Q&A with a professional dog trainer

Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

Handler new to the pointing breeds

I have a German shorthaired pointer. I am new to training pointers and have had mostly Labs.

Any advice for me?

Also, she is about 5 months old and does listen.

Jeb Christensen


As with any dogs, switching from one breed to another requires a bit of amendment to our training program. With a German shorthaired pointer, before I get him too staunch on obedience, I'm going to get the dog pointing, flash pointing on wings and getting him hunting aggressively in the field.

Pointers should be a bit more independent than the retriever breeds that are working with you very closely. The pointer should go out and locate game independently, find it and point, which is a little bit different than the retriever's purpose. You want the retriever to sit steady and quiet, working on command. You need more interdependence with the retriever breed.

A couple of suggestions:

  • Start off with basic obedience as you do with Labradors.

  • Let your young dog range more and self hunt more than you would with your Labrador.

  • Buy a good book and follow those principles laid out by a trainer in whom you have confidence with the pointing dog breeds.

  • There is a difference when you get to the higher-level of training between the pointing breeds and the retriever breeds. But early on obedience, steadiness and delivery to hand are equally important in both types of dogs.

    Hard mouth, birds and young dogs

    I have a five-month-old black Lab. He is well rounded in his obedience commands and now I am working on basic retrieving and steadying him. He returns well with the bumpers and birds but with the birds he clamps down extremely hard and I can't get him to let go even with an ear pinch.

    I even used frozen birds for a while with no improvement and the books and videos I have talk about preventing a hard mouth or to try throwing a scrub brush which I have not tried because he does not seem to have a hard mouth with bumpers because they will fall out of his mouth once in a while on a retrieve. Will he come out of it after force fetching which I plan to start at seven months or what do you think I should do next?

    Thank you,
    Brent from Minnesota

    You have two issues here that relate to an earlier question previously answered. Hard mouth can come from two sources.

    Genetics: It is difficult to naturally get a dog over hard mouth if it is genetic. Like produces like. You can get the dog over it and get a good, clean delivery by using force fetch and practicing a lot of delivery to hand drills, then add frozen and semi frozen birds in the process. This should make them handle the bird better. This type of dog should never be bred since this is a trait that is passed along.

    Training: The other thing to look at is that the pup may have had a bad start. We may have put the pup on birds far too early before he was conditioned to hold. Never start a pup on birds or cold game until they've been through the Wildrose "Condition to Hold" sequence at about 7 to 8 months old and are delivering to hand nicely — bumpers, Deadfowl trainers, and feathered bumpers.

    I never start a pup on a game bird that could cause them to clamp down or chew on the bird. You should use the Wildrose "Condition to Hold" series posted on this site. Go through all the steps and end the process using partially frozen birds and finally a fresh killed bird getting him to delivery to hand.

    As for release, don't play tug of war or ear pinch. Reach back to the dog's flank, that is the area directly in front to his rear hip joint and behind the ribs, and grab very swiftly as you say, "dead," or "give" as you remove the bird from his mouth. They will release the bird.

    Best of luck!
    Mike Stewart