noise around spooky wild birds.. A compliant dog is a pleasure to hunt with..
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks everyone for the replies!

So let me start with what he does currently and what I think I could accomplish. He naturally quarters and has an extremely strong “wait” which I usually use to hold him at the line when we compete in agility (or I want to stack treats on his nose as a party trick). He has good recall unless he’s fixated on something. I think I could teach steady at shot by building off his existing wait command (and working on it at the skeet field with him), and maybe steady at wing if I’m able to find a suitable training decoy / exercise. Whistle commands should be no problem, but he currently isn’t great about listening when he’s out of arms reach.

That brings me to the not so good. Much like many other Tollers I know, he’s fairly intelligent and exceedingly independent. He knows if he’s too far for me to get him that he doesn’t have to listen (as there aren’t any immediate repercussions), and often takes advantage of this to mark a tree for the 30th time instead of coming when called. If he sees a squirrel or something else and gives chase, it often takes an act of god to get him to stop. This is one of the things we’ve struggled with for a while as I try to get him to stop chasing the cat, which usually requires me getting up to grab him and physically remove him.

It sounds like from what everyone has said, the most important thing is a strong recall and an ability to get him to halt (either by sit or wait) while outside of reach. If anyone has some good suggestions on how to work on either of these things, it would be greatly appreciated.
 

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For your purposes, I think all you need is a release command (I use "find the bird") and a SOLID NO-NONSENSE recall. Almost nothing is worse than having a dog charging around, hunting on it's own or chasing birds out of gun range and flushing them.

We have had 2 Tollers who were great upland hunters. Hopefully, you will, too.
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Discussion Starter #9
For your purposes, I think all you need is a release command (I use "find the bird") and a SOLID NO-NONSENSE recall. Almost nothing is worse than having a dog charging around, hunting on it's own or chasing birds out of gun range and flushing them.

We have had 2 Tollers who were great upland hunters. Hopefully, you will, too.
View attachment 84951
Any good tips for improving recall with a Toller? Mine seems to be especially stubborn at times, which makes pulling him away from distractions (which are better than any treat I’m able to provide) fairly difficult.

Photo tax for all the help
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I take it you don't use the ecollar? If not, a long line, randomly and variably provided treats, and lots of repetition. With retrievers trained to retrieve rather than for agility, the recall command is often part of collar conditioning so its a command that is instilled early in the process.

And if that's a dog toy on the floor in the background, I suspect your dog is just as spoiled as mine.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
I take it you don't use the ecollar? If not, a long line, randomly and variably provided treats, and lots of repetition. With retrievers trained to retrieve rather than for agility, the recall command is often part of collar conditioning so its a command that is instilled early in the process.

And if that's a dog toy on the floor in the background, I suspect your dog is just as spoiled as mine.
I’m not opposed to an ecollar, but I’ve yet to use one on him as I’ve been trying to train through positive reinforcement. For some things he’s rock solid, such as “wait,” but for others such as “come” it really just depends on if something else more interesting catches his attention. He’s very food driven, but his prey drive outweighs everything. I can try using even more attractive rewards (like some super stinky cheese) but I don’t know if even that would be more attractive than the squirrel. I’ll have to read up some more on ecollar training.

And yes, he’s a bit too spoiled sometimes.
 

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I wouldn't start ecollar training without some knowledgable help. Its too easy to mess up. And I didn't mean to imply anything about spoiling! Mine are way spoiled in the house, though they do recognize when we're serious about a command in and out of the house. Ecollar training works, and it works extremely well, and its not like its rocket science to train with, but its not something to be done until you know what you are doing.

A long line and some modicum of force pulling him in, and using the random variable reward schedule will work, but its imperative - and I mean imperative - that the recall and the sit be in place, and in place absolutely. You've never seen a squirrel till you've had your dog on a running pheasant. Pheasants run and fly across roads. In front of vehicles. Paul said a solid "NO NONSENSE" recall and I can't stress how right he is.
 

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I've been hunting upland with Tollers for ~30 years now. The command "Too Far" when they get out too far has always worked for me but I start them out with it. Not too young, it is easier to reel in a dog than get one to range further out. The first year of hunting with them I don't put a lot of pressure on them and let them learn and have fun. But of course with obedience and safely.

An ecollar can be a lifesaver. But as mentioned you have to know what you are doing and I have seen and even took in a few rescues that were ruined by an ecollar. The latest the sister of my 6 year old which I had the privilege of having this summer and teaching her self control until she could be placed in her forever home which the breeder found in Wisconsin. The couple that owned her for the first 6 years of her life apparently burned her pretty bad with an ecollar more than once, and you can't always fix that. She did get to spend some time with me hunting last month she is the queen on the couch at the cabin, I do miss her but she is in a great home now.



PLEASE make sure you collar condition him correctly. I recommend a collar that also has a vibrate feature in addition to stim. Someday down the road when he no longer can hear you will be glad that you did. Seldom do I ever need to use the stim on any of the Tollers I have had vibrate is usually enough to have them check in with me. You can use low level stim for behavior shaping but I seldom do. Robin MacFarlane down in Iowa has a Toller among other dogs and is a professional trainer.



Steve Snell at Gundog Supply and her have a good intro into it if you want to go in the direction of an ecollar. And a good place to start. IMO you can't go wrong with Steve and his wife at Gundog Supply.

Stim does come in handy for trash breaking especially when things get dangerous. Like when they tree a porky



His ears are laid back because I am standing on the stim button. A quilled dog can die and as I took the picture the porky was climbing back down the tree. That was around 15 years ago. I have since moved from the Dogtra collars to a Garmin Alpha. I assume your dog has learned the command "Leave It" and that is what I start with when they trash chase other critters like squirrels, bunnies, deer, etc. In the yard they are fair game but in the woods and fields I expect the dog to ignore all game except birds.

Went with the Garmin Alpha because I grouse hunt in the most densely populated wolf area of CONUS. And seconds matter. I spend the month of October on the North Shore of Lake Superior, this was my 6 year old exactly a month ago.



It takes birds to make a bird dog. While South Dakota isn't what it used to be for bird numbers it is where the light bulb came on for him and he learned a lot there.



His breeder bred him on the 4th of July and I have one of his sons who is 9 weeks old now.



He has Sit down and starting to understand leave it. Going to go out on a limb and say he will need to know the command too far by next October. Good luck and get that Toller on some birds!
 

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This will prolly raise some hackels,,and some will say you dont "need"this level of training.. Two good scources for teaching "Basics" for a hunting dog, is Mike Lardy,,and Bill Hillmann.. You can find much info on the internet.. I think both programs are sound.. Pick one, pay the money, and follow it to a T.. The programs will help program (teach) a dog to respond to taught commands, ignoring distraction. Your hunting obedience will be solid.. Both programs are Force based, but have different methods of application.. IMHO,,,, dont get caught up in the line of thinking, that you only "NEED" certain things.. Follow the above programs up to "transition" MINIMUM..
After the above... Dogs learn about "birds" by being placed around birds.. Lots of them.. This is where ""poultry" or game farm/ planted birds comes in.. The video I posted is a Plated bird.. After the "light comes on" about finding birds/flushing, its just a matter of applying the high standard you taught during the ""Basics" training..
In the past,,I made the mistake of going to internet discussion borads to seek advice.. FOR ME,,and MY SIITUATION,, all that did was start confusion,and that confusion transfered to the dog.. Things really improved FOR ME,, when I found someone with true professional experience,and strickly listened to that person, following their method to a T.. Things worked really well.. Seek reputable experience,and knowledge... Is the shortest, less painful road to take..
 

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This dog was one of my first.. He wasnt trained to a "program" This dog HUNTED a LOT..I quit good paying jobs to hunt the Fall Pheasnt seasons.. He learned! He knew the game! Get outa the truck, and go find a bird! :) I didnt have to run to keep up with him,, but, I had to be in pretty good shape! :) . My only thought process,, was "He can smell the birds, I cant, so I's gonna follow him" He WOULD find them, like a machine, He would naturally retrieve.. I spent many years HUNTING this dog..

There is no comparision to that yellow dog,,and the Black one in the video I posted.. days hunting with the Black one are much more enjoyable.... You absolutly can "get By" with the minimum.. But, once you have a truely compliant animal to spend the day in the field with,, you will never go back.... Seek experience! Someone you can talk to personally as far as the preperation/ training required..
pheasants Sage.JPG
 

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That Yeller dog didnt Sit to Flush OR SIT to SIT! :) After the flush, he was on that bird on the first bounce, wether that first bounce occured at 35 yards dead,, or 350 yards missed!! It was hell getting him NOT to chase! It absolutly sucked, flushing Hens! :)
 

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Gooser, you gotta know I don't disagree with you about more training being better. The described minimum training works and works well as your pile of pheasants demonstrate, but a highly trained dog that will handle is a lot more fun. Handling Davy to those downed grouse just felt good, and was a lot more efficient then sending him out on a "hunt 'em up".

And I'm glad Cold Iron chimed in. Seems like he's seen a Toller or two.
 

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As Gooser said, good basics are the foundation of all future training and a good upland dog needs it IMO.
I like to start training a pup to quarter field at 7 weeks old. Of course it's just exploring and building confidence at first. As the pup progresses in obedience I surprise him with sit or here commands. "Far enough" and "slow down" are the commands I use when the dog is at the maximum distance he should be.
As soon as the pup is big enough for the e collar I start using the tone with the "far enough" command. Later on I can just remind him with a tone.
As soon as the pup grasps the idea of hunting close I work on sitting to shot. Fire a starter pistol and whistle the dog to sit, this can be taught in the yard. After teaching sit to shot I start using a shotgun and popper loads. Throw a bumper when the pup isn't looking and fire a popper at it. The pup should quickly learn to look where your gun is pointing and sit until sent, make him sit for quite a while. If he breaks put him back where he was and again make him wait to be sent.
When the pup is sitting reliably to the shot and bumper try to find a field with some birds and make sure he sits to flush.

You can do all of this with a 2 year old dog with a good foundation of basic training.

When I am hunting I am always training. I have zero tolerance for a dog breaking on a shot bird.
Whatever your standards are they must be maintained when hunting. If they aren't you will be undoing everything you have worked on in training.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
So for those of you that have taught a “far enough” command, how is that accomplished? I’ve seen a few suggestions online for teaching a “check-in,” which is to rewarding for randomly coming without called, thus creating a habit that close by means treats. Is there a way to tie this to a command, or is the “far enough” taught another way?

As far as creating a more bullet proof “come” command (which sounds like by far the most important), I’ve picked a new word and started using it as suggested (on a long lead) only on conjunction with a super high value treat. I’ve considered picking up an Alpha 100 system but don’t know if I’d get enough use out of it to justify the cost right now.

Are there any good resources in the New England area (closer to Boston the better) for training an upland hunter?
 

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So for those of you that have taught a “far enough” command, how is that accomplished?
Lots of repetition and a solid foundation of basic obedience. When the dog is at your desired range limit give the command. If he does not obey, "sit" "no no", walk toward him and release him. He should catch on to the range if you are consistent and maintain a standard. I also walk in a zig-zag pattern and give subtle hand signals directing the dog. With repetition he will realize he can run back and forth all he wants within range.
The tone or vibrate functions on a collar can be very helpful aids, reminding the dog of the range limit without discouraging him and keeping it fun.
 
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