What would YOU say?

brittanyworkingA great pair of questions via another of my social media sites merited a bit of introspection and a question in my own mind … HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THESE?

I have 3 hunting dogs – 2 Brittanys and a Chocolate lab. The Brits are great for upland bird hunting while the lab excels with duck hunting but often goes with us after pheasants. All really enjoy retrieving birds and as you state, having the bird in their mouths.

Couple of problems I have noticed when taking all dogs upland bird hunting.

Brittanys do a great job locking up on a point. Both dogs “honor” the other Brittany’s point.

Problem arises with the Lab. Being a “flusher” he normally stumbles into the point and flushing the bird early.

Obviously I probably need to keep Lab out of the field when hunting with pointing bird dogs so I don’t ruin the hard work my Brittany’s put in to point birds.

I have heard tales that you can train Labs to point (there is a kennel in Mid West stating they raise pointing Labs). Is this possible in your evaluation?

The other problem when I sometimes take all 3 dogs out pheasant / quail hunting together is they ALL want the same bird / birds after they’ve been shot.

This often leads to a race to the fallen bird and struggle between the dogs to retrieve back to me.

Worse yet, one of the Brits tends to want to play “keep away” with the retrieve from the other dogs.

Any suggestions on how I can train my dogs to prevent this activity?

My answer:

Take them all! But train them a bit more. Okay, maybe a LOT more …

1. Lab: walks at heel during the hunt, point, flush.

2. Britts find and point, remain steady to wing, shot, fall. Lab too – at heel.

3. Britts steady when Lab then retrieves. Or, when you choose, when you send one Britt for the retrieve.Don’t bother trying to “train” your flusher to point. Some Labs might point a bit, but if you don’t have one, don’t push Mother Nature. Use your dogs the way they were designed.

Your answer?



Chill man … er, dog

If only he'd be this mellow on command.

If only he’d be this mellow on command.

I often joke about it, and so do others, but in my heart of hearts know it’s true. Dogs know when they are going hunting. At our house, it could just be a training run. My guys don’t know the difference. They’re just attentive. Our actions, routines, body language all provide clues that quickly become cues for them. If you doubt me, just watch your dog carefully for a couple days.

At our house, it might be just lacing up a pair of boots. The distinctive rattle as I take a whistle lanyard off the hook prefaces a run in the woods behind our house. Unless I’m careful, I’ll say something to my wife that includes the word “outside.” Then, it’s off to the races.

Like the Star Wars “Force,” cues have a light side and a dark side, and can be used for good and not-so-good. Timed incorrectly, our unwitting cues can amp up the energy level and create a free-for-all, setting back whatever training accomplishments we’d achieved previously. Used strategically, they can orchestrate your training session, even your hunt.

While excited dogs are often a good thing, when the intensity level gets too high, bad things can happen. Base instincts take over and rationale thinking goes out the window, leading to inattention or disobedience. We raise our voice, or resort to physicality. Like the cold war arms race, it can escalate with no end in sight, becoming a policy of mutually-assured destruction. All hope of a productive training session or relaxing day afield fly out the window when we, or our dogs, have a meltdown.

Mellowing the vibe is critical. But it’s easier said than done, and flies in the face of human nature. We expect dogs to “listen to reason,” see our point of view, or simply simmer down when we tell them to, often loudly and frequently. But a psyched-up critter is beyond the point of reason, so we need to take it down a notch via the same, baser level of communication. Using some of the same cues that set things off can set things right if they’re aimed at the desired goal.

Your voice and your actions can dial down your dog’s energy level. It requires discipline on your part, but the rewards are worth the effort: a calm dog, ready to take direction and less inclined to do something that could lead to embarrassment (for you) or injury (for him).

Try breaking your routine, and thus the visual and aural signals that lead to chaos. Rather than grab a leash and put on your coat preceding the usual nighttime walk, reverse the order, and put some time in between the two acts. At our house, the sounds of e-collars beeping to life mean time for a training run – the highlight of the day for my guys. Once beeped into whirling-panting-run mode, I can’t get them to hold still to put the darn collars on them!

When dogs frantically jump at a gate ready to explode with anticipation at being let in – or out – turn your back to them, rather than barging through and grabbing at them. If the chaos resumes when you reach for the latch, turn and walk away a few steps. If they want to get through the gate, they’ll eventually put two and two together. Barking dogs are often met with yelling by their owner, encouraging them to “be quiet” at maximum volume. What’s up with that?

Pet him? Give commands? Hmmm.

Pet him? Give commands? Hmmm.

The questions I get constantly amaze and often, inform me. Maybe they will do the same for you. To read the previous Q&A I did, click here. Otherwise, read on…

Q: What is proper etiquette when hunting your dog with someone else’s dog for the first time?
Most of the time, everyone is happier when you hunt dogs singly. Alternate them, then compare and contrast their styles at the end of the day over a tall cold one. Dogs need to be trained to hunt as a brace, must honor each other’s points and retrieves, and obviously need to get along. If you must hunt them at the same time, try spreading out–way out–and effectively hunt by yourselves. If that doesn’t discourage you, introduce the dogs on neutral ground with leashes loose so they are not feeling your stress, and if possible hunt dogs of opposite sex together.

Q: What are the pros and cons of a pointer versus a flushing dog?
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A flusher will probably be ready to perform reliably a season sooner than a pointer, because you don’t have to work on steadying the dog while on point. They are also the style of choice for running roosters who will drive a pointer batty.
If you are dazzled by a staunch point, you’ll be willing to wait a season while your dog learns the ropes. On the other hand, few feelings match the constant adrenaline flow following a close-working flusher. Both need training to retrieve reliably.

Q: I have a 10-month-old German shorthaired pointer with a lot of energy. We don’t have a good off-season place to train. What are some good tips for yard training that would not promote any bad habits?
The only thing you can’t do in the yard that you can do in the field is extend the distance your dog covers to perform his duties. I’ve found that yard-training problems start when dogs get bored. Too much repetition is often the problem. How about developing circuits of several skills and rotate through them at a relatively fast pace, like the weight training we do at the gym? A couple repetitions for each skill are plenty in any session. Challenge the dog by going a little beyond his comfort zone for each skill.

Q: With the long-haired dogs you run, how do you keep the burrs from building up on your dog?
Burrs are a fact of hunting life, but luckily, my guys aren’t as long-haired as some. A good comb-out is all it takes for my wirehairs, and they get that at the end of the day along with a thorough check of eyes, ears, toes, and bellies, to make sure there are no seeds, cuts, scrapes, or bugs. Longer-haired dogs will need more of the same, or a good haircut prior to the season. Some owners use “Show Sheen,” a spray-on horse product that makes most stuff slide off hair pretty easily.

Q: How do you teach your pointer not to bump or get too close when pointing?
Two separate challenges, two solutions. Once a dog knows what birds smell like, you need to insist that he stops immediately upon sniffing one. Walking him into the scent cone while on a checkcord and stopping him upon his first indication of smelling birds will help him point farther from the birds. I add a “gut hitch” to apply a bit of pressure to his flank as insurance, once he’s used to the checkcord. With a remote-controlled launcher, you can fly birds if he tries to sneak in after scenting them. Steadiness–not bumping once he’s on point–is an obedience skill. Once a dog indicates he’s found a bird by pointing, your job starts. Through any number of signals, you need to teach him that he should stand still (“whoa!”) until you tell him to move again to retrieve, hunt on, or heel away.

Q: At what age should you introduce live birds to a pup?
Early, in controlled situations so he can’t get scared or injured by flapping wings or claws. Lately, though, I’m becoming a believer in the old-school strategy: once your pup demonstrates interest in birds, work on pointing and steadiness, obedience, and possibly retrieving. You avoid the biggest banes of pointing dog owners: dogs that chase flying birds into the next time zone, and breaking on the flush. While birds are a great motivator and reward for dogs, they probably shouldn’t be the reason he holds once he hits a point … that’s an obedience skill.

Q: I have a 10-month-old German shorthair that hunts well. How do I get her to stop trying to get other dogs’ retrieves?
Yard work. A retrieve and bird-in-mouth shouldn’t be the natural result of every point (or flush, for retrievers and spaniels). In training, it should be a rare treat, with the handler picking up most birds. This breaks the chain of expectation inherent in the sequence of find-point-flush-break-retrieve. Once she learns that not every flushed bird is hers, introduce other dogs and make her remain steady while they retrieve. Again, it’s an obedience challenge.

Q: I just started upland hunting last year in Colorado with my GSP Remy and was wondering what advice you can offer about dealing with rattlesnake bites. We haven’t had any run-ins yet but I’ve seen quite a few while out scouting the areas we plan on hunting this year.
My strategy includes snake-aversion sessions (only with a pro), annual vaccinations, and carrying an antihistamine like Benadryl. If your dog gets bit, open the Benadryl capsule and pour the powder under his tongue, hold his mouth shut until it dissolves. Keep the dog as quiet as possible, carry him if you can to your truck, and hightail it to the nearest veterinarian for observation, fluids, antibiotics, and antivenin if necessary. If your area is particularly snake-prone, wait until the weather is cold to start your season, and most snakes will be denned up for winter. Just a reminder: the new vaccine holds promise, but only works on some types of rattlesnakes. It won’t hurt, and it could help.

Q: My Lab is a bit wild when she doesn’t get out to play and run. Any suggestions for when you want to try and train her but she is just too wild?
Many guys joke about letting their dog out of the truck five miles before a hunt or training session so it settles down a bit. But you won’t always have that opportunity, so your dog must learn that work is work. Get back to obedience basics, and add some clear signals that it’s time for learning, not playing: load up on the training table or clip the leash on, for example. Keep your energy level down, set a vocal tone that’s a bit more down-to-business. Start each session with some fundamental obedience skills to set the mood.

Q: I have a female GSP that is currently six years old. I feed premium food but can not keep weight on her when hunting season begins. I’ve tried satin balls, cans of food, soft food, etc., in addition to her dry food but she always loses weight. She is healthy and happy and has energy but I worry about her being so skinny. What can I do?
I’ve got a young wirehair with the same problem, and many of the same solutions have been tried at my house! First, check with your veterinarian to make sure it’s not a medical issue and she really is underweight (visible ribs are not necessarily a bad thing, for example). Then, shop for a higher-protein and higher-fat food, and look at products without grain. Many of us add fat to dry food. Some like butter, others coconut or olive oil. There are also powder versions of the same (pork fat, for example) available. Be cautious about how much added fat you use though, as there is a slight risk of pancreatitis.



Waterfowl guys have a term called “blind retrieve.” It describes the situation where the dog doesn’t actually see the bird drop, yet is required to streak right to the duck and bring it back. After watching video footage from a camera I mounted on my dog, Buddy, I feel obligated to redefine this term. It looks like virtually every retrieve is blind to a dog.

It’s a matter of trigonometry. Recall your lessons on sines, cosines, and tangents? Well, a dog is low to the ground. His line of sight to something else on the ground is easily obstructed by bushes, rocks, even high spots in the terrain. The obstruction doesn’t have to be very tall—a few inches—and your bumper or dead bird is virtually invisible.

Buddy’s perspective is too darn low to see beyond even short cover. The tall stuff, I’m just glad he has a good nose. Doubt me? Try it yourself some time. Lob a bumper, kneel down and see what you can—and can’t—see.

There’s not much you can do about minimizing these obstructions, but you’ll get your dog on more “blind” retrieves if you recognize his visual limitations and appeal to his sense of smell, instead of relying so much on his sense of sight.

In the future when I send Buddy for any dead bird, I’m sending him to the downwind side of where I thought it landed, to give him every chance for a successful retrieve – blind or not.

Timing is almost everything

Timing is almost everything

Dogs are not humans. Obvious, right? But when it comes to fueling a four-footed hunting machine, we often default to our own nutrition needs. While this motive may be well-intentioned, a misguided feeding strategy can negatively impact your dog’s performance—and could kill him.

I’m no nutritionist. But my study of the literature and discussions with the veterinarians who have conducted much of the research have led to a few truths, at least for me:

1. Unlike humans, dogs shouldn’t “carbo load.” High-carbohydrate diets can contribute to a condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis, or “tying up,” which causes muscle pain and cramping, watery stool, and dehydration.

2. Hard-working dogs derive much of their readily accessible energy from fat, not carbs. Giving your dog candy, corn syrup, or half of your sandwich makes you feel better, but won’t help your dog during a hunt.

3. Feeding before a hunt has more physiological downside than emotional upside. Keeping his “blood sugar” level steady is less an issue than in a human marathoner. And in most cases, the nutrients that fuel a hunt on a given day were consumed and metabolized 12-18 hours prior to the hunt. There is very little you can do on the day of a hunt to boost a dog’s energy (more on that later). Don’t worry about your dog being hungry during a hunt. As scavenger-predators, they are quite used to feasting, then fasting.

4. Then there’s the practical side. Think about your own performance after a big meal. Studies have shown that a dog (or human, I believe) with food in its gut runs slower, is less agile, and has less stamina than one with an empty stomach. Precious energy (and blood supply) can support muscles and respiration, not digestion. Fluids required for digestion are then available to hydrate those muscles. And most importantly, the soggy, heavy wad of food isn’t bouncing around inside his body, zigging when he zags and possibly causing “gastro volvulus” or stomach twist–a frequently fatal condition.

Think about it. What’s the first thing a hunting dog does when you let him out of the crate for a hunt? He takes a dump. It’s nature’s way of ridding the body of excess baggage that impedes his hunting abilities.

So, what’s a guy to do? Here’s my strategy. Adapt it as you wish.

1. I feed a high-quality (and often high-cost) ration year-round. We hunt part of the year, but train all year, so my dogs’ nutritional needs don’t change all that much. A good dog food has meat or meat meal as the first ingredient. It has at least 20 percent fat content, 30 percent protein. You can experiment with quantity and protein source for best results for your own dog. Expect to pay a buck or two per pound for the good stuff, but he’s worth it, right?

2. I feed morning and evening except when he’s hunting the next day. The morning of a hunt, and throughout the day I offer plenty of water.

3. As much to assuage my guilt as to give him a nutritional boost during the hunt, I offer my dogs a high-fat, low-volume snack every hour or so. Some people carry butter or cooking oil (messy). I like a product called Kronch Pemmikan that is like a giant candy bar, and contains almost 60 percent fat content. I’m fueling the dog without overloading his gut.

Beyond our own perceived guilt for “starving” our dog before a hunt, there’s no downside to this strategy…and plenty of upside. Try it next season and see if it works for both of you.

Cheatgrass, foxtails ... watch for them.

Cheatgrass, foxtails … watch for them.

This is the best time of year for humans, but the worst time of year for our dogs. Maybe I’m not telling you anything new, but just in case …

Everything out there can cut, irritate, scratch or otherwise damage man’s best friend. (I remember the first porcupine encounter like it was yesterday!) Just a reminder to keep minor problems minor, and minimize major problems with a careful going-over after each outing.

Foxtails, cheatgrass and other weed seeds (“awns” is the more scientific term, I believe) are some of the worst offenders. They will get in your dog’s mouth, eyes, nose, between his toes or pads, and lodge in ears. I know someone who lost a great shorthair to an inhaled foxtail that infected a lung and went undiscovered until it was too late to save it. Any seed can burrow into the skin, migrate to internal organs and kill a dog, so teach your pet to stand for an inspection, and gradually accustom him to ear-poking, toe holding, and eyelid lifting.

Even minor cuts and scratches can become infected, so check your dog for blood, watch for persistent licking (often a sign of pain or blood), and dig deep into thick coats for a visual inspection of his skin. Foot pads, especially the accessory carpal pad (a dog’s “thumb”) are particularly prone to cuts and bumps.

Other signs something may be wrong with pup include head shaking, favoring one foot or leg, pawing at eyes or ears, and rubbing against furniture. If you observe any of these signs, take another look or head for the vet – like the commercial used to say, you can pay the vet now (cheaper) or later (cha-ching).

Hey, after all your dog’s done for you, it’s the least you can do for him.

Fear the beard, embrace the eyebrows.

Fear the beard, embrace the eyebrows.

I get a lot of questions, and relish them all. They run the gamut, for sure, from ridiculous to sublime. Here are a few that may be of use to you:

Q: I have a three year old Lab that loves life. My problem with her is that I cannot calm her down in the field or other unfamiliar situations until she burns herself out. Do you have any tips on how I can work on this with her?

A: I wonder if this is an obedience issue? Practicing “sit” or “whoa” when she meets people or the doorbell rings, might help if that’s a problem as an example. It might be as simple as gradually exposing her to more unfamiliar situations, from shopping to walking on the sidewalk. In the field, a high-strung dog should still obey your commands, so go back to the yard or house and start over, expecting total conformity to your commands. Try a few warm-up drills involving obedience commands before you turn her loose in the field to remind her she’s working. I still put my young dog through some obedience drills before and during a hunt.

Q: Why are heavier loads needed for wild birds as opposed to club birds?

A: Wild birds often fly faster flush farther from the gun, so shots are usually at longer distances.

Q: I see you have a German wirehaired pointer. I am interested in getting a pointer. My question is several of my friends have flushing breeds, how hard and what kind of problems can a person run into hunting these different breeds together?

A: It usually doesn’t work well. A pointer will quickly get jealous of a flusher crashing into the birds he’s standing. He’ll start breaking point, fights will take place, prom dates will be broken, etc. Hunt very far apart (say 300 or more yards) and it might work.

Q: Both my wife and I are gun enthusiasts but have never hunted birds. We are both in the autumn of our years and would like to get a bird dog. Where do we start?

A: What a great way to spend your retirement! A dog is a life-long commitment, so before you make the emotional and financial investment be sure you really want a dog and will spend enough time in the field with it. Hunt at a preserve a few times with their guides and dogs, find a club and help out at training days. Attend some hunt tests and club events. “Borrow” a well-behaved dog for a day and night or two, to see if it fits into your lifestyle. If you’re still high on a dog and hunting, you’ve already done much of the research for a dog that might fit your hunt style, locale, birds you’ll be shooting at, and personality.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of getting a started dog versus a puppy and which would you recommend for someone new to or returning to the sport of bird hunting?

A: I’m bullish on buying started dogs. I’ve always gotten pups, but that’s just my preference. A started dog means no midnight potty runs and obedience classes. And the started, adopted and rescued dogs that I know have bonded just fine with their new humans. Puppies are magical beings, and the experience of raising one is special but it’s not for everyone.

Q: I have a seven-month-old field bred Springer. She is very high octane and has a hard time listening until she has had some exercise. Is there anything to do other than keep working with her and let her mature?

A: Nope.

Q: Is it necessary for a dog to have a beard, wire hair, and a docked tail in order to be a good hunting dog? I have noticed from watching your show with your friends “Buddy” and six month old “Manny” that you prefer German Wirehaired Pointers. I live in South Carolina and my son and I utilize our State Dog, Boykin Spaniels, but they have health issues. I was wondering why you prefer the wirehair breed? And do they have any unusual health issues like Boykins with ear problems and thyroid issues?

A: Those physical attributes do have function, but for me they’re just a personal preference. All well-bred hunting dogs will deliver in the field and at home, so find a breed and breeder you like and go for it! Some wirehaired breeds may have ectopic or entropic eyelids but it’s not much of a worry. Most breeds have health issues unique to them, so do some research.

Q: Which western state would you consider the best for multiple types of upland bird hunting.

A: That’s like asking me which of my dogs I like most! Every state has terrain, bird species, scenery that make it unique. Some that fit your request include Montana (Huns, sage grouse, sharptails, pheasants, forest grouse), the Dakotas (all of the above plus prairie chickens) and all three of those have great public access programs too.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 21,855 other followers

%d bloggers like this: