Caroline gives Tyler (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) a big hug. According to Ken, “As you can see, we are getting along just fine. Tyler is a lover.”
There’s something special about kids and puppies. Minnie (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis, 2013) recently flew off to her new home in Pennsylvania and settled right in for a nap on the lap of James’ daughter.
Mike’s son Jay with their puppy Orb (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013). “We love the pup! He is so calm and socialized.”
Even if the child is a teenager and the puppy is five months old, the bond remains strong. Kate gives Willow (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013) a hug before she leaves town.
Who says pointers aren’t wonderful house dogs? Our own Vixen (Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) comes from a long line of pointers—Dancer, Dasher and Prancer—that have lived in the house with Jerry and me.
Always-cool Roy (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) relaxes in his favorite spot. Chris wrote, “If we don’t make it to the river or lake, this is where he wants to be—in the shade of the deck in the water.”
Life is puppies! Barry is already working his new puppy Jack (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013) in the field each day. “We keep heading into longer grass. A little whistle and a call of Jack and he comes right to you.”
Jerry softly commands, “Whoa,” to Northwoods Chardonnay while stroking her.
Every now and then, I meet pointing dog owners who don’t use WHOA as the command for their dogs to stop and stand still. They prefer HOLD, STAY or HUP instead. They further explain that they use NO to tell their dogs to stop an unwanted behavior and since WHOA sounds similar, they don’t want to confuse their dogs.
The theory is good and the explanation reasonable. The last thing pointing dog owners want to do is impart a negative association with birds. Even George Bird Evans, author, grouse hunter and breeder of the “Old Hemlock” line of setters, used HOLD for the same reason.
But I have another idea. Since the vast majority of owners use WHOA, choose another word—other than NO—to stop unwanted behavior.
Betsy and I like QUIT. A little wordier is STOP IT. Cesar Millan uses TSSSST.
Photo above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
Houston’s Blackjack, left, and Northwoods Ahniwake Grace on point in a picturesque native prairie. Zack, Frank’s horse, ground ties and seems oblivious to the pending action.
Days start early at prairie training camp. Alarms ring at 4:30 to allow plenty of time for dark-roasted coffee and perhaps an English muffin or two. Outside, not a sound can be heard.
Within an hour, though, things start happening. Horse trailer doors squeak as they open and halters, bridles and bits are readied. Horses whinny as they’re gathered from the corral and loaded. Dogs are awake now, too. They lazily uncurl, stretch, shake and then begin barking in anticipation.
The colors of a North Dakota sunrise are gorgeous.
By 6:30, the sun has risen above the horizon and the first brace of dogs is turned loose.
Jerry and Frank LaNasa, his friend and partner in this prairie training camp since 1998, have spent the better part of August driving to southeastern North Dakota. Previously, each had traveled to the prairie to train their strings of dogs, but to different destinations—Jerry to the Sheyenne National Grassland and Frank to the camp of professional trainer Randy Downs in the far western part of the state.
Frank’s setter Northwoods Nirvana displays his stunning posture when pointing a brood of young pheasants.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, the pair decided they wanted their own place and a more permanent situation. They did their research and scouted out likely areas. Then they discovered a unique area that borders the Coteau des Prairie, a plateau 200 miles long and 100 miles wide. It rises above the prairie flatland and is punctuated by beautiful, glacial lakes. The farms were few but vast and landowners were warm and welcoming. They found a place to rent that had a nice horse barn and room for lots of dogs and thus began their now 15-year tradition.
Changes—all on a vast, and perhaps, irreversible scale—have hit North Dakota since Jerry and Frank began their camp.
• Taking advantage of the steady winds on the high Coteau des Prairie, wind farms were constructed on about 14,000 acres of land. Each turbine is 262 feet tall and has blades that are 122 feet long.
• The discovery of oil in the Bakken Formation shale to the west and north has affected the entire state.
• Changes in the federal farm bill allowed more than 1,000,000 acres of CRP land to be planted to commodity crops like soybeans and corn. All those fields of alfalfa and prairie plants are now gone.
Tack for Frank’s five horses is neatly stored.
Jerry and Frank are well suited as training partners. They have similar work ethics and are extremely knowledgeable, whether discussing field trials, training methods, bird dog history or bird dog health. Both have remarkable memories, too. Not only can they rattle off pedigrees of dogs here and long passed but they seemingly remember every placement of every field trial.
It just might be the highlight of the year for both. Even though Frank is a serious competitor in horseback shooting dog and all-age field trials and Jerry is a professional dog trainer, the fun and gratification for both springs from this basic training and exposure to wild birds. Frank uses this time on the prairie to get his dogs in peak condition and readiness for fall field trials. Jerry focuses on steadiness training, handling and young dog development.
Among the long shadows of a prairie sunset, pointer Northwoods Vixen is high and tight in a field of alfalfa.
Frank is a St. Paul guy, born and raised, and graduated from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, where he was the starting star quarterback for three years. Frank and his wife, Jean, own Frank LaNasa Insurance, an independent agency that offers both commercial and personal coverage.
Jean is not only a partner in business but she’s an expert horsewoman and usually travels with Frank to field trials. She knows dogs, too, and acts as Frank’s scout.
Frank flushes for a divided find by pointer True Confidence, on left, and setter Northwoods Grits. The dogs had a nice sharp-tail covey.
Frank is generally known for his pointers but lately he bought, and has been winning with, two very nice setters—Houston’s Blackjack and Northwoods Nirvana. His string of winning dogs is impressive.
• 4X CH Chief’s Prospector
• CH Creole Storm
• 2X CH/RU-CH Trouble My Friend
• 3X CH/RU-CH Isanti Blacktop
• RU-CH Dancing Queen
• 5X CH/RU-CH Front N’ Center
• 6X CH/2X RU-CH Centerpiece
• 2X CH Homemade
• CH Lil’ Miss Sunshine
• 2X RU-CH True Confidence
• CH Houston’s Blackjack
Training on the North Dakota prairie isn’t a simple operation. A heavy-duty diesel truck is necessary to pull a fifth-wheel horse trailer that has room for horses, dogs and gear. The rig is parked just off a gravel road where a section of the Tatanka Wind Farm is visible on the high Coteau des Prairie.
On a windy morning and with ear flipped back, Northwoods Parmigiano points in a prairie.
Sometimes you just have to stop and relish the moment.
A bird dog can never be too good at bird finding. In general, better bird finders have greater desire and focus to find a bird. That said, however, listed below are some random thoughts on bird finding.
→ Some dogs find more birds than others due to a combination of good genes and plenty of opportunities. I have known many hunters who have owned few bird dogs but each became an outstanding bird finder. These owners maximize—and maybe even over-achieve—the genetic potential of their dogs.
→ There are both “bird pointers” and “bird finders.” The former look like they’re hunting but usually point only those birds they come upon while “bird finders” are totally focused on looking for birds and purposely go where they think the bird will be. When birds are plentiful in early season, in the peak of a grouse cycle or with boom bobwhite quail , it can be hard to distinguish the two. But when those birds thin out in late season or in low population years, it will be obvious which dog is the “bird finder.”
→ Some bird dogs just have a knack. They always seem to know what direction the handler is headed, continually show up in front and hunt the right areas, all at the same time, without, seemingly, undue effort.
→ While desire to find birds and wider range frequently go hand-in-hand, it’s not always so. Some dogs have a tremendous desire to hunt for birds—just at a closer range.
→ Dogs that are hunting and want to find birds adapt their range to the terrain. In open or sparse terrain, these dogs run fast to a good spot, slow down to hunt the cover and then speed up to hunt the next likely looking area. In dense terrain, they’ll naturally hunt closer.
→ There are dogs that, when turned loose to hunt, just go to birds. Dogs like this seem to know where birds are even if they’ve never been on that ground before. Whether it’s exceptional scenting ability, intelligence, experience or a combination of them all, I’m not sure of the reason. Maybe there’s even some aura birds put out that good dogs sense. Or maybe the dogs have associated the smell of certain vegetation preferred by specific birds with the scent of the birds themselves. This talent isn’t necessarily associated with experience because I’ve had dogs with only one or two hunting seasons exhibit this ability. One certainty is that these dogs can be harder to handle because their desire to find birds is stronger than their desire to keep track of handlers….which also, though, doesn’t mean they are self hunters. Rather these dogs check in with handlers less frequently than might be comfortable.
→ Dogs remember areas where they’ve found birds. One time might do it. I think this ability is deeply rooted in their genes and is associated with the finding of food, the most basic survival instinct. When starting puppies we put pigeons out in the field for them to find. At the following session, the pups commonly go to the exact place from the time before. This happens with adult dogs, too, when hunting the same coverts multiple times.
→ All birds run to escape predators. It takes time for dogs to correctly follow birds. Inexperienced dogs usually follow the trail into the wind…which might be the bird’s back trail instead of the direction it was headed.
→ Hunting into the wind is always best as dogs get the most efficient use of their scenting ability. Hunting into the wind is also more important in open country with low vegetation. There are many obstacles in the woods to deter the wind.
Photos by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
During training sessions, dogs wear ecollars on both neck and flank. Model-student Lottie could hardly hold her head loftier when pointing pigeons in the field.
Temperatures in June might have been a little chillier than many people would have liked but it sure made for excellent dog training weather. Jerry, Dan and Jeff only missed one day due to rain. July brought more summer-like temperatures—including several hot and steamy days—but the guys were up early and trained every day.
Our summer Gun Dog Training Program is geared toward young dogs and focuses on steadiness around birds and handling in the field.
It was a reunion of sorts for our 2012 Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis litter. Females Lucy (Ken Johnson) and Tana (Brad Gudenkauf) joined brothers Snickers (Bart Salisbury) and Roy (Chris Bye) for the training.
Two other setters included Jameson, the second dog we’ve trained for Justin Hall and Lottie, a female owned by Ross Grandlienard. The lone pointer of the group was a classy female, Dagny, owned by Scott Berry.
The group completed the training with flying colors and we’re proud of them all!
How’s this for both steadiness and retrieving? Snickers gently holds a pigeon he has just retrieved while on point on another pigeon.
Our training programs end with owner participation in the field. Justin Hall was the shooter when Jerry demonstrated Jameson’s staunchness on point.
Jerry uses a check cord for this training but a very composed Roy shows no need of his while pointing pigeons in releasers.
Dagny displays impeccable manners during a backing drill with a backing dummy.
Sisters Lucy (above), who looks much like her dam Chablis, and Tana (below) are beautifully staunch on point on pigeons.