DS510: Gun Dog Foundations

Instructor: Cassia Turcotte

Course Details

Have you ever wanted to try gun dog sports with your dog or have a new puppy, but didn’t know how to get started?  Now you can learn how by using games, shaping, and play to explore necessary foundation behaviors encompassing all types of gun dog work, hunt tests, and real world versatile hunting companions. 

We’ll cover in detail how to teach the basic foundation skill sets, gain control over your environment, and safely introduce your dog to gunshots, birds, terrain, cover, and water.  You will learn how to desensitize an overly aroused dog and to bring up desire in a soft one… and you will get the pleasure of watching your dog learn to harness and perfect his natural abilities.

We will use videos and lecture to demonstrate various parts of the learning and generalization phases using dog and handler teams with differing styles, strengths, and focus areas.  This is a class for any age dog or puppy  that shares foundation skills you can teach in your living room and then transfer to the field.


There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.

Registration begins at 9:30am PST.

Enrollment limits: 15 gold, 25 silver, unlimited bronze. If you are interested in a bronze level spot, you can sign up any time during the registration period.


Gun Dog Foundations – Syllabus

Week 1

Focus: (the lifesavers first) Whistle Stop, Whistle Recall, Foundation Retrieve, Field Focus 

Lectures: Overview, Conditioned Retrieve versus Natural Retrieve, Controlling Your Environment, The Calm Before the Storm, Training Flow and Organization

Fundamentals: Control of the Environment (COE baseline videos)

Week 2

Focus: Left/Right Setups, Placebox

Lectures: Hunting vs. Lining, Generalize Before Adding Distance and Duration, Auditory Generalizations, Tactile Generalizations, Gunshot Desensitization

Fundamentals: Retrieve (baseline videos)

Week 3

Focus: Focus Forward Heeling, Kennel Up

Lectures: How to Avoid Common Pitfalls in the Retrieve, Drive Back to Handler, Dealing with Crowds and Pressure, Olfactory Generalizations, Visual Generalizations

Fundamentals: Lining/Hunting (baseline videos)

Week 4

Focus: Whoa/Default Sits, Teaching Hidden Cues

Lectures: The Art of The Hidden Cue, Birds: The Ever-Present Reinforcer, Wind and Weather: Get Out In It!, How to Develop Focus and Address Suction, How to Improve Your Dogs’ Desire to Hunt

Fundamentals: Progressions

Week 5

Focus: A Bird (Dummy) in the Air

Lectures: Developing Water Confidence, Find Your Water Zen, Searching for Appropriate Field Training Locations, Developing a Long Term Training Plan

Fundamentals: Training Challenge: The Chicken Breast Retrieve

Week 6

Focus: Review

Lectures: Sportsmanship for the Real World and for Hunt Tests, Dealing with Competing Motivations and Recognizing the Good Choices, What To Do When It All Goes Wrong, Get Involved!, Some Common Terms to Help You Navigate Training with Groups 

Fundamentals: Taking It to the Field

Prerequisites and Equipment

Prerequisites: Open to all

Equipment needed (working participants only):  

A range of toys for tug/ball play and treats

Video camera/access to YouTube upload


Deadfowl Trainers (small one for puppies, larger for dogs already retrieving – any brand is acceptable)

Duck call (for retrievers and versatile gun dogs)



4 Small Food Bowls (or Frisbees/target lids)

Leash and Buckle Collar or british slip lead


Long Line


Starter Pistol

Dummy Launcher

Space required (working participants only): Minimum space is an indoor room with good footing and access to an outdoor yard (does not need to be big, just outdoors).  Ideally, students will have access to a ‘field’ location where it is safe to have dogs off leash at least once weekly, although this is not a requirement. 

Course Testimonials


Cassia's training approach to gun dog foundations is well thought out and functional. The class progresses through a series of skills that can be taught separately and then put together later on when the dog has progressed. For example, we worked on conditioned retrieve while also working on lining drills with food. That way, the dog can start to learn marking and lining before the retrieve progression is completed. Also, Cassia did such a great job of working with each student to come up with creative solutions for reinforcement that were appropriate for the field environment where the dogs were easily distracted. I loved the mix of theory and skills we learned in this class, and I will certainly revisit the lecture materials again and again as I continue to build upon the foundation Cassia has helped me to establish with my young dog. Becky T.              

Love Cassia's patience, positive attitude and sense of humour. So many retriever trainers take failure way too seriously whereas Cassia sees it as a learning opportunity. Great course for beginners and, as a more experienced handler, I picked up some fantastic tips. Will be recommending to my puppy buyers and Gundog club members. Sally (Thornfield English Springer Spaniels)            

Maura W. I have been very happy with the Gun Dog Foundations class. I hope Cassia returns as an instructor and continues past foundations. I appreciated her videos showing similar skills with dogs of different ages and experience. It helped me focus on where my dog is at and what my progression should look like. This is my second class with Fenzi Academy and it is another home run.         

I started class with zero knowledge of gun dog sports. This course takes you by the hand and leads you step by step through what seems like every element of training for these sports. I know more will be introduced in the next level class(es) but this course covers SO MUCH in easy to understand and easy to train steps that you'll have a fantastic and very solid foundation! It has given me so much to think about and I am SO excited to get started when I get my puppy! Chris P.       

Gun Dog Foundations is a fabulous class! There is a ton of great information presented in manageable pieces, and the homework is applicable to any level dog. We had a weeks-old puppy in class, as well as older dogs already started in the field game, and everyone is learning and improving. Cassia is a fabulous instructor, and her video feedback is excellent. Can't recommend this class highly enough! - Samantha D.        

This is a phenomenal class that provides value on a number of different levels. It's simultaneously the ultimate impulse control class, a guide to the arcane world of field training, and a series of useful exercises you can do with your dog to lay the foundation for field work.                

Really enjoyed the class. Cassia's instruction was very detailed and easy to understand. I appreciate how she breaks behaviors down and stresses the importance of building strong reinforcement histories for the foundation skills. (To help them become resistant to the many "real life" distractions in the field.) It can be hard to resist the temptation to skip steps or progress as soon as your dog appears to be successful, but based on the chatter in the forums and associated "lurker group" on Facebook, I'd say she successfully drove the point home for many. I suspect this will positively impact our training in other areas, too. It's wonderful to have access to such a thorough R+ starter program for gun dogs. I'm already looking forward to the next level of class. Stephanie C.