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.