Saturday, December 1, 2012

Introducing Quail to Your Pup

Introducing quail to your pup may sound like a fairly simple step: Plant a quail in the field, bring your pup in, and let him find it. Unfortunately, like most pointing dog training, it is often more complicated than it first appears. Quail introduction is one of the most important phases in your pup’s development, and it’s when you develop his desire to hunt. This step needs to be done correctly. The age and attitude of your pup will help you determine how to work him. A three-month-old pup is introduced differently than a five-month-old, and a one-year-old may require some creative thinking. The availability of good flying birds also influences when you introduce him to quail. Here are a few examples of how to deal with pups of different ages and levels of readiness.
Last fall I acquired a twelve-week-old female pup. She had already caught a couple of wing-clipped quail and was ready for some good flying quail. I could hardly wait to get going, but before introducing her to birds in the training field, I had to be sure she was confident on the ground. After a week of running her through bush-hogged stubble and briars, she was ignoring the cover, so I planted several quail and took her for a run. I already knew she would go with me, so it was easy to lead her in the direction of the first bird. She found it and tried to catch it. Over the next week, she began to stalk the bird, and while she continued to dive in and chase, her pointing instinct was starting to develop. She had a new sense of purpose and was now focused on finding birds.
This spring I kept a male from one of my litters. He would be four and a half months old before I’d have any good flying quail. He and his littermates had chewed on a couple of leftover birds from last year, but I had to wait for September for good flying birds.
While I waited, I ran him in the field to get him confident on the ground. When he was four months old, I snapped a light check-cord to his ID collar to get him accustomed to dragging it. He was becoming more independent and less concerned about where I was, even though he still had no clue why he was out there.
This pup’s lack of experience hunting for quail, combined with his newfound independence, presented a problem when it came to how to introduce him to quail. I needed a way to lead him to the bird, and decided to use the check-cord. He was already used to dragging it, but he was not yet ready to learn the e-collar or the here command. I tossed down two lightly dizzied quail and walked with him on the check-cord to the first bird. As soon as he made scent, he stopped and pointed, and I dropped the check-cord. He continued to hold point as if surprised by the bird’s scent. He eventually dove in and the bird flew off. When he got tired of chasing it, I took hold of the check-cord again and led him to the second bird.
This time there was no hesitation. He dove in hard, and I held the check-cord just long enough for the bird to take flight before letting go. I did not use the check-cord to make him point; rather, I used it to restrain him from catching the bird on the ground. If a pup learns he can catch a bird before it flies, he may stop pointing. It took a couple more sessions of leading the pup to the bird, but before long, he was hunting on his own. The check-cord allowed me to stay in control and get him into birds with very little commotion. Soon I was able to unsnap the check-cord and let him run free. He no longer needed my help because he knew why he was out there: He was focused on finding birds.
This fall a training buddy asked me about her one-year-old pup. The pup had been worked on pigeons, but he lacked experience on loose quail. The pup’s age presented a real dilemma because, at a year old, he was powerful enough to run down a good flying quail. I asked Maurice Lindley how he introduced older pups to quail, and he gave me a great tip. He said, “If an older pup needs to run on loose quail, I release birds along the edge of the woods. I don’t dizzy them; I hold them close to the ground and let them go. They should run into the woods. I plant them this way because the pup is unable to follow their flight path in the woods. It works well, but the birds have to be good flyers.”
I passed the tip on to my training buddy and she really liked the idea. She planted quail along the edge of the woods and it worked perfectly. Her pup got into loose birds without catching any of them. He learned how to find birds that were moving and how close he could get before making them fly, both of which are important lessons to learn before the steadying process begins.
There are many windows of opportunity to introduce quail to your pup. The best and easiest time is between three and four months old. By five or six months old, your pup is more independent, and you may need to use a check-cord for the first couple of sessions, to lead him to birds. If you have to wait until he is a year old, he’ll be physically strong enough to run down a good flying quail, so you’ll have to think outside the box, with techniques such as Maurice’s suggestion of releasing birds along the edge of the woods. Staying flexible in your thinking, along with waiting for good flying quail, will help you accomplish this important step. If you do it right, you will develop your pup’s desire to hunt and be well on your way to having a high-class bird dog.