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How Your Johnny House Should Work

After I had trained dogs for about five years I knew all there was to know about it.  Now that I have almost fifty years in it I have fewer answers and those only if you feed me the questions in the right order.  But I would like to think that I have some tips to pass along.  I thought Jonny houses might be one of those subjects where I could be some help.

When we get that first dog we go a little crazy buying all kinds of gear, reading every article we see, and yep sometimes even buying plans and building a jonny house.  Six months later we end up paying for a month or two with a pro who already had all that stuff, most of it in the attic of his barn.

But if you are a serious amateur, are on your way to becoming a pro, or are a member of an active gun dog club, jonny houses are just the berries.  They just work different than we think.  That's why people get discouraged and stop using them.

The best time to start birds in the house is in June or early July.  You can start them any time but next June you will be starting over as we will explain.   When you call your bird supplier tell them that you want birds between five and six weeks old from the same brooder lot.  You want young birds that know each other.  If you are starting this in the fall you will not have young birds available and will have to work around that as we will show you.

Make your house four by eight, not four by four.  Birds do not like to be crowded and the very birds you want the most, the wildest ones, won't call back in.  Start with a hundred birds and leave them in the house with feed and water for two weeks.  You will have to leave food and water in the house year around.  Don't short change any of this process it will only cost you if you do.

Location, location, location?  Ah, not so much.  If you have a grassy field with brushy patches you can center your house in great.  But who has that?  Just work with what you have.   Locate the jonny house in some cover so that returning birds will be protected.  If you find that your birds don't leave this cover well after you have gotten them established box them and carry them out from the box.

Now open one of the windows and flush out about a dozen birds.  This may not be easy at first. You may have to go inside and drive them out.  They usually don't fly far at first and will be running around the house trying to get back in.  Don't flush them, let them be.  They will be back in the box in short order.  Kick them out as often as once a day adding larger numbers of birds every day and putting more and more pressure on them to get them to fly away from the box.

After about two more weeks you should be flying about half your birds at a time.  Now you can start catching birds and setting them out within about one hundred yards of the house to work your dogs.  I would suggest that you put them in launch type boxes to get these young birds airborne and away from the dogs so they can't catch them.  We hang a pair of tight fitting mechanics gloves in the house so they smell like the birds and wear them when we are handling birds.

Now two things will start to happen.  Both are good but one will discourage you somewhat if you don't understand it.  The first thing is the birds will take their sweat time getting back in the box.  They will come back in when it is almost dark.  Or they may be out all night.  But on the way home they will start eating bugs, a little grass  and some seeds now and then.  They are learning to be more and more independent.  The second thing is you will start losing birds.

In the wild we lose about eighty percent of all birds every year.  This seems to happen in stages.  This goes for all birds, robins, blue birds and chickadees.  In fact the hated hawk and owl lose upwards of ninety percent.    And the same applies to pen raised birds as well.  You will lose thirty or forty birds at this stage.  They just disappear.  I think they are hanging out with those missing socks from my sock drawer.  But now you have about sixty or seventy birds that fly well and can be used over and over again to train your dogs.

Don't use these birds to shoot.  Buy older birds and use recall boxes for your shooters.  Pigeons are a great option for shooting.

You will continue to lose a bird or two all winter long until spring but the remaining birds are learning to eat and survive in the wild.  By spring you will be down to about twenty very strong very wild birds.  Then a very strange and wonderful thing happens.  They just don't come back any more.  You see they don't call back at this time of year. They pair up and raise young.

If you are starting latter in the year there are some disadvantages.  Older birds are cage dumb.  Sort of like an un-socialized dog.  Birds tend to want to stay in their home area.  So if you start with young birds they reproduce better.  There are no bugs later in the year to give your birds that great feather oiling protean and fat.  Bugs are more prevalent than other types of feed and serve as a bridge to aid your birds in learning the territory.  Old birds work, they just don't work as well.

Ok spring is here and your birds are no longer coming back.  Clean out your jonny house and call your bird man.  Oh about those missing socks.  Reach in the back of your closet and grab those cowboy boots you were not brave enough to wear.  Throw all your socks away.  Go buy twenty pair of good socks that all match.  Remember your wearing boots so they don't have to match an outfit.  See, you never have to sort socks again and if you lose one now and then you won't notice. Oh and when you get down to that last twenty percent you will need to buy another batch.

Submitted by Doug Deats
The Kennels at Mill Creek Farm