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Intense. Loyal. You're the man.

Intense. Loyal. You’re the man.

Well, you are ten years old, at least chronologically.

Your muzzle is grayer, your gait slower. At times, there’s a hitch in your getalong. Luckily, you can’t say the same about me because you can’t talk.

Based on your behavior, I’d consider you a mere puppy – levitating, bouncing, hopping, barely containing your squeals of delight. You are effervescent, hoping it’s time for birds, a hell-bent streak through the desert, or maybe just coffee on the couch.

But there’s also anxiety in your world. You worry about my leaving, or who’s going to hunt first. There is concern in your eyes when the door opens and you’re not invited to race outside, or when you’re outside, not allowed in. Thank goodness for Penny the Corgi, your apprentice. She calms you with an ear lick, doleful eyes aimed your way. Or she pulls on your lip, mouths your elbow, yips in invitation to – what? Puppy mojo washes over you, magically stealing back the years that have taken their toll.

I hope that my touch, my soothing words, calm you too.

At night, we exchange moans lying on the couch together, fluently communicating in the secret language of the tired, old and sore. We share stone bruises and scratches, painkillers and sometimes, dinner. But in the morning, you are ready for action so I will be too.

Your grand nephew Manny now looks to you with kind eyes, finally secure in his own skin and ready to be a member of the pack. You might even hunt together this fall.

You sleep deeply, chasing rabbits with muted howls. I stir in the night, wishing I was following. In the morning we’ll foray into the desert, intent on following our dreams.

What do you want for your birthday, Buddy? If you wished for a whole bag of food, rawhide bones, or a fluffier bed I’d rush out today, credit card in hand. Luckily, we agree that the perfect birthday gift is a long drive, lunch in a small town café, camp where the only light is from stars, and waking to a glorious day in the field full of finds and flushes.

I promise a season-full this fall. Happy birthday.

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your

Remember in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” where the sneering, brutal prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character “what we have here is a failure to communicate?” It’s a new low in not getting what either of them want, simply because they can’t – or don’t want to – make their respective points clearly.

When it comes to your dog, being clear and concise is critical to success. If your dog understands precisely what you want from him, he will be more likely to perform well in the field, in the yard and in your home. If you know what your dog needs, you can help him better understand you.

Better performance starts with better communication

Better performance starts with better communication

I give seminars and talks at events all over the country, and a recent talk at Pheasant Fest generated some spirited feedback and fascinating stories of other dog owners’ trials, tribulations and triumphs. The most intriguing discussion in the aisle had to do with which words to use for which commands, and why. Here’s my take:

In my mind simple is better. According to the U.S. Army, your pup could conceivably understand over 200 different commands. But not at my house. I give my dogs easy to yell names . . . one or two syllables. That way, they learn their unique signal faster. Furthermore …

Sound-alike conflicts are a major bugaboo. Many of our commands can sound like names. Call your setter “Beau,” and he might “whoa” when you want him to hunt on. Rover sounds like “over,” a common command among retriever handlers. And “no” sounds like Beau or whoa, adding to the confusion.

I strive for distinctive words for each desired action. Momma dog uses “aagh” when she disapproves . . . why not take advantage of genetics and use it too? (It may be academic. At our house, most dogs’ first names end up being “goddammit,” at least early in their careers.)

“Here” is easier to yell than “come.” But “heel” and “here” sound the same, so my “heel” command is “walk.” I don’t use “over” when I want my dog to change direction, I use “way” as the command, often accompanied by a hand signal. My release command can’t be “okay,” or there’ll be more confusion. And he might think I’m asking him to hold still … “stay.”  ”Alright” is safe and sounds like nothing else in the lexicon.

I have a theory that most times, dogs simply hear the vowel and ignore the consonants. Testing this theory on Buddy probably doesn’t prove much besides I’m a bad trainer, but it seems to ring true. At Pheasant Fest, one of my new friends disputes this theory and offers various command words and tricky situations where he has tested his dogs and they have learned the difference. More power to ya, Andy. But as I said, for me and Buddy at least, simple is better.

Happy Birthday, Manny

Another good job.

Another good job.

Today is your fourth birthday, Manny. And as many have said before, that’s about when a wirehair actually matures enough to be a good hunting partner. Actually, you’ve been a good hunter since your first season – not disciplined, untrained – but still, a joy to watch.

Lately, though, it is clear you have evolved into a strong bird dog. “Honest,” as some put it. Maybe this year we’ll find a spot on the calendar for our NAVHDA Utility Test, which you are undoubtedly ready for.

You’ve matured in important ways. You follow direction well. You handle birds right. You’re tolerant of your great-uncle Buddy, almost ambivalent (and that’s a good thing).

In other ways you’re still a pup. Your look at life is energized, a wide-eyed innocence that makes every day, every bird a pleasant surprise. Bird contact starts with a high-speed tail wag, and I know when it stops, so will you … holding as long as I need. And that’s a good thing too.

Your fans have watched you grow up on the show, I hope they‘ve learned as much as I have from training you. Maybe their dogs benefited as a result.

When I picked you up at ten weeks, your dark face and darker coat stunned me. I’ve learned to appreciate it – unique, easy care and just different enough from most wirehairs to remind me that you are a special dog.

Bon voyage, puppy

If I ever put my dog on an airplane, I hope that guy is on the baggage crew.

If I ever put my dog on an airplane, I hope that guy is on the baggage crew.

The cliché is, you can tell a lot about a person by how they  treat a dog. I guess it’s a cliché because it is fundamentally true.

A long layover in the L.A. airport was softened a bit by the show outside our window in the Alaska Airlines Board Room: planes taxiing in and out, the hustle and bustle of airport doings from refueling to baggage loading. That’s where it happened.

A tug pulling a baggage cart parked alongside a jet,  plastic dog crate the only cargo. The loading crew all seemed to find a reason to saunter past, pausing to stoop down and give the pup a greeting. Eventually, the entire blue-clad squad had gathered enmasse at the box, including a massive crew member who could have been a sumo wrestler in his free time.

And that’s when it happened: the hulk of a man, who could load the passengers single-handedly let alone suitcases, squatted like a new father, supplicating in front of the kennel. He made goo-goo eyes and offered a finger through the mesh door for a doggy kiss, a finger that was so thick it wouldn’t go farther in than the first knuckle. He gently picked up the crate, and carrying it like a Ming vase placed it lovingly in the hold.

I couldn’t hear a thing through the thick glass and I doubt the dog could on the busy ramp. But that mountain of a man said something to that dog in what was probably a gentle, comforting voice as he bade the pup farewell. I think we both felt better, ready for our journeys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your signal?

Is it that first shopping trip?

Is it that first shopping trip of the season?

Hiking in the desert, of all places, it hit me when I noticed the dried leaves carpeting the sandy ground. Last fall’s remnants kindled anticipation of this fall’s hunts. Wrong leaves, wrong place, but the die was cast – I’m ready for hunting season.

What is your trigger-tripper? A training milestone? Weather change? Test season? Youth hunt?

Something pushes you over the edge, inescapably heralding the Most Important Time of Year. But do you know what it is? And if you don’t have one, you have several months to pick one.

Go.

For me, it's all in the dogs. How about you?

For me, it’s all in the dogs. How about you?

… about bird hunting?

Yep, we talk a good game about the wonders of the natural world, cycle of life, camaraderie, miracles large and small performed by our dogs. But if you had to narrow it down to a single, specific item that would stop you from hunting any more if it were absent … what would it be?

The reason we go

The reason we go

Protein is not the prime objective for Wingshooting USA TV viewers when they take to the uplands in search of pheasant, quail and grouse. That’s one revelation in show host Scott Linden’s fourth annual “Upland Nation Index,” a national survey of his viewers. The languishing economy might prompt big-game hunters and waterfowlers to make meat for the pot a priority; in fact, a recent more general survey identified a rising trend among hunters going afield primarily to supplement their pantries. But Linden says for upland bird hunters, food isn’t their primary objective.

“Watching my dog work” is the main reason Linden’s fans go hunting, according to his survey. With over 33 percent of Wingshooting USA viewers owning two or more dogs, that shouldn’t be surprising. And while that may be a full house for some, 28 percent of Linden’s fans are planning to buy another dog soon, say respondents.

“Being with friends and family” is the number two reason viewers hunt, being in natural surroundings ranks third, and “bringing home food” ranks dead last among choices in the Index. Speaking of priorities, Wingshooting USA TV fans live, eat and breathe shotgunning and bird dogs. When they’re not hunting, their principal free-time activities are dog training and clay target shooting (42 percent each).

Where are they going in pursuit of their passions? Forty-five percent hunt public land almost exclusively. Forty-two percent hunt private land via one of the landowner access programs or by asking permission, and the remaining 13 percent hunt primarily on preserves.

Linden’s fans are a restless lot too. Fifty-six percent plan to hunt outside their home state, with South Dakota the prime destination (25 percent of all out-of-state trips) and Kansas capturing the interest of another 17 percent.

The Upland Nation Index surveyed 1,700 viewers of the Wingshooting USA television program in January, 2013. The margin for error is plus or minus five percent. Wingshooting USA is the most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., airing on seven networks including a debut on Discovery Channel’s Destination America this summer. It is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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