Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Central Ct Spaniel Club Hunt Test Success

     The Central Connecticut Spaniel Club hosted a hunt test at Nod Brook management area in Simsbury Ct last weekend. The two day event saw lots of JH, and MH dogs, and a handful of SH dogs all working towards their appropriate titles. While Springers were the most represented breed, various Cockers, Boykins, Labs, and even a Flat Coated retriever were in attendance.

     The weather was beautiful, though a bit warm and humid, and the cover nice and full. The birds, despite their being wet with morning due for the early land series' cooperated and flushed nicely. Often at hunt tests Chukars get trapped by a hard charging dog before they get airborne, some where on the order of 50% of the time. This test saw a much lower percentage of trapped birds, with birds being flushed 75-80% of the time.

     This hunt test proved to be unique in the large number of dogs that earned a title, and moved up to the next level as well. While I failed to make notations, I'd guess that better than 50% of the dogs that made it though earned a title. And Ginger was one of them, earning her Senior Hunter title on Saturday, and moving up to the Master level, where she earned her first Master Hunter qualifying score. I couldn't have been any happier with Ginger's final Senior Hunter run, turning out what I think was nearly perfect. Day two, as is prone to happen, proved to be a bit more difficult (not only because we moved up to MH level), but she made it through.

Starbury Ponkapoag Ginger Snap SH

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Tools of the Trade

      Take ten different upland hunters with ten different hunting vests, and take a peak inside and I think you'll find that each vest is loaded up with a variety of gear. The Electronically inclined may have a selection of remotes and related accessories, those lacking sense of direction (like myself) may have GPS batteries, extra compass, and laminated maps, others may pack survival gear, sandwiches, thermos, or flask. There have been times when if I could fit a shooting coach into my vest I would have. We all choose what tools to put in our tool box. The same goes with dogs. Each sportsman makes a training decision as to how far to take their training, and how many tools to put in their dogs tool shed. 

      Over the years in my ventures afield, and to the bird dog club I've had the privileged of seeing a lot of different Gundogs work. Grouse camp alone has allowed me to become intimate with many different dogs of different breeds. And of all the dogs I've met, all their owners had two things in common; a profound love for their dog, and an overwhelming sense of achievement with the level of training put into their dog. But seldom did these levels of training transcend equally between dogs. Each owner trained their dog to the level of finish, which worked for them. So, what is a finished dog, and why do people either "finish", or choose not to?

      I think it's necessary to first understand the terms used in the gun dog world. A "finished" dog must meet a set criteria of skills. To fit this description the dog must obey basic commands such as "come",  and "whoa" for pointing breeds, or "hup"/"sit" for spaniels and retrievers. While it might be argued if its necessary, I think any dog who is trained to this level should also know the respective whistle and hand signals. But this alone does not a "finished" dog make. The dog must also be steady to wing, shot, and fall. This means that once a dog points a bird it must be absolutely steady, as in not moving, while the gunner flushes the bird, while the bird flushes in front, when the gun is fired, and as the bird falls on the shot. Spaniels and retrievers are expected to do all this from a seated position while pointing breeds do it standing. So what does the dog then do? Nothing until either sent for the retrieve, or sent to hunt on in the case of a miss. Any dog that does as described can then wear the title "broke". Add to this list the ability to stop on a wild flushed bird, non-slip retrieving to hand, directional casting, and blind retrieves and you've got a fully "finished" gundog.

      It sure sounds like a lot of work for the average sportsman. Well, it is,.... but it's not hard work. And, because training is done incrementally there is no rush to get it all completed before a pups first season. Your pup can be a  wild, bird chaser the first season,  broke to wing, shot, and fall the second season, and a finished, hunt test titled dog in his third or fourth season. Of course there are reasons people don't "finish" their dog. I never "finished" or even "broke" my last setter, Austin. One thing I did train him to understand really well was the "whoa" command. This made for some interesting times in the grouse woods. Ruffed grouse preferring to run before they will flush can frustrate the owner of a dog that really understands the "whoa" command. Many times Austin would establish a point, and I'd command "whoa". I'd then walk into the point only to find the bird had run ahead. I'd have to then walk back to the dog to release him, with the standard touch on the head. This gets tiresome. I soon learned to read his body language, and allow him to relocate his point as the grouse ran, which required me to keep my mouth shut. This worked well, and produced a lot of grouse, but I still occasionally instinctually said "whoa", and then kicked myself in the rear for doing it.

      People entering their dogs in competition, like field trials, and hunt tests finish their dogs. The performance standards of the event dictate the level required to either pass or win. The AKC hunt test rules define the minimum standards each breed should be trained to. Every gun dog owner should at some point take a look at the appropriate set of standards to see where their training level is. Does a dog need to be trained to these levels? Certainly not. As I've already stated you may have a perfectly good reason for not going the distance. Some people want a dog that chases a flushed bird, believing that the dog will better mark the fall and make a speedier retrieve. If that's your style, fine. However, there are a couple of reasons I can never accept for not training up to the highest level.  One is the mentality that a dog trained to that level is only for the "fancy pants show off hunters". What? The other is a, "can't do it" attitude. Why not? Take a closer look at what you're actually teaching the dog to do. In the case of both the pointing dog, and the flushing dog,  one of the basics you are/ should be teach is to stop on command. That stop, is when a pointing dog is taught to "whoa" to reinforce the staunchness of its point, and the spaniel is taught to "hup"  to keep it in range if it's chasing a runner which may get out of range. Training a dog to be steady is just a continuation of this training. When you train steady to flush all you are doing is introducing the added distraction of a flushing bird. Remember Austin? His understanding of "whoa" ended here, and should I  have wanted to, I could have continued his training with added distractions. Later still the continuation of steadiness training, we add the distraction of a gunshot. And later still the fall of a bird. Then, before you know it, you've got a "broke" dog. It's simply a matter of teaching the dog to obey the command, regardless of distractions.

     Of course, this is the over simplified view of the steadying process, and I've not even touched on retrieving or logistical considerations. I don't wish to make it sound as if any dog not trained to this level has a lazy owner; every dog is different, and every dog owner has limitation and a life outside of dog training, so mileage may vary. Should you decide to increase your training level you'll need to know how to read your dog to gauge when the stress of training is delaying your progress. But this doesn't mean you don't try to add these tools to you and your dogs tool box. Some advice I was given many years ago, when I was quite new at dog training, was to buy at least three dog training books, and read each book cover to cover before putting together a training plan for yourself. I've become rather addicted to dog training books and have amassed a small collection. In this age of mass media, and electronic publishing there are many good DVDs available, too, so one who is not inclined to read can view much of the same info. What has worked for me (and I'm still learning) is to try to get a basic understanding of why a particular training technique works, and how it relates to field work. Understanding some of the various complete systems of well know trainers, and why they work can help you to piece together a training routine that you feel comfortable with.  In addition to the added skills, the time spent training with your dog will further strengthen your bond with the dog. Something that is invaluable to the partnership.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bushy Hill Hunt Test

     The Bushy Hill Field Trial Association hosted a hunt test at Bruzgul farm in Lagrangeville NY, the weekend of May 3rd and 4th. It's no secret how entertaining, and fun both hunt tests, and field trials can be. Whether you're running a spaniel, or any other flushing breed, there is sure to be something you'll like going on. This event saw quite a few different breed running at every level. In addition to the usual compliment of Springers, and Cockers were a selection of retrievers, Boykins, and even an Airedale.

     In addition to hunt testing this event served as a reunion of sorts, as there were three of us running dogs who'd also attended the David Lisett clinic in Pa. a few years ago. It was at the clinic where I picked up Ginger as a pup, and met Tom Matterer of Pa, and his Golden Retriever, Kramer. Also a Lisett clinic alumni, Richard Soule of NY was running his Buccleuch bred Springer, Petter, in the Senior Hunter class. It was in the Senior Hunter class that all three of our dogs earned qualifying scores, with Ginger and Petter each finding themselves one leg away from a Senior Hunter title, and Kramer earning his title. Congrats, Kramer.

Day One

Day Two

**Photos by Junko Nakao Rick 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Things You Should Check Out.- Covey Rise Magazine

     If you're looking for some good upland wingshooting reading I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Covey Rise magazine. I suggest you pick up the April-May 2014 issue in particular. Why? Well, seems the people at Covey Rise have good taste in dogs, and gave Ginger a little love, publishing a few picks of her. Yes, I'm a bit biased. And yes, I'm boasting a bit. But seriously, Ginger is a damned cute dog, and Covey Rise is some good reading.

     A large format, glossy magazine, the Covey Rise format is layed out nicely. Each issue features a selected dog breed, a destination, an outdoor artist, a game cooking chef, and a gun review. In between each feature is a story about hunting, or shooting. Equal parts tweed, and blaze orange there is something I think everyone can appreciate in this magazine. Check it out.

Covey Rise

Ginger in the pages of Covey Rise

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dog Training Resources

     Congratulation! Your new pup is home, giving you cute puppy looks, and quickly making itself  part of your family with it's big round eyes, soft feet, and puppy breath. Your plan has been set in motion, and soon you'll have a companion to point coveys of quail, or retrieve banded waterfowl, or bounce and bay snowshoe hares across the frozen north woods. Perhaps you've set your sights higher, and plan to pursue a Master Hunter title, or see your pal as being the next dog to wow the crowd at Ames plantation. Whatever your motivation your now committed.

     So? What next? This is the question that many new puppy owners face. If you've got means to send a pup to a pro trainer for most of the year, it matters little. If you're the type that relishes the challenge of training your own dog, you may feel a little bit of panic start to set in. Truthfully, what's next is a question that should be answered long before the pup arrives at your home. I believe that one should have a general training plan in place before getting a pup, and advocate reading at least two training books, and watching at least one training DVD set before getting your pup. I enjoy dog training, and find myself reading about different training methods frequently. I try to look at each method as a whole system, which they are, and try to understand how each step relates to the next. This ensures I understand the "whys" of the system, and better understand what the pup may feel, and how it advances.

     Recently I did a quick survey, asking the members at Upland Journal, a web forum filled with a very serious membership, what training references they value, and use. Here are some suggested reading, based on the replies.

"Hup" by James B Spenser*

"Gun Dog Training Spaniels and Retrievers" by Kenneth C Roebuck*

"Working Springers and Cockers" by Mike Smith

"The Working Springer Spaniel" by Keith Erlandson

"Field Training Your Springer Spaniel" DVD by Ben Martin

"Making of a Gun Dog" DVD by Mark & Sophie Haglin

"Training the Upland Flushing Dog" DVD by George Hickox

"The Working Cocker" by Peter Jones

"Urban Gun Dogs" by Anthony Z Roettger & Benjamin H Scheider III

"Complete Springer Spaniel Training Series" by Buccleuch Gundogs featuring David Lisett*

"Training Spaniels" by Joe Irving*

Pointing Dogs

"Point" by James B Spencer*

"Great Beginnings" DVD by George Hickox

"Gun Dog" by Richard Wolters*

"How To Help Gundogs Train Themselves" by Joan Bailey

"How To Have The Best Trained Gundog" by Joan Bailey

"Perfect Start/Perfect Finish" DVD by Jon & Cindy Hann

"Training Pointing Dogs" by Paul Long

"Training With Mo- How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs" by Martha Greenlee

"Practical Education of the Bird Dog" by J A Sanchez Antunano

"The Burnt Creek Method of Dog Training" by Jim Marti

"Modern Breaking- A Book About Bird Dogs" by W. A. Bruette

"Bond Of Passion" by Web Parton

"Bird Dogs and Field Trials" by Jack Harper

"Pointing Dogs- Their training and handling" by Earl C Crangle

"Gun Dog Training- Pointing Dogs" by Kenneth C Roebuck*

"Basic Gun Dog Training (and Then Some)" by Bob West*


"Hunting Dog Know How" by Dave Duffy

"The 10 Minute Retriever" by John & Amy Dahl

"Training The Hunting Retriever" by Jerome B Robinson

"Smartworks For Retrievers Vol 1 & 2" by Evan Graham

"Total Retriever Training" DVD by Mike Lardy

"Sport Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way" by Mike Stewart

"Training Retrievers To Handle" by D.L. & Ann Walters

"Retriever Training Drills For marking" by James B Spenser

"British Training For American Retrievers" by Vic Barlow

"The Labrador Shooting Dog" by Mike Gould

"Retriever training-Back To Basics Approach" by Robert Milner

"Retriever Training For The Duck Hunter" by Robert Milner

"Hey Pup, Fetch It Up" by Bill Tarrant

"Tri-Tronics Retriever Training" by Jim & Phyllis Dobbs with Alice Woodyard

"Training with Mike Lardy- Volume 1" by Mike Lardy*

Note-*indicates items in my library