I get thousands of questions from viewers, and many have to do with dog training. With Flick, I’m doing my best to follow my own advice: pick a trainer/guru and stick with his/her method.

If you’ve trained a dog or ten, you know that’s easier said than done. Maybe we have “better” ideas, think our dog is “different” and needs a method other than what’s worked for thousands of others. Or, as in my case, all of the above plus outright laziness. When you have a pup with incredible genetics, you can often get away with it … for a while. But eventually, the pheasants come home to roost and it may be too late.

So that I don’t blow it (too much), I’ve taken to re-reading and re-viewing books and DVDs most nights. In recent evenings from both Larry Mueller’s book and that authored by the Monks of New Skete, the 14-week age was noted as problematic – when pups are becoming less dependent on their human and more um, adventurous. In other words, be ready for them to start running off.


Got lucky in both instances, and then read another part of Larry’s book where he suggests that kind of behavior often occurs when you’re returning from a training or exercise session and pup thinks all the fun is about to end. Yep.

So now we take alternate routes back from our fields, keep the checkcord in hand, and train our way back to the gate to keep his mind occupied.

I find myself in need of as much training as Flick.

Ready to roll

The little guy started his career with us on a five-hour drive from breeder to his new home. He’s been to Montana and back, and yesterday went on his first quail hunt two hours away. He’s taken every trip in stride, hunkering down in his crate for the duration, like his uncle knowing it’s a good time to rest, relax and prepare for the next challenge.

He’s not getting much time in the field – growth plates are nowhere near ready for stress – but he’s a game little guy. Flick opens up (in a puppy way) and moves ahead, seeking objectives and tracing faint scents on the breeze. In a miniature way, he is showing his genetics and a boldness that I hope I can rein in when necessary.

Milestone: wheat stubble was the most-foreign surface Flick has encountered to date. After a tentative step or two, off to the next objective.

Watch. Learn. Do.

Larry Mueller’s book Speed Train Your Own Bird Dog is a wealth of information. I glommed onto Larry when he was the gun dogs editor of Outdoor Life and I was hosting a radio show for the magazine. His perceptions, insights, and all-around different way of looking at things are still a breath of fresh air, decades after publication of his book and the departure of most of the old-school writers for that venerable magazine. Miss you, Jim Zumbo and Pat McManus!

Anyway, I was re-reading the book last night and came upon a couple references to a pup at age 14 weeks being like a human in their “terrible two’s.” Today, we lived it.

Nothing serious, but some yard work was a mental wrestling match. In the field, a sudden onset of temporary hearing loss. I will consider it much like the beach lifeguard’s yellow flag, and be very, very careful.

Milestone: yesterday, Flick heard his first real shotgun boom. Still a blank, but very realistic in volume and pitch – thanks Fiocchi. If you’re training a puppy the inevitable question is what happened then? Not much. Flick was engrossed in chasing a pigeon (thanks Ronnie Smith), glanced my way to see what the commotion was, then continued his merry chase.

Sunday, wild birds, we hope.

The world is full of crappy events, evil people, and bad stuff. Puppies, on the other hand, are full of a melange of mischief, innocence and potential.

That is all.

Many years ago I lamented to someone how Manny was getting up so early my toes were in constant risk of stubbing from wandering around in the dark. He pointed out that Manny had trained me well to get up when he wanted out of his crate.

That point was driven home to me again over the weekend – the revelation hit me like a slap upside the head: Flick was learning from his distant uncle Manny. In addition to the puppy-sized bladder and concomitant oh-dark-thirty bathroom break, the little guy had me hoodwinked into letting him out again an hour later … for the day. I was complying because he’s still sleeping next to the bed and his yowls are ear-piercing – not conducive to spousal slumber.

She relented a few nights ago, urging me to apply the same lesson I was using during the day when Flick agitated to be released from his pen to wreak havoc on the Corgi, kittens, and landscaping while his long-suffering uncle watched in dismay. During the day, the yips and howls were ignored and within seconds subsided, often concluding with a sigh and a curl-up before a quick puppy nap.

So, I took up my better half’s offer and at the 5:40 a.m. wake-up yip, rolled over instead of pulling on the sweatpants. A couple turnarounds in the crate, a little grunt, and the welcome, comforting sound of … sleeping puppy.

Do I get a treat?

You never know what you’ll find out there.

We are all getting farther from the back gate than we’ve been in a long time. Flick’s little legs are synchronized to the point where he can now sort of run. It’s kind of a Keystone Kops amble, but it is now a bit faster, more urgent in part because he has been finding pigeons out there and well, he is a bird dog.

Manny’s toe is healed enough to allow a mile or so of running and he too has been getting his fair share of pigeon work out in the sagebrush. His excitement is pent up, stored for eight weeks as he recuperated, virtually immobile (well, as immobile as I could keep him).

Today’s hike was therapeutic for all of us. Just being out there, on trails and among knolls that are old friends, is literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. To roam among the ancient junipers and towering ponderosas, see the dogs in their element reminds me I am a hunter first and foremost.

Manny hasn’t missed a beat. He is pointing at 20 yards and holding stock-still through multiple flushes and shots. He may be a little porky (so is his owner) with his layoff but his hunter’s heart will fortify him next weekend.

For the rookie, everything is dazzling, new, fascinating. Flick is searching now, not just pottering around in the weeds. His own hunter’s heart is directing him to objectives, to the front, coursing the fields in a miniature version of Manny’s pattern. His nose is high, constantly searching the air for scent.

And at least one time per outing, that little puppy nose locks onto a bird. It’s a point, then a flush, a chase and a BANG. He won’t go far or fast next weekend, but he will go.

To some, I may be rushing things. To others, it’s about damn time. To Flick, the timing was just right.

He’s pointed everything from unusual sounds to butterflies, but today as part of his introduction to gunfire I thought what the heck and planted an honest-to-goodness pigeon and circled him into the scent cone.

One and done. Cute little leg up, tail sky-high.

Chukars beware – Flick is officially on the job.

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