When I start puppies I make the walks in open cover a one on one experience where I can start putting a handle on them without their knowing it. Here’s where I break my rules of silence. But there is no real command involved. First of all, this is a major learning experience, not only for the pup but for you as well.
At this point in his development pup is an open book. He has developed no subtleties in the messages he telegraphs about his actions. He will signal every turn he is about to make. Follow him as he goes, make every turn that he does so that when he checks on you he is either in front or going to the front.
Once you are comfortable with his signals add a low whistle to the equation just as he signals the next turn and you turn with him. Not a factory whistle, just a natural chirp and just one with each turn that the two of you make. He will begin to associate the whistle with his actions and his being in front.
Eventually the turn and the chirp association will be so ingrained that you will be able to chirp and turn and he will respond to the chirp by turning and moving to the front. By this time you should be able to tell when he is making game and be discriminating enough to avoid an arbitrary call off game. If you have not figured this out you will eventually turn the chirp into a background noise because if forced to chose, the bird is going to out weigh the chirp.
This whole process not only gives you a handle and sends you to school on your pup’s messaging system, but it is a confidence builder for the pup because throughout the process he has never had to look for you and he has developed a habit of always expecting to be in front and will put himself there with no objections.
By the time you can turn pup, he should have blundered into enough birds to be hunting. Now is the time to reward the turn by turning him into a marked bird. He’s already found birds, now he gets the idea that he will find birds in front of you. By the time you are ready to get formal there will be little need for any pressure on the rope to keep him moving to the front because he already wants to be there.
One more observation — When starting a pup I never run him with an older dog because the pup will follow for the joy of the chase and will recognize that the older dog knows where he’s going. This creates a potential for trailing a bracemate. If I run them with another dog it will be either a littermate or a peer. Once I start the handle, it’s just me and the pup.