CH JTH Izzie (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011).
August is an auspicious month for bird dog owners. First of all, autumn is in the air—especially on cool evenings. Too, even though they might have been conditioning their dogs all summer, they now begin training in earnest on wild birds.
Tracks of a sharp-tailed grouse.
Jeff Hintz is an excellent example.
He owns two white-and-black pointers: JTH Izzie (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) and JTH Scion (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015).
JTH Scion (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015).
The preparation and training is, for him, as much fun as the hunting. Since June, Jeff has been preparing his dogs for the hunting season. Scion, the younger dog, needed finishing work on manners around birds. He conditioned both off a reconditioned golf cart, and now is training them on wild sharp-tailed grouse. These birds can be found in open, native grasslands or thicker, mixed cover of oak, alder and prairie plants.
Photos by Jeff Hintz.
The right front paw of Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) shows normal growth and wear on dewclaw and toenails.
The issue of dewclaw removal is worth re-visiting on occasion. It’s not a life-threatening controversy but there is general misunderstanding…beginning with the possibility of a dewclaw tear.
I’ve been training, hunting and trialing pointing dogs for almost four decades. I’ve watched hundreds of dogs work thousands of hours in all kinds of terrain and conditions. Yeah, I’ve seen dewclaws torn but much less than regular nails and not even close to injuries to limbs, tails, eyes, ears and skin.
Besides, dogs use dewclaws. I’ve seen dogs groom themselves and scratch using their dewclaws. And they are used in the field because dewclaws show wear just like regular nails.
Perhaps most importantly, dewclaws are natural parts of canine anatomy. Five tendons attach to each dewclaw. At the end of those tendons are muscles with a distinct function: to prevent torque on the leg. When a dog turns while cantering or galloping, “the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the leg and prevent torque,” Dr. M. Christine Zink, Director and Professor, Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote in the linked paper.
“If a dog doesn’t have a dewclaw, the leg twists,” she continued. After a lifetime of that abuse, carpal arthritis and injuries to elbow, shoulder and toes can result.
Betsy and I don’t remove dewclaws from our puppies. We base that decision on science—on research and clinical observation by Dr. Zink.
Most veterinarians admit that injuries to dewclaws are rare.
Again, Dr. Zink: “It is far better to deal with an injury than to cut the dewclaws off of all dogs ‘just in case.’”
Northwoods Rhea (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Nickel, 2017) loves her clicker training sessions with Jerry in the kennel office.
Summer in Minnesota is a great season…perhaps only bested by autumn, the obvious bird hunter favorite.
While most of our fellow Minnesotans are heading to their lake cabins or hauling a trailer somewhere, this summer for Jerry and me has meant puppies—lots of puppies—and groups of talented dogs in for training.
Three litters that whelped within a six-week time frame produced 24 puppies. While dams did the bulk of the work, it meant plenty of chores for us but also hours of enjoyment.
Northwoods Nickel, on left, and Northwoods Carbon reared their litters in neighboring runs.
Eight puppies were whelped on April 3 out of Northwoods Bismuth by Northwoods Grits. Grits was also the sire of our second litter, this one out of Northwoods Nickel, whelped on May 1. Last with her litter of eight was feisty Northwoods Carbon by Northwoods Nirvana on May 12.
The only male puppy of Northwoods Carbon’s litter of eight by Northwoods Nirvana litter has the perfect home with Brandon Eales.
Jerry and I kept six puppies from this group but the rest are very happily living in their new homes (at least according to enthusiastic emails and text messages!). Puppies were picked up by families who drove from Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota while other puppies flew to Helena, Seattle and Philadelphia.
Dogs bring the neatest people together and we always like to meet new clients. But, too, Jerry and I were especially delighted to see Dick and Melanie Taylor and Mike McCrary again who bought second setters from us this summer.
Staunchness training for Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016). Photo by Jeff Hintz.
Out in the field, summer means gun dog training using pigeons in releasers, backing dummies and dogs dragging check cords. Jeff Hintz, our friend and neighbor, has helped Jerry for many years. They are an impressive team, easily communicating with hand signals, head nods and grins.
Loki (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016) is owned by James Anderson. Photo by Jeff Hintz.
Nick (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) is owned by Larry Young.
Gunner (RU-CH Erin’s Prometheus x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2016) is owned by Kevin Zubich.
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.
Northwoods Gucci (CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2015)
Northwoods Gucci is the co-winner of the 2017 Minnesota/Wisconsin Cover Dog Derby of the Year. Her point total equaled that of Opie, a setter male owned and handled by Sig Degitz. In just three starts in trials this spring, Gucci placed in each one.
Gucci was whelped on April 15, 2015, out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock. Betsy and I, together with Paul Hauge, co-bred the litter. Paul owned Gucci and entrusted her development, training and handling to us.
Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009)
Gucci comes from a long line of females winning this award. Consider this:
Dam: Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011
Great grand-dam: CH Houston’s Belle (owned by Paul Hauge), 2003
Great grand-dam: Blue Silk, 2001
Great great grand-dam: CH Blue Streak, Runner-up, 1997
Houston’s Belle’s Choice, one of Gucci’s grand-dams, didn’t win the award herself but produced, in addition to Chardonnay, Northwoods Highclass Kate (owned by Barry Frieler) who won in 2012. Gucci’s grand-sire, CH Ridge Creek Cody (owned by Larry Brutger), won the Bill Conlin Setter Shooting Dog Derby award in 2010.
Recently Gucci was bought from Paul so she’ll now spend her falls hunting birds in Montana. Betsy and I will still have her with us in Georgia during the winter. In 2018, we plan to breed her to the outstanding Northwoods Grits.
Northwoods Highclass Kate (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010)
CH Houston’s Belle (Houston x Forest Ridge Jewel, 2001)
Blue Silk (CH First Rate x CH Blue Streak, 1999)
CH Blue Streak (Spring Garden Tollway x Finder’s Keeper, 1995)
The eight puppies out of Northwoods Bismuth by Northwoods Grits are now seven weeks old and have grown into little dogs.
Very considerate on the part of Northwoods Carbon, Jerry and I thought, that she whelped a litter of eight during the afternoon on May 12. No bleary-eyed, middle-of -the-night vigils this time. All eight are tri-color and look like miniature versions of their dark-headed parents. The sire of this litter is Northwoods Nirvana.
Northwoods Carbon whelped seven females (!) and one male on May 12. Here on Day 4, they are still tiny but healthy with round, full tummies.
This brings our total number of puppies in the kennel to 23. That’s not a record…but darn close. Within 10 days of each other in 2015, dams Northwoods Carly Simon, Vixen and Chablis whelped 24 puppies.
Joining Carbon this year are Northwoods Bismuth and Nickel. Bismuth’s litter by Northwoods Grits is now seven weeks old. Completely independent of Bismuth now, they have their own kennel run, eat real food and lap water out of a bucket.
The seven puppies out of Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Nickel at two weeks of age just about fill up their heated nest. Too, they weight an average of two pounds…more than doubling their weight .
Also sired by Grits, Nickel whelped her litter of four males and three females on May 1. With the exception of one male that is orange and white (Grandsires Shadow Oak Bo and Northwoods Blue Ox are both orange), all are tricolor.
By two weeks of age, eyes have opened. A Grits x Nickel female give me a sleepy stare.
It seems miraculous that within eight short weeks, tiny creatures that start out totally helpless and weighing less than one pound grow into 10-pound, independent beings that look like little dogs.
A. J. Kalupa, flanked by Rochel and Dave Moore, happily poses after an open shooting dog placement with I’m Blue Skye.
The spring field trial season is winding down across the country and here are some dogs out of our kennel that placed.
Congratulations to dogs, owners and handlers!
A special combination of dogs/owner/handler is happening on the western field trial circuit. Bill Owen campaigns two dogs he bought from us as puppies—one setter and one pointer. Bill handles them in amateur stakes but has entrusted Travis Gelhaus to handle them in open stakes.
Handler Travis Gelhaus poses with first place derby Northwoods Blackhawk Sage (first dog on the right). Sage is owned by Bill Owen, the guy in the cowboy hat on Travis’ left.
Northwoods Blackhawk Sage (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015), a big, handsome liver-and-white male, won the National Chukar Derby Classic. Bill’s setter, Northwoods Charles (CH Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013), was named champion in the National Chukar Shooting Dog Championship. The stakes were held in Sunnyside, Wash.
Newly crowned champion Northwoods Charles is posed by handler Travis Gelhaus while owner Bill Owen, in the green hat behind Travis, wears a nice smile.
In Wisconsin, I’m Blue Skye (Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert, 2014) placed third in a Chippewa Valley Grouse Dog Association open shooting dog for A. J. Kalupa, her new owner. A. J. had recently bought Skye from Dave and Rochel Moore, who also own Skye’s dam, CH I’m Blue Gert. Amazingly, this trial was the first A. J. had entered.
Winners pose after a Moose River Grouse Dog Club open derby stake held in Wisconsin. From left: Rod Lein with his third place setter, Jerry with second place Northwoods Gucci and Sig Digetz with his winning setter.
Northwoods Gucci (CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2015), owned by Paul Hauge, had never competed in a field trial. But this spring, Paul thought she was ready so I handled her in three open derby stakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She won one and placed second in two. In those outings she earned enough points to share the derby of the year award with Sig Digetz’ setter Opie.
Northwoods Nirvana (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011) continues to produce winners. The latest is Phillips Spitting Image, owned by Matt Phillips, who placed fourth in the U.S. Complete Shooting Dog Futurity.
With the NCAA championship basketball game streaming from my laptop in the background, Northwoods Bismuth whelped her litter of eight puppies by Northwoods Grits on Monday, April 3. In less time than the game took, Bismuth easily delivered four males and four females. All are tri-color.
The litter is now almost three weeks old. They have grown from tiny creatures to vigorous, plump, easily distinguishable puppies. They crawl out of the nest to relieve themselves but still spend most of their time either nursing or sleeping in an ever-changing pile.
Bismuth was whelped in 2014—the year Jerry and I chose the elements as our puppy naming theme. It was a very good year! Among others whelped that we still own are Carbon, Nickel and Platinum while two other outstanding dogs, Mercury and Gold, were sold.
On a spectacular, late afternoon workout, Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) found and pointed six grouse and one woodcock. As Bob Wehle might have said, “This is my brag dog!”
Wild bird contacts are essential when developing our puppies. I’m exposing them as much as possible to wild birds so their hunting instincts, natural abilities, style and poise can be fostered. All are key considerations when selecting future breeding dogs.
Showing impressive style and poise for a 13-week-old puppy, Northwoods Hercules (RU-CH Erin’s Prometheus x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2016) points a single bobwhite in native wiregrass.
As soon as the Georgia quail season ends in late February, dog trainers on most plantations focus on working their puppies. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know several of them and so I spend most mornings in March bracing our young dogs with theirs.
During a morning training run on a beautifully maintained private quail plantation, setter Northwoods Mica (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Nortwoods Carbon, 2016) and pointer Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) share point.
When back in Minnesota, I can’t wait to get our puppies in the woods on grouse and woodcock. Amazingly, the transition is usually easy for them.
In a scene reminiscent of a Bev Doolittle painting, Northwoods Gabbro (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016) sticks a woodcock.
By the time nesting begins and training season ends, I have a good idea of the abilities of each pup. And yeah, it’s a lot of fun, too!
Northwoods Slate (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016) stopped in mid-stride, ear flipped back, when he caught scent of a quail.
In a picturesque setting of broom sedge, Northwoods Chalcedony (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) points a covey of bobwhite quail.
Northwoods Jeter (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011), owned by Sam Gary, Jr., was featured in a recent episode of Outdoor Bound TV with Kurt Walbeck.
Jerry and I watched two recent videos where three English setters—all bred and trained by us—are stars. They are equally exciting and humbling to see.
The first footage features Bill Heig, owner with his wife Gail of Bowen Lodge in northern Minnesota. Bill was the subject of an episode of Outdoor Bound TV with Kurt Walbeck, a Midwest-based hunting and fishing show.
This program follows Bill and Sam Gary, Jr., on a hunt at Bill and Gail’s bobwhite quail lease in Texas. Bill and Sam have bought many dogs from us over the years—setters and pointers, males and females—but for this hunt, both chose English setter males. Bill took out Louis (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) and Sam wanted his favorite, Jeter (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011).
The Texas ranch setting is beautiful. The dog work is sometimes extraordinary and other times, especially for the younger Louis, earnest. The shooting by Bill and Sam is expert.
The next footage was shot by Nick Larson, a regional director for the Ruffed Grouse Society. Nick was out in the woods near his home in Duluth, Minn., with his setter male Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014).
In a fantastical setting of aspen trees and fluffy snow, Hartley pointed and a grouse flushed. The bird then careened off through the woods. Nick captured the whole thing in slow motion on his cell phone and sent it to A.J. DeRosa of Dangerous Cow Publishing for some expert editing.
Nick writes, “For most people, I think the flushing bird is probably the star of the show. It’s a great flush no doubt, but for me, Hartley is definitely the real star because without him I never would have captured the shot.”