Our Approach To Preparing Puppies For Their First Hunting Season

One of the most common sources of confusion for Ryman-type owners is how to train puppies. These setters don’t fit very well into typical cookie cutter training programs. Several years ago we hit on the idea of a series of videos illustrating our own approach to training/starting puppies as an aid for our puppy buyers. This year it came to fruition using our current crop of youngsters and we recently posted it on our own web site. We’re cross posting it here because we feel it’s relevant for all Ryman-type puppies. Hope you find it useful.
Cliff and Lisa / October Setters

Preparing Your Puppy For The First Hunting Season

One of the most common questions we receive is some variation of “How should I train my puppy for hunting?” That’s an important question and our answer often surprises owners. Basically, teach them “Come” so you have control, condition them to the gun, then take them hunting and let them figure it out. Throw in a little play retrieving so you have a basis to encourage them to retrieve birds and some fun walks in field or woods so they get used to keeping track of you and you’re on your way. Most important, don’t do too much training. The best way to ruin puppies is by putting too much pressure on them when they’re young. This doesn’t necessarily mean being hard on them – too much training will take some enthusiasm out of a pup so be sure to keep it to a minimum so they’re still having fun. You’ll want to teach other things at home to make them good citizens (No, Kennel, No Chewing, etc) but don’t overdo that either. Just enough to teach them good behavior and what’s expected of them.

In this post we lay out our basic approach to developing puppies and getting them ready to be hunted. This past season we raised three pups, Lock, Thistle, and Misty, all born in February 2018. Here’s a summary of the training we did to get them ready for hunting season.

Play Retrieving

You can start play retrieving lessons right away. This is a fun game, not serious training. You are trying to encourage this behavior, not train it and insist on obedience. We use a leather work glove or folded sock and throw it for them in a hallway or other place they can’t run past you. If they try running by catch them and praise them for fetching. If they don’t come right to you they’ll probably head for the dog bed or crate, some place they are comfortable – position yourself so they have to pass within reach to get there. Don’t grab the dummy right away and take it from them. Allow them to hold onto it while you praise them. Otherwise they may try to avoid you so you can’t take it from them. Use whatever command you like; Fetch, Bring It Here; etc. Here are a few videos of last summer’s play retrieving.

May 12, 2018 / First Retrieve Lessons

Limit sessions to two or three successful retrieves. A couple sessions per week will suffice. You can try more frequently but back off if they start to lose enthusiasm. Keep it exciting for them by limiting frequency so it’s something special. The clips below were shot on 2 August 2018. They’ve had a handful of lessons since May, probably less than ten total during the entire summer. Note their enthusiasm for this game – they’re obviously having fun.

August 2, 2018 / Continuing Retrieve Lessons

Occasionally you run into a situation where things don’t go as planned. Stay positive and keep it fun. In the following video the pup is hesitant to pick up the sock. After being teased with it for a short time she decides it’s OK and runs off with it. Teasing them in this way works very well. Hold the dummy out to them and pull it away when they reach for it. That makes them want it even more. This also works very well with birds. Pups are sometimes hesitant to pick up a dead bird at first so we tease them until they are really trying to get it, then throw it and command “Fetch”, the same as with the sock in the video.

We feel these basic lessons help bring out their inherent desire to retrieve and are essential for encouraging retrieving in the field if they hesitate to pick up or bring dead birds to you. This short video of Gen illustrates how this works in the field.

Gen is eight months old here and this is the first bird she’s had shot for her. It flew off out of sight hanging a leg and Gen later found and pointed it dead. Once she realized it was dead she was unsure what to do but responded immediately when told to “Fetch It Up”.

Come / Shock Collar Reinforced

We start with the usual positive reinforcement techniques. Clap your hands and call them (Come, Here, whistle signal, etc) then praise them when they come to you. Soon they know what you want and will do it fairly reliably. Eventually they will decide not to obey and you’ll need to correct that. Every time. Come is the one command we never tolerate disobedience on, for their own safety as well as our sanity. Don’t give the command if you can’t make sure they obey.

When puppies are young you can run them down and bring them to where you called them. Once they can out run you (it gets earlier every year 😉 ) we introduce the shock collar to reinforce Come so we maintain control of the pup. Our dogs wear a shock collar on every hunt, though we use it rarely after they understand they have to obey. There are two main reasons for this. One is to be able to reliably call them away from dangerous situations; roads, cliffs, traps, animals, etc. The other is because we don’t tolerate deer chasing for obvious reasons. We nip that in the bud with a jolt on the highest setting if they chase deer. It’s not common in our dogs but we do see occasional interest in deer and it’s best not to let them get in the habit of running them, by sight or scent. On road trips pups wear it every time out of the truck so even bathroom stops become a training session and we’re soon able to call them back reliably.

You can find any number of videos detailing how to introduce a shock collar correctly so we’re not going to try to explain that here. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself pay a trainer to do it for you, and to teach you how to properly use the collar in the field.

Conditioning To Gun

This is the most important step in getting a pup ready for hunting. Everything else you can fix but a gun shy dog is a big problem and will probably never be a hunting companion for the typical owner. Correction is difficult if not impossible so it’s best to avoid the problem in the first place. Do this by gradually getting your pup used to loud noises. Clapping hands loudly, slapping boards together, rolled up newspaper slapped against a hand, etc can all help get pup used to noise. Cap guns/starter pistols are also a great tool – we use one that shoots #209 (shotgun) primers. Whatever you use make sure you stay at a distance until the pup ignores the sound. Gradually get closer/louder and make sure pup is not bothered by the noise. If you see any signs of worry back off and go slower. Try to do this conditioning while distracted by something interesting or exciting, like food at feeding time.

For the past few years we’ve been doing a group session with pigeons and a blank pistol, graduating to a shotgun fired from a short distance. We throw pigeons for a group of pups/young dogs and they key off each other’s excitement about the birds. After they ignore the pistol at close range we fire a shotgun with light loads during the same pigeon drills. Then we work them on a few training Quail and eventually shoot a bird or two over them. After that we take them hunting and don’t shoot close and/or directly over their heads. If all goes well they have no problem with gun fire.

Here are some videos we shot of the group pigeon sessions last summer.

September 8 2018 / First Pigeon Session

This is their first time seeing pigeons so we just flew some birds to familiarize them with the birds. No gun fire yet.

September 17, 2018 / Introduction to Blank Pistol

First time we shot the pistol for them. They’ve had pigeons thrown for them most days since Sept. 8th and are very excited about the birds.

September 29. 2018 / Blank Pistol at Close Range

We gradually got closer with the pistol over the past week or so and can now shoot it close to them with no reaction.

October 8. 2018 / Introduction to Shotgun

First time firing shotgun during pigeon session. We did this during the next few sessions to make sure they all ignored it.

They’re now ready to have a bird shot over them. Note that we avoid throwing multiple new experiences at them in the same session. First get them used to pigeons. Their wings are loud and can spook a young pup. They sound very different than game bird wings. Once they’re comfortable with the birds you can advance to using the blank pistol but don’t try introducing both together. Take it one step at a time.

Training Quail / Shooting Birds For Pups

After pups are comfortable with gunfire on pigeons we like to shoot a training Quail or two for them. They learn a lot from this step. It kick starts their hunting/pointing instinct, they discover birds and how to locate them by scent, and have their first opportunity to retrieve a freshly shot bird. They can learn all this in actual hunting situations but this gives them a head start. Near the end of gunfire conditioning we introduced the pups to Quail.

October 7, 2018 / First Time On Training Quail

We make sure they’re excited and chasing the bird when we shoot the blank gun. We had no points this time out but they got introduced to game birds and had the blank pistol fired for them.

October 8, 2018 / Second Time On Training Quail

Note that both Lock and Misty actually establish points this time. What a difference a day makes.

October 13, 2018 / Shooting Training Quail

Because it’s difficult to control the situation we’ve taken to throwing birds the first time we shoot them for pups. That way we have a better chance of getting the bird to fly where we want it – away from the dog and towards the gun. It’s not perfect but it saves time and gets the job done. They’re already used to having birds thrown for them from the pigeon drills so there’s nothing new except actually shooting the birds.

Unfortunately I missed the bird and it reflushed without being seen by Lock but we accomplished our goal of getting the gun fired over him on game birds. It went better for Thistle.

At this point they would have benefited from one more session with training Quail in which we shot a few birds they pointed. However we don’t recommend much more use of training birds with pups at this stage of the game. Excessive use of training birds doesn’t teach them anything useful and could actually retard their development on wild birds.

They’re now ready for the real thing. We can take them hunting and shoot birds with caution. Don’t shoot from close to the dog, limit the number of shots, and don’t shoot right over their head. Don’t shoot at the first bird that flushes – make sure your pup is comfortable with, and excited about, the birds before firing a shot. One new thing at a time. We’ve seen large birds (like Sage Grouse) scare young dogs the first time they see one flush – shooting at it in this situation would be asking for trouble. Pick your shot. Make sure pup sees the bird, you are far enough away and not shooting directly towards the dog, then take one shot (it’s a good idea to put only one shell in your gun for this). Watch for any negative reaction. If there’s no problem take another shot the next chance you get. Take it slow and gradually take shots closer to your pup and put that second shell in the gun for follow up shots.

If a pup shows any concern, acts worried or scared or nervous, or shows less enthusiasm after you shoot, DO NOT shoot again. You’ll need to back up and do more conditioning in non-hunting situations. Continue to hunt but don’t shoot at another bird until you are sure your pup is ready for it.

During these first hunts you should take your pup hunting alone. No other dogs and only take a friend if it’s someone you’re sure will not shoot in the wrong situation. Do not, EVER, take a pup out with a bunch of friends who are going to blaze away at the first bird that flushes until thoroughly conditioned to the gun in hunting situations. This is the most common reason we hear for gun shy, even with youngsters that have been shot over quite a bit. It’s a new experience – a bunch of people and their dogs, commands being yelled, etc and it can be very intimidating for a young dog. Then a bird flushes, six or eight shots are fired, and you now have a gun shy dog.


We took the three pups to Wisconsin in October and all saw a (very) few Grouse and Woodcock and had a few shots fired but had no actual points. We did manage to kill a Grouse for Lock which he retrieved after making a nice find on the wing-tipped bird that ran 30 yards from where we marked it. He went straight to it and pointed it dead, impressive for a young dog’s first experience.

We headed to SW Idaho in December for Chukars and again all had some exposure to birds. Chukars were spooky this year. Lock had several opportunities to follow running coveys. Although he didn’t make points he roaded them to where they flushed, showing he knew they were there and was following along where they’d run (We had snow so we could tell what was going on). Thistle and Misty had a couple opportunities, following running birds and making a few finds, albeit with no solid points. They all showed they had what it takes and were beginning to figure it out.

January brought us to central Kansas for Quail and Pheasant. Bird numbers were up this year giving all three pups the opportunity to put it all together. And they did. On her second hunt Misty had a couple of nice finds and solid points on single Quail. On Thistle’s first hunt she retrieved a single Quail then followed a running rooster more than 100 yards. Again snow told the story – the tracks revealed where the bird had run but Thistle roaded the bird by scent, stopping to point several times before locating it hiding in snow covered brush at the head of a draw and pointing it. She also made a nice find and retrieve on her prize.

Thistle holding her prize – a Rooster killed over her first point on a wild bird

Lock also had his first birds killed over a point. Here he is pointing the first covey of Quail he encountered.

Lock on point with Bob Mele moving in to flush the covey
Lock pointing on his first covey find

Both Bob and Lisa shot birds on the covey rise and Lock made retrieves on all three. Here’s Lock’s first retrieve:

Notice he had to be coaxed to bring it to Lisa. Once he got the idea he did better on the second bird:

That’s it. What we have detailed above is all the training we did with these pups and you can see the result. They are by no means finished but they’re well on their way to becoming bird dogs. We’ve laid the foundation and for now all we have to do is take them hunting. There are many ways to accomplish the same things and you’ll have to adapt your methods to your situation and what you have available to you. However you get it done, do some play retrieving, teach them come (and make sure they will obey reliably), condition them to the gun, then take them hunting.

A very high percentage of our dogs never get any more formal training than this. We continue to encourage retrieving, work on control, and teach a turn signal, all while hunting. They learn on the fly. There may be some fine tuning later (staunching up, etc) but they will figure most of it out on their own. In fact they have to figure it out on their own. You can’t teach them the finer points of handling birds – how close they can get or how to follow running birds for example – they have to learn that themselves and they’ll learn it really fast. Even with limited bird contacts Lock, Thistle, and Misty all showed they were looking for birds, followed where they’d run, located them, and made points on wild birds in just a handful of actual hunts. They have the instincts and intelligence necessary to handle birds. If puppies don’t have what it takes you can’t teach them these skills. If they do have what it takes you might “train” it out of them if you insist on making decisions for them rather than allowing them to take the initiative and learn for themselves. No amount of experience on training birds with you “whoaing” them when YOU think they should stop will teach them how close is too close to a cagey old Grouse. You will only teach them to rely on YOU to decide when they should stop which will suppress the development of their natural ability to figure out how to pin that bird.

Whether or not your pup will need further training depends on the individual  dog and your personal expectations (degree of staunchness, steady to wing/shot, etc.). To give you an idea what to expect, here’s how our dogs progress moving forward. They typically do well in their first season, usually holding point and retrieving shot birds. During the second season most will go through a teenage or terrible twos stage, breaking point and flushing birds, racing through cover not even trying to locate and point birds, ranging out further, being disobedient, etc. Some hold point reliably through this stage but still do the other things associated with the second season. Over the next season or two they mature and settle down, holding point, obeying commands, being less rambunctious and more serious about finding and pointing birds.

We’ll leave you with one final word of caution.

Take your time and don’t try to do too much. Keep training sessions short and make sure your pup is having fun. Excessive drilling risks taking some of the enthusiasm out of your pup and it can be very hard to put it back once you’ve pushed too hard. We can’t emphasize this enough. Pushing too hard now can do damage you can’t undo later. Err on the side of caution – you can pull on the rope later if you need to, but you won’t be able to push on it. Keep it simple and make sure it’s fun for your pup. If you notice a decrease in enjoyment back off for a while. You’ll get there soon enough.

2019 Ryman Breeders Gathering & Hunt

Due to a lack of internet access during the week, this year’s report of the 2019 Ryman Breeders Gathering is being presented as a single summary with photos.  We hope that you enjoy.

It was a hard core group of hunter/breeders that got together in Kansas last week.  I say hardcore because this year threw plenty of obstacles in our path but the efforts paid off nicely with good bird numbers and dog work.  Several of our members had to cancel their trip to Kansas, some due to work commitments (apparently the economy is booming and keeping everyone extra busy!) and a couple of folks had family/health issues/puppies that prevented them from coming.  We certainly missed those folks but know that they will be back in January 2020.

Our commemorative caps became a familiar sight to the locals in town as we started every morning at the local Casey’s for the RS tradition of coffee and ice cream.

There was plenty of cheer, good food, stories and conversation each evening.  Important topics of conversation included breeding plans, stud dogs, health news, but also great information was shared regarding whelping practices and raising litters.  When you have a group of ryman owners who between them represent over 100 years of breeding experience there is more to learn than there are days in the week.  More detail on these topics will be shared in the RS private forum for Breeder Members .

The weather proved to be a challenge this year, delaying a couple of arrivals and everyone headed out a day early in front of storm Harper which was forecast to deliver snow, ice, bitter cold and high winds.  KS mud roads are notorious anyway but repeated snow and rain have kept them in gumbo all season with farmers kept very pulling hunters out of the mess – 4×4 doesn’t cut it in KS gumbo.  Even the normally good gravel roads required caution and we tried to travel in pairs just in case.

There’s a reason no one has driven down this part of the road….time to turn around
One of our members narrowly avoided needing a farmer’s tractor. Lots of effort and 4 wheel chains finally got them out.
No shiny city trucks in Kansas     

Frozen fog is a ‘thing’ in Kansas







Quail have had a couple of good years in a row in Kansas.  In good years like this, wild quail offer great opportunities for developing bird dogs since you can have multiple covey finds, with large (often 15-20 birds) coveys allowing for dog work on singles as well as some good, conservative shooting.  Every dog hunted had multiple opportunities and each evening there were stories of veterans and youngsters alike showing their stuff.  Although our hunters focus on quail, there were some pheasant finds and successes as well.


We know you’re here      




As it has been each year now, the Gathering & Hunt was social and educational but of course was all about the dogs.  We will be back in Kansas next January for the 4th Annual Ryman Breeder Hunt!!




Breeding Announcement: Belle x October River

We are very excited to announce the planned spring breeding of Belle to October River.

Belle is a proven grouse and woodcock dog, has an excellent nose, reliable retriever and just about everything she does is natural. Belle hunts at a medium range, very athletic, checks in naturally and is very cool headed when it comes to handling birds. Belle is 60 lbs., hips OFA excellent, elbows OFA good, thyroid normal.

October River’s profile can be found here: https://octobersetters.com/males/

We have a few spots left on our waiting list to qualified hunting companion homes. If you are interested please email chuckrobinson@optonline.net


Meet Breeder Member: Sugar Creek Setters, JC Smith

As hunting season is winding down we have the time to get back to our interviews with our RymanSetters.com Breeder Members.  We hope that you enjoy this series as we all look forward to learning more about these hunting men and women who are committed to continuing the tradition of the ryman-type setter as a wild bird hunting dog.

Interview January 10, 2019 with:

JC Smith, Sugar Creek Setters, located in the finger lakes region of New York

Thank you JC for doing this interview, particularly since I know you are busy with puppies about to go to their homes plus you are packing to leave for the annual RS Breeders Hunt in Kansas.  Can you tell us a little about your occupation and interests/hobbies?

I am half retired at this point but I continue to work in regional water quality activities.  My career has always focused on water quality work in the finger lakes or greater NY region in agriculture, watershed management, and water quality monitoring.  I started out wanting to be a fisheries biologist and wandered away from that and went into broader issues.  At that same time I was sneaking out to go grouse hunting at Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area .  (Connecticut Hill is a very large wildlife management area in NYS that was the primary location for early ruffed grouse management research.) This is a very interesting rural area where I live.  I fly fish and am often working in my wood lot  and in a small way I am living the dream at this point. We also have a 60 acre farm where we can do dog training when we want.   I am lucky that my wife and I got together later in life and I am able to do a lot of these things because although she is not a bird hunter herself, she helps with all of the details, inconveniences and burdens that go along with breeding and raising dogs.

How did you come to have rymans and how long have you had them 

Shortly after college I joined a skeet club where a member had an English Setter .   I did not know anything about hunting with bird dogs although I was trying to be a grouse hunter.  I did not have a mentor or any basis for reference but this guy raved about his dog, which happened to be from Warren Sheckells of Pinecoble. (note: Pinecoble is a well known but now retired ryman kennel)  I believe his dog was sired by Pinecoble Case who was Warrens first important sire. I had the good luck of calling Warren when I was looking for a puppy and he had acquired a pick puppy from Pine Wild which was a kennel of early ryman- type setters. I ended up getting a 5 month  old female from Warren and he encouraged me to breed her, in part because Pinewild Kennel was basically disappearing after a 55 yr tradition of breeding English Setters.  Warren had quite a bit of that blood in his early program but it was so far back that now you would have to know which dogs to look for to find them back there.  Somewhere around 1993, George Bird Evans wrote an article in Pointing Dog Journal about Mrs. Hunt who was behind Pine Wild Kennel. That article launched some notoriety for the line and encouraged my own interest and involvement.  

I did not know how to handle a dog, I got lucky by running across other grouse hunters with English Setters and I became part of a Grouse Camp tradition that was based in northern NY in an old maple syrup camp.  That area is still a stronghold for grouse and woodcock shooting. One of the things that attracted me to breeding was that I was in control of all of the standards and decisions for that breeding and I liked the personal challenge of that.  When I took a job down here by the lakes I stepped away from breeding for awhile due to career responsibilities. The interesting coincidence is that the first time that I called Warren, I got what I believe was the last of the Pine Wild line.  Then years later, when I was considering buying a dog from Warren,  I was able to luck into a pick female from the last breeding of Pine Coble just before Warren retired from breeding.  That lucky pick is my Josie.

How many dogs do you own and what is your average number of litters a year?

Our plan is to have 2 or 3 ES at a time, we will never be in a position to do more than a litter a year.  We also have an Australian Shepherd dog

If you were to write a mission statement for your breeding program, what would it include?

We breed to make a very meaningful contribution with the individual litter and to the presence of this style of bird dog at large.  Success depends on cooperation with other people because we are obviously not offering any great volume in puppies. Communication and investment in time and relationships can still contribute on the whole to something that is meaningful and produce dogs that have all the genetic potential and opportunity to become a well bred companion and bird dog.  Choosing dogs that balance health, conformation and field performance and temperament is a given but it deserves being said again.

Where do you hunt and what is your favorite bird species to hunt?

I got started grouse hunting as a boy with my father but didn’t understand much of it.  I explored that a little more in college in the finger lakes and my primary focus remains grouse and wc.  That is the wild bird venue that we have at home. We still have pretty good grouse hunting opportunities in northern NY and actually excellent wc.  We have abundant opportunities for bird contact with the woodcock while hunting grouse which makes for a good formula for the dogs. Some days you shoot a limit of 3 birds and walk back to the vehicle and the dog is trying to figure out why you are done.  If you have a good dog it is not hard here to find enough wc for the dog work: hunt grouse and the wc will take care of themselves. Now with retirement I am forecasting prairie birds and have hunted Kansas pheasant and quail at the RS Gathering. I like grouse and wc  because it offers the standard of hunting that I enjoy. I do not want to be competing with other people for space in the woods when I am hunting but my grouse hunting is different and – the best moments of the sport are more out of reach and more delightful.

Of the species you hunt, which one do you feel is the most valuable for evaluating your dogs’ abilities, and why?

Our venue locally is grouse and wc and I think hands down that a dog handling ruffed grouse, the dog pinning the bird down, knowing when to move or stay on point, is much more discerning with grouse than wc.  WC are good for developing a dogs desire and it is a delight to see a dog readily retrieve wc since some dogs don’t like it. WC seem to run more now than when I started but they are not the tremendous challenge that grouse are.  I cannot speak for the other game birds that I look forward to experiencing.

Do you keep a journal or log of your hunts?

Not any more.  I realized it was,for me, an interesting idea that just felt like I was adding too many expectations onto every experience.  I admire people who do keep a journal. I also take very few photos in the field any more: I enjoy the moment more than trying to photograph it.  

Tell us about your training philosophy and approach to dog work on birds when hunting

I think for myself and for many others, keeping it very simple and elementary is most successful.  The two or three commands that are important to me are: come, whoa, and for a dog that has a lot of experience working birds – okay.  I use okay as a release to continue searching as when the dog is on point but its posture says something is going on and it needs to be released.  My training philosophy is keep it simple. I have had success working w pen raised birds but I don’t do much of it. I think it is easier to train bad habits than it is to train good ones and I’m fortunate in that I can run my dogs on wild in late winter and transition from summer to fall when it is not a shooting season.  Running a dog in a field, a little whistle work, blank gun to celebrate flushing after a point and 95% of dog training is learning how to behave in the presence of your own dog. I do not diminish people who are interested in steady to flush, etc but for my hunting I want the dog to be following where the bird goes.

I believe that, the more dogs that you have had, the more you learn about how to behave with your dogs and controlling your own projection of emotions and state of mind is probably more important than the mechanics of training.  There are a lot of mechanical ways to train a dog but your state of mind and emotions are what you transfer to the dog. But like most people, the best dog is the next dog that I will have because I am learning how to behave better from each successive dog.

Thank you JC for taking the time for the interview. Safe travels and happy hunting out in Kansas.


Hello from MN!


This is my Jack, 65 pounds OFA Good and Normal, he is a true grouse dog.

We are a couple years away from having our first litter, as we are still proving our young dogs. I am thankful to be here, and look forward to what the future holds for these wonderful hunting companions.

Jason & Aimee Dufresne

Alder Tangle Kennels – Sandstone, MN.