Recently on a Facebook group page, a member posted a question that went something like this: “I’m about to get my first hunting dog. What are some things I should know?”

Some pointers easily came to mind, given that I have been raising bird dog puppies for 40 years. So I helpfully spoke up.

• Don’t play tug of war.

• The worst thing to do to get him used to gunshots is to take him to a gun range.

• Train yourself not to brag about him (It puts too much pressure on you and him to perform well in front of others). Besides, it’s much more satisfying to wait until someone else says what a fine dog he is.

• Let him have fun and keep your performance expectations in check during his first season in the woods. (Expecting perfection also puts too much pressure on both of you.)

• Realize right now that any problems you’ve encountered in training won’t suddenly resolve themselves once the calendar says, “hunting season” and you are in the woods instead of your training yard.

• With the previous two tips in mind, when in the field, practice speaking to the dog only when absolutely necessary. Over-handling and shouting too many commands can just confuse the pup as well as irritate any hunting partners who are with you.

• Remember what happened the last time you tried to explain something to someone who didn’t speak English: Shouting the words didn’t help him understand any better. Same thing goes with a dog that doesn’t understand.

• Likewise, no need to shout commands to show the dog who’s boss. Teach the dog to respond to commands given in a regular voice.

• If a training book gives a strict timeline for when your pup should demonstrate this or that learned behavior—find a different training book.

Jack, the Ryman-style English setter is all ears for his next lesson in becoming a bird dog. Tailfeather Communications, LLC., photo

Reading over that list of hot tips, I felt pretty confident with my puppy training expertise.

However … enter, Jack the English setter and, like Ygritte to Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones,” he showed me, “You know nothing.”

But … but … but … I raised five other dogs … for 40 years … and— wait!

Apparently, I hadn’t done the math correctly. It has not been an ongoing, 40-year slug. I trained my first pup in 1983, then another in 1992, one in 1997, 2011 and 2014. I might have only a total 10 months worth of experience over all that time.

Lynn Dee Galey, breeder at Firelight Bird Dogs in northern Michigan, assured me I wasn’t alone.

“Most people go many years between puppies,” she said, “and it’s easy—or a blessing—that they forget all that is involved.”

Over the five weeks that Jack has been with us, two factors have prevented me from making all the old mistakes and, most likely, some new ones. Thankfully, regular text messaging with Galey and Part I of the excellent book, Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels, have set me on the right and logical course.

“A lot of people think that you are only ‘training’ if a check cord and pigeons are involved,” said Galey. But she suggests that notion is short-sighted.

“You can let the puppy be a puppy while introducing him to things he will later encounter.”

For example, by the time Jack and his littermates were eight weeks old and ready to go to their new homes, at feeding times Galey had been giving them a two-note whistle and lowering her hand to above the bowl and wiggling her fingers.

“That’s to start them on recognizing the importance of hand signals and whistles for later on,” she said.

Made sense, and sure enough, by the time he was 10 weeks old, Jack was running across the yard to me whenever I’d drop my hand from above my head to my side or when I’d give him a two-note, “Bob-WHITE” whistle. Those are two commands he will need to know forever.

At the same time we were reinforcing those non-verbal commands, I thought why not introduce other common commands I use in the field. We started with the verbal command that means “Approach me.” Some people will use “Come,” but for a couple reasons, “Here” seems the better choice to me.

In the first place, think about where the sounds come from. “Here” originates low in the back of your mouth just above your throat, and you almost have to pronounce it “hard” with your mouth open enough to let a rush of airflow from your lungs. On the other hand, “Come” stems from the roof of your mouth, “soft,” and you hardly have to spread your lips or expel much breath to pronounce it. In short, “Here” sounds like a command and “Come” sounds like an invitation.

More important is the meaning we give of the words in casual conversation. In general American English, we often slur two words and say “C’mon” to urge someone along or into action. What if you decide to use a different common phrase for that — like “Let’s go” — for when you want the dog to head out in front of you to find birds?

The reason to use “Here” instead of “Come”? It is so easy to forget and to command a dog to perform both directives at the same time, as in “C’mon, let’s go!” If you have taught the dog that “Come” means “approach me” and “Let’s go” means “move out” then the dog hears two conflicting commands.

A workable solution? Call the dog with “Here” and use “C’mon” any other time you want to. Here’s another command the pup can learn early on, “OK.” It’s another one of those words we commonly use but whose meaning changes according to different situations. At one point, we might use “OK” as “Do you understand?” Another time, when asking for permission. Still, other times we say “OK” just as a place marker between thoughts. But dogs can’t interpret the situations or the changing meanings.

So instead of saying “OK” to move a dog into action, I’ll use “All right.” That way, if I ever slip in an “OK” somewhere along the line, the pup won’t think he’s supposed to run off ahead of me.

Sample situation: On a hunt, after the dog waits in his crate for me to attach his beeper and his bell, he will eventually hear, “All right! Let’s go!” That means he is free to get out of the crate, and he should move out ahead of me.

The same thing goes for “Down” and “Off”. If you plan on teaching your dog to recline upon command, then you probably don’t want to use “Down” when he’s jumping up on someone or something where he doesn’t belong. “Off” is great for when you want the dog to remove himself from something, and “Down” is great for telling the dog to take a knee.

Of course, putting into practice any of the above tips about commands requires you to do one thing first: decide on which command you will use for which desired behavior. Luckily, because of previous pups, I have those commands etched deep into my brain’s “muscle memory”.

And here’s something I forget to do all the time, use my common sense. So many training techniques we read about are simply based on knowing a dog’s behavioral preferences and using common sense to eliminate or reinforce them.

Here’s an example.

“Doggone it,” I told my wife, Maureen. “Every time I want to give Jack a little treat he comes to me, sits and just when I reach down to give it to him, he jumps up to get it.”

“Why don’t you bend down a little farther, so he doesn’t have to jump?”

See? Common sense helps.

Moving on, it was a good thing I read that section in the Ronnie Smith book before I made a huge mistake all over again.

When a puppy gets afraid of a new situation he faces, he’s likely to shy away and perhaps whimper, maybe even cower and try to hide. The first instinct most of us display, I would speculate, is to start trying to console the pup and make a big deal about him and talk in a baby-talk kind of voice. I had the same impulse. But Smith is emphatic on this point: Don’t do it.

Instead, imitate the behavior of the pup’s mother and, if the pup is not in physical distress or a potentially harmful situation, ignore it and carry on as if nothing is the matter. He will mirror your behavior. Don’t make a fuss when something bothers the pup because the attention you give him will validate that behavior and encourage him to continue to exhibit it. This includes when he cries upon being put in his crate. Though our emotions might tug at us to comfort him, the best thing to do for long-term success is to walk away.

Smith also suggests that if you want the dog to be a calm presence in the house, you should save the excited play for outside. Calm and quiet inside the house is the way to go.

Those are but two extremely logical and useful tips Smith delivers. The book is full of more. I’ve probably used a half dozen books on training dogs over the years. But if I knew where they were I’d toss them all aside now that I’ve read Smith’s. If you are looking for a book on training your bird dog, I can’t imagine a better one to consult.

For one thing: It doesn’t include timelines.

More important, where many trainers just gloss over the process of training a puppy to be a good citizen in the house so they can focus on “more important” things like pointing and retrieving birds, Smith spends a considerable amount of time enhancing the idea of “puppy first” and training dog owners how to handle puppies’ early days with them.

Finally, like Galey, Smith makes it clear from his actions and advice: You don’t need be using a check-cord and some released pigeons for your work with your pup to count as “training.”

For more info: Firelight Bird Dogs— Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels, A link is at the top of the page.