All Vizslas are born with the inherent instinct to point and stalk their prey. This will be evident in a puppy with strong birding instincts as he will have a good nose, style and natural retrieving skills at a young age. While many people will be anxious to get their puppy out in the field, it is wise to start with basic obedience such as sit, come and heel. Establish a strong relationship with your puppy and make sure that the puppy is rewarded with every honest try. Never shout a command, instead give voice commands quietly and firmly.
The young puppy should be familiar with the heel command, as this will pay off later during off-leash work and when using a check-cord. Also work on the recall, starting at first with him on his leash then later use a longer leash or a check-cord. Begin by taking him for a walk in the back yard with him on leash. Drop the leash and call him to you. Remember to keep your voice quiet and inviting. If he doesn’t come to you, either step on the leash and kneel down to encourage him, or start to move or run away from him which will entice him to follow you. As he improves, you can move up to a longer cord or check-cord. You should also introduce him to a whistle at this time, as you will be using this in the field to call him in. Make sure you use the same whistle pattern to train him to come in. It is best to start in a room or fenced back yard, then move out to new territory, making sure that you have a reliable “come” before letting him loose where it would be difficult to catch him if he decides to be independent.
Creating Natural First Points
To encourage natural points attach a quail wing to a fishing line and pole. (Make sure to remove the fish hook!) While your puppy is playing around you, hold the pole so that the wing is just barely touching the ground. Shake or jiggle the wing. When the pup sees it, his natural instincts will be to pounce on it. When you see that it has caught his attention and he tries to pounce, flip the wing up and away before he can grab it. What you want to teach him is that if he moves slowly, or stops and points, then the wing will remain still. If he rushes, it will “fly” away. He should figure out that if he doesn’t attack the wing, he will be rewarded by it staying still. Make sure not to do too many repetitions. You don’t want him to get frustrated or bored.
Introducing Your Puppy to Live Birds
Live birds are an essential tool for training a successful hunting dog. As game birds are expensive, pigeons can be used instead. At this point in training, your puppy should know the “whoa” command and be on a check cord.
Plant your live birds by dizzying them and tucking their head under their wing to prevent them from flying off immediately, or use release cages. Bring your puppy in on a check cord downwind from the planted birds so that he has the opportunity to catch their scent. Do not reprimand him too severely when he does a flash, or sight, point then rushes at the bird. Encourage him to follow the bird that has flown off and relocate it. At this stage, he is learning how to use his nose to locate the birds, and how the birds will react to him.
When he instinctively points, tell him “whoa” and walk up to flush the bird. Make sure when you walk up that you do not come up from behind the puppy, but come in from the front or side. Avoid walking between your dog and the bird. Otherwise, the puppy may think that it is okay for him to break his point and rush the bird.
Remain calm and your puppy will pick up on that and remain more calm also. Eventually, you want your dog to stand until the bird is flushed and shot.
The “whoa” command must be solid. If the puppy breaks his point and “whoa,” let him run out a short distance, then step on the check cord. Bring him back to where he was told to “whoa” and make him stay for a few seconds, then release him, telling him the bird is “all gone.” Then move off with the puppy at heel to locate the next bird. This will help him to forget the other bird and begin to hunt for a new one.
Remember to keep training sessions short for a young puppy or dog, otherwise he may easily become bored and lose interest. With consistent training, a puppy introduced in this way should develop into a solid hunting dog.
To learn more on training the Vizsla for field work, read Marion Coffman’s updated Versatile Vizsla book.