Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

A Teaching Check List by Age

In last month’s column, I mentioned, through my winter seminars, I’ve found that there are numerous “first time” folks getting puppies this spring. They are of all ages, however, more heavily weighted by baby boomers nearing retirement and looking for a new recreation. Welcome aboard, folks!

Of course, they all want information on training. In one seminar, a gentleman with pad and paper asked me to give him a training schedule. I did my best in a seminar setting, however, I’ve recently discovered something that will help both the beginning and seasoned amateur with the training process.

My friend Steve Ries of Central City, Iowa has, over several years, developed a very informative training checklist. Steve is a professional trainer (along with wife Jodie and daughter Rachel) operating under the name of Top Gun Kennel ( In addition, Steve is a field consultant to Native Performance Dog Food. When it comes to training and canine athlete nutrition, he’s at the top of his game. I’ve had the good fortune of hunting over Steve’s dogs and it’s a very pleasurable experience. Steve specializes in the versatile breeds; however, this checklist is applicable to any pointing breed.

Steve has graciously allowed me to use his checklist for this month’s column. Clipping and saving is highly recommended.

Basic Commands

Basic commands are the building blocks used to train the complete versatile hunting companion. Every dog is different and training time will vary with age, mental maturity and trainability of each dog. Single word commands (with consistency) are important to be taught before a correction is made. These commands are commonly taught during yard work and are most effective when the only thing that changes is the yard (new location). Teaching each of these commands should start with using a verbal command. Progressing then to a visual command and then a silent command is very useful. Paul’s note: Steve reminds everyone that a command is never given unless it can be enforced. Also, this is primarily meant to be a checklist. Although Steve offers comments, it’s not meant to offer complete training instruction. There are numerous instructional videos and books offering step-by-step procedures for successfully teaching these commands.

Sit (stay): 8 to 12 weeks. This command is very important for control and obedience. This command should be used prior to meals, entering or exiting doors and kennel.

Kennel: 8 to 12 weeks. By teaching this command, your dog will learn that it is invited to enter or exit his living quarters. The command should be followed by praise after successful completion.

Here or Come: 10 to 12 weeks. This command is the most important command we teach. The timeliness of the response dictates the level of positive praise or correction required.

Whoa: 4 to 6 months. The “whoa” command is the second most important command for pointing breeds. “Whoa” provides a foundation from which to build future training.

Heel: 4 to 6 months. This command teaches your dog to follow, by your side and at your pace and direction, with their leg beside your leg and focused on you.

Hup (Quartering): 6 to 8 months. For pointing dogs, this command is used to teach forward motion and to remain in a windshield wiper pattern, from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock.

Down: 8 to 12 months. This command is often used for water fowling…which, if properly trained, the versatile breed will excel.

Trained Fetch (Hold): 8 to 12 months. This command is used for the prompt and proper retrieval of game and deliverance to the handler. This is mandatory and not an option for the dog. It also establishes that ownership of the game is with the handler and not the dog.

Proper Introduction to:

Automobile: Early! Early exposure to the automobile is very important for your puppy. This, also, is a perfect time to introduce the transportation crate. Proper introduction to the automobile will help assure enjoyable (for both owner and dog) trips in the future. Start with short rides and then lengthen as the pup becomes more comfortable. Also, do not feed or water for several hours before the trip. Avoiding sickness will be more pleasurable for every one. It’s also a good idea to expose the pup to the crate before the first trip.

Speaking of the crate…

Porta Kennel/Crate: 7 to 8 weeks. This can even be done before you come home from the breeder with your pup. When you go visit your pup, ask the breeder if you can simply show the puppy a portable kennel. A travel kennel is very important. If you need to brake your vehicle quickly or are ever in an accident, a kennel could easily save the life of your pup.

Check Cords & Leads: 10 to 12 weeks. These tools are the most underused (and least expensive) equipment available to the trainer. Start using at ten weeks and continue through e-collar training.

Stake Out and Chain Gangs: 10 to 12 weeks. Start in a safe and shady area. Staking out your pup early will pay long-term dividends, and, assist when doing check cord drills.

Live Birds: 10 to 12 weeks. Yes, this is what it’s all about. At this early age, simple exposure to a live bird is permissible. Our goal is to activate the nose and turn on the light. Introduce in a manner that will not scare the pup. Chasing the bird at this age is permitted. Liberated quail or pigeons work well.

Water: 12 to 16 weeks. You can lead a dog to water but you can’t make them swim… so make it enjoyable. Start with warm shallow water.

Gun: 4 to six months. Dogs are not born gun shy or gun sensitive! It’s usually improper exposure to guns that creates gun shyness…and takes a long time to fix. Do it right and avoid gun shyness. Eventually, you want your dog to associate a gunshot with a falling bird. (Paul’s note: Steve is an excellent shot so this may apply more to his dogs than mine)

E-Collar Training: 6 to 8 months. If properly used, the e-collar can reduce the training time by 75%. Paul’s note: Steve is very knowledgeable e-collar trainer. I’m going to take some editorial privilege here. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know how concerned I am with the improper introduction and use of the e-collar. I’ve seen dogs spoiled and forever bird shy due to improper use. I highly recommend that any new puppy owner that intends on using an e-collar for training first go to a professional trainer for guidance.

The above training schedule is an excellent guideline for the new puppy owner. It covers commands and introduction to outside stimulus. We did not cover the development of natural abilities (honoring and pointing) since that would require double my allotted space. As mentioned above, the actual execution of all the obedience commands can be learned from many sources. I’ll send you a list of training sources if you contact me. My email address is below. Also, my website (also below) has dozens of videos and past articles which explain teaching various commands.

I want to thank Steve Ries for allowing us to use his training checklist. Not only is Steve an outstanding trainer, he’s a very enjoyable individual. If you’re ever in Iowa, stop-by and say hello to Steve and his family. His website is at the beginning of this column. Steve is also very active with Aiming For A Cure. Take a look at

Good luck with training your puppy…the more time you invest now, the more enjoyable your years of companionship will be with “man’s best friend.”

Paul Fuller is host of Bird Dogs Afield TV which may be seen in New England on WBIN (Comcast Ch. 18) and Fox 23 in Portland beginning on November 5th at 6:30 AM and running through December. Previous TV broadcast episodes, and dozens of videos of training and hunting videos and Paul’s previous Sporting Journal columns may be seen or read on Paul’s website which is Paul may be contacted at