A Pup's Introduction to Live Birds


Some pups who show little or no interest in the rod and wing really turn on with a live bird. Coturnix quail are the ideal bird for initiating young pups. Essentially an ornamental bird, they are small (between tennis and softball size,) inexpensive (usually $1.00-1.50 each,) and remarkably hardy given the maulings that they repeatedly survive from puppies.

They also don't fly very far, so can usually be recaptured by humans if the pups lose them and saved to use another day. They live nicely in a parakeet cage or cat carrier and do just fine on chicken scratch and water. They are small and gentle enough not to frighten a young pup, yet smell, sound, and move like the larger game birds.

Very strong coturnix that have been raised in a flight pen may need their wings trimmed to keep them from flying too far. Most of them only manage short hops of five feet or so, but I have known some to fly close to 100 feet...too far for puppy eyes to follow!

In lieu of coturnix you may use small pigeons, but you will have to pull four or five flight feathers on each wing to keep them within puppy range. They can be a rather hefty mouthful for a very young pup attempting to carry one around, and some pups simply do not like the taste of pigeons and will refuse to retrieve them while gladly carrying all sorts of other birds.

Introduce the live bird following a short rod and wing session. At first just toss the bird nearby the pup and watch what happens. Hopefully the bird will flap its wings and hop about, attracting the pup's attention. He may chase it or pounce upon it and will usually finally capture it and begin to carry it off.

After a few encounters of this sort, take your pup into a yard area with some fairly tall grass clumps, bushes, small brush piles, or other likely hiding places for game birds. Be sure that the cover isn't so thick or thorny that the pup will have difficulty moving through it, and that there is little chance to him of injury, distraction, or of being frightened. It would be helpful if he has already had some chance to explore and play in this area.

Again just toss the bird out at first (it might be time for a fresh bird by now!) Once he is well aware of it, stick it in a clump of grass or brush in a spot that he will encounter in exploring the area and looking for the bird that "got away." Notice if he runs about with his nose low to the ground and listen for any audible sniffing.

Observe his reactions when he comes across the bird. Don't be dismayed if he seems to run back and forth right past or even over the bird without noticing it: His nose hasn't been educated yet! You may need to sit on the ground very near the bird and direct the pup to it several times before he makes the connection. But if he obviously sees and smells the bird and then leaves it to run off to play or to crawl up in your lap, this might not be the best time for him to learn about birds. Try again in a few days!

Notice if your pup moves quickly, obviously searching for something. When he finds the bird any of several behaviors is acceptable: pointing it by sight or scent, pouncing on it, picking it up and running off with it are all good signs. A pup that lies down a few inches from the bird, then barks and/or paws at it, is a bit unsure of himself and is demonstrating the persistence of the original "setting" behavior. A little more exposure to birds may build his self-confidence, so don't write off his potential at this point.

Do be aware that no matter how fine a pup's instincts, they will fade with disuse. A future birddog needs birdwork on a regular basis to stay interested and to continue to develop. Weekly exposure to birds is recommended.