Available on Amazon.com
Our latest book Bond of Passion: Living With and Training Your Hunting Dog is now available!
This book has been several years in the writing and is a comprehensive manual for someone looking to train and hunt a gun dog. The narrative unfolds through stories gleaned from Web's years as a professional gun dog trainer and quail guide. This book is sure to please those interested in having a deeper and more cooperative relationship with their canine hunting partners.
Your Dog’s Primary Requirement
I imagine it as some huge assignment board somewhere with unborn puppies waiting in line for their new postings. When dogs come to earth and into your lives they have one primary job: to look after us. While we were looking to get a new gun dog, his goal is to be with us, in all our moods and actions, watching and waiting.
The old line goes that you can’t make a friend out of a hunting dog. This sentiment is just plain false. The best dogs are those who have unencumbered access to their humans. They require it in order to be whole. When a dog lives with you, he is able to read your thoughts before you think them. That canine ability to gauge even the slightest nuances of body language and emotion will eclipse even the most intimate of human/ human relationships. All this translates into the sort of working relationship that will mature your dog into a superior hunting partner.
Live with your dog with this in mind. Make your life as open as is practical for the new canine that has been assigned to you. Certainly training sessions and fun time in the field qualify; but, in addition, your dog needs to lie by you when you’re on the computer or talking on the phone. He needs rides to the store and shared cheap hamburgers at the fast food drive-thru. I’m not talking touchy feely here, I’m talking shared space. Your dog needs the time and access to connect to you through osmosis. Most dog/ human interactions are ultimately transferred by brain waves, not physical or verbal cues. The physical and verbal cues may help to clear up confusion or clarify intent, but if your dog isn’t reading your mind the pair of you are operating with a fraction of your effectiveness and your relationship and time in the field are diminished.
I’m not necessarily talking joined at the hip here, either. Even short periods of time, ten or twenty minute chunks, are of value. If you can arrange for your dog to have three hours lying at your feet while you veg out in front of the TV or work at the computer, so much the better. In both instances, your dog is experiencing quality time. In my situation, that quality time may translate into two hours on the chain gang between 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm, under the parking lights in some Wal-mart parking lot, or on a dirt strip alongside a rural motel. This after a long day of hunting on the road guiding clients. I tend to dogs and then sit down in a folding chair and eat my drive-thru Chinese dinner. They may look like they are sleeping, but in actuality they are tracking everything you do, think, and feel.
You think not? Turn off the TV and try slipping out of that recliner while your dog is sleeping...
What a Trainer Needs to Know
The relationship between a handler and a dog is very unique. Although it is more complicated than a human with human interaction, it’s also in many ways much more direct.
Dogs work off of a different set of cues than we human do. As humans, we verify and gauge our world primarily through what we see: the information that comes through our eyes. When we hear or smell something, we usually need also to see it in order to evaluate it and put it into context. For dogs, however, their primary sense is the sense of smell. If a dog sees or hears something, he needs also to smell it in order to evaluate it and put it into context.
This profound difference in how we two different beings, dogs and humans, gauge the world is key to the training process.
In a training situation, the canine trainee senses with an infinitely bigger set of tools. An experienced handler can visually gauge a dog’s reactions by the dog’s body language and demeanor. The dog, however, in addition to these aforementioned visual cues, can also taste the air through his sense of smell. A human won’t understand the most basic of dog interactions unless he watches for, and guesses at, what the dog is sensing through his nose.
During a training session, a dog identifies our moods, level of frustration, and depth of resolve through his highly evolved canine sense of smell. Dogs can smell apprehension, concern, fear, etc. They know what kind of people we are: whether we can be trusted; are honorable; or, are rageful and dangerous. Observe a dog that doesn’t trust his owner. The level of the dog’s comprehension is palpable. Anyone who has spent even a short period of time with dogs has experienced a dog coming up from behind and pressing his nose against the skin at the back of the knee or sniffing the inside of the wrist. That is how a dog gets a full readout of the person wearing that skin.
Now, watch a competent and experienced handler work with a dog. The handler has trained himself or herself to monitor the internal mechanisms of his or her personality and temperament, and to project positives to their canine students. An experienced handler will use strategies like breathing into a dog’s nose, or spitting saliva onto a training bumper or leather glove they are wearing. The handler then places the bumper or glove into the dog’s mouth, so that the dog can taste the person’s intentions. This is done to fast track the olfactory communication process...
Types of Dogs
Why a person chooses a particular breed of gun dog is often left to circumstance or pure coincidence. The dog was offered, or available, or was the type Uncle Joe had. You drive a Ford because your parents drove a Ford.
I am aware at the outset that talking about dog choice is a very touchy subject. Please don’t write me letters.
I will acknowledge a personal breed preference here. Our own shooting string is mostly English setters. In addition, I always keep a couple of German shorthairs in the mix along with a retriever, either a lab or a chessie.
I have setters because I started with a setter thirty-odd years ago. We are now six generations in on our breeding. I know what to expect when I look at one of our puppies. I see in a dog today the same nuance, hunting style, and temperament that I saw in its
grandmother and great-great-grandmother. It gives me predictability regarding training and genetics. In order to have that, a person must maintain a large group of dogs at any given time in order to have a pool of viable breeding candidates. This gets prohibitively expensive in time and money. There is, however, an intimacy created when living this close to a particular line of breeding. It’s like maintaining several generations of family, or being married to the same person for multiple lifetimes.
I like all breeds of dogs. I have owned pointers, setters, Brits, GSPs, GWPs, spaniels and retrievers. If I had a second life span to live, I would try another breed of dog so that I could share that same level of intimacy I’ve been able to have with our setters.
Many folks are very breed sensitive to begin with. The, whole issue gets muddied up further with the fact that there are some really fuzzy lines separating some of our sporting breeds today. For example, if I make a statement about German shorthairs, what exactly am I referring to?
First, there are the old school shorthairs that work fairly close and tight. Their coat is dark and grizzled, and their build is stocky. They use ground scent and are death as pickup dogs on cripples. They are methodical in their search and often very good in water. The old school shorthairs are pretty straightforward when it comes to training. They look at you and say, “What is it you want me to do?”
Then there are the field trial shorthairs who were crossed with pointers, allowing the breeder to cull the pointer lookalikes and then use the others to win field trials against old school short hairs? These dogs train like pointers with a screw loose and have the focus of a hummingbird. They don’t want to stay in the same county with the gun, and forget about water work.
Or... am I talking about the registered “shorthairs” that are pointers with docked tails? The dogs produced by breeders who can keep a straight face while selling white dogs with pointer heads and short tails and calling them short hairs...dogs with little to no retrieving instinct that run like all age field trial pointers because, well, they are.
There is a joke floating out there about one of these types of breeders. The story goes that the way this breeder culls a litter of puppies is to take them out into the desert when they turn six months of age and cut them loose. Whatever comes back he keeps.
There are two extremes in the world of GSPs. The ones that come from continental blood, are as far away in trainability, temperament and appearance from the field trial short hair counterfeits as white is to black.
You see, in today's dog world it’s hard to know what’s in a name any more. You can spend the money for the registered dog and think that the expenditure will carry some guarantees. You can scan the pedigree and look for wins.
In previous centuries, dogs that won field trials were the dogs to breed to and those puppies were the ones to get. Today’s dog novice makes the assumption that if a dog’s relatives won field trials, then they must be good dogs. I’ve seen others put that same logic in print. When I read it, I know it’s a writer who has interviewed a field trialer, not a writer who has spent any time training dogs for the public. I don’t mean to denigrate field trials. I think they are a wonderful experience if a person wishes to engage in competitions. Unfortunately, they are not hunting, no matter what the intent of the organizers were originally.
Horace Lytle, gun dog columnist for Field andStream in the early part of the twentieth century, wrote a great line concerning field trial dogs. Lytle said that a field trial dog is a dog that runs out of control, almost. A dog with the flash to run like a banshee and break with the style that impresses a judge is a marvelous thing if your goal is to impress a judge. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a dog to hunt for the gun, work birds intelligently, retrieve and keep within a quarter mile of you while doing it, I have found it is best to look at dogs that perform in that manner.
The problem is that a field trial dog wins on the day that he didn’t run out of bounds or bust his brace mate’s birds, or chase a flyer out of the county. I was picking up some gear I had bought from a retired field trialer. He had campaigned Brits for a big chunk of his life and ultimately switched over to pointers before health issues forced him to hang up his whistle. During the visit, he gave me a tour of his kennel facility and stopped at the end of a bank of chain link runs. “This was old Blaster’s run,” he said. He proceeded to tell me the story of one of his field trial champion Brits. He opened by telling me that the dog was insane and uncontrollable. He pointed to a polished portion of kennel floor. The kennel was covered with chain link and he described to me how the dog would run it in the manner of a squirrel cage, particularly when there was noise or the rumble of distant thunder. Floor to left panel, to ceiling panel, to right panel, to floor. The dog would go ballistic and run in place in this manner for long periods of time.
Regarding his field trial endeavors, Blaster had a very checkered track record. He was mostly uncontrollable, except for a few isolated stellar days. On those days, the judges liked what they saw and Blaster made his field trial championship. That’s what the print on the pedigree said, and people came to breed their females to old Blaster. My host chuckled at the thought of other squirrel cages, holding Blaster’s offspring, spread throughout the country. Enough said...
© Web Parton 2008