“I’m glad you called me when you did, most guys wait until about a week or two until the season starts,” said Tony Roettger of Roettger Ridge Kennels, when I called him the last week of July, “And there’s not much you can do at that point.”
Even before I got “Sprig,” my first bird dog, I’ve held the fanciful idea of doing all the training myself. But training DVDs and good intentions will only get the first-timer so far. The honeymoon stage of having a puppy has been great, but it was time for a dose of reality, not to mention live birds and open space.
Part of my hesitancy, aside from my own eagerness to “do it myself,” in calling a professional was opening me – and my dog – up to constructive criticism. Chalk that up to years of competitive sports and having my fill. But that was mistake number one. Roettger, like many professional trainers, is more interested in working to meet your goals (in my case, simply an obedient hunting companion) as opposed to weeding through dogs and producing the next field champion. “I feel that the training is a servitude to the world of people just needing a little help and motivation with their dogs,” Roettger says.
Rather than sending my dog in for training and picking her up a few weeks or months later (certainly a viable option in some circumstances), I signed on for “handler coaching sessions” so I can be the one working with my pup while Roettger provides guidance and the gun.
It’s a group of amateur, novice and first-time handlers that show up for the once or twice-a-week sessions, meaning “Sprig” gets the opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and I get to watch other dogs/handlers and “talk dogs.” Some owners bring their children, and a few of the veterans are in their 70s, so it’s fun to witness the love of bird hunting and dog work stretching across generations.
Gushing aside, “Sprig” has some serious work to do. Her “listening” skills have gone sketchy with birds now in the equation, and she seems to show me one new issue per week that needs to be addressed. But I’ve enjoyed the sessions so much that I’ve signed up for a full year. I couldn’t stand watching that training DVD anyways.
Have you ever enlisted the help of a professional dog trainer?
Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.
Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.