My First Bird Dog - Gun Dog Experts' #1 Piece of Advice

While the search for the breed winds down (more on that soon), there are plenty of other considerations in preparation for bird dog number one: gear and equipment, lining up veterinary care, living quarters, schedules, brushing up on obedience and training techniques – it’s a lot more than just plopping down some greenbacks and bringing the cutie home. And it can seem a wee bit overwhelming. So while at a Purina (Pheasants Forever’s Official Dog Food) media event recently, I asked the gun dog experts in attendance (I was the odd man out) for the single best piece of advice they could impart upon any first-time bird dog owner:
Man’s Best Shrink
“The best piece of advice I can give for the first-time bird dog owner is that your new dog is not just a pet and hunting companion: He or she is also the cheapest, most effective therapist you could ever hope to find. In fact, your new dog is the Swiss army knife of emotional support. Lost your job? The dog understands. Girlfriend ran off with your best friend? The dog understands. No matter how bad things get, if you have a dog, then your life is never as much of a mess as you think it is. They’ll never judge, they’ll never criticize and they’ll never leave you. And they’ll never mind that you always drink all the beer. What, I ask, is better than that?”
- Chad Love writes for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever as well as Field & Stream’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog. He has a Chessie, a young English setter, and says, though his wife doesn’t know, there will be a new pup next spring.
Bank on the Basics, Part I
“When training, pay close attention to the fundamentals, they are key to a solid foundation and bases for advanced work towards the wonderful rewards of an obedient and productive hunting partner.”
-Bob West is the Director of the Purina’s Sporting Dog Group. He’s also put more than 100 titles on dogs during his 40-plus years as a professional dog trainer. In other words, he’s trained dogs longer than I’ve been alive.
This is Fun, Right?
“Lighten up! Don’t become obsessed with letter-perfect performance, and don’t be afraid to cut your dog a little slack during training sessions and in the field. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, for both you and your dog.”
-Rick Van Etten is the Editor of Gun Dog Magazine and has owned Irish setters since before they went out of style.
Bank on the Basics, Part II
“Retriever owners need control and that comes from basic obedience. Too many overlook the importance of sit/stay, heel and here, focusing instead on aspects of force fetch, handling and other advanced concepts. If you can stop your dog with a sit whistle and recall it under any circumstance, then at the very least you’ll have a dog that will put birds up within range.”
-Brian Lynn and his black Lab, Kona, cross a few time zones each fall in search of birds and material for the Gun Dogs blog at Outdoor Life.
This is Fun, Right? Part II
“My advice to first-time gun dog owners would be to stop worrying so much and just make it fun. So many beginners read a book or two, or maybe attend a seminar, and they get all caught up in thinking they HAVE to do things a certain way, hit certain benchmarks, etc. Then when things don’t go exactly according to the blueprint (which they almost never do) they fret, stress out, put more pressure on the dog than it’s capable of handling…You get the picture. In short: Take it slow, take it easy, and keep it fun for both of you.”
-Tom Davis, among his many contributions, writes the “Gun Dog” column for the Pheasants Forever Journal of Upland Conservation. If a sporting dog or outdoor publication hasn’t showcased his work, shame on them.
Get Used to Gunfire…The Right Way
“I’ve been in business as a trainer since January and I’ve had five clients bring me gun-shy dogs. I’ve fixed two out of four, and number five is here now. Obviously this is a problem. Here’s my advice: Don’t take your puppy to a trap shoot to ‘get him used to gunfire.’ Instead, introduce him to gun fire beginning with the blank gun, and make sure birds are involved. Find and join a training group (one way to find one is to go to, go to “events” and check hunt tests and/or field trials for your breed, and contact the host club secretary) For this very important step, you’re best bet is to enlist the help of an experienced person or training group.”
-Lisa Price is Pennsylvania-based pro trainer and field-trialer. She loves working her German shorthaired pointers and her good sense of humor.
Breed Matters to You
“When you select a breed, carefully consider how that upland dog or retriever fits your situation. As a novice trainer, it’s wise to pick a breed that takes to training well. For me, a female golden retriever fit my training and hunting needs, as well as fulfilling my desire for a great family pet.”
-Paul Wait is the new Editor at Delta Waterfowl and is beholden to a 15-month-old golden retriever
Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts
What I’m Looking For
Introducing “My First Bird Dog”

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauck.