Monday, August 16, 2010

LuLu Gets Work On The Pigeon Pole

Photo courtesy Four Seasons of Bird Hunting
Some readers have chided me for not providing more photos of my pup LuLu.  She's seven months old now, and anyone familiar with a bird dog pup knows that they are seldom still.  I've probably taken a hundred photos of the girl over the past few months -- running, swimming, rolling with Dottie and Vegas -- and they pretty much all suck.  She's a kinetic blur.

Photo courtesy Four Seasons Of Bird Hunting
Thankfully, I've found an exercise that'll slow her down -- the pigeon pole.  Many of you may know or use this training technique, but I've learned there are a lot of folks out there who've never heard of it.  It's a great way to introduce young pointing dogs to birds, and it's as fun as it is educational.

Building a pigeon pole is simple and cheap.  Buy a 10-foot piece of 1-inch PVC pipe, and put a cap on one end with an eye bolt fastened to it.  Put a large snap swivel on each end of a 40-foot piece of brightly colored masonry line -- this makes it easy to see in the field.  My "terminal tackle" are two foot-long pieces of cotton string attached to a three way swivel with a slipknot at the other ends. Simply secure a pigeon's feet with the slipknots, and attach the snap swivel to the eye bolt, and you're in business.

The benefits of a pigeon pole are many.  The bird can be reused indefinitely, and it essentially "plants" itself with little or no human scent.  You can set your puppy up for success by subtly steering them to the hidden bird, and work on their steadiness to both wing and shot.  I've been pleasantly surprised how quickly LuLu has taken to holding her points, even after only a couple of sessions.  We've got a long way to go, but the beginnings are very, very promising.  There's certainly not a lack of drive or nose in her -- she's both bird crazy and eager to learn.  That's something I attribute to rock-solid genetics.

Photo courtesy Four Seasons of Bird Hunting

I set up two pigeon poles about 100 yards or so apart.  That way, once the bird flushes, you can teach your dog to hunt in the direction that you want to go, instead of chasing birds that have flown away.  It's a great way to introduce gunfire as well. I started out with the low-powered acorn blanks, and this past weekend I let Jack stand off about 50 yards and shoot his 28 gauge into the air.  It doesn't take long for her to associate "bangs" with birds -- two things that go great together.

Other than the pigeon pole, we're doing daily heel, here, and whoa drills -- just five or ten minutes a day in the backyard.  We're exactly one month away from the prairie chicken opener here in Kansas, and I can't wait to have a new young partner in the field with me this season.


  1. OK, so let me get this straight: the pigeon pole is set up vertical with the eyebolt at the top and one end of the forty feet of line is snapped to it and the other end is attached to the pigeon? Did I read that right or am I way off?

    I've never used nor heard of that, but then again I've never really trained a bird dog ("train" being a relative term...).

    Man, this post has really guilted me into getting serious about training. It's funny, when I got my pup I was worried about treating her like a little chessie and so I read all this stuff about not trying to turn her into a retriever and just letting her run, be free and find her range, etc.

    I now realize that maybe I've taken that whole philosophy a bit too far, because I've been pretty lax in even the basic stuff like heeling, etc.

    I need to get my arse in gear. Thanks for the motivation. For my sake, you need more training posts...

  2. Yep, you've described it exactly as it is. I use a garden stake from Home Depot to anchor the thing upright.

    I'll be the first to admit I'm a rank amateur at dog training, but over the course of the bird dogs I've owned and known, I think the number one thing you can do for them is consistent yard training. Just teach 'em the basics -- heel, here, and whoa. (There are admittedly a million different ways to achieve those, and if you don't believe me, ask any two trainers!)

    Once you build a good foundation, put them on birds (pigeons, pen birds, and wild birds), and let the God-given genetics flourish.

    I just try to stay the hell out of the way and provide the dog with plenty of experiences. It's still my plan to give her some higher education with a pro trainer.

    Right now, it provides us both with a great anticipatory pre-season outlet.