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Posts Tagged ‘gun dog’

Our opening weekend destination.

Our opening weekend destination.

Pretending to be attentive to my company, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off the single, fluttering yellow leaf as it drifted to the ground. It was the first of millions, but at least to my eye it was a sign.

I wore a jacket for the first time this morning. Then Manny’s exhalations created clouds in the brisk morning air. And the ground exhaled too, showing moisture in the sandy soil for the first time since March. Buddy smiled as he raced through the sage – at least it looked like a smile to me. And both dogs ran with a verve fueled by the bracing air.

I’m ready. Are you?

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This was easy. Now, let’s hit the water.

I summarized to my wife the biggest challenge of a NAVHDA Utility test this way: you must train to the test, and you must use “tricks” to chain together the skills needed for each portion of the test, or you will not pass. It’s no wonder NAVHDA offers handler’s clinics – most of us will never understand the training challenges of this complex series of events unless broken down into components and trained for in bits and pieces.

And they are not the obvious, A-to-B-to-C string. There is a considerable amount of dog psychology and cheerleading (so to speak) in getting from start to finish. Understanding what really counts is a lot easier when you can pick the brains of experienced, wiser mentors … luckily, I have one.

The duck search portion of the test is my current nemesis. Problem number one: a dog doesn’t naturally know that there’s a bird in the water somewhere. You must convince him of that, then chain it to the expectation that he must seek it out and bring it back. Thanks to NAVHDA trainer and judge Bob Farris, I now have a series of exercises to prepare him mentally for the task.

Lucky for me, Manny is bird-crazy. Bob can use that to chain together the components of a successful duck search starting from Square One. First objective: get him to the far bank, where any search should begin. That’s a few steps from where we are but it’s coming together.

So for us, we begin with a swim for a visible, obvious bird in the water. Then get Manny to swim farther for the bird, possibly with the incentive of a rock splash, and then farther, with a bird thrown beyond the rock splashes to get him across the pond.

Then, let’s take him back from the water, possibly behind the truck, but make sure he knows there will be a bird, maybe show it to him before he’s taken away. Then, add a track on the far bank to get Manny to search beyond the expected hiding place. If necessary, have someone there to encourage him verbally, possibly toss a rock or two if he needs it. Eventually, he will find tracks all around the dry land, and with luck water, too. With the confidence of knowing there is a bird in there, we hope he will maintain the motivation to search high, low, and in between  …  for ten minutes come test day.

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Some people say I have a face for radio, and I might agree. I was in that business for 20 years for a reason! But Buddy knows that my face can also help him become a better hunter. (Thanks to NAVHDA judge Phil Swain for pointing this out!) See if it works for you:

No wonder he doesn't follow my direction! Face it: a few simple changes might help your dog, too.

Think about what dogs see, especially from any distance. Not much, in the way of details. A scowl, frown, smile, what can they make out from 20, 50, 100 yards? Well-bred bird dogs will key in on your body’s most visible, brightest component … your mug, even if it’s wanted poster-ugly. They’ll try to stay out in front of you, and they know it’s the front because they can see your face. Alright, so how do you use this to your advantage?

Look in the direction you want your dog to go. A cooperative dog will want to move to your front, keeping your face behind him. To change direction, just turn that way. When you need a strong retrieve (or at a NAVHDA duck search, where you can’t handle your dog) direct him with your face, not by walking around in the brush. It keeps your scent out of the area, but still puts him where the bird fell. Or at least where you think it fell.

And take off those dark glasses. Your eyes are not just the window to your soul, but the key to communicating with your dog. Try a few commands with glasses on, then after a bit, with them off. See if it makes a difference in your dog’s willingness to obey and (more importantly) understand.

Like Buddy, your dog may not have the best taste, but if it helps him hunt, your face may be the best thing he’s seen all day.

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When I saw his work, I was stunned at how a painting could put you smack-dab in a cut cornfield, CRP ground or the tangled briars of ruffed grouse country. I’d swear he mixed a little adrenaline into his paints!

Ross Young’s dog paintings are from “life,” he says, as opposed to from photographs like most. This living, breathing connection between beast and brush create an image that jumps off the page like the birds we pursue. You can count the ribs on Ross’ pointers, hear the tail swish, feel the wirehair’s hot breath.

Ross Young’s paintings will grace the closing credits segment of Wingshooting USA again starting this fall. Here’s a preview of a one of his newest works for the show:

"One on One" by Ross Young

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Got a tip for starting this little guy right? You could see it on the TV show!

Got a great bird hunting tip? Share it in my “Upland Insider” feature graphic on Wingshooting USA. I’m compiling suggestions for next fall’s shows NOW and your input is needed.

You could win everlasting fame, the admiration of your hunting buddies, when we put your name on the screen. Go here for more information.

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That whoosh you heard the night before Christmas Eve wasn’t snow sliding off your roof. Nor was it Santa firing up the afterburners to gain lift in the thin North Pole air. It was me, sighing in relief when the vet said those lumps on Buddy’s

Soon, my friend, we will be back in the chukar hills

abdominal X-ray were well, um, “processed” dog food, backed up by shards of shattered cow bones. Those jagged bits jumped off the light board, searing their individual shapes into my mind’s eye.

Thank God these were “before” images, followed by expert digital (as in fingers) manipulation which in turn freed up the blockage in a dramatic manner (maybe that was the whoosh!).

But how did we get to this point? And as important, how do you avoid it and the hours of soul-searching anxiety that accompany most veterinary emergencies? Because you haven’t experienced hell until your loyal canine companion is in pain, confused, and helpless. If you’ve been there, think back now. You know exactly what I’m talking about … don’t you? If not, steel yourself because it is inevitable.

The good news is Buddy’s fine, recovering and eating small bland meals now, working his way back to field-ready condition (I hope by next weekend and our next chukar hunt). But for now, I revel in the bright-eyed vigor he’s showing – a far cry from the tucked-tail mope of Thursday morning.

It’s an agonizing introspection when your dog is at the vet, tubes in his veins. You wish you’d done things differently … but what things, how differently? You swear you’ll never proffer a chew bone again, because that was the cause. You promise to share more quality time afield with him, because that’s what he loves (and so do you). Because you never know which hunt will be your last together.

And that, my friends, is the real lesson. So Buddy and I (and Manny) will see you in the field this weekend, if not sooner.

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I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours … dog preference, I mean. Here’s mine:

Yep, I'm a wirehair guy ... how about YOU?

Weigh in here and stand up for your favorite canine companion!

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