Posts Tagged ‘e-collar’

Is Your Bird Dog Checking You Out?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014


Some dogs will check in naturally, but if not, check-ins are something you and your dog can work on. Photo courtesy of Gander Mountain

One of the most important skills I teach my hunting dogs is to get them to keep an eye out for me and not the other way around.

I purchased my first gun dog in the mid-1980s and trained him myself, with the help of books and friends. I didn’t use e-collars (they first became available in the late 1960s). I wanted my dogs to obey the old fashioned way, without electronics. I’m now a regular e-collar user early season, but by mid-season my dog usually doesn’t need it and I take it off. Further, I’d rather not use it then. Going without just simplifies my life and my dog is more at ease. Those springers are sensitive.

But even with an e-collar, it’s better to get a dog to ‘fly bys’ on its own than for me to be constantly wondering if he’s running off and having to reel him in. Besides, I need to focus on other things, like looking for birds and being ready to shoot.

Fly Bys

The other day I was talking with some co-workers here at Pheasants Forever about the fly by. A fly by to me is when a dog while hunting regularly, without prompting from its owner, makes a visual run by his master. A fly by lets me know the dog is staying within shooting range and not running out too far, that he’s keeping pace with me and we are working together as a team. I suppose the dog, at least my dogs, want to keep track of me too. This is especially true when hunting in a group because it’s easy for a dog to lose track of its master. Many times my dog has run up to the wrong hunter, thinking it was me. We all pretty much look alike, after all…men with guns in blaze orange.

I’ve never taught the fly by. My dogs just do it on their own. I suppose this comes about because of earlier training to teach them to stick with me afield, be it a walk, training or hunting. Voluntary sticking in is crucial because a dog can outdistance us very easily and quickly. An out of control dog is a lost or potentially dead dog. There’s no way we can keep up with a running dog, so we must train them to stick with us.


For me, training a dog never ends. It starts with using a check cord during puppyhood. But once you turn a dog loose, it’s very tempting for them to run off. I’ll put a dog in its kennel before letting it run off and bust birds out of range. There’s no greater sin afield in my book.

A new dog is insecure about ranging too far for too long because of its early training with the lead, e-collar, whistle and his master’s voice. But once a dog is turned loose to hunt, it’s best if it realizes staying in range and checking in is routine. A relaxed dog and master hunt better when they have confidence in each other.

I’ve noticed with my springers, and I’m no professional trainer, that they do the automatic fly by after about three to four years of hunting. They understand that they can have their ‘head’ and yet stay in contact with their master and not get in trouble. Giving a dog ‘its head’ is an old horse riding term which means dropping the reins and giving a horse its head to run wide open.

I love it when a dog finally ‘gets’ the fly by because then both of us are free to focus more on the task at hand….hunting, shooting and retrieving birds. Every dog is different and therefore reacts to me, its training and hunting in a somewhat different way. I adjust to their individuality.

I also reinforce voice, whistle and check cord training with another tactic I learned from an old hunting buddy. If while working or training my dog off-leash the dog starts to get out of range or out of sight, I hide from them. I run the other way and hide. Nothing freaks out most dogs more than losing their pack mate, because that’s how dogs view us.

I’ll run the other direction and hide upwind so they have to work their nose and not their eyes or ears to find me. I climb trees to get out of scent and sight. This behavior has a very important effect on a dog: it forces him to keep an eye out for me….and not vice versa. Now, I’ve seen one of my dogs take this tactic a little too hard and stick too close to me afterwards, but after 10-15 minutes with encouragement, he’ll start ranging more appropriately. Repeat as necessary.

Pack Mates and Teammates

Of course, if a dog is doing something seriously wrong such as running into a road, chasing down young birds off-season or chasing deer, I’ll employ the e-collar tout de suite until he gets the message.

I had one hard-headed springer that didn’t take the hide-n-seek lesson too seriously, so I made greater efforts to hide from him and he eventually got the message. After all, the dog is not only facing losing his pack mate, but also its source of food and shelter. That’s a big motivation to stick in with the master.

Most of all, I just spend time with my dog and observe him closely, get to know him and how he ticks, and he does the same with me. I adjust my training according to what works best to make us ‘one’ afield. There’s nothing better than when dog and hunter work as one, seamlessly, with little talking, whistles or e-prompts. Often a look or gesture is all that’s needed with a seasoned team to get where we’re going. Such synchronicity strikes an ancient chord for me, as with the dog, a chord first played between man and dog so long ago we’ve forgotten the words, but not the tune. It’s sweet music indeed.

Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at

Field Etiquette for Bird Dogs

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Pheasants Forever Editor Mark Herwig, left, and Pheasants Forever Tongue River Chapter President Travis Muscha of Miles City, Montana, with sharp-tailed grouse bagged this November on land the chapter helped purchase and improve. Much to the author’s delight, there was no cross-over retrieving on this hunt.

Pheasants Forever Editor Mark Herwig, left, and Pheasants Forever Tongue River Chapter President Travis Muscha of Miles City, Montana, with sharp-tailed grouse bagged this November on land the chapter helped purchase and improve. Much to the author’s delight, there was no cross-retrieving on this hunt.

We all want our upland hunts to be safe and enjoyable, and a big part of that is good dog work. Here are a few bird dog field etiquette topics I’ve been mulling over lately.

Taking turn        

One thing that annoys me when pheasant hunting is someone else’s dog retrieving a bird my dog flushed and I shot.

I train my dog to retrieve and it’s a big part of the hunt and a big part of my hunting satisfaction. My springer, “Hunter,” isn’t the most aggressive on retrieving all the time, but sometimes he’ll really ‘fight’ for a bird. He really likes chasing cripples, something my other springer excelled at as well.

Some dogs stick with their masters and leave other hunters alone; others just range everywhere, somewhat out of control, and hog the retrieving. I guess it’s better he demurs than gets in a fight over a retrieve. One tactic that helps is hunting him far enough away from other dogs that there’s no conflict on retrieves.

E-collar use

I wonder if anybody else does this, but once I’ve had an e-collar on my dog a day, I’ve noticed I can remove it the next and he behaves perfectly, meaning he won’t range too far out. He’s just generally more attune to my commands in general as well. I’d much rather hunt him without the collar. A gun dog just looks better to me without a neck full of gadgets. I imagine the dog likes it better at times too.

The right kind of dog?

I’m about to embark on a quail hunt. I was feeling pensive about bringing a springer on what’s ‘supposed’ to be a pointing dog hunt. But my springer has flushed and retrieved quail, as did my previous spaniel. I’ve found both pointers and flushers do a darn good job. The best dog to hunt quail with? One that flushes the birds in range and brings them to hand once the shot is made.

I’ve noticed one thing about flushing dogs hunting simultaneously with pointing dogs, at least my springers. They tend to defer to them. My old springer, “Wolf,” got over it after a bit, but I’m not sure Hunter has. It’s odd. I think maybe Hunter is just put off by a dog that does it different. I sometimes just move a ways out from the pointers and that seems to help, that is he forgets about the pointers and does his own thing….and does it well.

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

Gear and Gun Dogs: What’s Perfection?

Thursday, September 5th, 2013


The quest for perfection can lead to finger pointing, but if the only pointing “Rimfire” does is on game birds, the author will be happy.

Frustrated by hunting gear that always seems to have most of the features we want but never all the features we want, my friends and I like to play “If I were to design a —-.”

Training collars always generate great debate. If I were to design an e-collar, it would have a decent range of stimulation adjusted on a rheostat, different beeper sounds and volumes, vibrate, locator, small ergonomic size, a tiny receiver, buttons with numbers or collar color letters big enough to read without my glasses, some blaze orange on the transmitter so I can find it when I drop it in the woods, a fixed antenna that’s not too long, a simple on-off button that doesn’t get squishy with age, and a reliable but small loop to attach it to a lanyard or carabineer without interfering with the transmitter knobs.

Ask the next dog handler, and he or she will come up with a different set of priorities for sure.

How about the perfect rain hat? Mine would be 100 percent waterproof, 100 percent breathable, blaze orange, never shrink or wrinkle, allow no water to drip down my neck, and would look terrific on. (That last part is the kicker.) We analyze game vests, hunting pants and guns. Boots are very personal, so we’ve given up trying to design the perfect pair. I wonder, though, what we’d come up with if we were to design the perfect bird dog.

I’d start with a dense coat to protect him from thorns and brambles. It’d have to be heavy enough for cold weather, but not too heavy for early season. He’d have to be so biddable, you’d think he’d read the training manual himself. A sensational nose goes without saying, love for swimming, and the ability to know exactly how far out I’d like him to range in the fields and woods. He’d come pre-wired steady to wing, shot and drop, and would retrieve with the style and grace of the head waiter in a gourmet Manhattan restaurant serving me filet mignon in a burgundy mushroom sauce.

He must have a sense of humor for those slow days in the field when I need diversion, and he must be forgiving, knowing that when I miss it’s because the sun was in my eyes, the trees were in the way, or my jacket pulled the gunstock away from my shoulder. As far as personality goes, he’d adore me and understand we’re a team – that if he finds the bird, I can shoot the bird; and if he retrieves the bird, I’ll cook it up for dinner, for us both.

Did I forget anything?

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Top 5 Pheasant Dog Owner Mistakes

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Avoid the five mistakes for gun dogs and save yourself a lot of trouble: good genetics, check; good weight, check; stay cool yourself, check; e-collar, check; and lastly, keep an eye out for their well-being, check. Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

Since I just examined The Biggest Mistakes Pheasant Hunters Make, next let’s examine the biggest mistakes made when it comes to the other hunters in the field – the bird dogs.

The first mistake you can make is to buy a dog that’s not a hunter. Ask someone who knows a breeder of good hunting dogs, a pup whose parents are both field hunters…not some amateur starting out in his basement. You’ll pay more up front most times, but you’ll save a lot more down the road (No, I don’t breed dogs!).

Second, letting your dog get fat and not training them during the off season. I’ve seen many dogs following their owner, gasping for breath or put back in their kennel after an hour’s hunt because they are so fat and out of shape they can’t take hunting. Don’t get a dog if you can’t work it year-round; use your buddy’s – it’s better for you, the dog and hunting buddies.

Third, don’t lose control of yourself. I’ve moved away to the other side of the field to get away from clowns screaming at their out-of-control dogs. I’ve even left hunts over this or at least told the owners to get ahold of their emotions, kennel their dog and do some training with them before taking them out again.

Four, don’t go afield without an e-collar on your dog. There’s no excuse these days not to because you can’t train a dog enough, practically speaking for most folks, to make them work like they can with an e-collar. E-collars are also very affordable. E-collars were a big game changer for hunting dogs, like going from typewriters to computers. Get one. But be careful: you can screw up a dog’s behavior while hunting if you overdo it. Read the directions. I overdid it with my late, great springer, “Wolf,” one frustrating day when I borrowed a buddy’s e-collar and used it without breaking him in correctly. It took weeks before Wolf would confidently leave my side and hunt.

Lastly, watch them carefully afield. Dogs, tough as they are, are flesh and bone…they get hurt and can die. I lost a Brit, at age 7, in the prime of his hunting life when he was attacked by a coyote or badger in the woods. I tended all his wounds, but missed one hid deep in his thick chest fur. It got infected, got in his liver and killed him…all after spending hundreds at the vet.  Watch your dog close in the heat, especially a new dog you haven’t hunted in hot weather. My springer, “Hunter,” came close to big problems a few years ago dove hunting in South Dakota. I let him run because we were heading to a shaded pond. He got wobbly on me just at the pond, where I bathed him in the cool water. He came out of it, but I kenneled him for the rest of the day. Close call. Scary. With a dog, the hunt comes second, the dog must come first. No hunt is worth a dead dog.

Your thoughts?

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