Sky’s first sharptail that she pointed and retrieved. Thanks again for another great dog.
~ Randy, from Minnesota
The day our eight-week-old puppies go to their new owners is bittersweet for Jerry and me. All is forgotten though when we receive joyous messages and photographs showing exactly what we breed for.
Stella’s first sharp-tailed grouse. Who looks happier ??? Great job, Stella Blue. Hunting with all the Northwoods setters in Montana!
~ Laura, from Illinois
Our puppies this year seem exceptionally precocious. Pointers out of Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen and a setter female of Northwoods Carly Simon by Northwoods Grits have already hit the woods and fields. Most impressively, the young dogs have found, pointed and usually retrieved the birds.
Jade on a hot Michian grouse opener. She pointed 5 woodcock and 2 grouse on her first run. She was staunch on all birds and let me flush all of them. She stays with me, almost always naturally forward and seems to have an unbelievable nose. Her bird sense is like nothing I have ever had as a puppy. She is an absolute dream to own in all aspects. Thank you for the chance to own one of your pups.
~ Frank, from Michigan
Walked up, took the picture and flushed a covey of 6 sharptails.
~ Jeff, from Minnesota
The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, Training Your Own Bird Dog, 1948
To provide the ideal ruffed grouse shooting opportunity, a pointing dog should engage the grouse so the bird doesn’t move. Bumping grouse occurs when a dog gets too close and causes the bird to flush. It’s one of the most common training problems I hear about from clients and friends.
One reason is simply the difficulty of the quarry. An occasional bump is part of grouse hunting; but if your dog bumps more than it points, something else might be going on.
Listed below are common causes and tips for improvement and correction.
→ Cover and weather conditions.
In the early part of the season especially, the cover can be thick and conditions can be warm and dry. Both make scenting extremely difficult for less-experienced dogs and challenging for veteran grouse dogs.
Tip: The hunter can’t do anything about this one. Wait until conditions improve.
→ Lack of experience.
Rare is the dog that will exhibit a natural ability to point grouse with just a few contacts. Most bird dogs need repeated exposure over several seasons.
Tip: This is easy. Hunt more.
→ Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t know it’s supposed to stop and point.
Tip: The dog needs to be trained to stop on WHOA.
→ Seeing grouse on the ground.
Dogs invariably see grouse on the ground and sometimes the temptation is just too much.
Tip: Reinforce WHOA and steadiness training with a visible bird on the ground.
→ Over-exposure to planted birds.
A dog can get quite close to a planted bird before it stops to point. Grouse are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
Tip: Stay away from the game farm for awhile and provide more exposure to grouse.
The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a bad nose, inadequate pointing instincts or physical limitations.
Tip: Thoroughly check out the breeders and breeding of your next puppy. Make sure the sire and dam—and previous generations—are proven grouse dogs.
→ Stuff happens.
Even an experienced grouse dog with a bold, confident attitude will sometimes bump a grouse.
Tip: Exercise patience and move on.
Jerry and I wrote this piece for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. (http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/223773411.html ) Even though two years old, the information is still valid and worth re-visiting.
The golden leaves of autumn lie crisp on the forest floor. The dog’s bell rings merrily as the hunt moves from one likely piece of grouse cover to another. Suddenly, the bell stops. With high anticipation, the hunter searches and, near an alder edge, sees the dog — body rigid and eyes intensely focused. As the hunter approaches, a ruffed grouse noisily flushes and the report of a shotgun swiftly follows.
To achieve that classic ruffed grouse hunting experience with your dog will require hours in the woods and years of effort, for there is no game bird more difficult for a pointing dog to properly handle than a ruffed grouse. It is wily, wary and often called “King of the Woods.”
The process of 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.
Here are important considerations to make the most of this time.
Before taking your young dog into the grouse woods for its first hunt, make sure you’re prepared.
The foremost consideration is proper introduction to birds and gunfire. A basic obedience command, HERE or COME, and an attention-getting command, such as calling its name, need to be understood. In addition, the means to enforce those commands, such as a check cord or e-collar, is necessary.
Your young dog also should be accustomed to the sound of a bell or a beeper and to riding in a vehicle. It should be at a suitable weight and in good health, too.
Exposure to grouse.
Most of what a dog needs to know about finding and pointing grouse is learned from the birds themselves. Exposure to grouse — and plenty of them — is crucial.
Your puppy will learn key details about grouse.
• Where they are most likely to be found.
• How to differentiate where the grouse is as opposed to where it was.
• How close to get before the bird flushes.
• That it can’t catch the grouse.
• How to follow running birds.
The goal is to have your puppy hunt for and find grouse. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.
Handling in the woods.
Expecting your puppy to be in sight always or range at a certain distance is unrealistic and, in fact, can inhibit its bird finding. As long as it is checking in and hunting in the direction you’re headed, you don’t need to say anything. Over-handling, in terms of too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement, can distract and confuse the dog. In addition, it could alert any grouse to your whereabouts.
At times, you’ll need to communicate with your puppy. Use the basic recall or attention-getting commands and be sure to have the capability to enforce them.
If your puppy gets overexcited, take a break. Give it time to settle down and regain its composure.
Owner attitude, expectations.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons. Your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits, not pay attention and, at times, become uncontrollable.
Be realistic about your young dog’s capability. It might look mature, but it is still just a puppy. Be cognizant of its physical and mental limitations; i.e., plan several short hunts instead of one long outing. To encourage your young dog to point grouse and not flush them, shoot only birds that have been pointed.
Finally, do remember to have fun with your puppy. Take time to savor this first season — hopefully the first of many — in the grouse woods.
Both photos above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
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.
Veteran Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) makes it look easy.
Much of Minnesota’s woods are thick and hot now during high summer but whenever I have an opportunity to work dogs on wild birds, I say, “Let’s go!”
Northwoods Carbon (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) found a woodcock on the edge of a grazed cattle pasture.
Just to the south of our kennel are great woodcock covers. Young and old aspen mix with alders and field edges and there is plenty of damp ground. I’ve worked one or two dogs almost every morning. This summer is especially fun as woodcock are abundant and we’ve even encountered a brood or two of pheasants.
Northwoods Jaguar (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) pointed a woodcock in older aspen with an understory of ferns.
It’s interesting to watch the dogs naturally shorten up in thick vegetation. Our dogs usually range 100 – 150 yards in mid-October but, now in July, they’ve hunted 20 – 40 yards from me.
One-year-old Northwoods Bismuth (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) pointed the first woodcock she smelled and let me flush it!
Jerry and Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009). Photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
Many of our clients have met our neighbor, friend and training helper Jeff Hintz. Besides his devotion to pointers and hunting wild birds, Jeff is very active online. He emails and texts to people all over the globe and has 1,145 Twitter followers. He recently sent me this post from an outdoor blog on the Garmin website. While its focus is dog training, clearly the principles apply to life in general.
Here are some highlights.
“Every day, in every way, our attitude greatly affects how each project, idea, communication, or dog training session will turn out. A calm, compassionate, yet gung-ho and positive attitude can achieve amazing results.
“Having a good attitude is very important when we want to communicate. The way we communicate with people or dogs could be the bottom-line reason things generally go well for us . . . or not.
“Using a calm voice and a steady, consistent demeanor will help our dogs…
“…use our happiest voice, even if it sounds like a gushing teen-aged girl, when we’re letting our dogs know how thrilled we are with something they just did or learned.
“…use our mean voice when it is clearly required…
“The person who allows his attitude to get bent out of shape when bad things occur, or when things don’t go his way is going to bring heaping helpings of unhappiness upon himself. And he certainly will not achieve excellent results with his dogs, goals, or the folks around him. It pays all of us to frequently think about our attitude and resolve to keep it at its best.”
Northwoods Grits, age 4
Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis
photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet