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A lot easier when temperatures are low.

A lot easier when temperatures are low.

Even on his best day, Manny is a so-so retriever. But we came to an understanding. On certain days, he, and most dogs, would rather share a kennel with a poodle than fetch. It’s not disobedience, funny smells, or early-onset Alzheimer’s’. It’s the heat.

Dogs cool themselves by panting. They can’t sweat, so it’s all about internal air conditioning, heavy breathing. Plug that system with a hot, dry, feathered obstruction, and it shuts down.

You can yell, scream, coax, and threaten, but you’re wasting your time. The self-preservation instinct trumps any training. So I cut my guys some slack when the shooting – and the temperature – are hot.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou make lists, check them twice … and no, it’s not Christmas, it’s the opening of bird season. Pile stuff in a corner or right into the truck, check off the last training goals. Make plans, book trips. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Here are 13 reminders that might come in handy somewhere in the field or along the way. Have a great season!

– If your dog is licking all the medicine off a wound, put something tastier on another accessible part of his body.

– As the day goes on and ground heats up, warm air rises from the bottom of draws, valleys, river canyons, creating an uphill or upstream breeze almost everywhere. As the sun rises, hunt from above the best bird hideouts and you’ll help your dog intercept scent as he leads you along a ridgeline or down a draw.

– Do you own a TriTronics Upland G3 Special? Turning on the beeper remotely from the collar is sometimes a sketchy situation. Try this: once you’ve pressed the button on the beeper to turn it on, hold the collar so the prongs on the battery unit face the base of the beeper. Then hit the green button on the handheld transmitter to turn it off.

– The best bedding in an outside dog kennel or house is grass hay. It breaks down slower than straw and makes less dust. Cedar shavings are pretty strong-smelling and might impact a dog’s scenting ability.

– Remove the entrails of shot birds immediately after they’re retrieved to help them cool quickly. In wintry conditions, stuff some snow into the body cavity. Scuff a hole in the dirt and bury the guts – unless your dog is riding in the back of the truck – bird innards are fart fuel.

– When fogged-over shooting glasses leave you stranded in a pea-soup of your own making, turn your hat around. Put the bill in back where it won’t catch your exhaled breath, hang around your glasses, and condense on the lens.

– Burning eyes and fatigue are common early signs of dehydration in humans.

– Having trouble opening that barbed-wire gate? Can’t get the post into the wire loop? Before you pull the gate toward the post that’s anchored in the ground, stretch the top strand of the gate wire by pulling from the middle to stretch it. If that doesn’t help, make sure you’ve put the bottom of the post as far as possible into the wire loop located at ground level. If you’re lucky enough to find a short pole anchored by a length of wire to the nearby post you’re trying to reach, loop it through the gate and apply some leverage.

– All the modern electronic gizmos we take outdoors these days are worthless without instructions, so pack them in your kit as well. Don’t forget your reading glasses either (equally useful when doctoring dogs).

– If you carry one of those Mylar “space blankets” in your survival kit, check it every year for age-related rips. I opened mine once and found that every fold had become a full-length tear. Luckily, it was at home, not in the woods on a cold, rainy night.

– Permethrin is the most effective tick spray, if you use it right. That means applying it to your clothing before you venture out. Hang, spray, and let dry for at least two hours before you put it on. In formulations for clothing, it is not appropriate for dogs.

– Warm up by fueling your internal furnace. Carbohydrates burn fastest, proteins slowest. Best is a snack food that offers both for sustained energy.

– Buy a bandanna. Silk or rayon, get the big ones that real buckaroos wear, available at farm supply and western stores. Keeps your neck – and the rest of your body, in turn – warm. A multitude of other uses around camp from sweatband to oven mitt.

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Thanks for all your questions. They make me think (a lot) and prompt even more questions in my mind. If my answers help you, all the better. Here are some of my favorites:

Q: Scott, I love the dogs that you hunt. I personally hunt German Shorthairs. I was wondering about the range of the Wirehairs. I really need a dog that covers more ground than my Shorthair. That way the wide running dog would complement the close dog.

A: Before you make that investment, think about your close-working dogs … are they close because they find birds close? In more open country, with sparser bird concentrations, do they range farther? Probably not a wire in your future, then. Mine will stretch out in sparse cover if the birds are scattered, but they’ll also hunt close in the puckerbrush or when birds are thick. Wires are not typically big runners; in fact, your shorthairs may run bigger. If you want more range than that, maybe an English Pointer is in your future.

Q: How suitable are Brittany’s for quail hunting? Are they too energetic to halt and hold point?

A: Some of the best quail dogs in pro Rick Smith’s string are Britts. Energetic is an asset; uncontrolled chaos is not. Like any pointing breed, a Brittany can be taught that he must find and point birds, staying steady until asked to move on or retrieve.

Q: Scott, what are some methods to try with a dog that has a hard mouth or who is prone to chomping a bird on the retrieve? (not eating, just zealous death chomps).

A: Usually, I’ve been content to get a bird back, period. “Zealous death chomp” is not only a great name for a heavy metal band, but tolerated at times by this trainer. If it’s not truly “hard mouth” resulting in torn-up or swallowed birds, try shooting better so all the birds are good and dead before your dog retrieves? (That’s a little joke – I’m the last guy to be making suggestions like that.) But seriously, a live bird that flaps, flops, squawks or scratches is a bummer for your dog, no wonder he wants to quiet it down. Practice with dead birds for a while. The ultimate solution, though, is force training – the entire retrieve becomes an obedience skill with no tolerance for chomping.

Q: What is the best way to break a dog from jumping into the air to catch a bird on the flush?

A: If it’s a pointing breed, go back to steadiness training and “whoa.” If it’s a flushing breed, give him a dog biscuit for his spirit. Then, teach “hup,” with verbal and whistle commands – the dog should sit on the flush or command, or the shot, and not retrieve until commanded. No matter the breed or the weight of your game bag, don’t shoot low birds.

Q: I am an older hunter and am interested in getting a calmer-bred upland bird dog. Which one would you recommend?

A: Some of the versatile breeds may be just what the veterinarian ordered. “Ugly dogs” like the Spinone Italiano or Wirehaired Pointing Griffons generally hunt closer and slower than other breeds. The Clumber Spaniel is like a Springer in slow motion. Or, a field-bred cocker spaniel, once trained, will hunt close, and with such little legs, they can’t get up much speed!

Q: Scott, how and what have you found to help with the passing of one of your own dogs after they have celebrated their hunting career with you?

A: This one is tough and I’m sorry if you lost a dog recently. I’ll never get over the companionship, hard work and loyalty my dogs showed me. That’s the principal reason I make my TV show. To show my gratitude and respect, I wear my dogs’ collar tags on my whistle lanyard. I know someone who puts their dogs’ collars under the driver’s seat of their truck. Paintings, impressions of pawprints, you’ll find something that reminds you of the good times you had hunting with them.

Q: How can you overcome a young dog that seems lethargic when yard training? My six-month-old wirehaired Vizsla has all the energy in the world in the field but when training in the yard he tends to have a lot of quit in him.

A: Usually, yard work is booooooring to a dog. Remember your worst job? It’s like that, which is why they gave you money to do it. Offer praise, treats or whatever reward serves as your dog’s “paycheck.” Yard training is especially dull if it moves slowly, with little challenge or progression in skill level. Or worse, when birds aren’t part of the equation. Bring birds and I bet he’ll perk up. Be methodical in how you progress from basic skill to more advanced work, but keep it moving forward, even if you experience setbacks periodically. Raise the bar, challenge your dog regularly, and make it fun.

Q: I have a one-year-old Lab. She is very smart and well behaved until we have guests. She will jump up, bark, and whine when she normally doesn’t. What are some ways of correcting this behavior?

A: At least you didn’t mention crotch sniffing! Short answer: gradual conditioning, baby steps. Identify and eliminate triggers (doorbell, for example). Teach obedience: sit, stay, quiet. Keep the energy level low. Put some distance between the dog and the guest, working closer and closer as the dog remains calm and on task with the command. Be ready to correct, i.e. praise when she obeys, and move guest and dog closer together over many practice sessions. I’ve found that yelling doesn’t help – it actually can raise the excitement level and things spiral out of control faster.

Q: Do you typically recommend pet insurance for a hunting dog?

A: I’ve looked at this question frequently (usually after a spendy vet visit), and if you have ready access to cash, the short answer is no. If you can’t afford an expensive emergency but can afford a monthly premium, invest in it. One consumer magazine I read studied the question and found it seldom pencils out in the long run.

Q: I am working with two English Pointers. A two year old male that is a natural and a three year old female that has some issues. If both dogs are working the field together the male takes the lead and the female tends to sit back and not hunt. In addition, when the female is hunting with the male she is very aggressive toward the birds and tends to not hold point. Is there a way to train them to hunt together? And will the female learn from the male?

A: I’d hunt them separately – maybe forever. The female will learn from the male, acquiring both good and bad habits. She will never be bold and independent if she can let the male do the heavy lifting. And as you’ve learned, she has a competitive streak that causes her to break point. That probably isn’t doing the male any good either. He might start busting birds too. Save yourself some anxiety and hunt them one at a time.

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 hunting 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. But if you are dazzled by a staunch point, you’ll be willing to wait a season. On the other hand, few feelings match that of the constant adrenaline flow following a close-working flusher. Both need training to retrieve reliably.


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Now would be a good time to give a command - he's looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

Now would be a good time to give a command – he’s looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

In the past I’ve talked about “tells,” those little signs that clue you to when your dog is getting birdy, or ready for direction, or in need of correction. I’ve also mentioned timing your commands, praise and correction for that “golden moment,” when he’s amenable to them. But just like those indicators of readiness, there are times when you’re wasting your breath and your emotional energy. You can yell, scream, jump up and down, or do cartwheels and your dog will steadfastly ignore you.

It think it was legendary pro trainer Delmar Smith who said “never give a dog a chance to fail.” I take that to mean don’t expend training capital – or sanity – giving commands that are destined to be ignored. The dog still learns, but not what you hoped to teach. He learns he can get away with murder.

As a dog matures and training progresses, he will be more likely to listen to you and pay less attention to the siren song of roadkill. It is a gradual and cumulative process but early on, keep your expectations at an appropriate level.

What kind of clues should inspire you to stow your whistle? Some are obvious. My guy Buddy is a digger. When he’s bored and there are no birds he’s happy enough hunting ground squirrels. Once he’s digging, there is no point in my asking, telling, imploring or threatening. He’s in predator mode, single-minded and focused on the critter that is frantically tunneling away at warp speed.

Virtually any distraction has the same effect on a dog brain. They are linear thinkers after all, one idea at a time. Run. Stop. Pee. Run. Smell critter. Run toward it. There’s no room for other thoughts during this process, so don’t try to intervene. A dog in hot pursuit of a whitetail is not going to “whoa.”

Other dogs, people, and sounds can distract a dog and flummox a command. Breath deep, give it a minute, wait for your opportunity, then deliver your direction once there’s an open niche in the thought process. Right after he pees and before his hiked leg hits the ground is a perfect time. Following a good shake is another. While howling at a neighbor jogging past is not.

Hunger or anticipation of a meal is another deal breaker. Once a week I catch myself wondering why Manny won’t listen, let alone follow my clear direction. Then I look at the wall clock – it’s dinner time.

Or something in the wind will entice … and it doesn’t need to be bird scent. Dogs often react first to what their noses tell them. If you don’t give that new scent a beat or two to “sink in,” your command will fall on deaf furry ears. If you don’t catch him before that shoulder tuck, you probably won’t forestall a roll in that stinky dead critter.

With a dog, learning is a gradual progression of baby steps, leading to mastery of commands to the point of flawless obedience in the face of compelling distractions. The yin of your direction is constantly buoyed by the yang of sweet temptation. Only with repetition and gradual introduction of distractions can you tilt the balance in your favor. Even then, you’ll almost always lose out to roadkill.

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What's he getting ready to swallow?

What’s he getting ready to swallow?

If your dog gets into something, odds are it’s not going to be good for him. What is good for humans isn’t necessarily good for our dogs. A quick primer on poisons:

Symptoms are few if any. If you suspect your dog has swallowed something, be absolutely sure before taking action. Many smaller items will come back up on their own, usually in the middle of the night. If you suspect your dog has swallowed caustic or acidic substances or sharp objects, you should not try to induce vomiting.

First aid:

  1. For small objects that aren’t sharp, or materials that aren’t caustic or acidic: squirt 20 cc of hydrogen peroxide down your dog’s throat. Walk him around for a bit (5-15 minutes). Everything should come right up. If not, another squirt and ten more minutes should do it.
  2. For fish hooks, feed your dog cotton balls soaked in gravy. With luck they will catch the hooks and move them right through his G.I. tract. See a veterinarian.
  3. For poisons or caustic substances, call a poison control center immediately. If the dog will drink, give milk or water to dilute. Get to the veterinarian.

Poisonous items your dog shouldn’t swallow (and their risks):

Grapes, raisins (kidney failure)

Onions, garlic, leeks (destroys red blood cells)

Chocolate (theobromine causes tremors, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms)

Avocado (ingredient persin is toxic)

Alcoholic beverages (liver damage, difficulty breathing, coma)

Coffee, tea, caffeine (muscle tremors, bleeding)

Dairy products (diarrhea)

Macadamia nuts (paralysis)

Candy & gum (artificial sweeteners )

Meat fat and bones (cause pancreatitis, choking hazard)

Persimmons, peaches, plums (pits, seeds)

Raw eggs (salmonella, E. coli)

Raw fish (“salmon poisoning,” E. coli)

Salt, salty foods (sodium ion poisoning)

Yeast dough (swells in stomach)

If your dog has ingested any of these or other poisonous substances, call the ASPCA poison control center at 888-426-4435.

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A great photo ... can you name the breed?

A great photo … can you name the breed?

To a dog, actions speak louder than words. For example, move slower, and you literally demonstrate to your dog that things are not as exciting (or distracting) as they seem.

I’m lucky in that I 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 now, but it’s often to your detriment and you might not even know it.

When words are required, a whisper is often better than a growl. 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.

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. He in turn, is lying down, expecting nothing but a chance to be near me as his reward 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 retrieve by my two-year-old … to get him going or as a well-earned reward.

A dog that forges ahead when walking at heel is often “corrected” with a violent jerk. He, in turn, pulls harder. A pup told “whoa” is held still by a taut check cord pulling on his neck. Relaxing that tension would actually put him more at ease and willing to follow the original direction.

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.

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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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