When should I start training my dog for the field?
Most dogs are not ready for serious field work until they are at least eight months old. Like people, each dog is an individual, and those mature at an younger age will be ready for training sooner.
If you are in doubt about your dog's readiness, a trainer can evaluate the animal. He will give you advice about what your dog should be capable of at that point, and what training it is ready for. We advise all people to take their dog to obedience school and participate in basic obedience training with the dog. This helps in several ways. First, basic obedience training will help the owner get control over the dog. Second, the dog will "learn to learn" and learn to pay attention to the handler. Third, and of great importance, the dog will become socialized. Socialization is the process of becoming familiar with the world and new situations, and how to handle new experiences in a calm and confident way.
Basically,obedience training can start as early as the school will allow. Many schools conduct puppy classes, which is a great place to start. Obedience training can continue until the dog is ready to go to a professional for field work.
How long will my dog need to stay at the trainers?
Each dog is different, so there is no one answer to this question. In general however, experience tells us that the dog's first stay at the kennel will last about two months. After this initial period, in order for them to understand how to work with their newly trained dog, Fred works with his clients and the dogs before they go home.
While home, Fred instructs the owner to work with the basics first, and to get to know the dog before getting into any serious bird work. Once the owner has mastered the basics with the dog, the animal can return to the kennel for more advanced work. In all cases, Fred will make sure that the owner understands how to best handle the dog, and how to get the maximum benefit from the training.
Once the dog and its owner have developed a rapport, and each is comfortable working with the other, the dog is returned to Hawthorne for another training session lasting about two more months. Depending on how much instruction a particular dog needs, or how much the owner wants for the animal, they can return to us for additional training over two or three seasons. At other times, the owner can bring the dog to the kennel for private or group lessons to work out problems, or simply just to refresh what the dog has already learned.
What breed of dog is right for me?
For those whose main interest is upland hunting, that is pheasant, grouse, woodcock and quail, a spaniel is a good choice, since they have been bred specifically for this purpose. Many retrievers also make good upland hunting dogs, but the job that they were bred for and do best is marking fallen game and retrieving it. If you mostly duck hunt, a retriever is logically the dog to have. Some clients do a mix of both upland and duck hunting, so what it really comes down to is which breed most appeals to you.
Generally speaking, retrievers are a bigger breed a consideration for some people, but either type of dog with a good pedigree of working parents is a fine choice.
Should I buy a started dog, a puppy or a finished dog?
A started dog is a dog that is usually at least a year old, and has had some training for the field. The degree of training depends upon the dog and the person who has trained it. At this age, the dog may have been shot over in the field already, or is on the verge of it. This type of dog will likely need more training, either by a professional or the owner. A started dog is a good choice for someone who does not want to go through the puppy stages, and wants to begin hunting over a dog sooner than later. But, a started dog is not always ready to go into the field and be hunted over heavily. Only a finished or totally trained dog can do that.
A finished dog is at least two years old, totally trained and has had many birds shot over it and plenty of hunting experience. They should handle well and take direction and hand signals from the handler, and should not need much additional training to get them into the field and hunting for a new handler. But, even the best trained dogs are not on auto pilot and a handler must allow adequate time to work with the new dog, getting to know how it handles before they do much hunting. Naturally, a finished dog will be in the highest price range, and a very good dog will be very expensive indeed.
A puppy is a good pick for anyone with the time and patience to go through the early rearing stages. Although a lot of work, bringing up your own puppy is usually well worth the effort. Obviously, you will have to wait a longer period before you can enjoy hunting over the dog. For those hunters that already have an older trained dog, and want to start a second dog, a puppy is a very good option, since you can afford the time and patience it takes before your new dog is ready to join the hunt.