For most pheasant hunters, having a well-trained, purebred hunting dog is not only a must – it is a large part of the joy of the hunt. Naturally, there is much debate about which breed of dog is best in the field. English Setters can be excellent in heavy cover, but they can also be high-strung and therefore sometimes difficult to handle. The English Setter is also an air-scent dog. The Wirehair Griffins – ground scent trackers – are good all-around hunting dogs. Pointers are good for covering a lot of ground in open country, but again need solid, consistent training to be manageable. German shorthairs are also used for upland birds, as are Brittanies. For a good all-around dog – not only a good tracker and retriever, but also a good family dog – labs and golden retrievers are a good bet.
But no matter what breed of dog you choose to hunt with, good training is a must and is should begin with basic obedience training. If your dog has not mastered sit, stay, come, heel and whoa it is going to be a very long and frustrating day.
The first hunt with a young dog is very important. Some hunters choose to make that first hunt at a pheasant preserve so that they are hunting pen-raised birds instead of wild birds that are hiding in chest-high cover. This can be a good method to use for that all-important first hunt because you know that there are birds in the area and you can continue to encourage your dog to work the field until he finds one. This reinforces his hunting behavior and confidence and gives him some experience. One disadvantage to this method is that if your dog continues to hunt the same area over and over, it inhibits his instinct to explore and find birds on his own. Also, a dog with a good nose will learn to track the pen-raised birds by the human scent around the release area rather than the scent of the bird itself.
Whether you choose to take your young dog on its first hunt in the wild or on a preserve, it is essential that you hit that first bird. Success on that first shot will reinforce everything that your dog has learned to that point, so have a backup shooter if you must. Just hit that first bird.
It is essential to remember that hunting is going to be very exciting for your dog, and that he or she is going to hunt until it drops – literally – if it is allowed to do so. Because of this endearing trait in a good hunting dog, the dog absolutely must be in top physical condition for the hunt. If the dog is not in great shape, limit the amount of time that you hunt – a couple of hours or half a day. And bring lots and lots of water on that hunt. Your dog must remain hydrated.
And while training your own dog can be very rewarding, it also requires a lot of time, patience, and willpower. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you have enough of these traits to successfully train your dog. There is nothing wrong with taking your dog to a professional for proper training. You will put a lot of money and a good portion of your heart into this dog – and if this dog is not properly trained for that first hunt it will not only be a nightmare for you, but also for the dog.
I have chosen Yellow Labs for my pheasant hunts, they make great family pets and great companions.