In thick cover on the barrens of northwest Wisconsin, Platinum (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) finds a covey of sharptails.
A lot (and I mean A LOT) of hours are spent training dogs on wild birds during August. Locally, woodcock and sharp-tailed grouse are plentiful while travel to the prairies of the Dakotas give dogs opportunities on both sharptails and pheasants from horseback.
On a misty morning in North Dakota, three pretty females find and point pheasants. On left, Frank LaNasa’s Claire (CH True Confidence x CH Lil Miss Sunshine, 2014), Paul Hauge’s Mocha (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014) and Tony Follen’s Lucy (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011).
Training on wild birds takes tremendous effort but there is just no substitute. As friend and training pal Jeff Hintz says, “The difference between planted birds and wild birds is like playing checkers versus chess.”
The woodcock have been plentiful in the pasture edges and Smooch (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) accurately locates a single.
Since it is so much work, we accept a limited number of clients’ dogs to train on wild birds. Setters Grits, Royce and Mocha have made every trip to North Dakota. On local sharptails, I’m fine-tuning the abilities of two-year-old pointer littermates Nutmeg, Smooch and Jaguar.
The beautiful fields of North Dakota are vast and can be a challenge for young dogs. But one-year-old Carbon (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014), on right, shares point with the veteran Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) on a covey of sharptails.
For our own veterans, I sharpen up their staunchness and let them have fun in the woods while conditioning, too. And it’s one of the key ways Betsy and I evaluate young dogs for potential future breeding. Prospects from our 2014 litters—Carbon, Bismuth, Mercury, Nickel and Platinum—are gaining invaluable experience on wild birds.
From a long distance out, littermates Nutmeg, on left, and Jaguar (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) point a covey of sharp-tailed grouse.
In this case, Northwoods Aerosmith (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) receives only praise–not correction–from his owner Ken Taylor.
Even though Gary Larson retired from The Far Side daily cartoon 20 years ago, I still remember many. With clever drawings and simple prose, he succinctly satirized dogs, cats, cows, bears, doctors, scientists and Neanderthals.
Among my favorites was a two-panel cartoon depicting a man admonishing his dog. The panels had the exact same drawing but different headings and different cartoon bubbles.
What we say to dogs
Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You say out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!
What they hear
blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah…
Larson nailed it. Applying strictly human means and psychology when reprimanding a dog doesn’t work. We need to correct in ways that a dog understands.
A well-behaved dog is a partner that’s a pleasure to hunt over and a wonderful family companion. But for safety reasons too it’s essential that a dog responds to corrections. It behooves an owner to master this skill.
• Be consistent.
• Say the command once and then enforce. You are the leader and must make your dog respond.
• Timing is crucial. The dog needs to know why it’s being corrected. The best time to correct your dog is to anticipate when it’s going to do something wrong or when just starting to do something wrong. Don’t administer correction afterwards—rather wait until the next time.
• Administer the correction with the right attitude. Use a calm, confident, assertive manner. Don’t get angry.
• Use only enough correction to stop the behavior. Don’t over react or lose your temper.
• Voice: We use QUIT. It’s an easy, one-syllable word and when combined with a low, guttural tone of voice, it gets a dog’s attention. NO isn’t recommended for a pointing dog because it’s similar to WHOA.
• Tools: When the dog is close, try a tug on a leash, check cord or pinch collar. When the dog is a distance away, we prefer an ecollar. Even a rolled-up newspaper whacked near the dog will get its attention.
• Physical: Sometimes, this becomes necessary. Grab the dog by the scruff of the neck, look it straight in the eyes and sternly say QUIT. Never strike or kick a dog.
Some final thoughts…
Consider your dog’s temperament and understand there are differences in learning capability. Dogs can be bold and fearless or soft and timid or some can have a difficult combination of headstrong yet submissive.
Ultimately, you must make your dog respond—whatever it takes.
It’s unlawful to reproduce Larson’s panel but click here to see Ginger and her owner again.
Judging by the news and photos we’ve received from puppy owners, summertime and puppies belong together. From Colorado to Massachusetts, Oklahoma to Minnesota and Michigan, puppies are out and about with their owners.
We are both having the best time, and he could not be a better puppy!
Northwoods Blue Skye is sight pointing pigeons and has been demonstrating a natural retrieving instinct. She has adapted well to her new family and has shown to be a very intelligent and affectionate pup.
Bandit is…great fun. He is a wonderful addition to our family.
And owners are eagerly anticipating this first fall in the woods and fields with their puppies.
I can’t wait for the fall with her. So far we are set for 6 states and 9 or 10 different upland birds.
NW Smooch (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) nicely executes the essence of a bird dog. She hunts, handles and point birds during a training session in Georgia. Photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
The essential duties of a bird dog are simple. Hunters and field trailers might endlessly discuss other traits but, truly, there are only three basic characteristics.
While these three are genetic, refinement through good training is necessary to bring each to the highest level.
A bird dog must hunt, handle and point birds.
The dog should hunt for birds all the time, under all conditions and never quit. It should always seek out the slightest wisp of scent. As Sherry Ray Ebert once said to me, “A dog should be hunting for bird scent every time its feet hit the ground!”
The opposite is a dog that just runs—and it’s easy to tell the difference.
While hunting for birds, the dog should keep track of the handler’s location and direction. This involves good hearing, good eyesight, good sense of direction and a want-to-please attitude.
Some dogs focus too much on their handlers and don’t hunt enough. They might find easy birds in their path but never really dig them up. Others are so intent on searching for birds that they disregard the whereabouts of the handler. At best, these dogs can be hard to find when on point and, at worst, they could get lost.
This is the epitome. When the dog smells body scent of a bird, it should stop, point and stand still until the handler arrives. If the dog points too soon, the bird can be difficult to flush. If the dog points old scent, there is no bird. The bird can flush wild if the dog crowds the bird searching for stronger scent or if the dog doesn’t stop at all.