Puppy development article on Strideaway

Northwoods Roquefort, left, and Northwoods Parmigiano. (Photo by Chris Mathan.)

Chris Mathan recently asked if I wanted to contribute a piece to Strideaway, an online publication dedicated to promoting pointing dog field trials; particularly, trials for English setters and pointers that are sanctioned by The American Field.

Since the subject was raising puppies, I jumped at the chance. Her assignment was to discuss how we raise, socialize and develop puppies—all with a slant toward how that helps their future training.

The piece is titled Early Development of Bird Dogs and was published on Strideaway last week. Even if the subject isn’t interesting, the exquisite photos of setter and pointer puppies by Chris are worth a look-see.

Chris owns two businesses on her own—The Sportsman’s Cabinet and Chris Mathan Photography—and   Strideaway, co-conceived and co-managed with Mazie Davis.

Many thanks to Chris for offering me the opportunity.

Northwoods Vixen whelps nine (includes short video)

Between about 4 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 21, Northwoods Vixen whelped nine puppies by CH Elhew G Force. There are two males (one liver and one orange) and seven females (four black and three orange). The birth process was about as smooth as we could hope for.

Within an hour after all were born, Jerry shot some audio and video. We’ve always liked the tiny peeping, squealing noises newborns make. The whelping process is a messing thing—with plenty of fluids and liquids—and the dam spends a lot of time licking and cleaning her puppies.

By late morning, every puppy was shiny white. And Vixen and her litter were sleeping.

Training at Northwoods Bird Dogs

During Gun Dog training, Anhiwake Grace demonstrates her mastery of “steady to wing” exercises.

The training programs we’ve developed at Northwoods Bird Dogs are geared towards our ultimate goal of a polished performer on wild birds. Specifically, we train for a dog that hunts with intensity, handles kindly and points birds with impeccable manners.

There are three levels. The Puppy Foundation Program develops a young dog’s natural instincts and exposes it to gunfire in preparation for its first hunting season. The Gun Dog Program teaches the dog how we expect it to act around game and puts in place the necessary means for the handler to enforce that behavior. The last piece is Wild Bird training which offers opportunities on ruffed grouse and woodcock, sharp-tailed grouse or bobwhite quail. This program takes all the dog has learned in controlled lessons and applies them to actual hunting situations.

The training programs are offered at specific times depending, mainly, on the birds. Gun Dog sessions are available only in May, June and July. The training focuses on staunchness and steadiness using pigeons in controlled situations. Not only is this essential training for a bird dog, it is also a prerequisite to further training.

One goal of the Puppy Program is to get the puppy excited about birds. Northwoods So Crisp takes off after the carded pigeon is released from the bird launcher. (Photo by Brad Gudenkauf)

In July, we offer Puppy Foundation when good quail have settled into our Johnny houses. This is also ideal timing for puppies whelped late fall or spring. The program is available through November.

During August and September, we finish out any Gun Dog trainees on both those strong-flying bobwhites and wild birds whether locally or our training camp in North Dakota.

Merimac’s Adda Girl is backed by Northwoods Parmigiano during a training session on sharp-tailed grouse in a North Dakota pasture. (Photo by Ben McKean)

The final option of the season is wild bird work for a limited number of young dogs in October and early November. Then begins Winter Training when we travel to southwest Georgia.

We’re taking reservations now for this year’s programs. Our training slots usually fill up fast so please contact us soon. We’d love to help you and your dog.

What We’re Reading: Minnesota Conservation Volunteer

No one would rather hunt woodcock in October than I, but since learning of the sky dance I find myself calling one or two birds enough. I must be sure that, come April, there be no dearth of dancers in the sunset sky.
~ Aldo Leopold

Too often woodcock are overlooked for its larger and louder woodland neighbor, the ruffed grouse, but they are amazing little birds. The spring sky dance is famous, of course, but I also like its twittering flush and those big, brown eyes.

The March/April issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine has a nice piece on woodcock with information on the sky dance, banding chicks and habitat needs.

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, a bimonthly magazine published by the Minnesota DNR, has long been overseen and edited by Kathleen Weflen, who deserves, I think, most of the credit.  This outstanding publication is always filled with beautiful photographs and all sorts of interesting, outdoors-y stories.

What We’re Reading: Terrierman’s Daily Dose

Information on working terriers, dogs, natural history, hunting, and the environment, with occasional political commentary as I see fit.
~ Patrick Burns

Terrierman’s Daily Dose is one of a handful of blogs that Jerry follows with regularity. Patrick Burns, the writer, is erudite, literate and seems to have unlimited time to research and to write his blog. He can’t help himself either, apparently. A couple years ago, he suspended writing but took it up again as, I think, he just has too much to say.

On April 5, he posted How to Go to the Vet. We don’t agree with every point but it’s good reading.

Unproductive points

Experienced bird dogs Blue Shaquille, left, and Northwoods Magic Man point in a likely spot on a quail plantation in southwest Georgia. Both hunters flushed thoroughly but couldn’t produce a bird. Where are the quail?

It was a championship field trial run on sharp-tailed grouse. Both brace mates stood on point, independently, but in the same area. The handlers flushed extensively, relocated their dogs and flushed more. Neither handler could produce a bird so they released their dogs and continued down the course. As the gallery of riders passed through the exact area the dogs had just pointed, a single sharptail flushed.

I wasn’t competing that day but I was one of the judges. And one of those dogs was a multiple champion on wild birds, CH Centerpiece, owned and handled by seasoned Frank LaNasa.

What is an unproductive point?

When a dog points and no bird is flushed or seen to flush from the area, it is referred to as an unproductive point. Other terms such as unproductive, nonproductive and false point refer to the same situation.

… the majority of times a high-quality and experienced dog pointed and no birds were seen was not because they were false pointing; but rather they were pointing where quail had been but had left undetected.
~ Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, Tallahassee, Florida

Savvy wild birds want to survive. They learn avoidance techniques, especially when repeatedly pressured. They discern the approach of the dog and react accordingly.

These evasion tactics are confirmed by a five-year project undertaken by H. Lee Stribling and D. Clay Sisson, two professors at Auburn University. They conducted their research at the school’s Albany Area Quail Management Project in Albany, Georgia, beginning in 1992. The team used 254 radio-tagged coveys to determine how they behaved when encountered by dog and hunters.

Here are their findings on the causes of unproductive points.
•    58% caused by coveys running away from pointing dogs
•    31% attributed to wild flushes
•    11% actually pointed coveys that held tight and refused to flush

In this study, unproductives occurred in 12% of the encounters with marked coveys.

Experience is the best teacher

Better allow him to flush (the birds) than have him do too much pointing of a character that induces false pointing.
~C.B. Whitford, Training the Bird Dog

While there is no way to avoid unproductive points, there are development and training methods that encourage a dog to point only when it is sure of the bird’s location. Young dogs should have plentiful opportunity to find, follow, point—and flush—birds. In other words, let the young dog learn on its own. Experience is the best teacher and, in general, the more birds a dog contacts the better it will be.

During these encounters, a dog learns invaluable lessons:
•    How close to get before the bird flushes.
•    How to differentiate where the bird is as opposed to where it has been.
•    How to follow running birds.
•    What foot and body scent smell like.

Unproductive points will always occur, even if only occasionally. The acceptable number varies with the species. Woodcock, for example, allow the dog to get close before pointing and the dog has more opportunity to discern the exact location. Other species, such as ruffed grouse, require the dog to point from farther away, providing the dog with less scent and, therefore, more opportunities to error. Other factors including age of the birds, cover type and weather conditions can effect on the number of unproductive points.

In most field trials, regardless of the species, two unproductives usually takes the dog out of the stake.

Too many unproductives and tips to help

Not every unproductive point is caused because birds had left unseen. Some dogs are prone to point unproductively. If your dog is having excessive unproductive points and you suspect it is not because birds had left, here are common reasons and tips to resolve them.

→ Over cautiousness due to training problems
A dog can become over cautious around birds if it is being bothered. Constant talking to the dog while it is working game is distracting. Also overly severe corrections can be a problem. The dog doesn’t want to suffer the consequences of a mistake.

Tip:  Be quiet when the dog is working game. Let the dog figure out how to handle birds without interference. Correct the dog only AFTER it flushes the bird and only enough to stop the chase. It may take some time for the dog to learn in this manner but you’ll have a better dog in the end.

→ Over cautiousness due to genetics
The dog lacks boldness toward birds because of its genes.  Some dogs have too much point and/or faulty scenting ability.  Others have soft dispositions which can make them afraid of birds.

Tip:  Encourage the dog to move towards the scent to either point it or bump it.  Don’t make it a big deal if the dog moves a few. Let the dog learn. This type of dog rarely develops a serious bumping problem. If the dog is young, let it mature a bit before more bird work.

→ Off game
Dogs can point off game such as song birds, rodents, rabbits, deer or turkey. If the off game is flushed in front of the dog’s point, it’s not, technically, an unproductive. If nothing is produced, it can be hard to discern what the dog was pointing. You might see a deer bed or rabbit droppings but those could be coincidences, too.

Tip:  If you know for sure the dog is pointing off game, let it know that’s not what you want. A verbal correction may be all that is needed or you may need to escalate.

→ Foot scent or old scent
Some dogs want to point foot scent or very old scent. Under good conditions, dogs can smell ground scent that might be hours or even days old. Occassionally, a tired dog will put its head down more.

Tip:  Teach the dog to move on a command such as “toot toot” on a whistle. Encourage the dog to move towards the scent and either point it or bump it. Let the dog learn. Hunt when the dog is fresh and full of energy.

→ Bad scenting conditions
It might just be the scenting conditions that day, i.e., the old saying, “wind from the east.”

Tip:  Exercise patience. Try another dog. Wish for better weather.

→ The dog doesn’t want to quit hunting
I have seen dogs go on point for no reason other than it knows the hunt is ending. Sometimes I think it sees the truck.

Tip:  Your dog is very smart and/or loves to hunt but it’s just putting on an act. Call the dog in and hope it’s not the proverbial truck bird.


Remember, a key to fewer unproductives is letting the dog learn on its own. And you’re not alone if your dog has the occasional unproductive. Owners, trainers and handlers have been dealing with this issue for almost 150 years.

What a dog gains by experience is not what you teach him, but what he teaches himself.
~ Dog Breaking, Major-General W. N. Hutchinson, 1865

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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