Big Sky Kennels training ranch is 150 acres of natural grasslands and cattail slews, established to attract natural wildlife.  The acreage provides ideal “sets” for the positive training process. The varying cover heights and conditions, cattail slews, and nearby lakes provide for the complete assortment of waterfowl training sets needed to train waterfowl gun dogs.  The ranch lies in a rural setting near a Federal waterfowl refuge, attracting the migration of waterfowl.  The dogs are safe from hazards of traffic or adjacent land conflicts while being introduced to a wide variety of game birds.

Big Sky Kennels training ranch is 150 acres of natural grasslands and cattail slews, established to attract natural wildlife.  The acreage provides ideal “sets” for the positive training process. The varying cover heights and conditions, cattail slews, and nearby lakes provide for the complete assortment of waterfowl training sets needed to train waterfowl gun dogs.  The ranch lies in a rural setting near a Federal waterfowl refuge, attracting the migration of waterfowl.  The dogs are safe from hazards of traffic or adjacent land conflicts while being introduced to a wide variety of game birds.

About Us

Training ranch

BIG SKY KENNELS: reviews

performance expectations

We raise our chuckers, quail, and ducks for the sole purpose of live prey use for dog training.  Pheasants and pigeons are also available for training. Remote bird launchers are used to realistically simulate wing shooting, approach shots, memory blinds and many other perforce skills desired in the well-trained happy gun dog.


Big Sky Kennel has been training British labs and spaniels to perform with these expectations while maintaining gentle temperaments.  The dog’s strong hunting drive in the field can be matched with obedient temperaments creating a highly responsive hunting partner and loyal companion.  Our started gun dogs are family-friendly, known to curl up with the kids on the couch to calmly watch a movie, or go boat fishing like any other member of the family.  The key of this skilled training is selective breeding programs (parents carefully chosen through field trials for biddable temperaments matched with natural hunting talent) by breeders with superior standards like Ohae Kennels and Diamond J Kennels.  Good breeding coupled with stern yet loving training processes create amazing started gun dogs.


Big Sky Kennels has taken years to develop “sets” that coerce the pup to perform the step-by-step series of successive lessons, with much of this system influenced by from pro trainers, Tom Ness and James B. Spencer. The positive methods result in more thoroughly trained, happier dogs that form better bonds with their families.  Also, more of their natural hunting talents emerge to make them better bird finders.  Our success can be measured by the number of repeat customers that come back to Big Sky Kennels for more trained dogs.

Disciplinary obedience methods are avoided until a bond is created between the pup and trainer, usually 5 -6 months of age.  For example, the pup learns to retrieve in a hallway with the doors closed.  They must come back and when they do so, they are shown affection. Before long they reliably retrieve any place.

Concurrently with the retrieving process, the pups begins to walk the field or woodland where they gain confidence and learn to use their nose to find exciting things like frogs, song birds, etc.  During this period, through a process of positive reinforcement, they learn to respond to hand signals.  They naturally learn to stay close to the handler by gaining a bond, learning the handler is the source that helps them find the game they enjoy. 

 Once they are introduced to the gun and learn to return dead game, the obedience process begins.  After a month or so of “yard” obedience the pup returns to the field to learn obedience commands there as well and to become a partner with the hunter.  The end result, the hunter can go for a hunt for upland birds and approach the most likely haunts without saying or whistling to the pup. This enables them to slip up on game and get great shots, or in the situation of a slew, the pup stays quiet until the ducks swing in and enables the hunter to get quality shots.

Big Sky Kennels can adapt methods to accommodate clients that may want a more advanced training level, in which the pup learns to find birds through hand and whistle signals to find birds that have fell out of sight.  The hunter does not have to walk to the basic fall of the bird or slog through the slew.  Simply give the dog a hand signal in the direction of the bird fall, they run or swim in the direction given using their scenting and listening capabilities to find the hidden bird.


Big Sky Kennels has expanded their training  to include a puppy conditioning process led by Staley’s daughter Sarah Hill.  Specializing in the training of pups from the age of 8 to16 weeks old Sarah has training experience that has proven to enhance the training process of started gun dogs. 

OUr TRAINERS

Now's the time to get your canine hunting companion ready for fall

InForum Newspaper | By Brad Dokken on Aug 13, 2016 at 8:31 p.m.

NEAR GRAND FORKS, N.D.—Little Gimma knows the drill. Fetch the frozen pigeon when the gray-haired man with the gentle voice throws it and then get showered with praise.  It's all part of the game for the 5½-month-old British yellow Labrador, a first step down the road to becoming a well-rounded pet and hunting companion.  "Go get it. That's a girl, bring it here—good girl, honey!" the man says as the enthusiastic pup brings him the frozen pigeon.  He throws it again, this time a little farther, and the game continues. "Good girl, bring it here," he says. "Good girl, sweetheart!" Gimma clearly enjoys the game and the praise that follows.​


And so it went Tuesday when gun dog trainer John Staley of Grand Forks put little Gimma through the paces on his 160-acre training site. Owner of Big Sky Kennels, Staley, 67, retired in June 2013 as director of the Grand Forks Park District and these days devotes much of his time to pursuing his passion: training flushing dogs such as British Labs and springer spaniels.


You might say Staley has gone to the dogs—but in a very good way. There's nothing like watching a young dog figure out the routine of picking up a bird's scent, finding the bird and then retrieving the bird after it's been shot, he says. Staley laughs, using words such as "fanatic" and "obsessed" to explain his passion. "For me, it's euphoric," he said. "That's why I've gone totally crazy. It just runs my life." Staley even raises pheasants, quail and ducks to use as part of his training regimen. Read the rest of the story here.

Since 1989, Big Sky Kennels has been producing stellar gun dogs. Trainer John Staley will bring out your dog's natural hunting instincts to fully maximize its hunting and obedience abilities.  Our expert training methods involve only positive reinforcement backed by repetition only and never the use of electronics. We believe that a calm, happy dog wants to please the handler. Your dog will love our 150-acre wetland preserve, located in the Rye Township of North Dakota, training ranch.  Full of pheasants, quail,  and waterfowl, your dog will have everything needed to learn the skills needed to hunt.

Philosophy & Methods

Since 1977, John Staley has been working with dogs to hunt game birds of the great plains, such as waterfowl and upland birds, in North Dakota.  Improving his skills over the years, Staley has refined the art of the finding haunts of the game birds, when to draw them in, where best to stalk and trail them with a flusher, and understanding wind scenting conditions in dog training.   As part of the spaniel field trial community, Staley has been able to improve his skills by studying the best journeyman type educational processes.

We raise our chuckers, quail, and ducks for the sole purpose of live prey use for dog training.  Pheasants and pigeons are also available for training. Remote bird launchers are used to realistically simulate wing shooting, approach shots, memory blinds and many other perforce skills desired in the well-trained happy gun dog.

Big Sky Kennels uses positive training methods to form high performing dogs. The dogs are motivated out of the desire to please while experiencing their own inherent hunting instincts.  We DO NOT use electric collars as a training tool, instead by using creative layouts or “sets” as an influencer, the pup will obey the trainer using the constrictions of the training course and the positive stimulation that follows.  Repetition of the desired action will lead to predicable performance.  One step leads to another until there is a happy well-trained family/hunting dog.