Posts Tagged ‘Springer spaniel’

Is Your Bird Dog Checking You Out?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

FlyBy

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.

Hide-N-Seek

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 mherwig@pheasantsforever.org.

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 mherwig@pheasantsforever.org.

Dog of the Day: “Jersey”

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Bubbs

Ryan Kappes, a Pheasants Forever member who volunteers with his local Clay County (Minn.) Pheasants Forever chapter, and his bird dog, “Jersey” bagged this sharp-tailed grouse on a rain-soaked opening day this September in North Dakota. Jersey, or “Bubbs” as Kappes often calls her, is a springer spaniel/German shorthaired pointer mix that he adopted from the local humane society.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org.

Dog of the Day: “Lillie”

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Lillie

Mike Morgen describes his two-year-old springer spaniel, “Lillie,” as a “hunting machine.” Morgen and his bird dog companion live in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org.

Dog of the Day: “Louie”

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Louie

“Louie,” Carl Bridenhagen’s springer spaniel, flushed and retrieved all six of these roosters for his hunting party this past December 29th near Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org.

Dog of the Day

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

kdfjdf

“Buddy,” Robert Jones’ springer spaniel pup, with his first rooster taken this past November in northern California.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org

Do Gun Dogs Have an Innate “Autumn” Clock?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Does “Hunter,” here with the author in North Dakota, get fired up for fall hunting because of an inborn sense? Or experience?

As the days shorten and the nights and days cool here in central Minnesota, I’ve noticed my springer, “Hunter,” is more fired up than usual over the usual cues such as going out, training or any movement I make toward the door.

I enjoy his increased enthusiasm. Last season was a breakout year for Hunter as far as finding birds and retrieving them. Recently, I’ve stepped up the refresher course using a check cord and tossing a retrieving dummy made of two fresh pheasant wings (I’m eating up 2011’s last birds). Hunter is in the groove and ready roll…and so am I.

I’m not sure if he reacts to the coming autumn because of an innate sense or because he knows from past experience that the hunting time is approaching. What do you think?

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

My First Bird Dog – Why Attend a Hunt Test or Field Trial?

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

As a few readers in my previous post correctly guessed, the Springer spaniel is a breed in consideration to become my first bird dog. And after having her heart melt for an English cocker spaniel at the most recent National Pheasant Fest (okay, ditto for me), Kaily – my partner and half financer in getting a pup – and I decided we should investigate these two breed avenues a litter further.

In addition to providing entertainment, attending Hunt Tests and Field Trials is a great way gain knowledge and resources during your dog search.

Having hunted behind a dozen or so breeds, I’ve witnessed a few exceptional springers, including Wolf, the late companion of longtime Pheasants Forever Journal Editor Mark Herwig. But I’ve never hunted behind a cocker, and Kaily’s only seen metro-walk-in-the-park springers, so we decided our best bet to get further acquainted with these breeds during the non-hunting season was to attend a Spaniel Hunt Test (just an FYI, Hunt Tests are open to all AKC registered Spaniels, including Boykin, Field, Clumber, etc.).

We barely made it home from the Hunt Test without this little guy.

My goals were simple: To watch dogs work, ask as many questions of participating dog handlers as humanly possible in a half day and not get sucked into buying a dog on the spot. I accomplished all three, though Kaily came dangerously close to caving on the third goal.

The biggest apprehension leading into the event was that I’d be imposing on this exclusive club of dog owners and they’d see me as an outsider – hey, confidence isn’t always in full supply. As you can probably guess, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were greeted with smiles, questions were answered, references were made, dogs were watched and I got Kaily away from the litter of puppies that all-too-conveniently happened to be there just in time. A final decision has yet to be made, but we certainly feel more equipped to make the right pick for us having been active spectators at the Hunt Test.

Have any of your bird dog searches led you to check out a Hunt Test or Field Trial?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts

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