Currently I am in the process of training Nali, my first hunting dog. In this blog I will describe what I believe to be the best resources for learning to train a hunting dog.
I read six books on dog training before getting Nali, three of which I read twice. Books can be broken down into two categories: conditioning and training, with some overlap. Conditioning books focus on how to structure interactions with your dog and less on teaching commands. These books help with how to treat your dog in everyday situations. In this category I recommend “How to Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves” by Joan Bailey. Joan does a great job of explaining how to introduce a pup to different environments. Additionally, these books help explain how to react situations that may not be covered in training books.
I read Retriever Training by Robert Milner after training Nali for two years. I wish I had found it earlier. The book overlaps between conditioning and training by providing an overall approach with guiding principles as well as actual drills and schedules. If you have a “soft” dog, definitely read this book. While other books suggest the dog can’t be trained, Milner prefers a more relaxed dog, and his training methods work well with a reserved temperament.
The other category books I would call “training” books. These books focus on structured training sessions and on how to teach commands such as sit, whoa and come. Two of the more famous books are “Game Dog” and “Gun Dog” by Richard Wolters. The book explains a step by step process to training that is helpful. However, Wolters focuses heavily on teaching advanced skills at an early age. This fast paced training method isn’t necessarily beneficial to every dog. Additionally, the book doesn’t allow for very much flexibility if the training should go off course, which it inevitably will. Essentially, the book is useful, but definitely read a book on conditioning to understand how to react when things don’t go as planned.
Why pay for something that you can get for free? As a college student I try to cut costs as often as I can. As a result, I use YouTube to learn from professional trainers. Bill Hillman is a trainer that has a dvd set which costs $160. He also has also posted a few dozen YouTube videos that are super useful for free. In one of his best videos he describes what he believes to be the Two Secrets to Dog Training.
Along with Bill HIllman there are a bunch of other trainers that have YouTube channels as well. I recommend Stonnie Dennis. Stonnie always describes what is going through the dog’s mind during training and breaks training down into a step by step process that is easy to understand.
Lastly, contact the breeders you know. I call my breeder about once or twice a month to check in and ask questions if I notice something irregular. Additionally, you can call breeders in your area. Breeders rely on a network of contacts in order to sell dogs. Introducing yourself as a hunter and someone that can connect them with potential buyers gives breeders an incentive to help you out. Additionally, breeders put on field trials and hunt tests where you can go and watch how experienced hunters work their dogs.
It is best to use each of these resources at different times. You will have inevitably have unexpected situations with your pup. As a trainer it is important to be both adaptable and flexible. Thus, having a variety of strategies at your disposal will help out tremendously.
Feb. 2020: The Hunting Dog Podcast has some great interviews with hunters covering a wide range of breeds and training strategies. Check them out when you get the chance.