One of the most-discussed and contentious aspects of pointing dog development is range; specifically, how much will your dog end up with and is that going to be enough or too much?
The issue of range and whether more or less is better is a fairly pointless (pun intended) argument, as we each have differing needs to suit our individual styles of hunting. But what’s not often discussed is when, exactly, your dog “finds” his or her range. Some hunters may send a pup or young dog down the line because it “runs too big.” Others may sell a dog because it doesn’t run big enough. So when do you know, or think you know, your dog’s range? It’s an interesting question, and the more time I spend around pointing dogs, the more I become convinced that you don’t really know what you’ve got until you give your dog enough opportunities to show you.
That’s a simplistic answer, but one which my two pointing dogs illustrate perfectly. My older setter, Jenny, comes primarily from coverdog trial lines, and I got her specifically with the idea that she would be a fairly close-to-medium range dog. In the first year-and-a-half of our coexistence, however, Jenny was but a distant white speck on the horizon, a blur of motion rapidly disappearing over the curvature of the earth. My plans of having a close-working setter lay in smoking ruin, bombed by Jenny the unguided missile. But a funny thing happened during the latter part of last year’s hunting season: Jenny started reigning herself in. She tightened up her open country range, started learning how to adjust to and work cover and suddenly-and of her own volition-turned more or less into the dog I was hoping for. It was like she finally realized that she wasn’t an all-age horseback dog. It just took her a while to figure it out.
So when I decided to get another setter, I told myself I wanted a dog that would run a little bigger than Jenny. Not horseback big, but open-prairie foot-hunting big. I did my due diligence; talked to breeders and settled on a breeding from Berg Bros Setters in Minnesota, that at least on paper, had the right combination of range, disposition and heat tolerance I was looking for. What I got was Ozzy.
From the beginning, it was plain to see that Ozzy was a laid-back, chilled-out dude of a dog. In fact, a bit too laid-back and chilled-out. Whereas Jenny had started out running wild and gradually settled down, Ozzy had apparently come into this world convinced that anything worth chasing was worth chasing at a leisurely pace and within sight of the dude who gave him treats and love. And all through the spring, summer and the first part of fall, that’s how it went. Ozzy just didn’t get in a hurry for anything. In the field he was perfectly content to just stick right there with Jenny. Once again, my plans lay in smoking ruin, bombed by Ozzy the mellow missile. Honestly, I sometimes felt that I didn’t have a dog, I had Towelie from South Park.
“I wanted the Terminator, and I got Jeff Spicoli,” I said to a friend of mine in Montana (and not without some frustration).
But then a funny thing happened as hunting season progressed this year: Ozzy suddenly discovered his legs.
As you know, I am a big fan of the Garmin Astro/Alpha GPS system. I always run the dogs with an Alpha, and I record their mileage and average speed after every hunt. This gives me an invaluable, and fascinating, look at how my dogs are performing.
Up until a couple weeks ago, Jenny and Ozzy’s numbers were almost identical. But then I noticed something interesting: Ozzy started pulling ahead. Not by much, and not to where I could notice it in the field, but the numbers don’t lie. And then this past Sunday, Ozzy started using his legs in earnest. Range-wise, he finally started becoming the dog I hoped he would. According to the Alpha, on Sunday morning Jenny ran 15.05 miles with an average speed of 7.86 mph. Ozzy, on the other hand, ran 17.60 miles at an average speed of 9.05 mph. Not a blistering pace, but not bad, either. He’s getting there.
And that, I suppose, is the moral of the story. Your dog will get there. Maybe not when you want or expect him or her to, but your dog will get there. Trust your breeder, because they know more than you, and give your dog time. Hell, do you think you were perfect as a teenager?