By Joe Healy
When training my pointer puppy years ago, I wish I had known about the Smith Training Method, outlined and detailed in the exceptionally helpful book Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels, by Reid Bryant with Ronnie Smith and Susanna Love. In an early chapter titled “History” readers learn from Smith about the Silent Command System, or Smith Training Method: “I now know that the real art of training requires that the handler understands the training that has been put in place and how to implement the training so it remains strong as the dog encounters a lifetime of new experiences.” Pure treasure, in other words.
The treasure is easily accessible, too, organized into three-part chapters titled “Development,” “Formal Training” and “Becoming a Bird Dog” and tied up with the chapter “What We Have Learned” and a helpful glossary explaining the lingua franca of professional dog trainers. “Part 1: Development” describes the journey you’ll embark on—and, believe me, your development as a trainer is as much in play as the methods you’ll learn for shaping a dog so it fulfills the traits of its superior and desirable DNA.
Once set in motion, this training intensifies largely through studying the dog to be trained—described as “carefully watching an animal and shaping its behaviors through exercises of repetition, association, and point of contact.” And this description of thesis: “The elder Smiths operated on a principle that dogs were bred to follow their instincts and could be taught to accomplish those intended behaviors to a high level of proficiency by an observant handler.” In this approach, simply stated, the trainer learns from the dog.
If you are interested in training a bird dog or simply want a better understanding of how a hunting dog is successfully trained, this is your book.
Training Bird Dogs (256 pages, featuring beautiful photography by Brian Grossenbacher) is available for $45 from rizzoliusa.com.