Training with good flying quail increases a bird dog’s prey drive. Good bird dogs love challenges; they are predators, and the more challenging the game, the more excited the dog.
I was reminded of this a few years back while I was working dogs on some johnny house quail that had become quite tame. About ten birds had decided not to recall and formed a covey nearby. I was working a little female and watched her go into the woods and point this covey. Head and tail held high, she looked better on point than I had recently seen her. Her whole body quivered with intensity as I stepped in front of her, and the birds burst out of the woods like fireworks. This experience reminded me that boring birds make boring dogs.
Besides increasing your dog’s intensity on point, good flying quail teach dogs how close they can get without making them fly. The best wild-bird dogs are aggressive on their game, moving up fast on a covey to pin them before they can escape. There is no puttering around. Cautious dogs, unsure how close to get, rarely have wild birds pointed in front of them because these birds were able to run off.
One way to look at bird hunting is as a standoff between the dog and the bird. The bird is trying to escape undetected, and the dog is trying to get as close as possible without flushing it. Poor flying birds allow the dog to crowd them. Few things in dog training are as frustrating as birds that will not fly when the dog creeps closer and closer.
The first step to training with good flying quail is buying good flying quail. Try to buy quail from experienced game-bird breeders that raise and sell a lot of birds. These birds should be conditioned in flight pens. Some breeders use water misters to spray the birds daily, causing them to produce more oil for their feathers. This helps them survive when released. Some breeders raise birds in isolation, meaning they never see people. They are fed with automatic feeders, or at night, when workers wear headlamps. Birds raised in isolation become very spooky and flush if you or your dog gets too close. Finding a good source for quail will help you in training. It’s definitely worth driving a few extra hours for them, or paying a bit more.
The second step is releasing quail in as natural a way as possible. Releasing birds in the fall and feeding them through the winter is almost as good as training on wild birds, but few people have the resources to do this. Johnny houses can be a good option if you own or lease your grounds. If you train on public grounds, there are some other choices. You can put ten or twenty birds in a box, open the box, and let them fly out. While a natural way to train, it can get expensive. Another option is to plant birds for your dog. Planting birds gives you maximum control, since you have a good idea where the birds are located. The downside is, you leave tracks your dog can follow. To plant quail as naturally as possible, dizzy the birds and toss them down in light cover. Try spreading a little wild-bird seed, and plant two birds together to help keep them in the area. Wait a good thirty minutes before working your dog, so the birds have a chance to move around and your scent trail will dissipate.
If you put the effort into buying good flying quail and present them in a natural way, your dog will be challenged. As he is challenged and his excitement builds, he will learn how to handle them and will look better on his game.