I’ve had various training issues with my bird hunting dogs — mostly due to my own ineptitude — but there are dogs that balk at certain elements of training.
As with most lifelong skills, the rules of the hunt are taught in pieces. I think the single most important skill is to respond immediately to voice and whistle commands. A quick response could keep the dogs away from a skunk or porcupine, a busy road and other real or perceived dangers.
The dogs learn to “quarter,” which is a kind of sweeping pattern back and forth in front of the hunter, as they seek bird scent. They learn to stand steady or “whoa” when they find a bird, pointing their nose, body and head in the bird’s direction, and staying there until the hunter flushes out the bird and shoots it.
Then the dogs learn to fetch the dead bird from wherever it has fallen — water, woods or field — and retrieve it to the hunter’s hand. Put it all together, and we have an awesome bird dog.
My Brittany dog Bullet was pretty much a natural at most aspects of the hunt. I always felt like I was just reinforcing what he innately knew, right from the first day of yard work with him. He took constructive criticism of his performance well as fine-tuning corrections were made to his range for seeking birds, pointing position relative to birds, response to whistle and voice commands, pointing style and honoring other dogs’ points.
Except when it came to the retrieve. He has stubbornly challenged that expectation, even though with lots of patient training on the part of his co-owner/breeder John Short Sr., Bullet learned to go into water, do blind retrieves — where he has to find the bird all over again if he doesn’t see it fall after it’s shot — and to respond to the fetch command.