At two weeks of age, the eight puppies out of Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon have more than doubled their weight since birth. They’ve grown from an average of .8 lbs. to an average of 1.8 lbs.
It’s been busy and exciting around our Georgia kennel lately. Within a timeframe of about 10 days, our three pregnant dams delivered a total of 24 puppies.
Jerry and I can usually predict when a dam is close to whelping. Her temperature will drop to around 98 degrees and she won’t eat.
So on Sunday evening, March 15, we knew Northwoods Carly Simon was close. Within about two hours, she had whelped eight puppies—five females and three males. All are tri-color. This litter is by Northwoods Grits.
Six days later, on Saturday, March 21, Northwoods Vixen didn’t eat her evening meal and her temperature was falling. We stayed up with her and within a couple of hours, her first puppy was born. By the time she was finished about eight hours later, she had delivered five females and four males. One male is liver and white; the rest are black and white. This litter is a frozen-semen breeding by CH Rock Acre Blackhawk.
Within hours of whelping, Northwoods Vixen had her nine puppies by CH Rock Acre Blackhawk clean and white.
Northwoods Chablis was next. On the evening of Monday, March 23, she didn’t eat and her temperature had dropped. Again we watched and finally, just after midnight, she began. After three hours, she had whelped seven puppies—three females and four males. This is Chablis’ fourth litter by Northwoods Blue Ox.
Northwoods Chablis protectively curls round her seven puppies–cleaning some and letting others nurse.
Even though 24 puppies sounds like a lot of puppies, right now there isn’t much work for Jerry and me. Jerry is doing the “super puppy” exercises with them. Otherwise the dams do it all.
Inherited talent and ample exposure to opportunity are crucial elements to a pointing dog’s bird-finding skills. (Northwoods Nickel, CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
“That dog’ll hunt!” exclaimed Bobby, dog trainer on a large Georgia quail plantation, while we were out working puppies last week.
Bobby was referring to the bird-finding ability of his young pointer—a dog that was focused exclusively on finding quail. Bobby has been training bird dogs for more than 20 years and knows what’s essential.
“They’ll all point,” he said, “but give me the one that finds the most.”
Bobby is right. You can’t teach a dog to find birds. You can teach it to heel, come and whoa but if it doesn’t have the inherited talent to search for and to find birds, all you have is a well-trained dog. Those instincts, however, will never be maximized without opportunity—and plenty of it. Even then, some dogs given equal opportunity will be better at finding birds. No one really knows what produces that proficiency. Is it above-average scenting capability, intelligence, ability to focus? Or a combination? Or something else?
The degree of difficulty to finding birds depends on the birds. Non-wild birds such as put-out quail or game farm pheasants are generally easy to find. They usually have little idea of where they are or where to go and so, unknowingly, they become exposed.
Working puppies in groups is a fun, productive way to provide bird-finding opportunities because the puppies learn from each other. (Three females out of CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
Wild birds are the most difficult to find. They know every square foot of their own territory—from exactly where they are to exactly where they’re going. They move a lot during the day—to find food, loaf, dust and avoid predators—and most of that movement is done by walking. Their scent is left on the ground by their feet, droppings and feathers and on plants by brushing against them.
Finding wild birds is easiest when the bird is stationary and the dog hunts by that exact spot. Most of the time, though, the dog smells leftover scent. It learns to follow that little wisp of scent until it becomes progressively stronger, ultimately leading to the location of the bird.
Another experienced plantation dog trainer, Phillip, would agree. A man wanted to sell him a young dog, pointing out conformation, markings and other physical qualities and boasting about all the champions in its pedigree. Phillip wasn’t impressed. Instead, he looked the man straight in the eye and asked, “Yeah, but can it find a bird?”
Desire is another inherited trait that will lead to ample bird finding. (Northwoods Nickel, CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
Pro trainer Luke Eisenhart reaches in to take his derby winner Awsum In Motion out of the area after a find.
On a foggy morning in early March, I drove northwest out of our place to Erin’s Covey Pointe plantation near Sale City, Georgia. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to ride along with professional all-age handler Luke Eisenhart during a morning workout.
Luke is a phenomenon. After his first year of competing on the all-age field trial circuit, he was named the 2011-2012 Purina Top All-Age Handler of the Year. He won the next year, too, 2012-2013. In this year’s standings not only does Luke have a substantial lead over second place but he handles two of the top three dogs for the Purina Top Dog Award, Erin’s Wild Justice and Erin’s Kentucky Gambler.
To keep his string in top condition both physically and mentally, Luke combines roading and field work of 30 – 45 minutes on birds. During these workouts, he doesn’t let the dogs range like they do in a trial; rather he keeps them close and concentrates on handling, finding and pointing birds. He runs dogs in pairs and wants each dog to point several coveys and back the bracemate.
Luke Eisenhart walks back to CH True Confidence after the flush and shot on a nice covey find.
On that day, Luke worked pointer champions Erin’s Dog Soldier, Erin’s Wild Justice, Erin’s Full Throttle and True Confidence, along with setters Houston’s Blackjack and derby winner Awsum In Motion.
Like all good handlers I’ve observed, Luke is smooth, confident and soft spoken around his dogs. It can be forgotten that he is working some of the most powerful, driven dogs found anywhere because he makes handling them look easy. Luke is good because he’s passionate about what he does, works hard on a consistent basis, knows what to do and—and just as importantly—knows what not to do. His timing and execution are precise and he knows each dog thoroughly.
Also exciting for me to see was the dogs themselves. Up close, I saw their physical conformation and disposition and, out in the field, I observed their gait, style and performance.
In the truck on the way back to our place, it became crystal clear to me why Luke and his dogs do so much winning.
Northwoods Vixen, age 3
CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer
photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet