Acquired Techniques: 

  • ​Quarter in front of the handler within gun range and handle from side to side in response to hand signals
  • Gun and bird introduction
  • Find and flush birds, then retrieve those shot, not giving chase to those that are missed
  • Learn to sit on the bank of a pond and retrieve shot game that lands in the water within safe swimming distance
  • Make retrieves of passing shots in the field common to field waterfowl hunting


In the Advanced Finished Gun Dog Phase, your dog will be completely proficient in all started gun dog hunting techniques and training expectations.

Both labs and springers will accurately pin marked bird falls out roughly a hundred yards away.   Your dog will be able to gather multiple falls and round up the downed game when sent, fully steady at heal and will not leave for the marked falls until sent.  Should the handler wish the dog to retrieve the bird furthest out, when directed, your dog will leave their current downed mark and go in the direction of the desired downed bird.


4 - 6 Week Program

The 4 to 6 week Finished Gun Dog Training Phase is targeted towards reliable performing started gun dogs of the advanced level.  It will teach your dog to be steady to flush and shot when putting up birds in the upland situation. 

Your dog will be taught to retrieve unmarked downed birds in the field or over water and can be lined out to the area of the fall.  If they get off course, they will learn to stop, look at the handler for hand signals, and then in the direction of which they are directed. 


For an approximate two additional weeks of training at this point a dog can be readied to enter Informal Trials that retriever clubs sponsor.  Yes, nearly every weekend year-around there is a retreiver club some place sponsoring an informal trial.  By teaching the dog to be steady at heal, leave for the retrieve when sent and make an "At-heal" delivery the new owner can comfortably take their companion to an informal trial some place.  This stretches the enjoyment of the hunting experience from 4 months to 12 months, on an annual basis.  In addition, at the retriever club trials 1) you meet experienced handlers who are very nice in sharing information and 2) keep your pal sharp for the hunting season, and have a fun outing in itself. 

Your pup will be introduced to the natural scents of meadows and woodlands where they develop confidence and excitement for hunting.  When on a walk, they learn to come back to the handler upon the toot of a whistle or voice command.  They will also learn to venture out but instinctively will come back looking for the handler without being called.

Acquired Techniques: 

  • ​Learn through socialization be outgoing and friendly when meeting new people
  • Learn to enter a crate and be comfortable traveling in a crate
  • Learn to enjoy and go with the flow during family activities, such as going in a boat for a fishing trip
  • Become excited about retrieving canvas dummies
  • Learn to accept walking calmly on a lead
  • Develop confidence in the wild and develop the hunting instinct
  • Come when called when on walks in the meadow or woodlands
  • Develop a balance of dependency on the handlers and a hunting drive when in the wild

Dogs trained or purchased at Big Sky Kennels are guaranteed to perform skills consistent with the phase of training they have reached.  The purchaser of each new pup will receive one-on-one handler training at the Big Sky Gun Dog Training Ranch.  If for any reason the pup will not react accordingly within a few months of the handler purchase, Big Sky Kennels will offer additional one-on-one training in the field, free of charge.  Any customer is welcome to come back periodically to refresh their field partnership with the dog at the training ranch through the life of the dog.

Pups are guaranteed for solid health.  Hips, elbows, and eyes should be tested after two years of age,  and should a certified veterinarian report show a problem, the pup can be returned for a replacement pup or your money back. This absolute guarantee also extends to covering aggressive behavior.  There will be no tolerance of a dog that growls, bears teeth, or bites a human or another dog unprovoked. 

When trailing a running bird, your dog will learn to stop when directed and wait until the handler catches up before picking up the trail again, proceeding until the bird is flushed within gun range.

Acquired Techniques: 

  • More reliable in the performance of the Advanced started gun dog level
  • Steady to wing and flush in the upland situation
  • Perform blind retrieves on unmarked downed falls
  • Stop and wait for the handler to catch up when trailing a running bird

STARTED GUN DOG | 4 - 6 Week Program

Within the Started Gun Dog Phase, your pup will develop the “desire to retrieve” instinct, not only through canvas dummy training, but dead and live birds as well.  During a 4 to 6 week training phase, they will learn to quarter in the field, keeping in close synchrony with the handlers hand signals; respond briskly to the come call; and will learn the skill of returning to the handler upon command. 

Your dog will become accustomed to the gun as well as learn how to retrieve shot game and flush their prey. Should birds be missed, they will learn on their own to give chase and will return back handler when signaled. They will acquire how to retrieve shot game over water, mark waterfalls, and swim to make retrieves.


6 - 8 Week Program

Once your pup has completed the Started Gun Dog Phase, they begin obedience by yard training.  In the 6 to 8 week Intermediate Gun Dog Training Phase, your dog will learn to “heal” (walk alongside the handler with their nose at the handlers knee). They will learn to “hup” (sit and stay until commanded to release) upon voice, whistle or hand signals.  When in the hup position, they will come directly to the handler when given the command.  They will also be taught when running in the field, when signaled, they will come, or hit the full hup position. 

training options


Pups of 8 weeks will become conditioned to family life within the Puppy Conditioning Phase, lasting roughly 2 months.  Your pup will become socialized to the sounds, confusion and affection of a typical family, as they develop an acceptance and understanding of their role as a family member.  Your pup will learn to walk calmly on a leash, enter and ride in a crate, as well as, the excitement of meeting new people.  The pup will learn to love retrieving canvas dummies to hand in the wilds, as well as, around the home setting.

Your dog will be able to mark down birds on several different cover types from far away.  For instance, if a bird downed two islands away, your dog could make a retrieve of the bird by swimming through water, crossing the first island, and swimming again to retrieve the bird on the furthest bank.  

Note: As a spaniel, they will also learn to quarter back and forth in a uniform pattern by turning on the edges or drawing back to the handler with very minimal signaling, appearing to be in total sync as a team. ​


Customers who have had their dogs trained by Big Sky Kennels, or have purchased dogs from Big Sky Kennels are welcome to return to the training ranch for refreshment of training drills taught to their dogs after completing the program. 

Owners are provided with instruction of training drills to use to keep their dogs on top shape, once the dogs have completed their training package.  Big Sky Kennels trains the handler so you have continued success and satisfaction with your canine partner(s).

A monthly training fee of $650 for well-bred pups from Ohae Kennels or  Diamond J Kennels.  The owner must supply all needed medication.  An extra bird charge will be assessed for dogs that require more than 20 birds for their program.  Big Sky Kennels are willing to take on dogs with training issues, such as bad habits formed.  This would be on a case-by-case situation, after assessing the dog, and training fees would be at a higher rate. 

Which option Do you need?

Your dog will become steady to the thrown canvas dummy or wing clip bird.  They will learn to sit with another dog and learn to back the other dog as they take turns retrieving when their name is called. When in the hup position and two dummies are thrown on each side of them, they will learn to remain sitting until commanded to go to the one that the handler signals.

Once your dog has learned obedience in the yard, the lessons move to the field.   The pup will become nonslip steady (steady when at the side of the handler) when hunting waterfowl over water or in the field.  However, at this point in the training process, they will not be steady to wing and shot when questing for game in upland hunting.

Your pup will learn to trust their marking senses by finding marked falls in cover types different then the one that they are presently in, usually learning to run from grass cover through cattails to a grass cover on the other side.  It will be up to the owner to practice these commands with your pup, to reinforce bonding as a team in order to complete the process of building constancy.

Acquired Techniques: 

  • Learn obedience yard or field: hup, heal, come
  • Steady to thrown dummies or birds when in the nonslip position
  • Learn to back (remain in the hup position) other dogs who are sent on a retrieve.
  • Learn to take direction from the hup position to the dummy signaled by the handler of two.
  • Learn to mark downed game beyond the cover type that they are in when the shot is taken.
  • The owner will be provided a course on forming a partnership with the pup and keeping the training progress going.