Nick Larson could hardly wait to get his three-month-old setter puppy, Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014), into the woods.
Developing a puppy into an experienced grouse dog begins with the all-important first season. The dog is at an impressionable age and lessons learned will set the foundation for future success.
To begin, this fall is all about fun. There should be no pressure on dog or hunter. Instead, it’s a time for exposure and gaining experience. Too, let this season be for the puppy. You’ll have many years and shots at plenty of birds over the course of your dog’s life.
Here are some tips to get most out of this autumn.
Hunt as much as possible. The goal for this first year is simply to let your puppy hunt for and find grouse—and as many as possible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.
Most of what a dog needs to know about is learned from the birds themselves. Your puppy will learn where grouse live and what they smell like. It will learn how close it can get before the bird flushes, that it can’t catch the bird and how to follow running birds.
The only caveat? Shoot birds that are pointed but let the rest fly away.
At five months of age, Izzie (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) was finding and pointing plenty of birds for owner Jeff Hintz. Photo by Chris Mathan.
Allow your puppy to learn by experience. Let your puppy figure things out at its own rate, by itself and to learn by consequences. As long as a situation isn’t dangerous to the puppy, leave it alone. This is the best way for it to develop good thinking skills. By over-protecting and over-controlling, we’re basically training the puppy not to use its brain.
In other words, keep your mouth shut in the woods. Over-handling—too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement—can distract and confuse the dog.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons and your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits and other indiscretions—this first year. Also, consider its mental limitations and relatively short attention span and remember that, at this age, your young dog has far more energy than knowledge.
Be realistic about your young dog’s physical limitations. Don’t overwork it. Several shorter hunts are better than one long outing.
Be careful when hunting over another dog and your puppy. While there can be advantages to bracing your puppy with an older, experienced dog, don’t overdo it. Your puppy needs time alone, too. Don’t let it get intimated by a larger or dominant dog.
Some parts of this post are taken from a piece Betsy and I wrote for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. http://www.startribune.com/a-hunting-dog-s-first-grouse-season-is-vital/223773411/
Serious beggars! Rose continues to teach Stella all the tricks!
~ Laura, Illinois, owner of Rose (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010), on left, and Stella (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2015)
Business email inboxes and message queues are often full of boring stuff. But Jerry and I are always eager to read correspondence from a client who has bought a puppy or an older dog, especially if photos are included.
It appears that our dogs—whether setters or pointers—have some things in common. They are “outstanding” in the field. They like the water and will endlessly retrieve Frisbees or dummies. They seem to have an affinity to the females in their households and some are savvy about finagling a comfortable spot to rest.
Nothing makes us happier as breeders than knowing our progeny are living happy lives with loving families. Many thanks to our wonderful clients!
As Zada approaches three years old, I would like to thank you again for an outstanding bird dog. She has the great fortune of living in eastern Montana…hunting 90+ days every season. Pictured here with my son, Tommy and a hun.
~ Tom, Montana, owner of Zada (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013)
Woodland’s Blue Hunter turned 16 today. He was the best hunting dog I’ve had, never a false point, always brought back what I shot (even when I didn’t know it) and didn’t miss many birds in the woods.
~ Tom, Wisconsin, owner of Hunter (Blue Chief x Woodland’s Mohawk Daisy, 2000)
So proud of Emma. Shot 4 sharptails over her points ….she retrieved 2 perfectly but wasn’t too interested in the others…But, so happy with her overall…runs big but not over the horizon …she relocated 4-5 times on a running bird but I kept up with her and she finally locked her down…up she went…bam…down she went. Just love her to death. THANK YOU for providing me such a magnificent hunting buddy!!!
~ Howard, Montana, owner of Emma (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2015)
Jenny loves to retrieve in the water. She just won’t quit. She does well without the pfd…..just getting her used to it so she can ride around on East Bay in our boat. She’s very smart. Picks up stuff very quickly…heel, whoa, come. She has a nice fast pattern in the woods. Looks me up and stays to the front. Totally ignores the 209 primer pistol. She is more than ready for birds.
~ John, Michigan, owner of Jenny (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
We cannot express how happy and in love with this dog our entire family is and how happy we are that we found you and Jerry to get our dog from. My wife and I joke that Remi is the “hub” of our family. She literally has a different relationship with each of us (my daughter, son, wife, and I). We took Remi to my parents’ house, about an hour north of Traverse City, Michigan, right on Lake Michigan.
~ Dave, Minnesota, owner of Remi (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
John and I ran Dixie out at a state park on Saturday with her new ecollar! She did amazingly well! The area was covered with cactus and it didn’t slow her down at all! She was a tough cookie! She handled very easily and often responded to a whistle or call without the need to correct or beep her on the collar. She learned to swim in the reservoir after the hike and then rode around in a kayak with me for about 45 minutes!
~ Isabel, Texas, owner of Dixie (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
Elmer turned two this summer and he is still as sweet as can be. Besides hunting, he loves to fetch the frisbee (not balls though). Besides the fact that he is the world’s messiest water drinker, he is truly an amazing dog and we love having him as part of our family. Just last weekend my son (6 yrs. old) was feeling sad and he was sitting on the front step. Two minutes later he was giggling and smiling because Elmer showed up and was giving him kisses.
~ Kjellrun (below), Illinois, owner of Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014)
Timber and Huxley make a handsome pair of Northwoods Pointers!
~ Brandon, Minnesota, owner of Huxley (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016), on left, with co-worker Keith’s Timber (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) and Keith’s daughters.
Riley did great on the drive home and is doing very well acclimating to her new environment. She feels very much at home and loved. She is soooo sweet. Thank you for this wonderful addition to our family.
~ Maureen, New Jersey, owner of Riley (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
Jade continues to make me laugh on a daily basis. She knows that she is not allowed on the furniture, but refuses to chew a bone anywhere other than this couch cushion. She will not step on another piece of furniture, only this piece when she gets a bone. She is downright hysterical. Thank you for such an amazing dog, and we have another huge season planned.
~ Frank, Michigan, owner of Jade (Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015)
Pointers are not allowed on the furniture at our house—little dogs yes, but not bird dogs. So Murphy pulled the cushion off…
~ Tony, Minnesota, owner of Murphy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016)
Callie, on left, and Blitzen share point on a bobwhite that landed in the willows.
Starting puppies on birds is right at the top of our list as a fun part of our work. And it’s something Betsy and I believe in beginning when they are quite young. Puppies at three to four months of age are much easier to start than eight-month-old pups.
When we work puppies on birds, we head out into the pasture to one of our four recall houses. The pups watch as I flush a good number of quail from the house and, then excitedly, they are off. They chase the quail wherever they fly—into the woods, alders or willows.
These bobwhite quail act much as wild birds do and hit the ground running. Puppies learn to use their nose to follow the scent until they come upon the bird. When they find it they might point briefly or just jump in and flush it. Either way they then chase the bird with our high praise echoing in their ears.
Murphy displays remarkable poise, intensity and style on one of his first puppy points.
Betsy and I never flush the birds. Instead we let the puppies point until they move in. From this, puppies learn when they have the bird, and importantly, when they don’t.
A key part of this whole exercise is that we don’t interfere or make any effort to restrain the pups. We do loudly praise the puppies when they flush a bird and will call or sing to direct them a bit. We think it’s crucial, at this time anyway, for puppies to learn—to find the bird, point it and then flush it—all on their own.
All puppies pictured above and below are 12 – 14 weeks old and all are pointers out of Northwoods Vixen by Elhew G Force.
Pearl pointed her first wild birds today. One grouse and two woodcock. I was walking along and looked down at my gps to see where my older dog was and when I looked up, Pearl was on point about 30 feet in front of me with a 12- o’clock tail and a high head. I walked in and flushed a woodcock about 10 feet in front of her. She then proceeded to point a grouse and another woodcock before I decided it was enough for one day and carried her out.
~ Caleb, Minnesota, August 14
Our puppy is doing very well and healthy. We named him Bandit. He is very birdy and outgoing. I’ve started his puppy program and he is already learning the fetch command. He loves getting around the quail pen and tries to break in every chance he gets. LOL
~ Tim, Florida, August 17
Coop is coming along great. He’s had some clipped wing pigeons and I’ve started him with the cap gun—no problems there at all. His prey drive is off the chart. I have him standing still on the bench. Also been working on recall with check cord.
~ Tim, Massachusetts, August 16