Many times when talking to people who want to buy a puppy I get asked about what it takes to train a GWP. I always answer that question with a question of what is your end goal for your dog and what type of hunting are you planning on doing with the dog? I would say 99 times out of a 100 the people will not need much more than to teach the dog its name so it comes when called. If they are looking for a good hunting dog the best thing is to take them hunting and let them teach themselves how to find and point game. If you are going to be using your GWP mainly as a duck blind dog you will have some extra training, but it isn’t too complicated. If you want to compete in field trials or hunt test you will have some extra training. If you do want to put in the time a completely well trained dog is neat to hunt with, but not by any means a necessity to hunt with. A dog that stands until the shot is a dog that most likely won’t get shot by another hunter, or will run blindly after a bird and injure itself somehow.
If you bought your puppy to be a hunting partner I would suggest that you and your new puppy spend the first year hunting by your selves. You want to build a good bond with the new puppy and you also want to let it learn things by itself. If you hunt with an older dog sometimes the puppy will just follow the old dog around and not learn on its own. If you hunt with other young pups it might learn bad habits because the other pups don’t know anything either. I also think it is better to not take your buddies with you until the pup is doing a great job for you. Once it understands how you like to hunt, and that you are the boss things will start to come together. Sometimes when you take a couple guys it can get loud and crazy. I like to stay as quiet as possible while hunting. Most wild game will hear you coming and be on alert, which means less chances to get a dog pointing something. If you have the patience to let the pup learn on its own that first year you will have a great dog for a long time to come. Once everything comes together and you have that first great find, point, shot, and retrieve you have established the base. From the base you can start waiting for a while before the flush while the dog is pointing and this will help teach them to hold point for as long as it takes for you to get there. Sometimes in chukar country you might have to cross a canyon to get to a dog on point. You want them to hold until you get there. Usually by the end of the first hunting season you know what you can expect from your dog and it will be ready for a lifetime of hunting trips.
I’ve been to seminars, read books about training, and trained dogs from start to finish myself. There seems to be dozens, if not more ways just to train a pointing dog. If you really want to train your own dog I would start by reading a few different books on training, and then maybe attend a seminar. I think some of the biggest mistakes people make is to think they have to get pups started at a very young age. People want to play with a wing on a string which is all for the person, and not for the dog. They want to teach them to whoa before the dog even knows why they should be whoaing in the first place. Another thing I don’t recommend is to teach tracking at a young age. Some people teach this so the dog can pass a test, but some dogs never do well pointing covey birds or jumpy rabbits after they have been taught to track at a young age. A dog that is tracking with its nose on the ground will most of the time get way to close to wild game and the game will flush before the dog locks up. I feel a GWP must learn to hunt with its head up and learn how far it can point without busting game first then you can teach to track later. This is where starting dogs on pen raised birds can be frustrating when trying to go hunting wild game.
What I suggest to anyone who is getting a puppy from me that isn’t going to compete is to keep it simple. You can start with playing fetch at a couple months of age with something soft and eventually work your way up to a bird. Then when you are ready to start shooting birds they have already had feathers in their mouths. Most GWP’s love to fetch, but I have seen some lines that don’t have natural fetching instincts. Before you turn your pup loose for the 1st time in an open area you need to make sure it is going to be a safe situation. I always recommend that the pup knows its name and will come back if called. Another thing I suggest is to make sure you are in an area away from traffic so there is no chance of a dog getting ran over by a car. Over the years we have had dogs die about every way imaginable, but none have ever been hit by a car. If you haven’t introduced it to the gun you can do that when it is out running around. I use a small gauge like a 410 or light loaded 20 gauge. They don’t have to be chasing a bird when you introduce the gun. Most of the time I just pop a shot in the air when they are maybe 50 yards away running around. I watch the reaction of the pup to see how it looks. If I think they are okay with gun fire I will look for an opportunity to shoot a bird while the pup is in pursuit. I like to make sure it is a crossing shot so the sound is traveling away from the pup. I never shoot right over the top of a young dog.
Training for field trials. If you want to play the field trial game I feel you have two options, both are going to cost you a lot of money. You can do it all yourself or you can hire someone to do it for you. If you hire someone to do it for you plan on spending many thousands of dollars over a few years of time before you get a finished field champion. If you do it yourself depending on what part of the country you live in you might have to travel great distances to get to field trials. You will probably need to buy horses and spend lots of your free time training dogs. Some of the worst money I have ever spent in my life was hiring a field trial trainer to do this for me. There are good honest dog trainers out there, and I have used some that I really liked, but there are also some crooks out there. I’m sure there are horse trainers like the dog trainers and probably other animal trainers that are not good honest hard working people. If you decide to use a trainer a couple things you want to watch out for is if they have too many dogs. You can look at how many dogs they have and do the math to determine how much time they have for each dog. Just like most things the integrity of the dog trainer is probably more important than the ability of the dog trainer to train dogs. Dishonest dog trainers will use clients to fund dogs with their kennel names, or dogs with customers they really like. The clients with the average dogs end up paying all the bills so the trainers can campaign the dogs they really like and do lots of winning with these dogs. As the trainers do more winning they get more clients. Most of these new clients are going to be lemmings that simply walk off the cliff listening to the trainer before they realize they have been used financially to promote other dogs. I’m a finish carpenter and I’m not evaluated on how well I can make a well framed house look when I’m done with the work. I’m judged on how I can make the poorly framed houses look. Field trial dog trainers are never judged on how well they do training the average dogs and if they can win with them. Sometimes the trainers win with dogs they don’t even train and they will take credit for training the dogs. If the trainer is training dogs that are off-spring of national field champions those dogs should be more competitive than other dogs and the trainer should win with them. If you can work closely with the trainer you can see what the results are, but most of the time you send your dog away, then send money away and hope everything works out. Unfortunately some of times you just get taken advantage of because the trainers know you think your dog can win even though it might not have what it takes to win. Field trials are very competitive and not all dogs will be able to win. If you haven’t trained dogs before you probably don’t know what it takes to win, or how the dog should be developing. The unethical trainers can keep feeding you full of BS so you keep sending them money. I would suggest if you want to play the field trial game do it yourself so you can get a good understanding of what it takes before you use a trainer. If you want to get into the field trial game I would suggest that you learn to train dogs yourself first and if you decide to use a trainer you will know where they should be in their development.