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Posts Tagged ‘versatile hunting dogs’

Petroglyphs up there - one of the lessons to learn.

Petroglyphs up there – one of the lessons to learn.

In another life I must have been an historian. I love the past, reading about it, talking about it, and especially the dazzle of discovery. Besides being with dogs, the chance to span the decades (even centuries) is high on my list of reasons to go hunting. Cresting a ridge to find everyday stuff lost or discarded by those who walked the same path brings dusty books and mind-numbing lectures to life.

I’ve stumbled over sheepherder stoves and peeked (not too far) into abandoned gold mines, camped in willow corrals and counted bullet holes in a Buick abandoned after a foiled bank robbery. Man-made artifacts, each with a tale to tell those lucky enough to walk a bit farther.

A ranch driveway bears a faded sales pitch for an insurance agent, painted on a boulder when the rutted gravel was the only road into town. Pictographs and petroglyphs are a regular discovery in the tumbles of lava that define chukar country. Rock cairns called “stoneboys” by Basque sheepherders, were piled to counter the boredom of minding a flock. Stories from different ages, for differing reasons.

Wagon wheels, lead-soldered cans piled among shattered crockery, square nails from abandoned homesteads, all tie this life to past lives. Everyday junk joins us to predecessors.

Why did someone leave that wooden bucket on this ridge? Who knapped arrowheads, leaving a pile of obsidian chips glittering at the base of this rock? Was that intact spear point dropped in the heat of a chase? A clean miss? What – or who – was the target?

That’s why I love this stuff, the stories. Do you have any?

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Double on Huns ... now that's an indelible memory, boots or not.

Double on Montana Huns … now that’s an indelible memory, boots or not.

I don’t know what you have on your end-of-season to do list, but it seems like mine gets longer every year. One of the topmost chores is saddle-soaping my hunting boots. Today was the first spring-like day here: blue skies, last week’s rain rising from the ground to weight the atmosphere, and a blazing sun … ideal boot cleaning conditions.

With brush, water, saddle soap arrayed on the porch, out marched the footwear, pair after pair after muddy pair lined up like so many recruits awaiting their first day of basic training. Scrub, wipe, array in the sunshine to dry … assuringly familiar, this routine, a note of finality with each pair dispatched.

The tall boots rekindled memories of a hell-bent stream crossing after valley quail, alone but for my dogs. The mountaineering boots proudly wore scars from jagged lava rock, abrasions suffered in pursuit of chukars with a college chum. A cushy, “civilized” pair were worn only once this season, on a memorable bobwhite hunt with some real Yankees from Vermont, quite at home in Alabama, also quite genteel. Each boot brought another memory bubbling up from the subconscious, as vivid as the video footage you’ll eventually see on the show.

Last week, gun cleaning. This week, boot cleaning. Next week, I’m sure something else will find it’s way onto the list. Until then, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and relive my time in the hills and prairies, reminiscences now written onto the soles of each boot.

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Does the other end of this transaction have power beyond amps and ohms?

I’ve spoken before of my aversion to e-collars in the presence of birds: there are simply too many things that can go wrong. But recently (as I hope you read), I’ve seen electricity in a different light, so to speak. Once Manny understands that holding a point is an obedience challenge, the usual “enforcers” are all in play: checkcord, verbal, electronic. The key is divorcing a scented bird (and the instinctive pause it incites), from the expectation that he should hold that point once the handler is in the picture.

Okay, so I’ve gotten it off my chest.

That done, I’ve noticed an interesting side benefit: I don’t really need to use the collar much. The mere sight of the transmitter (big, black, ominous) encourages compliance. Dangling around my neck or clutched in my free hand as birds flutter and fly around him, Manny stands solid as a rock. Even other commands (kennel, heel, etc.) come easier when that long black tube is in the picture.

(This is probably yet another manifestation of “collar-wise,” but so what? If a dog is already collar-wise, and it works, what’s the problem?)

Interesting side notes: At times, Manny doesn’t even need to wear his e-collar – seeing the transmitter is enough motivation. Thanks to my poor planning, I’ve also learned that holding the transmitter isn’t necessary.  A fisted hand is a worthy substitute, which will certainly come in “handy.”

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Now, it becomes a “whoa” command.

Thanks to NAVHDA trainer, judge and Pudelpointer breeder Bob Farris, my eyes have been opened so wide, I’m gonna need Visine! Of the many things he’s enlightened me about, steadiness while on birds was perhaps the most useful to me, and maybe to you.

We all have our methods for teaching staunchness. Barrel, table, half-hitch, collar, place board, winch, tow truck … all have their merits. But those are merely practical applications of a theory I’d never quite grasped.

Think about the temptation, the challenge, the genetic motivators for breaking point. After all, a point is merely a pause prior to pouncing on prey (just watch a coyote working a field for mice). Sure, we can stretch the length of that pause, but at some point we must overcome instinct alone or he will pounce.

As a judge, Bob is asked to evaluate every piece of the point-flush-shot-fall-retrieve process. There are different goals for each, the most important being the separation of instinct (the moment a dog smells the bird and points) from obedience (when he’s led to understand he must hold that point, indefinitely).

So, Bob says break the sequence into those two pieces: 1) the point … instinct; 2) staying staunch … obedience. That’s how they’re judged in a NAVHDA Utility Test, because that’s a good way to ensure reliable performance in the field (a dog that’s steady to wing-shot-fall).

Manny is catching on … now, if his handler can! He’s learning that a whiff of bird equals point. But he’s also learning that once I’m in the picture giving the whoa command, instinct is out, obedience is in. Eventually, the verbal command will become a hand signal, then simply a “look.” But by then, he’ll understand that a human that walks to the bird means the same thing as “whoa,” a hand signal, the sound of a flush, a gunshot or long whistle: do not move.

We love our dogs for their instinctive skills and how we can join them in the hunt, the two of us making a team that is stronger than either individual. There are plenty of times when the dog’s instincts are paramount. Others, when obedience and cooperation must trump those genetic signals.

What’s worked for you?

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Like this.

Minor victory: Manny was steady on flushing pigeons without his half-hitch … two successful go-rounds, and we’re all in for the night (why tempt fate?). One step forward, without a step back. I’ll take it. Buddy, of course, was like a rock. Thanks, good boy.

Next: add the blank pistol (probably after a few backslides).

===

Got a second GPS collar from Garmin, so dusted off the other one and started using them. I’ve finally figured out most of it – I think. Some initial observations:

- Manny runs faster and farther than Buddy … double his average speed and total mileage. I guess age is finally creeping up on my furry friend.

- Like a mobile phone, you’ve got to be careful not to become one with the phone and miss out on why you are out there. Numbers and maps are fun, but really, you’re there to hunt. And watch out for boulders.

- While I miss the security of “stimulation,” and especially the tone and locator features, having some quiet time on the grasslands knowing I can still locate my dogs is quite satisfying.

===

Got an interesting email from a friend, lamenting the difficulty of finding training partners, even among our club members. Maybe you can relate. Few choose to go to the  higher testing levels, few of them live nearby, few of those have schedules that match. See where I’m going?

I’m going to train with Jim, if he’ll have me. And with luck, I’ll be a help rather than hindrance. So how do you find training buddies whose schedule, goals and personalities match?

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At 11:42 p.m. on March 31, Dani Duniho cast the final vote in the Wingshooting USA TV “TruckVault Cares … for conservation, canines & kids” initiative. For her vote supporting the AKC-Canine Health Foundation, she will receive a merchandise prize package from lead sponsor TruckVault. Dozens more will receive prizes in the next few weeks as randomly-selected voters are contacted.

Thanks everyone. Stand by for news about our second-annual effort.

“I am often the last of something here or there, but I think this is the first time I have earned a reward for that status,” Duniho added in her thank-you note.

Created by Wingshooting USA executive producer-host Scott Linden, “TruckVault Cares” raises funds and awareness for six different groups. Voters are eligible for prizes ranging from a TruckVault secure vehicle storage system, Fausti shotgun, Tri-Tronics electronic dog training collars, Linden’s own Real Bird Bumper, Kent Cartridge ammunition and Filson apparel.

The conclusion of the voting signals distribution of the $10,000 funding pool, to be parceled out proportionally by vote totals to all beneficiary groups. The leading vote-getter was the AKC-Canine Health Foundation with 36,576 votes, with other groups and their votes listed below:

Scholastic Clay Target Program, 15,087; International Hunter Education Association, 8,012; Ruffed Grouse Society, 7,898; Gun Dog Rescue Clubs, 4,851; and North American Grouse Partnership, 2,464.

Besides sharing in the funds raised, Linden says all groups benefitted from heightened public awareness of their work, with each group seeing over 50 million gross media impressions over the course of the initiative, which began in August, 2011. Together, the groups claim over a million member-supporters.

Wingshooting USA is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It airs on Pursuit Channel and four other television networks, year-round.

How it all finally played out ...

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The desired result.

What a weekend. Some news, I can’t share quite yet. But some I can:

1. The weather here has returned to spring-like, snow melting in rivulets at the low spot on each trail, and blessed daylight lasting longer every afternoon. I had to carry water today on our training runs.

2. It appears Manny and Buddy have worked through their dominance issue. We ran together in the glorious sunshine three times, finally getting up to the high spots I’ve been unable to climb when cutting the run times in half to rotate dogs. Not a speck of aggression … in fact, almost a return to Manny’s puppy-like curiosity at his great-uncle’s actions. Grateful thanks to breeder/trainer Jeff Funke and behaviorist Ed Bailey for counsel.

3. Watched Rick and Ronnie Smith’s “Silent Command” DVD and I am most happy with the initial results I’m seeing.

If you know the NAVHDA Utility Test, you know a dog must be steady to wing, shot, and fall. (A recent sad story from Illinois drove home the advantage of a dog that doesn’t bolt at the shot. Add the basalt cliffs we hunt for chukars to the test requirement and I’m a believer.) Getting Manny there after two seasons of chasing on TV will be a challenge.

But the half-hitch Rick and Ronnie espouse may as well be attached to a magic wand. Unlike the Smith’s neck-oriented “point of contact” for going with or coming to you (as they say), it is put to the flank for standing still – “whoa.” You may as well have nailed my dogs’ paws to the whoa table for as much movement as they demonstrated. I got a little cocky and hitched both dogs in a point-honor scenario and the magic rope solidified each without an inkling of temptation to dishonor the bracemate. This was also true on retrieves … each dog watched calmly as the other brought a pigeon to hand, and vice-versa.

I know better than to draw too many conclusions from a weekend of experimentation. But so far, thumbs up.

PS: Got to meet Dad/Uncle Delmar Smith at Pheasant Fest and had a good time reminiscing about the rodeo world, of all things. While we rightfully revere Delmar for his dog training insights, he may have become more famous with his recent National Public Radio appearance where he was noted for his work as a rodeo “gateman,” the guy who opens gate and sends calves out to their ropin’ destiny.

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