Posts Tagged ‘gun dog’

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.

The Gun Dog Lifestyle

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

“Hunter” on a solid retrieve after flushing a rooster in range. Photo by Todd Sauers / Pheasants Forever

“Hunter” on a solid retrieve after flushing a rooster in range. Photo by Todd Sauers / Pheasants Forever

“Hunter,” my English springer spaniel, has ramped up it up as the weather changes here in Minnesota. Our cool weather has him sniffing around more intently, moving faster when off-lead, looking around more, keying in on sounds and movement.

At over six-years-old, Hunter is entering that period in a dog’s life that is prime time. He’s fit, an experienced hunter and knows it, that is, he’s confident and ready roll for the upcoming upland hunting seasons.

My gun dog philosophy reads thus: every interaction with my dog is an opportunity for training. When I walk take him out first thing in the morning, its “Hunter sit” so I can put his lead on. While canoeing a nearby lake, its “hoka hey” when I see a duck. Hunter knows that’s my signal for “game sighted.” He looks around and whimpers. I keep an e-collar on Hunter while on the lake to keep him from chasing waterfowl, but also as a reminder that I’m in control and I expect him to behave. It also keeps him from chasing game at a time it’s not allowed.  Sure, I let him make a few bounds in their direction for fun, but then it’s back to discipline.

When we see a rabbit in the yard it’s “no bird” and I turn him. When a deer ran in front of us while on my land near Duluth in northern Minnesota this summer, it was “no bird” and we turned. A bit later, we heard a noise in the brush and it was “get ‘em up” and Hunter bounded off on the prowl.

On our bike rides (I run him 2-3 days per week), its “sit” while putting on the lead. Sometimes I’ll walk around the corner, out of sight, to tighten up his obedience. Then it’s” heel” as we walk to and fro, then “sit and stay,” as I walk away, and walk back. If he breaks, we do it over until he doesn’t.

I carry a pistol on my land sometimes and pop it off to gin Hunter up. He doubles his speed and intensity working the brush as an experienced gun dog should. At home, I make Hunters sit, then hide a retrieving dummy somewhere inside the house. Then, I give the command “fetch” and off he goes on the hunt. He must bring the dummy to hand and hold it until told to release. If he doesn’t, we do it over until he does. If he can’t find the dummy, it’s an opportunity to train him on blind retrieves. I sit him by me, point in the direction of the bird and its “back,” his command for blind retrieving. He knows then the ‘bird’ is in that direction and he won’t give up until he finds it.

Hunter is a hunting dog and I treat him as such. While dove hunting, the training continues (dove hunting is a great opportunity to sharpen a dog for the hunting seasons that follow). Dove hunting is mostly a retrieving experience for Hunter, but I do use him to flush birds in stubble and standing crops (where I get permission), being cautious not to overheat him. Especially early seasons, I keep an e-collar on him until I’m sure he’s tightened up his behavior, but for most of the recent seasons, I don’t even put it on him. He knows what I expect of him.

Gun dog ownership is not a part time hobby, but a lifestyle lived and enjoyed every day for both parties involved. Our dogs want to be a part of our lives, not a toy to be set aside when we’re done playing with it. That goes for training too. Train them yourself and you will be that much closer, that much better a team afield.

I think when our gun dogs are family, they know it and respond accordingly, more likely to please at home and afield. This is prime time for Hunter and I can’t wait for the next few years hunting with him.

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

Dedications to Dearly Departed Gun Dogs

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

As another hunting season gets underway, I once again find myself thinking about my beloved “Wolf,” a springer who passed away two years ago at dove season at age 14 (Farewell Wolf–My Hunting Partner Since ’95).

The author’s memorial to his favorite hunting buddy. Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

I thought I’d share a photo of my backyard memorial to Wolf, who indeed is buried beneath the earth in this very spot. My wife and I walk around our backyard a lot and when we see his grave it gets us talking about all the things we loved and miss about Wolf.

I made the headstone before Wolf left for the Happy Hunting Grounds. I sunk his fat paws into the wet cement, a reminder of his physical presence for when he was gone. The dog sculpture rests at his head; the duck his feet. Wolf, above all else, loved chasing after ducks. I buried him with a Pheasants Forever t-shirt covering his head. Wolf is buried facing south, the direction from which the sun tarries north in spring, south in autumn, giving us the seasons we both loved.

I love having Wolf in the backyard. He and I were partners his entire life. As he took his last breathe, I thanked him for everything and told him I wasn’t far behind.

Please share your stories of memorializing your gun dogs in the space below.

You can also make a donation to Pheasants Forever to honor the memory of a favorite hunting dog. All memorial gifts, regardless of dollar amount, are published annually in the Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal of Upland Conservation.

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

House Training a Gun Dog

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Hunter is a big, energetic five-year-old springer that needs a lot of exercise, workouts sometimes hard to come by in the dead of a dark, cold Midwest winter.

First off, I’m not talking about potty training. I’m talking about “I just got home from work, its winter and dark outside and my springer, Hunter, is bouncing off the walls with unspent energy.”

The dog practically assaults me to play with him, following me, grabbing his retrieving dummy … all followed up by barking if I don’t get the hint. So, I start with tossing the dummy across our big upstairs room or down the stairs. That really gets him going.

To add a little finesse to the game, I make him sit behind the sofa so he can’t see me and hide the dummy in all sorts of creative places: Under a blanket, atop a table, beneath the sofa, and so on. I then tell him to “find the bird,” which is the command I use afield when necessary.

The toughest retrieve for him was from atop a table. Hunter needs some scent work, so this is a good exercise. He first looked in old or obvious places. Then he starts using the ol’ nose, which is what I want him to do. He passed the table a few times, but I could tell he caught some scent. The plastic dummy doesn’t carry much, which is perfect for such close quarter work.

After a few more frustrating minutes, and checking in with me for hints, he went back to the table and, sure enough, went in for a good sniff, hopped up on his hind legs and spotted the prize!

We have a ball, Hunter gets some good training and exercise and I feel better as a dog owner – such a deal. You have any unique training tricks to share?

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

Do Poodles Hunt?

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Perhaps you aren't accustomed to a Poodle with a dead rooster in its mouth. photo courtesy of Native Performance Dog Food

The June/July issue of Gun Dog magazine landed in my mailbox last week with an intriguing cover teaser: “Making a Comeback: The Standard Poodle.”  The author of the article, James B. Spencer, comes out swinging against the thought running through most of your minds right now:

“Poodles hunt?  You gotta be kiddin’ me!”

Spencer explains there are in fact three different sizes of poodles; toy, miniature and standard.  Although AKC categorizes all poodles into the non-sporting group, the standard poodle does in fact have a long hunting history.  Spencer writes that standard poodles have been a popular breed of bird dog since Middle Age times. 

Here are a few key nuggets about the standard poodle:

  • Males weigh 45 to 60 pounds, while females tend to be a bit lighter at 40 to 50 pounds.
  • They are lean and muscular with boundless energy and great stamina.
  • Most common coat color is black, but some are gray, brown, apricot or white.
  • A standard poodle’s coat doesn’t shed and is hypoallergenic.
  • Hunters with poodles typically trim their dog’s coats down to one inch long all over for easier post-field grooming.
  • Although stereotyped as a trick dog, standard poodles are very smart and easy to train for hunting.
  • Their temperament is friendly and eager to please. 
  • The standard poodle hunts as a flusher and retriever.
  • In 1881, Germans bred the standard poodle with an English pointer to create the pointing breed known today as the Pudelpointer.
  • Standard poodles can be successfully used to hunt waterfowl or upland.

Personally, I have only hunted with a standard poodle on one occasion.  Although the pup was a mere eight months old during that particular hunt, I was impressed by the dog’s natural ability, interest in birds, enthusiasm to retrieve and overall obedience.  In fact, I know two Pheasants Forever colleagues with standard poodles as their hunting dogs. 

So tell me, have you hunted birds behind a standard poodle?  How did the pup stack up as a bird dog? 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.

Which is Best: A House Dog, Field Dog or a Combination?

Monday, February 28th, 2011


Wolf was a great dog afield, but as a house dog he left something to be desired.

  My last Springer, the late, great Wolf, was bred to be a hunting machine. Really, the dog was only interested in two things: hunting and food. He was tough as nails, too. Wolf was very stocky, had a heavy coat and never got sick or incapacitated in the 14.5 years I had him. No conditions ever turned him back, and he hunted ducks with me a lot in the worst weather imaginable. Wolf was sly and aggressive afield and never, ever gave up on a tough retrieve, hard conditions or a long hunt. I loved Wolf. He made me proud afield.

          Wolf, however, left something to be desired during the majority of the off-season. Wolf was not a good house dog and wasn’t very warm with people. I could never leave him un-tethered in the house because he would destroy anything that smelled good or otherwise interested him. At a picnic once, Wolf put his front paws up on the table, grabbed a whole ham, dragged it to the ground and with both paws as leverage, started tearing it apart and eating it, much to the horror of everybody there.

          Pet Wolf on the head once or twice, and he was happy and would walk away. Now that he’s gone, and in comparison to my current Springer Hunter, it seems the humanity was bred out of Wolf. In some ways, I felt sorry for him.

          Hunter, on the other hand, is not the hunter Wolf was. I don’t think he ever will be. Hunter, who is nearly four, does an acceptable job afield. He runs good, finds enough birds and retrieves most of them. He’s a bit sensitive hunting and with people.

          But Hunter is much more the people dog. He is very affectionate, which my wife and I enjoy. Winters are long here in Minnesota, and having a playful, affectionate dog around the house is great entertainment for us. He is seldom tethered and never bothers anything, food or otherwise, around the house. He is a great guard dog, barking and jumping aggressively when any stranger comes around, a quality I like.

          I guess I’m willing to accept his 75 percent field performance during the short hunting season for his 100 percent, year-round companion performance the whole year.

          Which do you prefer?