You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. Via Facebook, this blog, email and at events like the upcoming Pheasant Fest/Quail Classic you are not shy about wanting to learn more … about dogs, birds, hunting, shooting and that patch on my shooting glasses.
Here are some of my favorites …
Q: Have you ever encountered a dog that just couldn’t be trained to hunt?
A: I’ve OWNED them. Just kidding, but there probably are dogs that are less inclined to hunt. Much of that can be blamed on genetics and bad owners who haven’t trained their dog to basic obedience. I might guess that any dog with three or more legs (not joking) and a nose can hunt … if motivated by birds and their human.
Q: I hunt a lot of grouse and ducks in Minnesota and I have Springer spaniels. When hunting them in the woods they don’t like to get off the trail. What can I do to help them understand to go into the woods?
A: How much bird contact have they had? If you’re not finding a lot of birds in the woods, set up some training situations where they will discover birds when they get off trail. Once they get the idea, they’ll be more inclined to venture out.
Q: To neuter or not to neuter? I’m in the process of purchasing my first bird dog and have been given a lot of advice on what to do and what not to do when getting your first bird dog. On several occasions I have heard rumors around town about whether or not to get your dog fixed or neutered. Some say that if you do get your dog fixed, they will not be able to hunt longer and will be less aggressive in the field. Is this true?
A: Having just lived through our most recent neutering, I haven’t seen any change in Manny’s field behavior. The problems you worry about are easily fixed with good conditioning and training. The simple answer is, if you aren’t going to breed or show your dog, neutering will prevent unwanted doggie pregnancies and possibly damp down the roaming instinct in dogs seeking females in heat. The research on whether neutered males are more prone to certain cancers is not conclusive; certainly they aren’t vulnerable to testicular cancer! Many old wives will suggest a neutered dog is less aggressive, but there is little evidence of that in the science either. Most research does recommend postponing neutering for at least 18 months or more to ensure a dog’s body gets all the benefits of hormones generated from the testes and develops fully. Some suggest that will also minimize the cancer risks some research associates with neutering.
Q: Scott, you mentioned the tape on your shooting glasses so that you use your right eye. I was checking that out and noticed I close my left eye. I really never noticed it before. What are the pros and cons to closing an eye?
A: If you shoot better with your left eye closed, you might be cross-dominant like me. The tape ensures that I don’t have to remember to close my eye – instead, it muddles my left/dominant eye’s vision enough so my right takes over (I shoot righty).
Q: What’s the longest distance do you like to have your dog hunt in front of you and still be shotgun range?
A: Presuming you’re talking about flushing breeds, “gun range” should be the distance from you that puts birds in the air within a range you can ethically shoot at them … so a dog should probably work 10-15 yards in front of you so you have another 20-30 yards from a flush to hit the bird. Pointing breeds range according to genetics and training, but “gun range” is less an issue because (theoretically) they hold their birds until you get there. So I’m told.
Q: My question pertains to retriever training. Many if not most professionals encourage developing a personal bond between the owner and dog before moving on to advanced training. One such technique is the simple game of “fetch” to establish rapport and basic commands that can be built upon. My question concerns my wonderfully eager and cooperative English Cocker who is so eager to please that she is almost nonstop at retrieving. I have even ordered your new Signature Series dummy for variety as well as teach familiarity with a wing. My dog is still of the puppy mindset at eighteen months, easily wearing out my throwing arm before herself. She was a started puppy at seven months when I acquired her, eagerly retrieving flapping pigeons almost her size. Is it possible to overdo the dummy business such that she will lose interest in, or forget about the real thing?
A very serious dog trainer friend has cautioned me against this very thing. She loves to play so much that I would hate to deny her the fun, especially since she does it to eagerly please me.
A: Sounds like you’re having a great time. Yep, the bonding thing is important. I would agree with the very serious trainer (which I am NOT) that you could burn out your pup. At some point, retrieving must become a COMMAND, obeyed every time in every situation (force training). I face the same situation, though, with my 2-1/2 year-old wirehair. So I divorce the two: there is play time with a tennis ball and no retrieving-related commands. Then, out comes the Real Bird Bumper or real birds, and “fetch.”
Q: I notice in the magazines, big trials and even hunt tests that many dogs have long names. And sometimes they have unusual spellings of common names! What goes?
A: You can thank the American Kennel Club and other breed registries. Every registered dog requires a distinct name for recordkeeping, so many owners have to get pretty creative. Add to that limits on the number of characters on the registration form, plus many breeders who require you to preface your dog’s name with their kennel name and it can get pretty complicated.