Posts Tagged ‘Bob West’
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
While running my shorthairs earlier this week, we encountered a large snapping turtle. The big “hen” snapper had left the confines of a nearby wetland to (I presume) lay her eggs. My older GSP, “Trammell,” caught a whiff of the turtle and b-lined for the reptile. After a moment’s wavering point, Trammell went in for a closer look only to be nipped in the snout with a glancing blow from the turtle’s pliers-like jaw. Seconds later, in spite of my scolding, my younger shorthair, “Izzy,” mimicked Trammell’s path. Fortunately, the younger pup was quicker and avoided the snapper’s jowls.
This encounter immediately had me recalling a visit to the Fort Pierre Grasslands of South Dakota in which Trammell locked up solid on point . . . of a box turtle hidden in a stand of beautiful bluestem.
My next thought was to Bob West, Purina’s bird dog expert who I often call upon when my own bird dogs leave me perplexed. “Do you have any idea why pointers have a propensity to lock up on turtles?” I questioned.
“I have no idea,” West responded with a chuckle. “I can remember a particular field trial many years ago where I lost track of points after dozens of pointers locked on box turtles that day. There is just something about the scent of turtles that makes a pointer lock up.”
Bob and I discussed the fact most turtles in the north (painted and snapping) spend almost all of their life in the water, so turtle points are less common compared to areas further south with lots of terrestrial box turtles. Either way, West went on to assure me, “There is nothing wrong with your dog, it’s very common for pointing dogs to lock up on a turtle.”
How common is it? Has your bird dog ever pointed a turtle?
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.
Friday, March 15th, 2013
Our 9-month-old puppy is peeing in his kennel every day. I bought a smaller one but he is still doing it. Any ideas on what to do?
-Todd Marlette via Pheasants Forever’s Facebook page
Just to be safe I recommend a trip to the vet to be sure infections or other problem don’t exist.
Going to the smaller kennel was a good idea. Another one is being extra observant to body language, pup will usually signal by behavior change, i.e. circling, sniffing. But you can also head this problem off by making sure the pup is well exercised, then taken outside for airing/potty break right before kennel time. Younger pups aren’t expected to hold for very long, so frequent exercise and trips outdoors are advisable, especially in the beginning.
-Bob West is Purina’s Director of Sporting Dog Programs
If you have a bird dog-related question – training, nutrition, hunting or other – send it to Pheasants Forever via the contact information below.
Monday, November 5th, 2012
Prior to departing for this year’s Rooster Road Trip, I dialed up Purina’s top dog and professional trainer, Bob West, with a simple question: “How often should I feed my two German shorthaired pointers during the five heavy-hunting days of the trip?”
“That’s a very common question. Most bird dog owners have heard stories of ‘twisted stomach’ or ‘bloat,’ which prompts this question,” explained West, “but there is actually more to the answer than the one danger associated with feeding a hard working dog at the incorrect time. At Purina, we’ve done a lot of research and recommend one feeding at the day’s end for hard-working dogs in normal health.”
West recommends feeding bird dogs at least one half hour after heavy exercise, including hunting. “If you feed a dog immediately after the hunt, there is considerable risk of that dog gulping the food and water voraciously. That gulping action could lead to an inordinate amount of air gulped at the same time. These are the dangerous ingredients potentially resulting in ‘twisted stomach’ and possibly the dog’s death.”
In addition to avoiding the immediate dangers of feeding a dog too close to hunting, West explained the advantages of a dog having a full night to digest its meal. “First, a bird dog that can empty its stomach in the morning after a night of digestion can lighten its body weight and actually decrease the strain of the day’s hunt by carrying around less weight. Secondly, a full stomach during a hunt can lead to that food being slapped around inside the dog’s gut. We’ve all seen dogs afield that squat and try to pass a bowel and cannot. This is the result of a dog’s stomach being irritated through this food slapping situation, which can lead to internal bleeding, blood in the stool and bigger potential dangers.”
Lastly, West added that early season bird hunters have even more cause for evening feedings. “Our research has shown that the dog’s digestion process can also raise the dog’s body temperature a few degrees. This is extremely important to recognize during those early season hunts when the temps are already stressing the dog during times extreme physical exercise.”
West reiterated this guidance is for dogs in normal physical health and condition. Dog’s suffering from hypoglycemia, diabetes, or are simply out of shape necessitate a discussion with a veterinarian about the topic.
Monday, August 13th, 2012
One of the most frustrating scenarios in pheasant hunting is crippling a bird, then not being able to locate it for the retrieve. Who among us hasn’t spent an hour beating the grass where we “know it went down?” I have a pretty solid retrieving German shorthair, but there is room for improving her ability to hunt “dead” birds without a mark. It’s with this training focus in mind that I called Purina’s Bob West, a professional trainer, for some off-season guidance.
“Finding a dead bird employs the same principles as tracking, so that’s where I focus my training,” West explained. To teach a dog tracking, he enlists a partner’s assistance. While West handles the dog on a check cord, his partner drags a dummy through the grass into thick cover to establish a scent trail. After his partner completes the trail, he leaves the dummy in the grass and moves away. Meanwhile, West moves into the trail with the pup under the control of a check cord wrapped around the dog’s haunches, which affords control of the dog without pulling the dog’s nose off the target. This drill helps reinforce the dog’s use of its nose in tracking the dummy through the cover, mimicking a crippled bird. (NOTE: West believes there is enough scent on a dummy and adding manufactured pheasant or quail liquid is not necessary)
During the first few runs, West allows the dog to watch the dummy and his partner establish the trail till the pup understands the drill. During this drill, West encourages the dog with the “track” command and attempts to amp the dog’s excitement level during the search. (It’s worth noting that West suggests associating a word with every behavior you set out to teach a dog). Bob ups the ante using a pigeon (dead first, then a living one) to increase the dog’s enthusiasm for tracking after the dog successfully establishes a foundation with a dummy. Once this tracking ability is established, the dog’s ability to hunt a dead bird without a mark utilizes the same instinct of relying upon searching with its’ nose.
“What most hunters don’t realize is tracking is 90 percent about a dog’s mental capabilities and only 10 percent about its’ nose,” West explained. “A dog’s nose is incredibly powerful; it’s up to the trainer/hunter to help the dog know how we want the dog to use its’ nose through tracking training.”
In addition, West said hunters make two common mistakes when trying to find dead birds that hinder a dog’s tracking skills. First, he said to avoid tramping down vegetation in the area where the bird went down. “If you go in there knocking over the cover and disturbing the scent left by the bird you are making tracking more difficult on your pup.”
Secondly, West reminded me the dog knows more than I do about where that bird is after I lost sight of it. “We’ve all brought our dog right to the spot that bird went down and watched the dog veer off in a different direction. The smart hunters will let that dog use their nose, because they are likely tracking that bird as it’s running away from the crash site. Too often, I see hunters correct their dog and bring it back to the landing spot muttering “I know its right here somewhere. You’ve gotta let the dog follow its nose.”
Lastly, West reminds hunters to know how to read your dog. “I know instantly when my dog is hunting for scent versus tracking an injured bird,” added West, “tracking dogs typically drop their tails a little, their back arches and you can hear them breathing through their nose as they focus on that scent. Knowing what your dog is doing in the context of the situation is invaluable to being able to adapt to situations on the move.”
I admit to being guilty of bringing my dog to a spot where I last saw a bird go down. Only after being exasperated by her unwillingness to search that area “thoroughly” did I let her follow her nose. Typically, she’ll bring the bird back to me from a direction I completely didn’t expect.
Is your dog’s nose better than your eyes at finding downed birds?
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
I learned to bird hunt behind a Brittany. I don’t remember my dad ever teaching me how to “approach” a pointed bird, but it has always felt natural because it’s how I got my start. What’s interesting and more than a little humorous is watching my various hunting partners the last few years who have only hunted behind flushing breeds react to my German shorthair on point.
In almost every case, I’ve witnessed “human vapor lock” as these friends look at me with twitching eyebrows, tip toe with caution as they approach the dog, then stop behind the dog and look at me again. Are they waiting for the weasel to go pop? Honest to goodness, I’ve witnessed pure fear on the face of a fellow hunter.
“When a rooster flushes in front of my Lab it’s all instinct and excitement,” one friend explained last season. “With your darned pointer, it’s like watching a Friday the 13th movie and you know Jason is around the corner with an axe.”
I’ve also been told by pointing dog purists to never walk up directly behind a pointer, but rather come in from the front or at an angle. The pointer purist worries about inadvertently causing “creeping” by approaching a dog from behind. “Creeping” being the unwanted broken point and creep forward of the dog toward the bird.
With this subject in mind, I called Purina’s “top dog” and pro trainer Bob West for his guidance on how best to approach a dog on point. “There is no clear cut, best way to approach a dog on point. You have to factor in the dog’s level of ability, the scenting conditions that day and the species of bird you anticipate being pointed to properly make the best approach for the situation,” explained West. “When hunting pheasants, it’s not uncommon for me to make a big 20 yard circled approach in front of a dog on point in an attempt to prevent a rooster from running.”
West went on to explain to me that he does believe young dogs could be caused to creep by approaching them from behind and an angled approach would be advised; however, he didn’t think a seasoned bird dog would be susceptible to the same problem. He stressed repeatedly in knowing your own dog’s tendencies and making the best decisions with your dog in mind rather than what some “expert” advised.
West did add that “perhaps more important than what angle to approach is the speed at which to make your approach. It’s critically important, especially with pheasants, to approach a dog on point at a pace as fast as safely possible. That bird isn’t going to hold all day and the conditions of the scent and scenario are also constantly changing for your dog.”
Lastly, West reminded me that the bird isn’t necessarily where the dog is looking. “It’s important to be ready the entire time you approach a pointed dog and be alert in all directions. The bird may be exactly where the dog is looking, but it oftentimes is not. Where the dog is looking simply is where that dog picked up the scent to lock into a point. That dog has been trained not to move any closer than the moment the scent reached a level to cause the dog to freeze. Its eyes should have nothing to do with it.”
To learn more about the pointing instinct and a variety of dog training questions, tune in to FAN Outdoors radio this Thursday evening at 7:45PM (CDT) as Bob West joins the show for a live interview with me and host “The Captain” Billy Hildebrand. FAN Outdoors airs live on 100.3 FM in Minnesota and can be streamed live across the globe at www.KFAN.com.
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
I asked Bob West, a professional dog trainer and Purina dog food guru, for some advice on proper nutrition and hydration for my bird dog while on the 5-day hunt of the Rooster Road Trip. Here are his top tips.
- · Rotation. In a perfect situation, Bob recommends rotating multiple dogs through the consecutive day hunting trip for proper opportunity to rest, feed and rehydrate hard-working bird dogs. In this perfect scenario, Bob would run one dog in the morning, feed that dog at mid-day and let the dog rest all afternoon and evening before bringing that dog back into the hunt the next morning. Unfortunately, I have one dog – Trammell – and I have always hunted her all day long. The key, as Bob warns, is to really know your dog’s capabilities, conditioning and tell-tale signs of fatigue.
- · Cool Down & Calm Down. It’s important to wait till your dog has had an opportunity to rest and calm down after a hunt before you serve the food. A half hour’s rest should be enough to prevent your dog from gulping down that food. The danger in gulping is swallowing air bubbles which could lead to bloat and other problems.
- · Caloric Intake. It’s common sense that a dog exerting a tremendous amount of energy on a multi-day hunt is going to need additional calories. What most folks don’t realize; however, is that cooler temperatures also necessitate a need for more calories. Consequently, a bird dog working hard in the field in 20 degree weather may need nearly double the number of calories in a day compared to a leisurely summer day in the 70s. Note: each cup of Purina Pro Plan Performance has 493 calories. All dogs’ needs vary depending upon breed, size, conditioning and activity, but as a baseline, a 40-pound dog needs about 1200 calories in a day of normal activity.
- · Truck Naps. The cooler temperatures of hunting season also should be considered with your dog’s food needs depending on where that pup is sleeping. If that pup is sleeping in the truck, they are going to also need extra calories to stay warm through the night as opposed to the pup that’s sleeping in the hotel room on a hunting trip.
- · Hydration. Dogs regulate their body temperature through panting by drawing air across their tongue and back of their throat. Panting is a dog’s single method to cool down. As a canine exercises in the heat, mucus forms in their mouth and on their tongue. As a hunter, you need to give your bird dog just enough water to give them a little hydration and, as important, water to rinse the mucus from their tongue to keep the pup’s heat regulation system operating efficiently. In cold weather, the air is often dryer, so a dog can actually lose more fluid than even in hot weather when they respire. Consequently, it’s of equal importance during cold hunting days to keep your dog hydrated in the field. NOTE: Bob suggests serving your dog’s food in water to help keep that pup hydrated.
- · Probiotic. Before extended hunting trips, Bob also puts FortiFlora probiotic on his dog’s Purina Pro Plan Performance food beginning four days prior to an extended hunt and every day during the hunt. FortiFlora, which is available from any vet, helps prevent upset stomach issues common with bird dogs from the stress of travel and just simply having a deviation from their routine.
- · Trick or Treat. It’s not uncommon to see proud dog owners after a great day of hunting ask the waitress of the local steak house for plate scraps for their pooch. Bob warns against this kind of indulgence. More often than not, good intentions wind up as loose stools the next morning. West suggests a spoon of canola oil on the dog’s food as a better treat and source of additional calories for your pup.
Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Last week, I wrote about a CBS news story reporting on a scientific study detailing four dogs’ ability to diagnose lung cancer in humans. My reaction to the study was one of amazement, but not shock. I, too, have seen the incredible power of a bird dog’s nose. Whether it’s locating a ruffed grouse under a foot of fresh snow, zeroing in on a rooster in a windstorm or finding a covey of quail that just landed; I’ve witnessed the incredible sense of smell most bird dogs possess.
One of the most frequent reactions to last week’s blog was pheasant hunters remarking their bird dog’s nose could distinguish between hens and rooster pheasants. While most of us have that one buddy who will make the claim: “my dog doesn’t even bother with hens, he’ll only flush roosters;” I haven’t ever taken the boast seriously because I’ve seen that buddy’s dog flush hens as well as roosters every time we’ve been hunting. To be honest, the hunters making that boast to me in the past have lost credibility in my eyes and so do their dogs. However, I am self-aware enough to realize that I haven’t seen it all and I surely don’t know it all. So, I thought I’d ask a couple of the more knowledgeable dog and pheasant folks I know for their opinion to the question:
Have you ever seen a bird dog that could tell the difference between a hen and a rooster by smell?
“I could swear some of my Labs have known the difference. They won’t completely ignore hens, but I’ve been able to watch their intensity level – in their tail, in their speed, in their entire body language – increase when they are on a rooster,” explained Rick Young, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Field Operations and a wildlife biologist. “I believe dogs smell pheasants through the bird’s breath and although it may be subtle, I think some dogs can detect the difference between roosters and hens under the best conditions.”
“I’ve watched hundreds of dogs and dozens of breeds, and I don’t think bird dogs can detect the difference between a rooster and a hen; at least not during hunting season,” offered Bob West, Purina Dog Foods Director of Breeder Enthusiast & Sporting Groups, as well as a professional dog trainer. “There might be a time of the year when roosters may smell different, but I don’t think that’s during hunting season. I’ve just seen too many dogs lock up just as hard on a hen as they do on a rooster to believe differently, but that doesn’t stop me from holding out hope that one day I’ll find that perfect dog that can detect the difference.”
So there you have it. The jury remains out! What’s your opinion: Can your bird dog tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?
Thursday, August 11th, 2011
While the search for the breed winds down (more on that soon), there are plenty of other considerations in preparation for bird dog number one: gear and equipment, lining up veterinary care, living quarters, schedules, brushing up on obedience and training techniques – it’s a lot more than just plopping down some greenbacks and bringing the cutie home. And it can seem a wee bit overwhelming. So while at a Purina (Pheasants Forever’s Official Dog Food) media event recently, I asked the gun dog experts in attendance (I was the odd man out) for the single best piece of advice they could impart upon any first-time bird dog owner:
Man’s Best Shrink
“The best piece of advice I can give for the first-time bird dog owner is that your new dog is not just a pet and hunting companion: He or she is also the cheapest, most effective therapist you could ever hope to find. In fact, your new dog is the Swiss army knife of emotional support. Lost your job? The dog understands. Girlfriend ran off with your best friend? The dog understands. No matter how bad things get, if you have a dog, then your life is never as much of a mess as you think it is. They’ll never judge, they’ll never criticize and they’ll never leave you. And they’ll never mind that you always drink all the beer. What, I ask, is better than that?”
- Chad Love writes for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever as well as Field & Stream’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog. He has a Chessie, a young English setter, and says, though his wife doesn’t know, there will be a new pup next spring.
Bank on the Basics, Part I
“When training, pay close attention to the fundamentals, they are key to a solid foundation and bases for advanced work towards the wonderful rewards of an obedient and productive hunting partner.”
-Bob West is the Director of the Purina’s Sporting Dog Group. He’s also put more than 100 titles on dogs during his 40-plus years as a professional dog trainer. In other words, he’s trained dogs longer than I’ve been alive.
This is Fun, Right?
“Lighten up! Don’t become obsessed with letter-perfect performance, and don’t be afraid to cut your dog a little slack during training sessions and in the field. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, for both you and your dog.”
-Rick Van Etten is the Editor of Gun Dog Magazine and has owned Irish setters since before they went out of style.
Bank on the Basics, Part II
“Retriever owners need control and that comes from basic obedience. Too many overlook the importance of sit/stay, heel and here, focusing instead on aspects of force fetch, handling and other advanced concepts. If you can stop your dog with a sit whistle and recall it under any circumstance, then at the very least you’ll have a dog that will put birds up within range.”
-Brian Lynn and his black Lab, Kona, cross a few time zones each fall in search of birds and material for the Gun Dogs blog at Outdoor Life.
This is Fun, Right? Part II
“My advice to first-time gun dog owners would be to stop worrying so much and just make it fun. So many beginners read a book or two, or maybe attend a seminar, and they get all caught up in thinking they HAVE to do things a certain way, hit certain benchmarks, etc. Then when things don’t go exactly according to the blueprint (which they almost never do) they fret, stress out, put more pressure on the dog than it’s capable of handling…You get the picture. In short: Take it slow, take it easy, and keep it fun for both of you.”
-Tom Davis, among his many contributions, writes the “Gun Dog” column for the Pheasants Forever Journal of Upland Conservation. If a sporting dog or outdoor publication hasn’t showcased his work, shame on them.
Get Used to Gunfire…The Right Way
“I’ve been in business as a trainer since January and I’ve had five clients bring me gun-shy dogs. I’ve fixed two out of four, and number five is here now. Obviously this is a problem. Here’s my advice: Don’t take your puppy to a trap shoot to ‘get him used to gunfire.’ Instead, introduce him to gun fire beginning with the blank gun, and make sure birds are involved. Find and join a training group (one way to find one is to go to www.akc.org, go to “events” and check hunt tests and/or field trials for your breed, and contact the host club secretary) For this very important step, you’re best bet is to enlist the help of an experienced person or training group.”
-Lisa Price is Pennsylvania-based pro trainer and field-trialer. She loves working her German shorthaired pointers and her good sense of humor.
Breed Matters to You
“When you select a breed, carefully consider how that upland dog or retriever fits your situation. As a novice trainer, it’s wise to pick a breed that takes to training well. For me, a female golden retriever fit my training and hunting needs, as well as fulfilling my desire for a great family pet.”
-Paul Wait is the new Editor at Delta Waterfowl and is beholden to a 15-month-old golden retriever
Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts
Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
I received the following message via Twitter from @bulldog2012 yesterday:
My GSP won’t stop to drink water out in the field, any ideas?
I admitted to @bulldog2012 that my shorthair also often refuses water in the field, so I promised to get some expert guidance from a few pro dog trainers. This morning, I sent emails on the topic to Purina’s Bob West, SportDOG’s Clay Thompson and Oak Ridge Kennel’s Tom Dokken and received some fantastic guidance.
A Rinsing Squirt
I’ve always approached canine hydration in the field from a perspective of, “I’ve gotta get my pup to drink a cup of water.” Turns out I’ve been wrong all along.
Bob West explained the importance of a rinsing squirt of water. “People stay cool by sweating across their entire body. Dogs, on the other hand, regulate their heat through panting by drawing air across their tongue and back of their throat. Panting is a dog’s single method to cool down,” West continued, “As a canine exercises in the heat, mucus forms in their mouth and on their tongue. As a hunter, you need to give your bird dog just enough water to give them a little hydration and, as important, water to rinse the mucus from their tongue to keep the pup’s heat regulation system operating efficiently.”
West went on to explain that, in fact, he doesn’t want a dog to “drink” too much water. “Hunters DO need to be ‘forcing’ water on their dogs before the pup is thirsty. A thirsty dog will gulp water, which adds extra air into the stomach leading to bloating and twisting; bad news for your pup.”
Sit, Stay, Squirt
Clay Thompson echoed West’s thoughts and reiterated the importance of training bird dogs to drink from a squirt bottle. “I use a water bottle in the field to make it easier on me, because I do not have to bend over to give the dog a drink of water with this method.”
Pheasants Forever stocks the WingWorks Vest which includes two built-in squirt water bottle holders.
Don’t Give your Dog Gatorade
If you’re like me, you make assumptions. I’ve always assumed that Gatorade’s ability to replace electrolytes in me would be equally beneficial to my bird dog. Not only am I wrong, I could have killed my own dog with this logic.
“Dogs don’t lose electrolytes,” explained West. “In fact, adding additional electrolytes to a dog’s system during times of heat stress can actually speed up the dehydration process.”
Thompson reiterated West’s guidance, “Gatorade or other drinks of this type should not be used with dogs, because they are designed to replace electrolytes, salts and other nutrients that people lose when we sweat. Since dogs can’t sweat, human drinks are giving dogs things they do not need as well as unnecessary extra sugars.”
The Finicky Dog and Peanut Butter
No dog can resist peanut butter. That logic has helped Tom Dokken convince even the finickiest of pups to consume water during a hunt. Check out Dokken in this SportDOG training video.
Later this month, SportDOG also plans to launch a new product called Canine Athlete Hydration. “Our new Canine Athlete Hydration product is liver flavored to entice the most finicky dogs to drink, and it has been specifically formulated to benefit bird dogs,” explained Thompson. “It also comes in convenient packaging for the hunter in the field.”
Remembering the Bird Dog Deaths of 2003
Young dogs and over-weight dogs are the most susceptible to heat-related problems. It’s important for your bird dog to be in shape all off-season as you prepare for opening day.
We need to simply look back to October 2003 for proof. That year, 90 degree temps greeted South Dakota hunters for the pheasant opener. Tragically, that weekend’s heat led to hundreds of bird dog deaths. When it’s hot, be sure to monitor your dog’s demeanor and appearance. Specifically, be sure to check your pup’s tongue color. The darker the red of the tongue, the hotter your dog is becoming.
Lastly, it’s important to know that severe heat stress events can impact your dog’s long term health and damage your dog’s heat regulation system forever.
Thanks to @bulldog2012 for the great question and blog topic. If you’ve got an idea for a blog topic, go ahead and drop it in the comment section below or send me a message through Twitter @BobStPierre.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.