Ronnie Smith and Susanna Love have dedicated their lives to training bird dogs and refining a system that enables dogs and their owners to work together in pursuit of upland birds.
Photos by Brian Grossenbacher
Smith and Love were raised by families with deep ties to the dog-training community. Love is a fifth-generation West Texas rancher who grew up training dogs and horses with her mother. Smith hails from one of the most well-established bird-dog training families in the country.
Smith’s late father Ronnie Sr. and his uncle Delmar—once dubbed “the World’s Coolest Man” by Field and Stream magazine—laid the foundations for generations of bird-dog trainers with their “Silent Command System” (SCS). It is also known as the “Smith Training Method.”
The men introduced SCS in the 1950s. Since then it has been used successfully to train thousands of dogs over the decades. The Smith family still uses SCS; Delmar’s son Rick is also a professional dog trainer, and the family maintains an active training schedule with workshops across the country for dogs and their handlers. Their approach is collaborative and competitive.
“As a family, we all watched each other carefully, experimenting and sharing the results of our work with one another,” writes Ronnie Smith. “All the while, we competed against each other both officially and in the familiar way that brothers, fathers, sons and cousins do.”
Smith grew up watching his father, uncle and cousins train and trial the best pointing dogs in the world. He quickly realized he wanted to follow in their footsteps. When Smith and Love married in 2006, they refined a training program for dogs and made certain it could be shared with other dog owners and trainers.
The expert duo teamed with sportsman and author Reid Bryant on “Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels: Proven Techniques and an Upland Tradition” (Universe, October 2019, hardcover). The 256-page book is well suited for your coffee table and field bag. It’s not just a how-to book for dog trainers; the work is more of a training guide than an instructional manual with stunning photography by Brian Grossenbacher. The photographer captures dogs in all development stages—in training and in the field.
“Training Bird Dogs” focuses on the Smith Training Method’s ability to accomplish three points: nurture a dog’s natural ability, teach cues to modify behavior and show handlers how to leverage training to maintain proficiency. Early on, the Smith family learned training the owner is equally important as training the dogs.
In the book, Smith recalls how his dad and uncle observed a fundamental challenge: “…the training they’d put into a dog had a tendency to become muddied due to a broken line of communication between owner and dog.” To compensate for this, the Smith Training Method is designed to institute a more democratic process, one in which dog and trainer work together to achieve a mutually beneficial goal.
The book is organized into three parts: “Development,” “Formal Training” and “Becoming a Bird Dog.” These comprehensive sections cover the gamut, including helpful tips on selecting a puppy, training initiation and transitioning to wild birds. “Formal Training” reviews the techniques, tools, and philosophy required to begin and progress a dog through the Smith Training Method. Plus, Grossenbacher’s photos and select illustrations help the reader visualize advanced training concepts.
“Training Bird Dogs” is written for a wide audience—for serious dog trainers looking to glean more insight into their craft, or occasional bird hunters and dog owners who want to enjoy a well-written, beautifully produced book that will also make a fantastic coffee-table decoration.
I have a young bird dog and plan to display my copy on the coffee table after it shows a little wear and tear from use in my field bag.
Eric Kallen is an avid sportsman who spends his time between homes in Charlottesville, Virginia, the mountains of western North Carolina and the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama.