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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?

 

 

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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?

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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?
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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.
A:
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?
A:
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?
A:
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.

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Want to get up here? Start working on it now.

Want to get up here? Start working on it now.

By my calculations, it’s only about 120 days until we can start chasing birds again. With the opener come all the joys and trepidation of a new bird hunting season. We’ve waited, planned, practiced, anticipated, maybe dreaded, everything from the alarm clock’s buzz to the smell of Hoppe’s Number Nine, to the post-hunt celebration.

Okay, I’ll say it: kind of like Christmas Eve.

But ensuring a fantastic opener takes more than trusting to luck. Relying on a wing and a prayer is not a strategy. Orchestrate your first day afield to ensure a safer, more enjoyable start for you and your dog. Some has to wait until the night before, but some you can start working on now.

Gear: Like any athletic event, half the game is in your head … familiar gear and mastery of it creates a level of confidence in both hunters. Now is the time to learn your way around your stuff. Then, you’ll be shooting the gun you shoot best, even if you bought a new one in the off season. Get to know that spare shotgun, too. New boots? Break them in now, when you have plenty of time to dial in your new stuff. On that first day you want to feel comfortable literally and figuratively. Ditto for the new e-collar or GPS, figure out all the bells and whistles now, so you can manipulate those buttons with your eyes closed.

Place: Who doesn’t love new hunting spots? The joy of discovery is addicting. But to start the season on the right foot, start doing your homework now. Often, it’s best to start the season hunting a spot you know. You will be more confident (read: shoot straighter) and you’ll have a better chance of finding birds (read: happy dog). If you simply can’t resist the siren song of a new covert, do your research, talk to the regional biologist now, when he is a little less harried, and hang that topo map on your office wall to study. Now’s the time to secure permission to hunt private property or “open to hunt” lands.

People: You might have an opening weekend tradition – I do. I invite the right hunting partner – the one who helps buy fuel and brings a spectacular lunch. He guns while I handle the dog if necessary, holding off when I’m working on steady to wing and shot. He knows not to shoot bumped birds. But the selection process takes a while and might be done best with some “practice” during dog training season.

Dogs: No baseball player skips spring training. No football player shirks the weight room. Neither should your dog (or you, for that matter). Make a list of what you want to fix from last season, setting both training and fitness goals. “If you’re dog’s fat, you need more exercise” is an apt cliché, not matter how hard you plan to hunt. Fit hunters handle opening day heat better, can hunt longer and more efficiently. Oh, so can your dog. Mobilize some buddies and meet weekly to work on pointing, retrieving, etc.

It looks like a lot, but you’re in it for the long run. In many states, bird season is four or five months long. As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Might as well make it the right step, in the best place, with a good partner and a dog that will be able to work for you all season.

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Actions speak louder than words, and don't spook birds, either.

Actions speak louder than words, and don’t spook birds, either.

At its most fundamental level the idea is to shoot birds over your shorthair’s point or within gun range of your lunging Springer. Maybe it’s putting a sneak on feeding mallards or decoying honkers to your pit. But if you sound like the circus coming to town, you’ll seldom get a decent shot.

Game birds may not be as spooky as whitetails (though late-season sharptailed grouse might get close), but they are still very cognizant of predators and the sounds they make. Just ask yourself why so many game birds roost in the thick, crackly vegetation, or why pheasant hunters don’t slam truck doors. So it behooves we apex predators to “stuff a sock in it,” so to speak.

I’ve snuck within inches of birds by treading more carefully, ghosting my way through brush instead of bulldozing it. I try to make my footfalls more like an elk hunter than a linebacker. Light steps on scree minimize rattling, deliberate wading, delicate paddling … all get you closer to a killing shot.

Even rattling whistles or duck calls, sloshing water bottles, or a ringing cell phone will put the kybosh on a stealthy approach to pressured birds. Reaching for that coffee mug (let alone dropping it) in an aluminum boat can resemble a clanging fire alarm to pintails dabbling around the next bend.

I often go a step further, taking the jingle-jangles off the dog’s collar. One of those riveted identification plates starts to make even more sense in the grouse woods. I own a half-dozen e-collars with beepers and an assortment of bells, but many times I’ll go unplugged.

Spoken, rather than shouted, directions are heard plenty well by most dogs. When possible, use hand commands instead of a voice or whistle. Just like any other skill, retrievers can be taught to sit still and quit whining in a blind. It might take a bag full of treats and many weeks, but all of it pays off when wings cup and landing gear deploy.

Oh, and here’s another good reason: while I like Monday-morning quarterbacking yesterday’s game as much as the next guy, when my mouth is shut, my eyes seem to open wider. I see and enjoy more of the dog work, catch on quicker to his birdiness, savor the scenery … and to me, that’s almost as much fun as nice, close shots.

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The (intensity of) media is the message.

The (intensity of) media is the message.

Your dog is constantly watching you, and learning from your movement, your tone of voice, what you put up with, and what you simply won’t tolerate … whether with him, other dogs, or your first-born kid.

Because he has a limited vocabulary, literally, your actions often speak louder than words. But even words have different meanings to your dog depending on how they are delivered. So why not use your ability to nuance training “language” to influence your dog.

I’m lucky in that I can watch myself on TV a lot (someone has to pump up the Nielsen ratings). I learned to be a teacher the same way – with video. It is a cruel but fair instructor, the small screen. But you don’t need a camera to reflect on your actions and the messages they convey. Just think before you act, adjust your pace, the magnitude of your movements, and your dog will get the message. He does that now, but it’s often to your detriment and you might not even know it.

For instance, move slower and you literally demonstrate to your dog that things are not as exciting (or distracting) as they seem. When you’re winding down an amped-up retrieving training session a short “heel” around the yard in slow motion could cool down your Lab and prepare him for a rest in his crate. A quivering shorthair gulping in pheasant scent while on point might be steadied by a calm, confident and low-key approach to the flush.

Conversely, getting your Springer pumped up for an assault on that blackberry thicket might require an energetic pep talk and gentle pat on his butt. An easily-distracted wirehair might maintain focus during a long retrieve with some loud and animated encouragement from his owner (don’t ask).

When words are the appropriate communication tool, a whisper is often better than a yell. It certainly brings down the adrenaline levels, calming the situation. Like people, dogs will often pay closer attention to you if you make it hard for them to hear what you’re saying. Drop the volume level and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

On the other hand, an icy water retrieve by a young Chessie could merit a boisterous shoreline cheerleading squad. Again, evaluate your desired result and pick the correct arrow out of your quiver.

Even physical praise has degrees. As I write this, I’m scratching my old guy’s neck following a quiet “here” command. It’s a slow, relaxing touch, light and low-key, but a reward nonetheless. He in turn, is lying down, expecting nothing but a chance to be near me as his payback for a small job well done – he showed up. A vigorous, two-hand rib tickle implies something else entirely, higher energy and more excitement. It might be just the ticket to jet-propel a long cast in chukar country by my five-year-old.

That five-year-old Manny simply cannot stand still when he first gets on the training table. I used to yank on his collar, yelling “whoa” at increasingly high volume. Now I speak calmly, slowly, sometimes from a sitting position, stroking his back until he settles – faster than he ever did when I engaged him in a battle of canine (half)wits. Then, we can get on to the important stuff.

So consider expanding your training communications repertoire, usually by dialing down your energy. You might see better results, sooner.

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Your dog can’t say “huh?” or he often would, because when he disobeys it’s likely the owner’s fault, according to author and TV host Scott Linden. He’ll share his ideas with fans on the 3rd annual “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas.”

Linden’s observed and tested his theories on the more than 250 dogs he’s hunted with on his TV show, Wingshooting USA. He says thinking about how dogs process information can elicit better cooperation and performance, in the field and at home.Last year's appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela's was also captured on Tom Brokaw's

Last year’s appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela’s was also captured on Tom Brokaw’s “Opening Day” TV special.

He – and his own hunting dogs – will be answering dog- and bird-hunting-related questions, meeting fans and signing books at stops between filming episodes of the show, which airs on NBC Sports, Pursuit Channel and eight other TV networks. The schedule includes:

Sept. 9-11 Produce show from Invitational Hunt Test, North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, Ohio

Sept. 21 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Billings MT 4-6 p.m.

Oct. 16-17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Mitchell, SD Pheasant Classic 10-3 Friday, 8-11 Sat.

Oct. 21-22 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ringneck Retreat, Hitchcock, SD

Oct. 24-25 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Prairie Sky Ranch, Veblen, SD

Oct. 29  Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Rapid City, SD 4-6 p.m.

Nov. 18 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Sidney, NE

Nov. 21 Goodland KS, Governor’s Ringneck Classic (also producing an episode)

Nov. 23 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Carlson’s Choke Tubes, Atwood, KS

Dec. 8 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ruggs Ranch, Heppner, OR

Dec. 17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Reno, NV

Feb. 19-21 2016 Pheasant Fest, Kansas City, MO

“Communicating with our spouse is much easier. Listening rather than just hearing smoothes the way,” Linden said. With dogs who can’t say “What was that dear?,” body language, behavior, and attitude shows whether they understand their owner’s direction – or not.

On the other hand, er, paw, Linden says the dog’s owner can be more clear in his signals to the dog. That’s usually where – and by whom – the ball is dropped. From easily-confused command words, to conflicting hand signals, he says many dog problems are really “operator error.”

At Cabela’s appearances, the first question is often about the dog on the table with Linden. Bushy eyebrows and beards, and a friendly demeanor make Linden’s German Wirehaired Pointers ideal ambassadors for the sport of upland bird hunting.

The “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas,” is Linden’s annual foray into hunting territory to make episodes of the program. Over the years, it’s become a chance for him and his dogs to meet fans who earlier provided input on everything from tires for the official vehicles to Cabela’s dog gear for his hunting partners. Road Trip vehicles are displayed at the stores so fans can see how their ideas have been used.

Available everywhere books are sold (including Cabela’s stores), Linden’s book “What the Dogs Taught Me” covers communication, how dogs think, and offers tips on hunting, shooting, dog training, an extensive glossary and Q&A section. You’d think he’d heard it all, but he says he’s constantly surprised at the variety of questions from fans. “I answer over a thousand every year on the Wingshooting USA Facebook page,” he said, “but there’s always a new one out there.

The most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., Wingshooting USA is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and sponsored by Cabela’s. It is broadcast year-round on up to ten television networks.

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