During a hunt, a bird dog’s place is in front of me. I want to see what it’s doing. My ideal pattern is when a dog covers the ground in a crossing pattern at the right distance while hitting likely bird areas. It must also keep track of me.
Many handlers use the clock analogy. A dog should spend most of its time in a pocket between 9 – 10 o’clock position on the left and the 2 -3 o’clock position on the right.
Good dogs seem to have a compass that keeps them oriented to my whereabouts, i.e., they can hunt and pay attention to me. The worst don’t have that capability and spend much of their time behind me or, something that really drives me crazy—yo-yo in and out.
Right- or left-handed dogs.
When a bird dog completes a cast to either side, it should turn forward. Due to terrain or wind direction, a forward movement isn’t always possible or practical and the dog should be given some leeway. I’ve noticed that dogs seem to be either right- or left-handed in their pattern. They’ll naturally turn out on one side of me and in (and back) on the other side. The pattern becomes a large clockwise or counterclockwise loop.
Wind and patterning.
Wind direction plays a big role in patterning—and rightly so from the dog’s point of view. Most dogs pattern wider and more laterally in a headwind because they tend to not want to run directly into it. In a tail wind, most dogs will run farther forward and work back towards me.
How to develop a pattern.
When dogs are puppies, many owners focus on bird work but this is also best time to develop a hunting pattern. Good habits are formed young!
Betsy and I begin patterning with our puppies’ first walks in the field. (They always wear short check cords.) We move slowly so puppies can stay in front. Often we change directions and call/sing to get their attention. Occasionally, a subtle and gentle tug on the check cord becomes necessary if a puppy wants to go behind or on either side.
• Don’t go back to get a puppy. It needs to learn a tough lesson—to pay attention to the handler and find the handler when it gets out of touch.
• Begin calling/singing when the puppy gets at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. Don’t wait until the puppy is too lateral.
• Keep the walks/pattern work short when puppies are young. Consider their short attention spans.
When the puppy matures and becomes ecollar conditioned, pattern work can be continued (if necessary) with nicks and/or continuous stimulation.
In the end…
The goal is to find birds, not run the perfect pattern. In general, though, they’re not mutually exclusive. Over time, a dog that runs a good pattern will cover the ground more effectively, be easier to handle and, in the end, find more birds.
At the Ames Plantation in February 2013, Shadow Oak Bo was named winner of the National Championship. What makes that remarkable is that Bo is an English setter, the first setter to win in 43 years. Even more astonishing, he was a repeat champion at this year’s National, an accomplishment not equaled by a setter since 1901/1902.
Bo is the buzz of the setter world—and really the entire field trial world—and therefore much discussed. His pedigree has been analyzed; his ancestors scrutinized. Theories abound as to the source of his talents. Due to his heterogeneous pedigree (constant out-crossing) Bo was described in a Pointing Dog Journal article as “catching lightning in a bottle.” Others have probably calculated his COI (Coefficient Of Inbreeding) and are madly searching pedigrees to see which females will match Bo’s.
I think the production of a dog such as Bo, like most bird dogs that outperform their peers, is simpler to describe yet far more work to actually accomplish. Certainly Bo’s success boils down to giving the right dog the right opportunities; but long before that, before Bo was born, there were years of effort and lots of miles behind bird dogs.
People were involved who really knew bird dogs, i.e., people who actually worked them, studied them and determined their true worth in the field and on wild birds. In my opinion, not much time was spent counting championships, looking at pedigrees, calculating COIs or thinking about line-breeding vs. out-crossing. Instead, they worked their dogs and bred one worthy, proven dog to another for generation after generation until “lightning in a bottle” appeared.
No matter the breeding methodology followed, success or failure depends exclusively on the selection of individual dogs. Period.
The ruffed grouse of the northern parts of their range instinctively know how to survive the worst winter weather. Jerry and I have seen depressions and wing marks on the surface of the snow where grouse have burst out of their roosts. While it’s common knowledge that birds fluff out their feathers for insulation we were astounded by Jim Brandenburg’s photograph of an inflated grouse. (Search for NW798 at www.jimbrandenburg.com.)
Dan Stadin, the guy who works with us and is managing the Minnesota kennel while Jerry and I work in southwest Georgia, has noticed grouse in the woods surrounding our place. On a recent early morning, he caught one sitting in a young aspen.
Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish saw three grouse in the upper branches of two birch trees, filling up, no doubt, on buds and twigs.
In October 2011 Jerry was interviewed by Chris Mathan of The Sportsman’s Cabinet and Strideaway. It’s a really good interview on the importance of females in a breeding program.
Chris asks, “What is the most important part of a breeding program?” and Jerry answers, “The female is the key.” For our English setter line, he says that Houston’s Belle and Blue Streak were the foundation dams. Both Belle and Streak were multiple grouse champions but “daughters of champions were better producers” for us. Belle produced Houston’s Belle’s Choice and Blue Silk is out of Streak.
Chris recently re-posted it on Strideaway. The values remain vital and it’s definitely worth a listen.
(Too, if you want a good laugh, you have to check out Jerry’s hat. Why did we ever think that goofy, seed-corn style was attractive?)