Dog training in Montana

By Diane Tipton

In Montana, techniques for training bird hunting dogs may be as numerous as the dogs themselves. They range from hunters who let the dog’s instinct kick in on the day of the hunt, to those who run their dogs in field trials, or hunt tests, and have polished performers when the season opens.
hunter with dog

With upland game bird hunting season opening Sept. 1, and pheasant season opening Oct. 9, the readiness of the family bird dog is on hunters’ minds, including the minds of some Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks employees.

Hazel, a four-year old German wirehaired pointer, and her owner Diane Boyd, a FWP upland game bird coordinator in Conrad, trained over the summer. Boyd prefers to hunt with a pointer, but some of her hunting buddies have retrievers.

“I didn’t train my first pointer,” she said. “ I assumed because he was well bred that he would know everything he needed to. He instinctively knew about 95 percent of the right stuff, but I had to do some yelling to get that last five percent.”

Boyd said that since then she has discovered there are wonderful hunting dog clubs in or near most Montana cities.

“I found experienced owners were very willing to help a newcomer start their dog,” she said. “The mechanics of handling the dog, using training birds like pigeons, shooting and so on are also a lot easier if you have help so you can focus on your dog.”

“With consistent and positive training, I hunt Hazel in silence now and let her do her job,” she said.

Boyd said she learned that setting up realistic training experiences in the field with live birds is an effective way to help a novice dog learn about hunting. A free permit is required from FWP to obtain pen-raised game birds for this type of hunting dog training. Hunters will also bind a grouse or pheasant wing from a past hunt to a training dummy to add a realistic scent.

Shawn Stewart, an FWP biologist in Red Lodge has had two Ryman English setters. “The key is good genetics and time in the field with a more experienced dog.”

How extensive a bird dog’s training needs to be depends on the dog, the owner and the owner’s expectations, in the opinion of Phil Kilbreath, FWP game warden in Troy and a dyed in the wool Labrador retriever man.

“My lab Sadie and I would give a purist the dry heaves if they saw us hunting together, but it works for us,” Kilbreath said. “I don’t know how to train her to do a few things I wish she could do, but I could never send my baby away to a trainer. I would not sleep at night worrying about her.”

For information on obtaining pen raised birds for dog training and a permit application, go to the FWP website at and use the search words “ dog training .”

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