Finn (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2014) is 14 weeks old tomorrow and is doing great! He is an exceptionally smart and confident puppy. (Rhonda says sometimes too smart for his britches.) He loves going for car and truck rides and we’ve been taking him along just about everywhere we go. He’s been a lap dog from the first day home.
Jerry and I think puppies and dogs that we breed and sell are among the luckiest anywhere. Not only are they owned by perhaps the most avid bird hunters in the country, but for times when they can’t be in the woods and fields, they are treasured, close companions. The dogs spend those months in vehicles, boats, trout streams and warm homes and on soft beds and laps.
Wanted to send you a picture of Northwoods Creek (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013). We are extremely happy with him and wanted to thank you again for the opportunity to own such a talented young dog.
~ Randy & Vallana
Just to let you know that Sadie (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis, 2013) is making the transition from your kennel to house remarkably well. She catches on to things quickly, walks on a leash well, sleeps on the bed and is slowly getting us trained! Here Martha is explaining the nature and complexities of pontooning!
Today Beemer (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis, 2013) is one year old. We feel he has adjusted well since we brought him home. He and Tony (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008) get along very well and he enjoys running in the back yard, watching the birds fly by or stop by the bird feeders. Thank you for another handsome and wonderful dog.
Roy is becoming quite the trout dog… Loves to be on the river and explore the bottoms when not watching for fish.
May is a month when Jerry and Dan focus on gun dog training. Dogs are taught steadiness on point, i.e., dogs are trained to stay on point until the handler flushes the bird, to stop-to-flush and to back another dog on point. This training is done in a controlled area with extensive use of pigeons to ensure the dog gets a sound understanding of what is expected. Occasionally, dogs were worked along a woodland edge where bobwhite quail were released from a johnny house.
No trees had leafed out in early May but by the end of training, aspens and alders and dogwoods bore chartreuse foliage and even dandelions bloomed in the pasture.
Smooch, pointer female (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013).
Willow, setter female (CH Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013).
Aspen, 18-month-old male Brittany.
Ginger, pointer female (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013).
Dixie, setter female (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013).
Jade, four-year-old female German shorthaired pointer.
Millie, setter female (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis, 2013).
Royce, setter male (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013).
Hunters Dick Taylor, on left, and Henson Orser happily pose with their birds after a successful hunt behind Blue Shaquille. High stem density of the aspens combined with a rather open forest floor is a favorite habitat for ruffed grouse.
No one who is at all sensitive to criticism or who does take kindly to being disagreed with, should speak openly of his grouse dog ideas; much less permit them to become recorded in lasting print.
~ William Harnden Foster, New England Grouse Shooting, 1942
Ruffed grouse tend to inhabit wooded areas with high stem density which makes it more difficult for ground predators to approach. Generally, they prefer a bare forest floor with good visibility and an over story for protection from aerial predators. Grouse live singly and are therefore responsible for their own survival. Their preferred means of travel is walking. When threatened, evasive options are many and grouse will run, flush, fly into a tree, sit tight or any combination.
What Betsy and I seek in a grouse dog are qualities that allow the dog to find the most birds and the ability to point them in a manner that provides the best shooting opportunities. We choose our grouse dogs based on the habits, and habitat, of the birds.
Ruffed grouse are solitary birds that live in big woods.
Even though the woods are vast, only a small portion holds grouse. We require a dog that will cover a good amount of territory searching for these individual birds while staying in contact with the handler.
Ruffed grouse inhabit some nasty areas.
Not only does a grouse dog have to penetrate the bird’s realm but it also has to get there. This includes traversing rough cover of debris-strewn, moss-covered, logged-over areas, tall grass, thorny berry briars and lots of water—whether in swamps, streams, marshes or ponds. A grouse dog is constantly ducking under, jumping over or otherwise dodging something in its path. We want a tenacious dog that is not deterred by tough terrain.
Ruffed grouse also like bare forest floors.
A grouse leaves little scent on a bare forest floor. That open-ness at bird level also gives grouse a good view of its surroundings. We require a dog with superb scenting ability that can follow a bird’s movements. The dog should have the dual qualities of strong pointing instinct and boldness to engage the bird.
After a good hour or two in the grouse woods, Blue Shaquille has had to ford streams and search large areas for his quarry. Among many points this day, he pins a bird in a very likely spot.
In addition to those qualities that are bird-oriented, Betsy and I want a tractable, intelligent dog with physical ability and style. It should have good hearing with natural ability to orient to its handler. It should effortlessly adapt to different cover. It should move easily and hunt for long periods of time, even under hot, dry conditions. Finally, we want a stylish dog that hunts with zeal.
We know that’s asking a lot of a dog but we’ve seen many dogs do it.
And the only way to find out is to work dogs on grouse. It takes time, knowledge of the bird and boot leather. Some abilities can be ascertained when a dog is young but most will be at least three years of age before its true capabilities are known.
Have you seen an issue of The Upland Almanac recently? How about Quail Forever? You might have noticed an ad—prominently placed just inside the front cover—for a tracking/ecollar combination unit by Sportdog. The moody, sepia-toned photo is beautiful. Standing tall in the sprawling landscape of South Dakota is a pointer with sharp, focused eyes.
The dog caught the attention of Jerry and me.
It is Timber, a three-year-old female out of our litter by CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer. Timber (named in honor of the timberdoodle) is owned by Mark and Janie Fouts of Superior, Wisconsin. In the background is another Fouts’ dog, Allie.
Many know Mark through his work with The Ruffed Grouse Society where he serves as a Regional Director. In addition to his RGS job, though, Mark is an avid pointer guy which is how Jerry and I first met him.
In 2008 Mark bred his talented female Fate to our Dasher (out of two multiple grouse champions, Brooks Elhew Ranger x Dance Smartly). In lieu of a stud fee, Jerry and I wanted a female so Mark handed over the only female of the litter. That was Prancer.
Even as a puppy, Timber was easily recognizable with her heart-shaped body spot. Here she plays with five of her eight female littermates.
Three years later we paired Prancer with the pre-potent, 6X CH/7X RU-CH Black Ice, owned by Bill Westfall and campaigned on the horseback shooting dog circuit. Ice himself was out of the very successful nick, Rock Acre Blackhawk x Elhew Katie Lee.
Black-and-white Timber closely resembles her sire with an evenly masked head, intelligent brown eyes and big body spot.
Starting a bird dog puppy isn’t much different than other kinds of dogs. Adequate socialization to people and other dogs along with good nutrition, abundant exercise and consistent expectations will go a long way to ensuring future success. But there are two additional lessons that can make or break a bird dog’s future.
These are the introduction to birds and gunfire.
In the puppy training programs we offer, we call this step “bird and gun introduction” and that’s not by chance. It should be approached in that order.
The most natural way to start is also the most exciting to a bird dog—birds. Love of birds should be in their genes.
The first step is to make sure the dog knows it has power over the bird. (We use carded pigeons and quail in our training. Both are good options.) Allow the dog to chase and catch a bird. We pull off some wing feathers so the bird can fly a short distance. Ideally, the dog will chase the bird, pick it up in its mouth and bring it back. Even if the dog doesn’t do all three steps, the most important part is to mouth the bird, proving it is bold and confident towards the bird.
Some dogs catch on immediately; some need three to four opportunities and a few will need more. If a dog isn’t showing great desire to get the bird, wait a few days and then try again. But once the dog has shown that it is bold, stop. We don’t want the dog to catch another bird that hasn’t been shot.
While the desire for birds is genetic, getting excited at the sound of gunfire is not. On the other hand, a dog isn’t born gun shy. Negative association through improper exposure to gunfire or other loud noises can be difficult—if not impossible—to overcome.
The best way to introduce gun fire is when the dog is distracted by something else exciting. Again, we use birds.
Use a small-bore shotgun or training pistol and wait until the dog is focused on chasing a bird. When it’s in full-chase mode at least 30 yards, fire the gun in the opposite direction. If the bird introduction was done correctly, the dog shouldn’t even notice. If the dog shows any reaction to the sound, just ignore it.
One shot is enough for the first session. During the next several sessions, slowly start shooting sooner until you’re shooting as soon as the bird is flushed. Finally, wait until the dog is hunting and fire a shot into the air. If the dog looks for a flying bird, then it has made the correct association.
Don’t take your puppy to the gun range to see if it’s gun shy. (It might be after that!) Don’t be in a hurry to get the lessons over. Let the dog set the time table. Don’t try to take shortcuts.
Proper introduction to birds and gunfire—in that order—isn’t something to take for granted. Most dogs will take to them easily and with confidence. But take your time and do it correctly. You’ll set the foundation for many years of good hunts.
Enjoy the process!
Photos above: Tana (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) enthusiastically chases a pigeon, catches and retrieves it. Photos by Brad Gudenkauf, owner of Tana.