On the North Dakota prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for brace mates True Confidence, on left, and Northwoods Grits on a divided find.
Any sportsman will tell you that two dogs find more birds than one dog.
~ Er M. Shelley, Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow, 1921
It seems that hunters and field trialers have commonly had two dogs on the ground at the same time for a long, long time. And for good reasons. Not only is the whole thing more productive but it truly is the epitome in working pointing dogs. Finding a bird dog on point while another backs is a beautiful sight.
Even though the noun “brace” has many meanings—from clamp and support beam, to things medical, mathematical, musical and nautical—for us, the key definition is “a pair of like things.” Hunting two or more bird dogs together is a brace.
Whether handled by the same or a different person, there are several considerations when bracing dogs. Chief among them is that not just any two dogs will make a good brace.
In the thick grouse woods, it’s memorable to come upon a fine piece of bird work by brace mates Northwoods Blue Ox on point, backed by Northwoods Carly Simon.
Good brace mates.
• The dogs should hunt independently yet be cognizant of what the other is doing so both can get in on any bird work.
• It’s perfect if one dog ranges wider and one is closer so more ground is covered more thoroughly.
• Easy handling dogs are best. At a minimum, one should be an experienced, almost automatic dog.
• The dogs must back their brace mates on point.
Bad brace mates.
• Competitive dogs are difficult in a brace. Some dogs are even more competitive to a specific dog.
• Two young males braced together can become quite a kerfuffle.
• Some dogs pay more attention to the other dog than to their task.
• When the same dogs are hunted together frequently, one might depend on the other to find birds and is content to back.
Two dogs will not only cover more ground but they’ll usually do it at a faster pace than if run singly. They might tire more quickly—which then might require more dogs to hunt the same amount of time.
How to know what dogs brace well together? Try them!
In the middle of feeding time, a female puppy out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon steps back and rests.
Puppies can be born in any month, or course, but certain times of the year are preferable.
In the realm of field trial competition, the opportune season is winter, and the earlier the better. When competing as a derby (up to about two years of age), the theory is that those dogs have a maturity advantage over those born later.
Jerry and I don’t compete at championship levels any more so timing isn’t as crucial. It is ideal to have puppies old enough so they can be introduced to the grouse woods in their first year.
But there is much about breeding and timing of litters that is out of control of the breeders. The major issue is the heat cycle of the dam. Too, depending on the chosen sire of a litter, geography could be challenging and either chilled or frozen semen could be necessary.
2014 has been an anomaly for Jerry and me as, here it is mid August, and we have just whelped two litters. We’re thrilled that both dams and all puppies are healthy and we’re excited about the potential of the puppies. In addition, litters out of Northwoods Carly Simon by Blue Riptide and CH I’m Blue Gert by Northwoods Grits are now seven and five weeks of age, respectively, and are maturing very nicely into tiny dogs.
At some point after a couple weeks, it can be nice for dams, occasionally at least, to have a break from her puppies. Jerry and Dan built this nifty rest bench that fits perfectly over the whelping nest. Not all dams seem willing to jump up but, on this day, Gert enjoys a brief respite.
At five weeks of age, the three Grits x Gert females eat moistened dog food and continue to nurse. The door to the outside run is propped open and they now easily go in and out. They are fairly active with quick movements and it’s darn difficult to snap a good photo.
At night, bobwhite quail sit shoulder to shoulder facing outward toward danger. Obviously, the Riptide x Carly puppies have nothing to fear—all heads are together when they sleep.
Paul Hauge bought Northwoods Chardonnay from us earlier in the summer. When she came into heat, Paul and Jerry developed a plan to breed to the extraordinary setter, Shadow Oak Bo, a two-time winner of the National Championship. In a complicated and expensive process, frozen semen was shipped from Thomasville, Georgia, and Chardonnay had surgery at precisely the opportune time. She whelped five females and three males in the early morning hours of August 8.
Northwoods Rum Ricky rests while her two-day-old puppies nurse and sleep. This litter, three females and one male, is by extremely talented and handsome Northwoods Parmigiano, owned by Paul Hauge. Rickey whelped on August 12. (Have you ever seen a rounder tummy?)
CH Ridge Creek Cody (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008)
Jerry and I received horrific, heart-breaking news from North Dakota. During the morning of Saturday, August 9, Ridge Creek Cody and several other dogs drowned while on a conditioning run from a four-wheeler. Cody was owned by Larry Brutger of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and trained and handled by Shawn Kinkelaar on the horseback shooting dog circuit.
Nine other dogs perished including 6X CH/7X RU-CH Hot Topic, 2X CH Royal Rocks Mr. Thumper and Handsome Harry Hardcash.
Ridge Creek Cody was whelped in 2008 out of two grouse champions, Can’t Go Wrong x Houston’s Belle. Paul Hauge, Belle’s owner, and Jerry were the brains behind the breeding. Jerry had competed against Can’t Go Wrong on the grouse trial circuit and was extremely impressed with his fluid gait and extraordinary ability to find and point ruffed grouse. Too, Jerry campaigned Belle to all of her championships and knew her strengths.
We both remember the day Larry picked up Cody as an eight-week-old puppy. As little Cody romped around the kennel office, Larry talked of his plans for training and competition. That first year, Jerry took Cody to our camp in North Dakota and worked him on the vast prairies. Matt Eder further developed Cody but it was Shawn Kinkelaar who took on Cody and fully realized the dog’s potential.
Cody was a 3X champion and one-time runner-up champion.
2014: Midwest Open Shooting Dog Championship
2012: National Amateur Pheasant Shooting Dog Championship
2011: Idaho Open Shooting Dog Championship
2011: All American Open Shooting Dog Championship (Runner-up)
In addition, Cody was the Bill Conlin Setter Shooting Dog Derby Award Winner (2009-2010) and placed third in the United States Quail Shooting Dog Futurity, a rare accomplishment for a setter.
Among trainers, handlers, judges and fellow competitors, all agreed that Cody had supreme athleticism—a skill level on par with Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
Cody had become an extremely popular sire and his progeny were just starting to be recognized. Jerry and I bred Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009) to Cody in 2013. We’ve stayed in contact with most of the puppy buyers and trained five, even though the clients are near and far. It was a stellar litter.
• Piper: owned by Larry’s friend Chuck Brandes, St. Cloud
• Willow: Gregg Knapp, Wisconsin
• Charlie: Bill Owen, California
• Zada: Tom Condon, Montana
• Stoeger : Drew Milles, Minnesota
• Mazie: Scott Harness, Minnesota
• Rae: David Larson, Minnesota
That Cody was a rare champion with desire and ability is obvious but when he stayed with Larry, he was a cool, calm house dog.
What a tragic loss—not only to the Brutger’s and not only to the field trial world where a valiant competitor is respected but to the English setter world at large.
Our sympathies to Larry and his family. RIP Cody.
The Washington Post recently published an interesting story, “What our cats and dogs say about our politics,” by Aaron Blake. Together with The Post’s Graphics Editor Christopher Ingraham and data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, Blake discovered a remarkable similarity between dog vs. cat states and conservative vs. liberal states.
In other words, the dog vs. cat map of the country looks much like the red vs. blue map of the 2012 election.
In a related piece on Wonkblog, Roberto A. Ferdman and Ingraham (who also previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center) extrapolate further:
“We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.”
I don’t know the political leanings of many of our clients but, obviously, I do know that all are dog people. Further, a large percentage live with multiple numbers of dogs. While the initial intent was upland bird hunting, these dogs of our clients live, for the most of the year, as beloved pets.
Many thanks to my friend Jan Streiff for telling me about this story. She is a cat person but has grown quite fond of our dogs.
A six-week-old male puppy out of Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice takes a break from his fuzzy chew toys.
Jerry and I feel fortunate that for the vast majority of our 20 years of breeding, dams have gone into labor, whelped puppies and everything turns out fine. We’ve never lost a dam and very few puppies have died.
But some times things don’t go exactly right. On the morning of Friday, July 11, we knew CH I’m Blue Gert was in early stages of whelping her litter by Northwoods Grits but we didn’t see any contractions. We were concerned and, after a consultation with our vet, we brought Gert in. A cesarean section was necessary and six puppies—three females and three males—were delivered. But things were still tough. One male died within minutes of being born and the other two males died within 24 hours.
The all-female litter out of I’m Blue Gert by Northwoods Grits are lined up in a familiar pattern–legs and paws tucked underneath their bodies.
Thankfully, Gert pulled through surgery in good shape and is a model mother to her all-female, wiggly, vigorous litter. Two puppies are tri-color and one is orange-and-white.
A four-week-old male puppy out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon looks a bit scruffy after his evening feeding.
Across the aisle, Northwoods Carly Simon is still busy caring for her large brood of eight puppies, now about four weeks old. They were quite precocious in terms of moving about the whelping nest so we removed the divider and opened the dog door to the outside. Within minutes, puppies had scampered out the door.
It is fairly difficult to tell puppies apart in this litter as all are tri-color and have evenly marked dark heads, like both their dam and sire, Blue Riptide.
Dams are among the most patient of beings. This puppy found a comfy spot on top of Northwoods Carly Simon. (Photo by Tom Beauchamp.)
At six weeks of age, the puppies are out of Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice are the eldest and seem quite mature in comparison. They are completely weaned, eat dry dog food exclusively and drink water out of a big-dog water bucket.
Even though it’s a squeeze, the Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Coice litter still prefers the warmth of their littermates and the whelping nest bowl.
When evening chores are finished, Jerry and I take them out for short walks in a pasture of buttercups and clover or play with them on freshly mown grass outside the kennel. They are at their roly-poly-cutest now, all round tummies and white furry bodies.
Houston’s Blue Diamond (Houston x Forest Ridge Jewel, 2006)
The standings for the national English setter awards for all field trial venues were recently announced in The American Field. It was nice to see every dog honored but especially gratifying for Jerry and me was the inclusion of dogs that we bred. In addition, one dog Paul Hauge bred out of his Houston and one dog of Sean Derrig’s were honored.
2X CH Houston’s Blue Diamond, owned and handled by Ross Leonard, won the John S. O’Neall, Jr., English Setter Amateur Shooting Dog Award. Placing fifth in the standings was CH/RU-CH Houston’s Blackjack. He is owned by Frank LaNasa and Leroy Peterson, both of Minnesota, and handled by Frank.
Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008)
For the fourth year in a row, Shadow Oak Bo won the John S. O’Neall, Sr., award in the open all-age category. Bo is the setter that famously won the National Championship in 2013 and 2014. Bo is owned by N.G. Houston and Dr. John Dorminy and campaigned by Robin Gates. Blackjack was high in that category also, listed seventh in point totals.
3X CH/RU-CH Ridge Creek Cody was the sixth highest point earner for the Elwin G Smith award. Cody is owned by Larry Brutger of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and handled on the circuit by pro Shawn Kinkelaar. Cody and Blackjack were littermates.
Ridge Creek Cody (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008)
In addition, Sean Derrig had bred his dam Erin’s Skydancer to Ridge Creek Cody in 2012. A male he kept, Erin’s Hidden Shamrock, earned points in two derby categories.
Congratulations to dogs, owners and handlers. Perhaps, most especially, congratulations to Paul, who started it all with Houston more than 30 years ago.
John S. O’Neall, Jr., English Setter Amateur Shooting Dog Award
1st Houston’s Blue Diamond
5th Houston’s Blackjack
John S. O’Neall, Sr., English Setter All-Age Award
1st Shadow Oak Bo
7th Houston’s Blackjack
Elwin G. Smith English Setter Open Shooting Dog Award
6th Ridge Creek Cody
Herman Smith English Setter Open All-age Derby Award
7th Erin’s Hidden Shamrock
Bill Conlin English Setter Open Shooting Dog Derby Award
9th Erin’s Hidden Shamrock
Erin’s Hidden Shamrock (CH Ridge Creek Cody x Erin’s Skydancer, 2012)
Northwoods Parmigiano (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010) retrieves a bobwhite quail to hand. Photo taken November 17, 2012, Duxbury, Minnesota.
A lot has happened since my last update…
Northwoods Carly Simon whelped eight puppies in the early morning hours of June 24. Jerry and I were away but Dan was on hand to lend assistance as necessary. Much is even about the litter: four have body spots and four don’t; all eight tiny heads are evenly marked; and sex distributions are even numbers (six females and two males). This litter is by Rodney Klimek’s handsome male, Blue Riptide.
Just hours after whelping, the eight puppies out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon barely take up half of the the heated bowl. Each weighs an average of .53 lbs.
At two weeks of age, the litter out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon fills the nest and spills over the edges.
The puppies are healthy and growing fast. On average, they have tripled their weight in two weeks—from .53 lbs. to 1.6 lbs.
Houston’s Belle’s Choice still does 100% of the work for her litter by Northwoods Grits at three-and-one-half weeks of age.
In the next run, the four puppies out of Houston’s Belle’s Choice by Northwoods Grits are 3½ weeks old. They are active enough that we’ve removed the sliding door from the whelping next so now they can tumble out into their kennel run. At four weeks of age, we’ll begin offering dog food (moistened and softened in water) and start the weaning process. In the meantime, Choice is still doing all the work.
As I write this, I’m Blue Gert (owned by Dave and Rochel Moore), is in the early stages of whelping. Last night her temperature dropped below 99 degrees and she’s showing signs of discomfort. This will be our second litter this year by Northwoods Grits.
Oblivious to the storm clouds approaching, puppies out Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer are far more interested in a mud puddle in the pasture.
Our pointer litter, Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, turned eight weeks of age on June 30. Two are off to their new homes with the Fouts and Smythe families. We have the remaining two—a male we’re raising and developing for Rick Snipes of Texas and a female we’re keeping.
Puppy naming convention for 2014.
Many years ago, Jerry and I began a tradition of naming all puppies born in one year based on a theme. Not only did it provide some organization to our names, but it was easier to remember which litters where whelped when.
Some of our past themes include Beer and Wine, Cheeses, Rock Stars, Classic Cocktails, Luxury Cars. This year we’ve chosen the Periodic Table. Even though neither of us is a chemistry wizard, we like the concept of an orderly arrangement of all the elements. Plus, there are some cool words.
The first name for our orange-and-white female puppy whose orange is a very soft shade: Northwoods Platinum.
Friday is the Fourth of July holiday when our nation officially celebrates independence from Great Britain. From backyard to lakeshore to city-wide festivities, incredibly fabulous displays of fireworks will be part of the observance. While Jerry and I love a good show, we believe firmly that puppies and fireworks don’t mix.
We have heard many tragic stories of young dogs that were badly frightened—or worse—by loud fireworks. Puppies have become so scared that they panic, run away and are lost or hit by a vehicle. Others have chewed out of crates, sometimes breaking teeth and scratching until their paws are bloody.
Even if your young dog has been exposed to gunfire, you still need to be careful. Here are two easy precautions.
• Put a crate in a protected, quiet place and put the puppy in it.
• Provide background noise such as a TV or radio.
If your young dog will be exposed to fireworks, consider these actions.
• Go about things normally during the fireworks. Act as though nothing special is going on.
• Don’t comfort the dog or give it any attention. Don’t look at the dog; don’t talk to it; don’t touch it.
• If your dog wants to be close to you, let it; but again, don’t comfort it. Comfort will most likely reinforce the behavior and make things worse
From top, credits for fireworks photos:
Puppy points can be intense. Dixie (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013) is utterly focused on bird scent.
The excitement associated with seeing a dog on point is likely what attracted most pointing dog owners. What is the pointing instinct, exactly, and how does it develop?
The pointing instinct.
Pointing is defined as freezing at the scent or sight of game. It is an inherited instinct most prominent in the pointing breeds but, to some degree, many sporting breeds and wild animals also display the pointing instinct.
Two terms are frequently used to describe points. Staunchness refers to how long the dog holds point while steadiness describes a level of training, i.e., steady-to-wing or steady-to-wing-and-shot.
A puppy’s first points are usually an instinctive response to the smell of game. These points are often called “flash points” and are short in duration. Some puppies, though, do point for a longer time because they’re unsure and aren’t bold enough to rush in. During these early points, the puppy is in a heightened state of emotion, its body posture intense and sometimes crouched as it focuses exclusively on the smell.
As a puppy learns what it is smelling, it points and then stalks toward the location of scent until it gets close enough to flush the bird. The puppy chases to try to catch the bird. This continues until the puppy realizes it can’t catch the bird and, therefore, its only alternative is to hold point. As the puppy becomes more experienced in pointing, the excitement wanes and its pointing stature begins to convey confidence and boldness.
Puppy points aren’t necessarily the prettiest. The important part is the instinct to stop.
To properly develop a young pointing dog, it should be allowed to learn how to handle birds without interference. The best method is frequent bird (wild or liberated birds that can’t be caught) contacts. Two of the most important lessons are learned at this stage—how close the dog can get to the bird before the bird flushes and that the dog’s movement causes the bird to flush. (For more information, please view the post Accuracy of location.)
There is nothing the handler can do—or should do—to rush this phase. While the puppy is pointing, don’t talk to or restrain it and don’t be in a hurry to flush the bird.
By the age of two, Northwoods Carly Simon (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) was fully trained, i.e., was steady-to-wing-and-shot. On a Georgia quail plantation, she displays the quintessential pointing posture–beautiful and confident.
Staunchness and steadiness training.
At some time, and after enough bird contacts, most well-bred pointing dogs naturally stay on point until the handler arrives. This is the minimum expected (the hunter needs to be close enough to shoot the bird) and is referred to as a staunch point or staunchness.
The next step is steadiness training. Many pointing dogs are trained to be steady to the flush of a bird, also called steady-to-wing. Very few are trained to the ultimate level–steady-to-wing-and-shot.
Faulty genetics, improper development, bad training or a combination can cause problems with pointing. Here are some of the most common and their causes.
The dog smells the bird but then avoids it and continues on. This is almost always a man-made fault from improper development around game. While some dogs may be soft tempered by nature, no dog is born a blinker.
Whether before or after pointing, the dog intentionally jumps in and causes the bird to flush. This is fine in a young dog but should not be allowed in a mature dog. These are usually bold, aggressive dogs that need to be corrected.
The dog smells the bird and maybe points but then tries to move around the bird instead of going directly towards it. In a mature, experienced wild bird dog, this behavior might be a learned response to stop birds from running away from its points. Circling in a young dog, however, is more likely an inherited behavior but could be caused by improper training and development.
The dog points the bird but its tail wags and never stiffens. This can be inherited and/or man made.
A dog points with low posture or even lies down on point shows a lack of boldness towards the bird and/or doesn’t want the bird to flush. This can be inherited and/or man made.
The dog points and but no bird is flushed. Again, this can be inherited and/or man made. (For more information, please view the post Unproductive points.)
The “wing on a string” trick is sure fun to see but means absolutely nothing.
• Sight points are not the same as scent points. The old “wing on a string” trick so often used to pick a pointing dog puppy means nothing regarding future scent-pointing ability.
• All dogs will tend to point longer as they get older. Too, they get more cautious in the presence of game.
• There is “too much point” and “not enough point.” Ideally, the young dog will have enough genetic point to stop but learn staunchness through bird contacts.
• A precocious puppy with excessive staunchness doesn’t always turn into the best wild bird dog in the end.