Hunting Dog Training: How To Use Bird Launchers

There is a lot of technology that helps in hunting dog training. The bird launcher makes hunting dog training possible for a lot of folks who otherwise would not be able to train their dogs.

What is the world is a bird launcher? Why would you want to launch a bird? Is this the avian equivalent of the human cannonball? Does the bird know how to tuck and roll? Dude...you may want to see someone about this...it ain't normal.

A bird launcher is, as the name describes, a means to launch a bird. Not to the moon and in no way does it harm the bird. It gives the trainer (i.e. me) the means of remotely causing a bird to jump up and fly away. Here is a quick video of what this looks like.

You Sicko...Why Do You Want To Do This?

A generation ago, hunting dog training, and specifically, hunting dog training was completed pretty much accomplished in one way: wild birds. A dog trainer would own or have access to large parcels of land that would contain wild birds. This might be the pheasants of the prairie states, quail in the piney savannahs of the south, or ruffed grouse in the wooded north. Trainers would take a young dog out into these game-rich tracts and basically turn them loose. The exposure to wild skittish birds teaches a dog good hunting manners. Even today, you can send your dog for a couple of months to the prairies. Trainers set up tent camps with horses and dogs and run their charges on the wild birds of the public-land rich west: Sharptail Grouse, Hungarian Partridge, and Sage Grouse.

In case you have not noticed, 500 acre tracts of land are pretty rare in suburban Chicago. Even when you can find 10 acres that is vacant, there is not a wild game bird to be found. Skunks, sure. Plenty of skunks. The odd heroin syringe, maybe, but no game birds.

So, how is one to train when you cannot find birds in the wild. You raise them yourself or buy them from someone who raised them for you. The big problem with pen-raised birds is they do not fly well, or far. They often think the dog is a friend. They land 10 feet away, exhausted from the effort. They get caught easily and the dog learns the wrong lesson: birds can be chased and caught.

And here enters the bird launcher. It keeps the bird in one place for as long as necessary, but, with a remote control, the bird is launched into the air, out of the dog's reach, to fly away to safety. In other words, bird launchers allow us suburban trainers to make pen-raised birds act like wild birds.

Yes, you too can own your own bird catapult. The bird launcher.

How Does It Look In Practice

Place the bird in the launcher. The launcher is placed out in the field where you train your dog. Take your dog out and run your dog downwind from the launcher. The dog catches the scent of the bird in the launcher. A well trained dog will stop when he smells the bird and will point it. A dog that is still learning his job will follow his nose to investigate or try to get the bird. The instant the dog does not do his job, the button on the remote control is pressed and the bird flies to safety.

The launcher is a great tool for fine tuning the dog's behavior. After a couple of instances of the bird flying away, most dogs with good breeding will begin to point the bird. The point will be brief and the dog will then start to creep in after a bit. The moment a dog moves, the bird is launched. Many dogs will break point once the handler moves in to flush the bird. Again, the bird is launched. If the dog wags his tail: launch. Lays down: launch. The dog quickly learns that the only way to keep the bird there is to not move.

Pigeons are one of the best birds to use in a launcher because they are very strong flyers and will not choose to land in the field. They will fly a loooong way to find safety.

A Brief Training Aside

For you egghead training geeks out there, this training is technically known as negative punishment. Negative, because something is withdrawn. Punishment, because its purpose is to make the behavior less likely to occur. The bird is withdrawn as a consequence of the dogs behavior, which causes the dog to be less likely to crowd the bird in the future. I mention this because, if I were to tell an obedience dog trainer in the suburbs that I use negative punishment on my dog, they would immediately assume I am beating my dog. A definition of terms needs to be understood. This is in no way cruel to the dog. Later, when the dog learns to not flush the bird, true positive reinforcement can be incorporated by shooting the bird and letting the dog have it.

Safe Introductions

One drawback to using launchers is that they have the potential to frighten a young dog. If introduced properly, the pup will have no fear. The launcher makes a unique sound that might frighten a timid pup. Causing the launcher to launch into a dogs face would cause a lot of fear as well. But as long as the dog's first exposures are from a distance, later that distance can be shortened without risk of frightening the dog. You NEVER want to launch the bird with the dog looking right into the launcher, as that can scare even the hardest of dogs.

A Training Session

The time has come to introduce Zeke to bird launchers. Zeke is a Llewellyn Setter that I have the privilege of training. He lives with his owners in Woodstock. This blog is primarily about Zeke's training experiences. Schedules have been tight, and we have not been able to get as much training in for Zeke as we would have liked. But time and opportunity coincided and launcher training is to begin.

Last Saturday, we acquired 4 pigeons and placed two launchers in a small field. Zeke was placed on a long leash and led through the field. When Zeke got to a position where he could smell the bird, the bird was launched. For the first two pigeons, the birds were launched with the dog a long ways away, to ensure he did not get spooked. He's 5 months old now and was not the least bit bothered by the sound. The next couple of birds, Zeke was brought up a little closer, to increase the chance that Zeke could smell the birds. As soon as he turned toward the bird, the bird was launched, leaving Zeke to watch the bird fly away.

For now, Zeke's training on birds will consist of the repetition of the above. We'll keep at it until he starts to point the birds. It could be one more session. It might be 10 more sessions. Zeke has good genetics and comes from good stock, so he will point. It is just a question of time and repetition.

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