Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

Wolters’ Gun Dog: A Great Place to Start for New Bird Dog Puppy Owners

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

GunDogOver the course of the last few weeks, I’ve received dozens of messages from bird hunters excited to welcome a puppy into their lives for the first time this spring. Most of these messages have revolved around one central question:

“Do I have any tips for starting off on the right foot in a pup’s training process?”

Yes, yes I do. Although it was first published in 1961, it’s my opinion Richard Wolters’ book Gun Dog remains the gold standard for beginning bird dog owners.

  • Fundamentals of Obedience. While the book covers more advanced elements of your hunting dog’s education (introduction to guns, birds, and water), it’s Wolters’ focus on the basics of obedience that keep me pointing folks toward Gun Dog as a wonderful foundation upon which to create the bird dog of your dreams.
  • Visual Learners. Gun Dog is also filled with photos and easy-to-understand captions of the training process. Like a good cookbook that includes a snapshot from every step of a recipe, Wolters does a wonderful service to the reader including photos to bring home his text for more visual learners.
  • Bowties & Bird Dogs. Speaking of photos, I always get a kick out of the photos of Wolters training his English setter in his bowtie. The point being, Wolters’ training exercises are short and easy for the bird dog owner after a long work day.
  • Breed Agnostic. It doesn’t make any difference if you own a Lab, springer, or German wirehair, Gun Dog is a versatile training guide for retrievers, flushers or pointers.

As you progress in the training process, you’ll encounter folks who disagree with some of the finer points of Wolters’ instructions. For instance, some pointing dog trainers nowadays don’t want to teach their dog the sit command out of concern a point will slide into a sit. Additionally, Wolters’ text came prior to the advent of e-collars as training tools. There is no doubt some things have changed in the 53 years since Wolters wrote Gun Dog. The basics haven’t changed and that’s where Gun Dog shines.

I’ve used Wolters’ principles to help me establish the fundamentals in two German shorthaired pointing bird dogs that have also doubled as obedient members of our family. I plan to use Wolters’ guidance again on my pup to arrive this summer. If you’re looking for the first building block in training a bird dog yourself, then Wolters’ Gun Dog is a fantastic place to start.

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.

Reading your Bird Dog’s “Tells”

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Trammell goes on point with ears at attention

Trammell goes on point with ears at attention

Successful poker players often talk about identifying opposing player’s “tells” in route to victory.  Some card players can’t look others in the eye when they’ve got a good hand, or they start tapping their fingers on the table when they’re bluffing.  Baseball pitchers are known to have similar “tells.”  I can remember one pitcher from high school who would only grunt when delivering a curve ball.  Fastball = no grunt.  Curve = grunt.  I hit pretty well off that guy.


I believe a parallel can be drawn between successful hunter and dog teams.  Without the ability to talk, the hunter is left to interpret the pup’s body language in the field to determine what that dog’s nose is communicating to the rest of its body.  Most of us refer to this interchange of scent to body language as a dog getting “birdy.”


While there are common traits consistent across bird dogs, I believe each birdy dog’s tells are as unique as batting stances in the Hall of Fame.  In my opinion, the basic birdy dog indicators are a pup’s tail, ears, eyes and pace.  The key to being a successful hunter over your bird dog is honing in on how your dog’s tail, ears, eyes and pace behave when your pup’s hot after a bird.


My shorthair has a couple of surefire tells.  The biggest indicator for me is the pace at which her tail wags left to right.  The faster it goes, the surer she is to be on a bird’s trail.  Contrastingly, as soon as she believes she’s located it, her tail and the rest of her body goes “rock solid” into a point and her ears are pricked at attention.  In essence, the more statuesque she is, the more certain she has the bird pinned in the cover somewhere in front of her nose.  As long as I’m not behind her, she’ll also make eye contact with me; making sure I see her and know she’s got one located.  I absolutely get a rush out of the eye contact.  To me, it galvanizes the passing of the baton from her job to mine as the shooter.


While Trammell’s tail and eye contact tells aren’t unique to her, she does have another tell that I’ve yet to witness in anyone else’s bird dog.  When Tram is hot on the trail of a running rooster, but she simply can’t locate it after an extended chase, she’ll let out a whine.  When I hear that whine, I pick up the pace as fast as I safely can with shotgun in hand, because based on past experience that whine tells me she’s on the scent of a wily old rooster that is going to flush before he ever lets her get close to a point.


When it comes to pace as a tell, my buddy Matt Kucharski’s Lab, Lucy, provides my best example.  There is no doubt a dog’s chasing speed picks up as it zeros in on a rooster.  Matt’s Lucy is no exception.  As the scent grows in intensity, so does Lucy’s horse power, until Lucy finally zeros in on a rooster pinned under grass.  At that point, Lucy stops, looks up to locate Matt, and then immediately pounces on the clump of grass concealing the bird.


What is your dog’s surefire “tell” when on a bird?


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.

Pheasants Forever, “The Friends with Benefits Organization”

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Membership in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people. Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot as evidenced by Mark Haslup (left) and Tom Poorker (right).

I was struggling.  It was Sunday morning and I was on the second day of a fruitless grouse hunting/scouting excursion intended to produce some new spots.  You see, I’ve been hunting my exact same haunts the last five years and “my” aspen stands were starting to age out of their grousey prime. So, I’d set off east and north of my normal destinations in search of new coverts.


I spent Saturday pounding decent looking grouse woods with very little flushes.  And the one layup shot presented to me clanked off the backboard with a horribly makeable miss.


Truth be told, I was really struggling with two nagging thoughts in my mind.  First, it was my first solo exploring expedition with two dogs, so I was very nervous about losing my 6-month old pup in the woods.  Second, I was nervous about getting lost myself.  Despite my GPS lock on my truck’s location, I had trouble diving into the grouse woods with abandon.  Fortunately, hope was just around the corner.


Around 11AM on Sunday, I rounded the corner of a state forest gravel road and passed two trucks on my right.  To my surprise, I recognized the two faces under the blaze orange hats.  If you’ve attended Pheasant Fest or Game Fair in the last ten years, then you’d probably have recognized both of them too.  They were Tom Poorker and Mark Haslup from Focus Outdoors Television and Midwest GunDog Kennels.


After commenting on the serendipity of their coming out of the woods at the exact moment I drove by, I shared with them my frustration of learning a new grouse woods.  That’s when my luck turned around.  Although, they’d both been set to finish their hunting for the day with dog training obligations waiting at Midwest GunDog Kennels, they offered to show me a spot in their home woods.  They even went so far as to insist on my two pups being the only dogs in the woods as their bird dogs had already completed their work for the morning.


Needless to say, we found grouse and woodcock in the woods where these two veteran hunters aimed our trio.  In fact, Mark bagged a nice opening weekend timberdoodle that my young pup was able to deliver to his hand, and Tom brought down a beautiful ruff with a dandy shot.  However, I earned the trophy of the morning’s walk with renewed confidence.


After sharing a few laughs over our impromptu hunting trip and thanking them for their generosity, I went north in search of some spots of my own.  And I finally started to find what I was looking for in the woods.  In fact, in one particular alder/aspen mix, I elected to hunt my 6-month old shorthair solo for the first time and she produced three neatly pointed woodcock, quickly earning me a day’s limit.


Izzy’s first limit of Minnesota timberdoodles

To me, the moral of the story is that membership in Pheasants Forever definitely delivers more habitat on the ground – we’ve got 8.5 million acres of proof of that fact – however, membership in Pheasants Forever also creates friendships.  Whether you’re a chapter officer, banquet goer or Pheasant Fest attendee, your involvement in Pheasants Forever will introduce you to new people, good people.  Some will even become your friends, help you train your dog, and show you a new hunting spot.


To Mark & Tom: Thanks a bunch for a great experience!  It truly meant a lot to me for you to take the time out of your plans to give me a little nudge in the right direction.


The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

My First Bird Dog: Time for Help from a Pro

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

“I’m glad you called me when you did, most guys wait until about a week or two until the season starts,” said Tony Roettger of Roettger Ridge Kennels, when I called him the last week of July, “And there’s not much you can do at that point.”

Even before I got “Sprig,” my first bird dog, I’ve held the fanciful idea of doing all the training myself. But training DVDs and good intentions will only get the first-timer so far. The honeymoon stage of having a puppy has been great, but it was time for a dose of reality, not to mention live birds and open space.

“Sprig” works on her flush under the guidance of professional trainer Tony Roettger (left). Photo courtesy Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Part of my hesitancy, aside from my own eagerness to “do it myself,” in calling a professional was opening me – and my dog – up to constructive criticism. Chalk that up to years of competitive sports and having my fill. But that was mistake number one. Roettger, like many professional trainers, is more interested in working to meet your goals (in my case, simply an obedient hunting companion) as opposed to weeding through dogs and producing the next field champion. “I feel that the training is a servitude to the world of people just needing a little help and motivation with their dogs,” Roettger says.

Rather than sending my dog in for training and picking her up a few weeks or months later (certainly a viable option in some circumstances), I signed on for “handler coaching sessions” so I can be the one working with my pup while Roettger provides guidance and the gun.

It’s a group of amateur, novice and first-time handlers that show up for the once or twice-a-week sessions, meaning “Sprig” gets the opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and I get to watch other dogs/handlers and “talk dogs.” Some owners bring their children, and a few of the veterans are in their 70s, so it’s fun to witness the love of bird hunting and dog work stretching across generations.

Gushing aside, “Sprig” has some serious work to do. Her “listening” skills have gone sketchy with birds now in the equation, and she seems to show me one new issue per week that needs to be addressed. But I’ve enjoyed the sessions so much that I’ve signed up for a full year. I couldn’t stand watching that training DVD anyways.

Have you ever enlisted the help of a professional dog trainer?

Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Dog Training – How Hot is Too Hot?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

One tired puppy – even in the early mornings, it’s been hard to escape the heat this summer. Photo courtesy Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

If you’re a bird dog owner, you know that dogs and heat are not a great mix (see Recognizing the Dangers of Overheating in Dogs from Purina, Pheasants Forever’s national dog food sponsor). I haven’t had to find out the hard way – avoiding the heat has been my number one priority this summer in training my first bird dog.

In my first few months of bird dog ownership, there were a few overcautious vet visits (where they now know “Sprig” and I on a personal level) and I’m sure the staff there had some good laughs at my expense (Really? Nails?). But even as pup and I have gotten into a comfortable mode, the one thing I haven’t been afraid to worry-wart is the heat.

Thankfully, “Sprig” has taken a liking to water and I’ve taken a liking, miraculously, to getting up before 6 am. Despite these best efforts, there’s no doubt the oppressive heat has slowed training progress this summer, days where we’ve had to count the walk to the truck as exercise.

Because well-bred dogs won’t draw the line, it’s up to us as owners to draw the lines for them. Exactly what is that threshold when it comes to heat? A line used by some trainers is the rule of 140 – if the temperature plus the humidity percentage tops 140, then field work is a no-go. I’ve also heard of different temperature levels – 80, 75, 72 degrees – used as markers to determine whether to train or not.

Had I religiously adhered to these rules of thumb, I’d have gotten virtually no training in this summer – temperatures in the 60s have been that rare – but their usefulness is evident, and though I don’t have any set-in-stone laws, I’m constantly monitoring conditions. Seems to me if you can’t beat the heat, don’t try.

Heat-wise, where do you draw the line for training?

Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

What’s Your Dog Training Golden Rule?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

“Sprig,” my now 7-month-old English cocker spaniel, is showing promise as a hunter. She’s happily retrieving on both land and water, gets crazy about birds and has been introduced to gunfire. She’s also, unfortunately, been working on the art of selective hearing (which she learned with help from her master), which has left said master exasperated.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dog training in this brief time period, it’s that you need an overwhelming amount of patience. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the last half year, it’s that patience is a virtue of which I’ve not acquired the requisite amount.

"Sprig" doing some wing-on-a-string work earlier this year. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

I imagine this is a crossroads many first-time dog owners reach. With the puppy varnish wearing off, the enormity of the commitment settling in and having hit the first few “bumps in the road,” that feeling that “I can’t do this” can creep in – I know it did for me. So what to do?

Don’t give up. That’s one of The Golden Rules of Dog Training. In fact, this simple little list from SportDOG is one I’ve visited countless times over the last two weeks. That was also the message I received from “Sprig’s” breeder, a high-level trainer himself. “Don’t give up, and go back to the basic building blocks. You can always go back to the basics.”

Since my pup ownership’s midlife crisis, and following The Golden Rules, “Sprig” has shown remarkable improvement. It’s going to be a fun summer…and a better fall…

What’s your “Golden Rule” of dog training?

Read more in the “My First Bird Dog” series here.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Puppies Mimic Older Bird Dogs

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Yzerman (Izzy) mimics Trammell's every move, while the older pup ignores her shadow

As I embarked on the adventure of adding a second bird dog to my family, an age-old question hung in my mind: “Do puppies learn from older dogs or are they simply clay in the hands of a human trainer?”


For years, I’d heard opinions on both sides of this argument, but having never owned more than one dog at a time, I found it hard to pick a side to believe in this debate.  However, after just a few days of owning two bird dogs, I have formed a very strong opinion that puppies ABSOLUTELY mimic older dog’s mannerisms, actions and behaviors.  There is zero doubt in my mind that my 5-year old shorthair is constantly “training” my 12-week old GSP puppy.


I’ve watched Tram (the 5-year old) pick up a stick during a walk.  Moments later, Izzy (the 12-week old)  was carrying a stick of her own.  When running a field together, Izzy measures the distance Tram works away from me and stays at a similar distance.  Every cue Tram drops, Izzy mimics.


Recognizing my sample size in formulating this opinion was extremely small, I asked renowned dog trainer and Purina pro-staffer Rick Smith for his opinion in the debate during a FAN Outdoors radio interview.  You can Podcast the interview by following this link; listen for my question on the topic at the 19:12 mark of Hour 1 of the program originally airing on May 26th.


Without hesitation Smith confirmed my quick-formed opinion that young dogs learn a lot more from older dogs than from people. “I like having a young dog with an older dog,” added Smith.


The caveat Smith made special point of noting, however, was to keep in mind that young dogs are going to learn good AND bad habits from your older dog.  That hit home with me as well.  Izzy is now a dinner table beggar thanks to Trammell’s habits (obviously my fault to begin with), and Izzy also enjoys sleeping on the couch as opposed to the floor (guilty as charged).


Try and catch me!

This entire sequence of observations has me even more eager than normal for bird hunting season to see how much Izzy mimics Tram’s hunting expertise.  Izzy has already honored Tram’s point of a mallard pair, so I’m hopeful that’s a sign of things to come . . . yes, I realize there won’t be much need for either of my duck pointers.  Laugh it up!


So, for all those multi-dog owners out there, how much have your younger pups learned from your older bird dogs?  Any special advice you’d offer me in this two-dog process?


Catching some morning rays together.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.




Your Fido is Fat

Monday, May 7th, 2012

This "Sting Phenomena" takes place across millions of households each night.

Okay, so maybe your bird dog isn’t fat, but if you happen to live in Minneapolis, Minn., there’s a good chance this blog post’s title is accurate, at least according to the people at Banfield Pet Hospital. In their recent State of Health 2012 Report, Banfield revealed there has been a 38 percent increase in the number of dogs residing in Minneapolis that were considered obese after analyzing data from 2 million dogs cared for at their hospitals. This is no statistical drop-in-the-bucket.

This new found information certainly won’t help the jokes running around the office that I just have another “overweight yellow Lab” (she’s a slender 55 lbs., by the way) and that all she’s good for is finding rabbit pellets and cheeseburgers.  But all good natured ribbing aside, did a recent email from the AKC really have to use a graphic of a yellow lab to explain pet obesity?

Luckily I can take solace in the fact that my beloved Labrador retrievers aren’t alone in America’s obesity epidemic. Over the past five years, the overall national average for pooches packing on too many pounds has increased an astounding 37 percent. Before you call up your Lab-owning friends to poke fun at them, turn your pup for a cold-hard-look in the mirror.

If those statistics, coupled with the prospect of finding birds in the fall, aren’t enough to get you and your pup off the couch and away from the pantry for spring training sessions, I don’t know what will. Just keep in mind, people always say you look like your pet… well, maybe your bird dog is trying to tell you something.

The Over/Under blog is written by Andrew Vavra, Pheasants Forever’s Marketing Specialist.


The Soundtrack of the Rooster Road Trip provided by Tri-Tronics

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I am a guy that loves the peace and quiet of bird hunting.  When Anthony & Andrew start ribbing each other’s shooting skills, hunting beards, or favored saying of the day, I typically veer left and bring my bird dog, Trammell, with me. 


Hopefully, you’ve been able to check out some of our Rooster Road Trip hunting videos.  In the ones with me and Tram, you’ll hear a hawk’s scream when Trammell goes on point.  What you’re hearing is the Tri-Tronics Upland G3 EXP Beeper Unit which is connected to my Tri-Tronics Upland G3 EXP Trainer collar.    


The theory behind the hawk scream is that the sound of an avian predator will freeze game birds from flushing wild.  I buy that theory, which is why my Tri-Tronics beeper is set on the hawk scream.


Consequently, while I’m a guy that cherishes a little quiet time in the field, the Tri-Tronics hawk scream is the sweetest music my ears have ever heard. 


Follow Pheasants Forever’s Rooster Road Trip 2011 at, on Facebook , YouTube, and Twitter (#rrt11). 


The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

Training for Blind Retrieves

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I can't always find rocks to toss to mark a bird, so teaching Hunter blind retrieves made sense.

I always wished I taught my last gun dog, Wolf, how to do blind retrieves. With Wolf, I had to resort to tossing an ear of corn for him to retrieve a pheasant he didn’t see drop or a rock in the water for ducks. It was a bit undignified for both of us, not always effective and a pain. You can’t always find something to throw in the direction of the bird to cue the dog to go looking.

So, I’m now teaching Hunter blind retrieves. Sunday, I took him on his usual weekend canoe/swim/training session in nearby White Bear Lake here in Minnesota. I paddle around a big island while he either swims or runs the shore. Great fun for both of us.

When I get to the marsh, which has lots of sand bars, I get out and do some training. I’ve already taught Hunter “back,” which means go look for a bird out there somewhere. Now I want to get him to follow hand directions. This is important because it saves lots of time. Instead of Hunter working 360 to find a bird, I can send him in a specific direction.

Here’s how I do it: I put Hunter on a long check cord and then toss two retrieving dummies 15 yards out in opposite directions. If he feigns toward the dummy to the left, I tug on the cord and point to the other dummy. This teaches him to watch for hand cues. Hunter is picking it up real fast. This was his third session. I think in a few more sessions he’ll have it down for the real thing. How have you done ‘blind’ training?

The Nomad blog is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal. Email Mark at