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A Pup's First Step Toward Becoming a Gun Dog

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November 15, 2011

A Pup's First Step Toward Becoming a Gun Dog

By Chad Love

This past weekend was the opener of both the Oklahoma quail season and the combined quail/pheasant season in Kansas. More importantly, it was the start of my pup Jenny's first real hunting season. Last fall she was a gangly, goofy puppy who ran like the wind and had no idea what she was doing, but was damn happy to be doing it. This fall she is a gangly, goofy teenager who still runs like the wind and has very little idea of what she's supposed to be doing, which is, I guess, a step up from nothing.

I've been working with Jenny on some basic commands like "whoa" and introducing her to planted birds via the pigeon pole, but for young dogs there's no experience like real experience, so getting her on birds this inaugural hunting year was going to be crucial for her development.

This past Saturday we loaded up and headed for Norton, Kansas to meet up with the Pheasants Forever Rooster Road Trip crew for a two-day public-land pheasant and quail hunt. The PF guys were on the first leg of their epic five-state, public-land road trip and had graciously invited Jenny and me to join them. I guess they thought I had a bird dog or something. Big mistake on their part.

Jenny ran. Oh, yes, she ran--to the horizon and back. She made mistakes and forgot her training. She busted birds. She chased deer and rabbits. She failed to honor points. She gave me the finger on "whoa", "here" and became deaf to the whistle. In short, she did exactly what any young dog, no matter how (allegedly) trained, will do when they're learning the ropes. But by the middle of the first day, I could tell she was starting to put things together. She settled down, started using her nose, and not long after PF Vice President of Marketing Bob St. Pierre's excellent German Shorthair, Trammell found a covey, Jenny made a short, half-hearted flash point on a single that flushed wild. It wasn't pretty, but it was a start.

And then, late in the day, it all came together for one brief moment. Jenny locked up on a solid, stylish point, held it staunchly and when I walked it up a covey of bobs burst out of the grass. I don't know who was more surprised, the dog or me. Probably me, since I about dropped my gun before managing to scratch one down. Then, to my astonishment, Jenny started hunting dead, and found that quail in the thick grass. And just to keep the moment from being too perfectly perfect, she then forgot all about that whole retrieving thing and took off with it, with me in hot pursuit. We hunted a few singles after that and I got one more good, solid point (and a reluctant retrieve, even!) before daylight slipped away.

It was a great finish to a great day (when I finally caught her). It's always a fascinating thing for me to watch a young dog start figuring everything out, to be there when that switch is finally flipped. I went to bed feeling pretty good about things and brimming with optimism about the next day. Of course, Jenny had other plans--but hey--that's dog training. Baby steps, man. Baby steps...

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from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

That looks like a tired but happy Brittany. Once they get a clue it doesn't take them long to start putting it all together. It's a lot of fun watching them figure it out.

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from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

i know this is a bit off topic but know i will get the best information from those who read the gundog forum. my 7 month old lab pup is having issues with the food we are feeding him. his bowels are all messed up inside. we switched him once before from eukanuba puppy formula to blue buffalo puppy formula because of this same issue. it seems like the food is just to rich for his digestive system. any ideas of what food to go with now?

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from Charlie Nichols wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

CastMaster25 I would go to the Vet and get some Purina FortiFlora to sprinkle over the food you are now giving the pup. That stuff works. After all the shots the dogs intestines may just need some good bacteria to get him all straightened out. Give it about 4 days to work and I think you will begin to see improvement. FortiFlora is not expensive...by the way, I don't work for Purina I just believe in promoting what I use that really works.

Chad, I know that pups will be pups but an e-collar like the SportDog that has a high pitch recall button really teaches a dog to come back when the button is pushed...no shock..just the high pitched beep-beep, which I began to train with at the same time as learning that a whistle barking twice was a "Come" command. It only took two stimulations, at a very light 2 for a Brittany to react. I push that button for the sound and she comes every time. If not a slight buzz of the collar would remind the dog of what the whistle and the beep-beep mean again. You don't have to blow the pea clear out of the whistle with this training tip. You don't have to chase a dog down and holler come for a half-hour. Once again, I don't work for SportDog, I just believe in that product. Mine is the 1825 with good range and that vibrate or beep button is the berries. By the way this was a purchase my wife made...I wanted a different brand which I will not name.

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from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Box Call: Thanks for your response. I have used the Purina FortiFlora once before with him. It does improve his bowels for a period of time but then we seem to start all over again with the loosness. I will try it out again and see what happens. Thanks again for getting back to me.

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from Wags wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Hey Chad, long time no talk. I can't begin to tell you how much this report eases my very troubled mind. My 1 yr 8 month Llewellyn Setter has me befuddled. She hunts great, comes when called, does just about everything with youthful exuberance, except show any sign of any desire to actually point a bird. We put her on some chukkars last week and got nothing for a point. I have seen her point (one time last year on a pile of feathers). Not sure what I have done wrong but I am losing sleep over this one. Thought, based on her pedigree and genetics, pointing would be a no brainer. I am trying to figure out where to go from here. I keep hoping that the light bulb comes on, maybe keep putting her on birds. She is a smart pup, seems eager to please, so I will keep working. That and the fact that my family will have me put down if I bring up the notion of trading her for a different dog. I will be reading with great interest as you chronicle your adventures with your pup. Please keep me/us posted!!

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from chadlove wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Castmaster, are you changing the food over slowly? Sudden changes in diet can bring on gastrointestinal issues. Fortiflora and a talk with your vet is a good idea...

Boxcall, that's a good tip. I'm slowly teaching mine the same thing, using the tone function as a comeback. Still in that "learning" stage...

Wags, good to hear from you. I bet it'll come with time. I'm finding that setters are much like chessies in that they (at least mine so far) tend to blossom just a tad slower than some other breeds. Have you tried working her on a pigeon pole? My issue with Jenny was, she was working great on planted birds but when I got her in the field she got excited and was blowing by birds without using her nose.

I think it just takes a little time, patience and exposure to birds and they eventually start connecting the dots.

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from bbainbridge wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Great story. It made me laugh here in the conference room (I'm alone thankfully). Especially the part where she picked up the dead bird and went in the other direction! My girl is 3 and did the same thing running around like crazy through the slough and not using her nose. One of her weaknesses is when we're hunting with a few guys and she'll go on point, another guy down the line will flush and shoot a bird, and Lexi will forget all about her point and go look for the (hopefully) downed bird. I guess she thinks the bird she was pointing flushed somewhere else and her work there is done. I suppose that many birds is a good problem to have, but its still a tad frustrating.

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from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

yes we had been to the vet numerous times over the summer when we first got him. they suggested the fortiflora and we used it. had the issue again and they suggested the change in dog food. he was at the vet about a month ago and they told us to watch to see if there were any changes in bowels. no real change so we are contacting them again to see what the next step is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

yes we had been to the vet numerous times over the summer when we first got him. they suggested the fortiflora and we used it. had the issue again and they suggested the change in dog food. he was at the vet about a month ago and they told us to watch to see if there were any changes in bowels. no real change so we are contacting them again to see what the next step is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

My seven month-old Brittany pup is doing fairly well. She has been hunting with my two labs. Well, mostly with the younger 4 year-old lab since Pearl was snakebit nearly three weeks ago. In spite of working with flushers, Coral is doing well pointing birds that will hold, which has been darn few this year. Sometimes she ranges too far so I keep her with me quite a bit now. She is generally very good about coming back when summoned and she will stay behind me when directed - or she will incur my wrath and that seems to be enough. No need for an e-collar. Coral is very attached and even sleeps in bed with me right now. I think the more "attached" a pup is allowed to become to its handler, the easier it is to handle him/her in the field. Kenneled pups just don't seem to develop the same kind of natural respect that home-grown pups do. Of course, there are dogs that are going to be hard-headed no matter what. I try to avoid breeds or broods where this is likely to occur. Had very good luck so far. And, of course, I spend a LOT of time in the field with my dogs. I have been hunting literally every day now for the past month. I'm guessing I average about seven miles a day with many days over ten miles in the fields. That's quite a lot of time spent working with my dogs. Makes a huge difference. Next year Coral will be bigger and not so hard to see in the cover. I'll probably be more inclined to let her work further, especially early in the season when the birds aren't so spooky.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Coral has only retrieved a couple of sharptails so far. The bigger dogs are taking over that aspect at this point. Opal even snatched a sharpie from Coral the other day. Coral will bring back a dead hun or sharpie if I toss it for her and other dogs are locked away so I know she has the instinct. I'll get this all lined out next year when the pup is further along and larger in size. She's really pretty small to be handling pheasants right now.

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from Jere39 wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Nice jolt of reality from a Hunting Magazine. My French Brittany gets tons of time in the woods, but unfortunately very little exposure to birds. I know that is mostly my fault. Anyway, I spent opening Grouse weekend at a friends cabin and had an absolutely excellent first day. For a dog that is entirely biddable, but under exposed to any kind of birds, Scout did great. After the mid-day break, I went out again without shotgun just to let him find more birds. Around dusk we were walking back a woods road toward the cabin and Scout locked on a bird right on the shoulder of the dirt road. A PA DNR Officer came barreling down the road, practically slid all four tires to a halt, wound down the passenger window to tell me my dog was the best looking dog he ever saw. That exchange flushed the grouse, which he apologized for. But, truth be told, I considered his act an official, PA gov't recognition of progress for my French Brit. The dog probably needs a better trainer, but definitely needs more birds. I suspect they all do.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

That looks like a tired but happy Brittany. Once they get a clue it doesn't take them long to start putting it all together. It's a lot of fun watching them figure it out.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

i know this is a bit off topic but know i will get the best information from those who read the gundog forum. my 7 month old lab pup is having issues with the food we are feeding him. his bowels are all messed up inside. we switched him once before from eukanuba puppy formula to blue buffalo puppy formula because of this same issue. it seems like the food is just to rich for his digestive system. any ideas of what food to go with now?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Charlie Nichols wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

CastMaster25 I would go to the Vet and get some Purina FortiFlora to sprinkle over the food you are now giving the pup. That stuff works. After all the shots the dogs intestines may just need some good bacteria to get him all straightened out. Give it about 4 days to work and I think you will begin to see improvement. FortiFlora is not expensive...by the way, I don't work for Purina I just believe in promoting what I use that really works.

Chad, I know that pups will be pups but an e-collar like the SportDog that has a high pitch recall button really teaches a dog to come back when the button is pushed...no shock..just the high pitched beep-beep, which I began to train with at the same time as learning that a whistle barking twice was a "Come" command. It only took two stimulations, at a very light 2 for a Brittany to react. I push that button for the sound and she comes every time. If not a slight buzz of the collar would remind the dog of what the whistle and the beep-beep mean again. You don't have to blow the pea clear out of the whistle with this training tip. You don't have to chase a dog down and holler come for a half-hour. Once again, I don't work for SportDog, I just believe in that product. Mine is the 1825 with good range and that vibrate or beep button is the berries. By the way this was a purchase my wife made...I wanted a different brand which I will not name.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Box Call: Thanks for your response. I have used the Purina FortiFlora once before with him. It does improve his bowels for a period of time but then we seem to start all over again with the loosness. I will try it out again and see what happens. Thanks again for getting back to me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Wags wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Hey Chad, long time no talk. I can't begin to tell you how much this report eases my very troubled mind. My 1 yr 8 month Llewellyn Setter has me befuddled. She hunts great, comes when called, does just about everything with youthful exuberance, except show any sign of any desire to actually point a bird. We put her on some chukkars last week and got nothing for a point. I have seen her point (one time last year on a pile of feathers). Not sure what I have done wrong but I am losing sleep over this one. Thought, based on her pedigree and genetics, pointing would be a no brainer. I am trying to figure out where to go from here. I keep hoping that the light bulb comes on, maybe keep putting her on birds. She is a smart pup, seems eager to please, so I will keep working. That and the fact that my family will have me put down if I bring up the notion of trading her for a different dog. I will be reading with great interest as you chronicle your adventures with your pup. Please keep me/us posted!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chadlove wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Castmaster, are you changing the food over slowly? Sudden changes in diet can bring on gastrointestinal issues. Fortiflora and a talk with your vet is a good idea...

Boxcall, that's a good tip. I'm slowly teaching mine the same thing, using the tone function as a comeback. Still in that "learning" stage...

Wags, good to hear from you. I bet it'll come with time. I'm finding that setters are much like chessies in that they (at least mine so far) tend to blossom just a tad slower than some other breeds. Have you tried working her on a pigeon pole? My issue with Jenny was, she was working great on planted birds but when I got her in the field she got excited and was blowing by birds without using her nose.

I think it just takes a little time, patience and exposure to birds and they eventually start connecting the dots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bbainbridge wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Great story. It made me laugh here in the conference room (I'm alone thankfully). Especially the part where she picked up the dead bird and went in the other direction! My girl is 3 and did the same thing running around like crazy through the slough and not using her nose. One of her weaknesses is when we're hunting with a few guys and she'll go on point, another guy down the line will flush and shoot a bird, and Lexi will forget all about her point and go look for the (hopefully) downed bird. I guess she thinks the bird she was pointing flushed somewhere else and her work there is done. I suppose that many birds is a good problem to have, but its still a tad frustrating.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

yes we had been to the vet numerous times over the summer when we first got him. they suggested the fortiflora and we used it. had the issue again and they suggested the change in dog food. he was at the vet about a month ago and they told us to watch to see if there were any changes in bowels. no real change so we are contacting them again to see what the next step is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from CastMaster25 wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

yes we had been to the vet numerous times over the summer when we first got him. they suggested the fortiflora and we used it. had the issue again and they suggested the change in dog food. he was at the vet about a month ago and they told us to watch to see if there were any changes in bowels. no real change so we are contacting them again to see what the next step is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

My seven month-old Brittany pup is doing fairly well. She has been hunting with my two labs. Well, mostly with the younger 4 year-old lab since Pearl was snakebit nearly three weeks ago. In spite of working with flushers, Coral is doing well pointing birds that will hold, which has been darn few this year. Sometimes she ranges too far so I keep her with me quite a bit now. She is generally very good about coming back when summoned and she will stay behind me when directed - or she will incur my wrath and that seems to be enough. No need for an e-collar. Coral is very attached and even sleeps in bed with me right now. I think the more "attached" a pup is allowed to become to its handler, the easier it is to handle him/her in the field. Kenneled pups just don't seem to develop the same kind of natural respect that home-grown pups do. Of course, there are dogs that are going to be hard-headed no matter what. I try to avoid breeds or broods where this is likely to occur. Had very good luck so far. And, of course, I spend a LOT of time in the field with my dogs. I have been hunting literally every day now for the past month. I'm guessing I average about seven miles a day with many days over ten miles in the fields. That's quite a lot of time spent working with my dogs. Makes a huge difference. Next year Coral will be bigger and not so hard to see in the cover. I'll probably be more inclined to let her work further, especially early in the season when the birds aren't so spooky.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Coral has only retrieved a couple of sharptails so far. The bigger dogs are taking over that aspect at this point. Opal even snatched a sharpie from Coral the other day. Coral will bring back a dead hun or sharpie if I toss it for her and other dogs are locked away so I know she has the instinct. I'll get this all lined out next year when the pup is further along and larger in size. She's really pretty small to be handling pheasants right now.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere39 wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Nice jolt of reality from a Hunting Magazine. My French Brittany gets tons of time in the woods, but unfortunately very little exposure to birds. I know that is mostly my fault. Anyway, I spent opening Grouse weekend at a friends cabin and had an absolutely excellent first day. For a dog that is entirely biddable, but under exposed to any kind of birds, Scout did great. After the mid-day break, I went out again without shotgun just to let him find more birds. Around dusk we were walking back a woods road toward the cabin and Scout locked on a bird right on the shoulder of the dirt road. A PA DNR Officer came barreling down the road, practically slid all four tires to a halt, wound down the passenger window to tell me my dog was the best looking dog he ever saw. That exchange flushed the grouse, which he apologized for. But, truth be told, I considered his act an official, PA gov't recognition of progress for my French Brit. The dog probably needs a better trainer, but definitely needs more birds. I suspect they all do.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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