Archive for the ‘hunting dog’ Category

One of our goals – retrieve to hand, every time.

On a long drive back from the last TV shoot of the season yesterday, I reflected on a number of priorities for this spring and summer … anticipating fall with a mature Flick, more “fun” hunt time than usual, and a chance to explore the west a bit more than most years.

Rising above it all were my expectations for Flick’s training and how I could help rather than hinder. You know that feeling, too, I’ll bet. There are times we might be better off letting the birds teach our dog!

Toward that end, to help me and perhaps you, here are some random thoughts for “training season.”

  1. Think like a dog. Understanding his perspective (literally and figuratively) might be a sound foundation on which to build expectations and teach skills. He really is all about pleasing himself, not you. The sooner you understand that his goal is bird-in-mouth, not a pat on the head from his human, the better. And if you’re thinking fear of the e-collar is the best motivator, please stop reading and sell your dog.
  2. Be consistent. New command, new word. Always use the same one. In my own mind, I’m trying to work through the command and outcome before I start teaching it. I’ve played with some pretty famous musicians, and none of them ever regret a dress rehearsal.
  3. Raise the bar. If a dog is “phoning it in,” he’s not challenged enough. Yes, repetition is how dogs learn. But why not raise your expectations and forestall boredom for both of you? Retrieves from the table, blind retrieves and dead bird searches are all similar, but incrementally more difficult versions of the same command/skill.
  4. Baby steps. Dogs only have room for the next thought. Pile too many on top of that, and he might retrieve your cat. Classical musicians learn the hard parts first, no matter where they are in the score. I take that a step farther and start at the last portion so it gets easier as we learn.
  5. Think twice before you set up training scenarios. Who doesn’t love a dog slamming into a rock-solid point, then maintaining that rigidity through the wing-shot-fall? Consider the worst case before you bring your dog into the picture and stage-manage it for flawless execution. In this case, know the wind direction, use a checkcord if you need to, ensure the bird can’t be caught, and if necessary, have a gunner drop that bird so you can concentrate on the dog.

You have your own list and I wish you luck. Add to this one, if you like, in the comments section or on Facebook. Maybe we can compare notes in the field this fall.

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This week on Pursuit Channel “We Deliver The Outdoors” Monday 10 p.m. Pacific, Tuesday 8 a.m. Eastern and Saturday at 9:30 PM Eastern …

Southwest Kansas has seen some good hatches, and “Wild West Country” had one of the best last year. We explore Horsethief Reservoir’s pheasant habitat with shotgun world record holder Dave Miller of CZ-USA, get a look at a new CZ shotgun, and learn a lot about shooting and wild ringnecks.

Learn more about dog training, public-land access, win a hunting trip to Ruggs Ranch, get shooting tips and wild-game cooking advice too!

Pursuit is available on Dish Network Ch. 393 and DirecTV Ch. 604, and a ton of other streaming, FIOS and other set-top and online devices.

Wingshooting USA is made possible by: Fiocchi Ammunition CZ-USA YETI Cabela’s

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Beeper, bell, brush … it may not be disobedience as much as noise!

Next time your dog disobeys you, don’t jump to the inevitable conclusion. It may not be recalcitrance. He may not be stubborn. There’s a chance he’s not disobeying. Did you ever think he may not be able to hear your commands?

When I attached a video camera to one of my dogs, it was clear from the playback that there are vision challenges when looking to a tall human for direction. Thanks to the microphone on that camera, I’ve learned that it’s an audio circus down there, too.

Depending on who you believe, dogs hear up to ten times better than us. So, many of the annoying little pops and crackles we hear sound like a freeway accident to him. Think about what he encounters down there: tags jingling from his collar, or a bell, brush crashing, screeching wind, footfalls on dry leaves, maybe a beeper collar right behind his ears, his own panting. All might be overpowering your frantic commands yelled into that auditory chaos.

Or, your Lab’s ears might be hammered by a flock of Canada geese honking, or the churn of moving water as he looks to you for a line. Maybe there’s another whining dog in the blind, or at a hunt test there could be dozens of barking dogs staked out nearby. It’s no wonder dogs bungle their job once in a while … they can’t hear our commands for all the chaos at ground level.

If there’s doubt in your mind about whether your dog can hear you, why not add hand signals or a whistle just in case? Or, call his name and wait for acknowledgement before giving the command. Then you’ll be able to recognize the difference between disobedience and distraction, and he’ll be a better hunting partner.

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Zero. Zilch. Nada. He doesn’t, but we DO pay.

In every speech, at all the presentations I do, it is still surprising to learn how few of us know this, so bear with me as we delve into ancient history for a moment. Back in the depths of that “real” depression in the 1930’s hunters banded together (anglers followed a parallel path) and begged Congress to tax us. Yep, tax us, when millions were out of work and the country was languishing.

We succeeded when the Pittman-Robertson Act became law in 1937, and created the Federal Aid to Wildlife funding mechanism. It has since raised 12 billion dollars that goes from the Feds, back to state wildlife management agencies to pay for staff, land, management, equipment, and related projects. Here’s how it works:

Guns and ammo are levied with a 10-11 percent excise tax when they are transferred from the manufacturer to the dealer or distributor, so we end-buyers never actually see it. But you’d see the damage if that tax wasn’t imposed. Ditto if fewer of us bought hunting licenses, paid the upland surcharge or waterfowl tag.

There’d likely be no game wardens enforcing our laws. Biologists would be history. Walk-in hunting would simply go away. Trap-and-transplant programs, gone. In most states, P-R funds make up 75 to 85 percent of a game department’s budget, so all we’d have left is a few pencil-pushers at the state capitol, riding herd on a few do-nothing staffers. It would be the Wild West again, and wildlife would lose.

Because the ugly truth is, mountain bikers don’t contribute a nickel and the guy shooting calendar photos of deer and ducks hasn’t paid a dime. Foodies who rave about “wild game” cuisine, hikers, wildlife watchers and kayakers pay zilch to support the wildlife they swoon over while complaining about us getting in the way of their view.

Sometimes I say it just to get their hackles up, but if those Audubon Society members want to really help their ruby-throated hummingbirds, if the little old ladies in tennis shoes want to ensure there are always cuddly critters to amuse them in the woods, they should buy a hunting license. And a duck stamp. And a shotgun or two.

But ultimately, we all know that ain’t gonna happen. It’s up to us. So turning more couch potatoes/harried parents/interested observers into hunters is the only way there will be game to chase and critters to marvel at. But there’s more than one way to skin that cat (pun intended). I’ll make your life easier, in the next installment.

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So, maybe you’ve had the same problem. Often, we blame it on “planted” birds, and that much is true. But if your goal is a dog that stands a bird from a distance the moment it hits the scent cone, you can train it with “planted” birds.

There are at least two critical considerations: sight, and timing.

Timing: The advantage (usually) to wild birds is they will not hang around waiting for a young dog to slide in, relocate, nose around, get closer. They will flush. Hopefully, the dog learns from it. That’s the joy of wild birds, but if you don’t have them, what can you do? Don’t we all wish we could open the gate and find wild practice birds all year? That, or winning lottery numbers – I’ll take either one.

So save up your cans and bottles (or quit drinking so much!) Buy a remote launcher – or borrow your club’s launcher (you are a member of the local NSTRA/NAVHDA/NAHRA chapter, right?). A dog that cheats the scent cone just to watch a wild bobwhite fly off can learn the same thing with a pigeon: get too close and the bird goes away. No passing go, no collecting $200. And certainly no retrieve. The trainer needs to be ruthless, and willing to throw away a few birds. But simulating the uncompromising behavior of wild birds is possible, and the rewards are life-long.

Now, the other end of the equation: sight. If you didn’t buy a launcher and are simply hard-planting birds or using a harness, you’ve got another challenge. Birds won’t flush “wild,” so a dog can creep in when he hits scent, ultimately getting within inches of the restrained bird, if not actually picking it up.

Higgins Gun Dogs got me thinking about this. He uses the “Magic Brush Pile,” but as far as I can tell, in slightly different ways. It works, and more power to him. My brush pile’s “magic” is making the launcher or bird harness invisible. My dogs, trained without a launcher, quickly learned to hit the scent cone then search for the bird. When they saw it, they would point. Worse yet, sometimes they would simply go in and catch the bird.

Flick seldom sees a remote launcher, except on a shelf in the shop. They are now well hidden among the sage and bitterbrush so the only clue that there is a bird nearby is the scent. A well bred dog, brought into the scent cone from a 90-degree angle, will be startled into an immediate point. A tug on the check cord will help.

A strong breeze doesn’t hurt either. Enhancing your success with bottled scent does too. Put the bird/launcher out sooner, let that scent “marinate” and build up a goodly cloud in a wide downwind arc. Check-cord the novice into that scent cone and voila! Hit the launcher remote, and boom, you’ve got a “wild” bird scenario.

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… as long as the “old dog” is a human.

Every day, Flick trains me as I train him. Two overarching principles are now indelibly etched in my fore-brain:

  1. Even at 18 months old, he’s still a puppy.
  2. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively, of course).

As to #1: I’ve hunted with a goodly number of women dog handlers, some highly respected to the point where they judged European gun dog tests. They and their protege’s had one characteristic in common: they were the most upbeat, positive, encouraging handlers I’ve shared a field with. Squeaky mommy voices, clapping hands, over-the-top praise all melded to motivate and mold incredible gun dogs.

Working Flick a few weeks ago, a few of those actions fell into my own routine and boy howdy what a difference. Which also reminded me of some reading years ago that strongly suggested the only reason humans could domesticate wolves was by arresting their development at the puppy stage.

Give it some thought.

Related to that, is #2, especially when applied to “force breaking.” If you watch the TV show, you know what a rock star Manny was in this department. On land, water, blind and marked I’d put him up against any field-trial Lab. I had help from his breeder on him, and mainly used the traditional ear-pinch method.

Flick’s matriculation to retrieving is different. He’s a lot softer dog, so the risks of using pain are very real. More importantly, he probably doesn’t need it. Think about it: we use pain to get a dog to howl and open his mouth so we can jam a bumper in. If we can get the mouth open with painless methods, why not try it? With this guy, it was as simple as an index finger between his teeth while giving the “fetch” command. Following on, the usual techniques seem to work: move the held bumper, move him to it, on to the ground, etc.

Sure, he disobeys at times. We go back a few steps, put the finger in the mouth and work through it. Once he truly understands what “fetch” means, it’s about reinforcing – and rewarding – obedience to that command. And yes, high-value food treats work (I know some of you will cringe at that, but it works for us). Hot dog bits and chicken skin are the go-to positive reinforcers in my yard.

Yeah, the jury is still out. But as best I can tell, Flick is as far along or farther than most dogs training with the other methods. I’ll keep you posted, and appreciate your feedback.


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Now the fun begins, right? Hold it just a minute.
Reconnoiter the area as you approach your dog and there’s a better chance your feet and gun will be pointed in the right direction when your adrenaline flows and wings whir. Flushed, frightened birds often head for a ridge, point, or high spot of some sort, frantically trying to put that topographical barrier between them and the danger you pose. In their absence even ground-dwellers like chukars might bolt for a cover of trees or tall shrubs. Face it as you walk in on the point.
You should be in a slightly better position when the flush startles you and the dog … and we need all the help we can get!

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