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Are you putting together your “to do” list for training season? Mine includes re-doing Manny’s steadiness to a shot bird hitting the ground, and backing, among other things. Tracking is also high on our list, aiming for a NAVHDA Utility Test if our TV travels allow. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how I train. May I offer some suggestions?

Timing your command: 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.
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.

Steady to wing, shot and fall is our goal.

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.

Out of sight, out of … Back before Go Pro, I rigged a video camera on Buddy and put him through his paces. Then I played back the footage. Pardon the pun, but it was an eye opener. Now that I know what my dogs see, I will be more clear and add audible clues to most of my hand signals.
Buddy could seldom see me as well as I could see him. It’s a simple matter of geometry – the angle of his eyesight slams into every bush, tree trunk and hummock between him and me. For example, when I’m signaling him to change directions, the brush often obscures most of my body, not just my hand.

Windows to … your dog’s obedience? Dogs are great readers of body language, so while your voice is giving the command and his ears may be hearing it, his eyes are searching – for what, I’m not sure, but definitely something. I believe your dog needs to see your eyes to complete the transaction. Cover them with dark glasses and he is less likely to respond to your commands.

It’s noisy down there. Next time your dog disobeys you, don’t jump to the inevitable conclusion. There’s a chance he’s not disobeying. He may not be able to hear your commands.
When I attached that video camera to Buddy, it was clear 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 our dogs. 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 are overwhelming your frantic commands yelled into that auditory chaos.

Hands are quicker – or should be. Do you use hand signals? So do I, and I learned something that might be valuable to you and your dog. A veterinary ophthalmologist told me dogs, as predators, see moving objects much better than stationary ones. Makes sense: prey tries to escape, dog chases.

So when you’re giving hand signals, add a little “jazz” to them – finger wiggle, waving arm, closing fist, whatever makes sense. I’ll bet your dog “gets it” a little quicker.

Here’s hoping you meet your training goals – remember the season never ends and every day is a great day to spend time with your dog.

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I get thousands of questions every year from viewers, and one of the most common is “how do I get my dog to retrieve reliably?” The right answer is not the one most dog owners want to read: force break that dog.

“Conditioned retrieve,” “force breaking,” “trained retrieve,” all are euphemisms for the same process: using aversion to elicit the desired behavior. In this case, he should go out, pick up the object, and bring it back without passing go or collecting $200. And he shouldn’t drop it until told to drop it.

How you get to this is the question.

How you get to this is the question.

Force breaking can get brutal in the wrong hands. Ear pinches, pliers, rope, and electric collars are all used in one version or another. Recognizing that many of us don’t have the stomach – or patience – for it, here are some quick tips on getting more reliable retrieves from a dog that is not and never will be force broke.

  1. KEEP IT. A dog is already inclined to hold a bird – what self-respecting predator would give up food? If he won’t come those last few steps to you, it’s his way of reasoning: if I never close the gap he can’t take it away from me.

So, your first tactic might be letting him keep it. Don’t take it away. At least not immediately. Here’s why: A bird in the mouth is the ne plus ultra for a bird dog … his reason for being, the ultimate reward. If we snatch it away the moment he gets within range, it’s no wonder he won’t approach.

Don’t crouch with hand outstretched. Sit down, turn your back, put your hands in your pocket … anything that shows him you’re not stealing his prize – yet. Heel him along as he trots proudly. Sit your Lab at your side, bird displayed like a trophy in his mouth. Eventually, he will probably give it up, especially if you barter a food treat or send him hunting again.

He might want to run off or do a victory lap with his feathered burden, so be prepared to grab his collar or step on his checkcord. But remain steadfast in your resolve and let him savor that bird for a while.

  1. REEL HIM IN. A 20-foot-long rope or “checkcord” helps you reel him in, no matter what. If he’s amenable, this works great until a bird drops at 21 feet away. It fails miserably if your dog is a drama queen and reacts negatively to being dragged toward you like a steer at a rodeo. That might be as “forceful” as any of the force-breaking techniques you’re studiously trying to avoid.

If these don’t work for you, try leveraging a dog’s instincts: to race out, catch and hold prey, then to chase you. Many trainers smarter than me suggest running away from the dog to get him to come back to you. It’s a tried-and-true obedience school tactic. But I seldom see it employed for retrieving and it might work for you, especially if your dog is fairly obedient to “here” or “come.”

  1. BE THE PREY. If he won’t come to you at all with a bird or bumper in his mouth, run away to elicit the chase instinct. Let your dog gradually catch up with you and as he gains ground, pivot like an NBA forward, slamming on the brakes. His momentum should carry him into your arms. Grab his collar. Let him hold the bird for a while.
  1. EXTEND THE CHASE. If he’ll come to you reliably until the last few feet even when you don’t run off, let him get to the point of standoff. Slowly back up to encourage a “chase.” Build a little momentum, then quickly move toward him and hold his collar

None of these are a substitute for the forced retrieve training process. But if you don’t have the time, heart, money or expertise, you might utilize your knowledge of his instincts to get closer to a completed retrieve, without the angst.

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Glossary, T-Z

Useful terms as you read, learn, train, trial, test and hunt …

Tethering: Tying a cord to a bird used for training so it will fly some distance then fall to the ground so the trainer can use it again. Often, trainers will attach the other end of the cord to a “pigeon pole.”

Tie-out stake: A metal post in the ground to which a dog is attached via a chain.


Everything is relative … even your praise.

Timberdoodle: Woodcock, also called mud bat, bogsucker, and woodsnipe.

Training table, whoa table: A raised platform on which you put a dog to train it.

Trap: 1) Original clay target game, shooters are arrayed in an arc behind a “trap house,” from which targets fly away from the shooters; 2) in some hunt tests or trials, when a dog catches the bird prior to the flush.

Trash: Game you don’t want your dog pursuing, i.e., deer, coons.

UH: Upland Hunter, a UKC title.

UPT: Utility Preparatory Test, a NAVHDA test for dogs over 16 months of age, including many of the components of the Utility Test, but in simpler forms.

UT: Utility Test, for more advanced dogs in the NAVHDA system.

VC: Versatile Champion, a dog that has passed the highest test level in the NAVHDA system. A dog is invited to participate in the group’s invitational test after earning a Utility Test Prize I.

VDD: Verein Deutsch Drahthaar, or German Wirehair Club based in Germany with an affiliate (VDDNA) in the U.S. and Canada)

VDDNA: Verein Deutsch Drahthaar North America, branch of the German-based VDD.

Versatile dog: Any of the “continental” breeds developed in Europe in the 1800’s for the middle-class hunter who needed one dog to point, retrieve on land and water, track furred, feathered and wounded big game as well as protect the family. Examples: German Shorthair, Spinone, Weimaraner, Viszla.

VHDF: Versatile Hunting Dog Federation, a dog testing and training club in the U.S. focusing on the “continental” breeds.

Viszla: Shorthaired versatile breed from Hungary.

Wachtelhund: German spaniel originally bred to hunt quail.

Weimaraner: Shorthaired versatile breed from Germany.

Whoa: Command word to stop a dog and have him remain motionless.

Whoa barrel: Metal or plastic barrel laid horizontally on the ground on which trainers place dogs to encourage steadiness to the whoa command and to birds.

Whoa post: Metal or wooden post in the ground around which a checkcord is looped to stop a dog’s forward movement.

Whoa table: Another term for training table, typically a low platform trainers put a dog on to teach or enforce commands, often including the “whoa” command.

Wild flush: Bird that flies before the hunter or dog purposely flushes it.

WPGCA: Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America.

WR: Working Retriever, an NAHRA title.

Yardwork: The term used to describe any number of training drills done in and around the kennel area or “yard.”

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Q&A …


Got your own question? Ask it at http://www.wingshootingusa.org – click on the “enter sweepstakes” link.

Q: Scott, I live in the big city and own a young GSP. What do you think is the best way for me to keep my dog in shape for hunting? Not only physically but also her bird finding skills?

A: Running alongside your bike (attached via a rig like the “Springer”) would be good for physical conditioning. Even a small backyard can be used for fundamental bird contact, especially combined with a long drive once a week to a spot where you can let your dog stretch out and find birds in a more natural setting.

Q: Is it OK to “rough house” with my dog while playing with him or does that hurt his discipline?

A: I do it occasionally, but not as often as I used to. I’m becoming a believer in “pecking order,” and that requires discipline on the human’s part as well as the dog’s. A dog that learns he can “play fight” with you is one step away from jockeying for the position of top dog.

Q: What are your thoughts on hybrid breeds? I have hunted with a lodge that breeds the GSP to Labs. The result is a leaner, faster retriever, and one that will point and or flush wild pheasants. I was hesitant to obtain one of the pups until I worked with one this early preserve season.

A: I guess if you want a dog that flushes sometimes and points other times that would be the dog for you. I prefer a dog that I can count on to do one or the other consistently.

Q: Do dogs stay on the scent of a bird better when their nose is wet?

A: Great observation. I think so. More humidity, period, helps a dog scent better (scent molecules “stick” better to vegetation and the ground). A nose that is damp collects more scent; nostrils (where dogs’ scent receptors are) that are damp are able to use more of those receptors.

Q: Is there a quality dog food that helps to limit the shedding of hair and the amount of gas that the dogs pass?

A: On the shedding question, probably not. See a veterinarian to make sure it’s not a medical condition like thyroid imbalance. On the gas question, yes. Causes are often: 1) overfeeding any ration; 2) too much fat; 3) too much protein; 4) a protein source that your dog is not able to metabolize well. Check your dog food’s nutritional content and adjust one or more of those variables.

Q: I don’t understand how you know when to shoot when the bird is far enough away after the dog flushes it. I have a feeling the dog is going to get hurt (shot).

A: Congratulations on having some awareness of the dog when shooting! As far as height, the general rule is don’t shoot a bird unless you can see daylight between the bird and the ground. As far as distance, only practice will make you comfortable with knowing “shootable” distances of 15-35 yards. So, go hunting more often.

Q: I noticed while watching the show that you place a piece of tape on the left eye of your shooting glasses. I believe it’s because your left eye is dominant and you shoot right-handed. So here is my question: Why don’t you learn to shoot left handed?

A: I’ve tried, and failed. Twice. The tape is not a perfect solution, but I don’t mind missing birds (as you have probably observed on the show).

Q: I have two Brittany’s, full brothers same litter, one will almost always lay down when backing and stand when first to point until I’m standing beside him. Then he may lie down. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it doesn’t bother me too much as I just hunt and do not field trial. Are there any suggestions on correcting this? He is a little timid when corrected very much, but he is a hard hunter.

A: You’ve probably identified part of the problem: he’s a soft dog that fears harsh correction … maybe you came down hard on him a few times when he wasn’t steady on a bird? Maybe instead of correcting him for flushing a bird, work on praising him when he whoas for the same bird? He may staunch up if he’s feeling good about the work he does for you.


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I hope you had a fantastic hunting season – good times with friends and family, beautiful places and good dog work. I enjoyed meeting many of you along the way and hope we can connect again this season. Bear with me on this one, because it has become increasingly important to me – and I hope for you.

Our sport is threatened. Not just from politicians, anti-hunters, radical vegans or Thursday night football. Habitat, and the dollars to manage it, are dwindling. The number of hunters is shrinking. But the first problem can in large part be addressed by solving the second one. Simply put, more hunters equals more habitat and game management.
Manny retrieve at DK

Share it, save it.

If you know how this works, thanks for bearing with me, maybe passing this on to someone who doesn’t. And stick with me, because I have a favor to ask. If you don’t yet know about excise taxes, please take a minute and read on – you’ve got an assignment too.

Even though every citizen benefits (bird watchers, hikers, mountain bikers, photographers), your state game and fish department is largely funded by sportsmen and women. License fees, tags, stamps and permits, plus a giant pot of money the federal government doles out. That pot is filled by us every time we buy ammo, shotguns and other hunting gear. The federal Pittman-Robertson Act is a hidden excise tax on those purchases. There is a fishing equivalent (Dingell-Johnson) and sportsmen actually approached Congress back in the thirties and asked for these taxes to ensure game and fish had a place to thrive.
The feds, in turn, hand that money over to the states based on the number of hunting license holders they have. In most states, P-R and D-J funds make up 75 percent of the department’s budget.
You probably know where I’m going but let me be clear: to help wildlife in general and the birds we love to chase with our dogs, we need to do two things.
First, buy stuff. Second, and more critical, is involving someone new in our sport. I support and encourage all the efforts to attract kids, women, urban residents, etc., but there is one more – and in my view better – potential hunter that until now has been virtually ignored at the national level: our friends.People like us.
Everyone has a friend with a bit of money, understands food comes from animals, has free time because his kids are grown. We might know someone looking for a new hobby or retirement activity, is just a generation or two removed from rural life, or is interested in the “wild food” ethos.
Buddy points chukar

The ultimate recruiting tool. Use it!

They’ve listened to our stories, asked a few questions, maybe eaten one of your wild game dinners. It’s a gentle nudge to get them on a hunt, especially compared to dragging a teenager out of bed before sunrise to a cell phone dead zone and forcing her to wear blaze orange … not to mention the “eeeew” factor.

The odds are way better with friends. Need motivation? Who couldn’t use more mature camaraderie, more beautiful places, more non-stop action? And then there’s our biggest advantage, the magic our dogs work in the field.
You know the secret language … a primordial connection between predators working toward a common goal. It’s an unspoken, indescribable bond between man and dog. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Make a convert, fund habitat and conservation. He or she might become your best hunting buddy – besides your dog, of course.
I’ve made it my new year’s resolution. Will you?

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Yep, takes a licking and well, you know the rest … click on the image and watch the video.

Okay, okay, when a manufacturer suggests I drive over their product, shoot it, or catch a shark with it, I immediately gotta have one. If not to try all that, at least to put it through its paces in my own world. REACTOR watches sent a couple of their new “Titan” tactical models and I have hunted with one on my wrist for most of the season. But that’s not all. I put one on Manny’s collar several times., and if he could tell time, he’d probably wear one too.

My only complaint would be it is a little heavy and bulky, but so are most serious watches designed for military use.

On the surface, the Titan is a simple timepiece, analog, literally, except for the battery powering its movement. You’ll know what time and what date it is. Two movable bezels let you track elapsed time. That’s it. No digital gadgets or technical gizmos. When you hunt, you want to spend your time finding birds and keeping track of your dog, and frankly, I’m frustrated enough when I use a GPS collar and don’t need more technical challenges.

No, I didn’t shoot it with my .22, as the REACTOR folks did …


Kids, don’t try this at home. Click on the image and see how this watch took one for the team.

But it survived a couple nasty falls on lava rock, and Manny carried it through grouse woods, quail hunts and snow as well as into a couple water retrieves. I dropped it – on purpose – several times on my concrete shop floor with no effect. It survived a squeeze in my vise, a whack with a 2-1/2 lb. sledge hammer, and an overnight soak in a bucket of water.

Having led a deprived childhood, I was less inclined to perform some of the more violent tests I’d watched on company videos, and possibly destroy a perfectly good watch. I doubt you’ll do anything harsher than I did, and bet you’ll be happy with the outcome … as the saying went “it keeps on ticking.”


Test model. Color: Flat Earth.

But what good is a watch that doesn’t keep time? I don’t know, because the Titan does. A high-torque (read: long-lasting like a diesel engine) Swiss movement is powered by a 10-year battery. That is then enveloped in steel, and that in turn is encased in what REACTOR calls “Nitromid,” a scratch- and impact-resistant polymer that’s 50 percent lighter than steel. Watch geeks might initially look down their nose at a K1, hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal (versus most high-end watches’ sapphire) until you understand the company’s rationale. Glass may scratch but it’s shatter resistance is exponentially greater than sapphire. You don’t need to be a special operator to appreciate the practical advantages in the field.

Another old-school feature: the only electronics are in the Swiss timekeeping guts. Illlumination of numerals and the dial are new twists on a proven technology. A phosphorescent, extremely bright “Superluminova” coating is applied to the dial’s hands and markings, so you’ll be able to tell time in a black hole. When it wanes, tubes of tritium will glow in the dark for years. When you return to Earth, simply expose the watch face to the sun, ambient light or (more likely) your office lamp, and the Superluminova “recharges.” The company’s goal was a watch you could read all night (one of the less-exciting tests I conducted, but true), without having to push a button … because your hands have more important things to do.

Other components and features are just as well thought-out: NATO-style nylon web band coated in rubber is comfortable and virtually indestructible; the band is attached to the case with screw-in pins, not spring bars; the “crowns” used to adjust time and date keep water out even if you forget to screw them all the way in; and you can toast your investment with a tall frosty one because the package becomes a beer koozie that may last as long as the watch.

Like most things these days, the Titan is a United Nations of manufacturing and parts: movement and some parts from Switzerland, others from Japan and the U.S., with assembly completed in China.

If you’re with Delta Force (don’t tell me or you’ll have to kill me), or your law enforcement department has a big budget, you might have one issued to you. If not, you’ll pungle up $500 for this watch, but it will last a couple lifetimes. Start saving up. Or enlist.

Get more information here.

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If you’re lucky, you hunt frequently. If you’re real lucky, your dog stays healthy and well-conditioned all season. I don’t trust to luck alone, though.

What you put into them, and when, is critical.

What you put into them, and when, is critical.

At the end of a hunt, I want to help my dog recover for the next day in the field. A number of studies (on sled dogs and bird dogs) and some long discussions with research vets and field trialers have convinced me that what you do at the end of the hunt day is critical if you want maximum performance from your dog the next day.

I give my dogs’ muscles the cell-repairing glycogen (a carbohydrate) they need. Done consistently, research shows muscles can experience up to a 95 percent recovery rate overnight. Based on current science and my practical experience, here’s one way:

  1. Immediately after your dog is done hunting (within 15 minutes) provide water mixed with maltodextrin (see package directions for dosage). Maltodextrin is a tasteless white powder (a derivative of corn) that a dog’s body converts to glycogen. Any nutritional supplement store catering to body builders will have the plain stuff; one dog-specific brand I like is “Glycocharge.” Its liver flavored and quite palatable to a dog. I’ve never seen a dog refuse to drink this concoction.
  2. Do not add maltodextrin to food. The fat in dog food inhibits the uptake of the nutrients in the maltodextrin.
  3. Give it time to be absorbed. Wait at least another hour and a half before feeding. I feed close to a full daily ration in a single feeding because I don’t feed my dogs the morning of a hunt. And when I feed, I’ll add a powdered pork fat supplement and mix it all with plenty of water. This should help with the calorie deficit sure to develop over weeks of hunting.

There are a number of bars, powders and other forms of glycogen or protein to be given before or during a hunt. Being low volume, they probably don’t do any harm, and may do some good. But if you think about the physiological processes, particularly how nutrients are absorbed and metabolized, most won’t do much good until the next day if they haven’t been pooped or peed out before then.

Yes, your dog will lose weight during a long season, in part from his hard work and partly because you’re not feeding him on the morning of a hunt day. But the added fat and larger portion in the evening should keep him firing on all eight cylinders until you both get home and return to couch-potato status until the next trip.

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