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Established 1925

Incorporated 1929




It's always regarded as boorish to criticize another man's dog, no matter how lacking his field performance may be. But, nothing in the book of field etiquette prevents a man from being critical of his own dog. In fact, an objective appraisal of just how your four-footed gunning partner stacks up is a shrewd move before too much time slips rosy glasses on your memory.

Any look back should consider your dog's overall performance as it contributed to the season's success. His effectiveness in helping to put game in the bag is but one yardstick. More important is the gratification provided you in how it was collected. And that, of course, had to stem from the caliber of his work. Such a judgment, unfortunately, must inevitably focus on the negative aspects of his performance: those serious faults, consistent weaknesses, or even minor errors that may have cost you valuable chances at game or, at least, quality opportunities of which lasting memories are made.

Reflecting on some of the most common bird dog performance frail ties owners face, along with a few tips on coping with them, may help you pinpoint, evaluate, and correct any your own dog displayed last season, thus insuring improved performance next year.

A real hunt spoiler for the man who hunts with a flushing breed is a dog that consistently hunts too fast and too far from the gun. Nor is the pointing breed owner immune from the same problem, which can foul things up cussingly for at least the first hour or so a field. In both instances, over zealousness to find birds creates the major part of the problem. But, compounding it, in most cases, is a lack of control stemming from too little whistle training.

Certainly, you wouldn't want to dilute your dog's bird-seeking enthusiasm. Yet, if he's to find and flush— or point and hold, depending on breed—birds you can shoot at within range, he must be slowed and held closer.

One way to tackle the problem is simply by working your dog during several successive outings on a 75 foot check cord and using your whistle and a hand signal to turn him at the precise instant he reaches the end of the cord. Reinforce these lessons without the check cord by working him in extra heavy cover on three or four occasions soon after wards. Once he's complying well, you can put the icing on the cake by getting him into a few planted quail or pigeons you dispatch at very close range to strengthen the idea that hunting closer to the gun produces more birds.

Almost as frustrating a problem is a pointing or flushing dog that perennially hangs in too close to the gun. A dog that's loathe to wander out of whisper-range of his handler assuredly won't find any birds his owner wouldn't kick up by himself. If your dog's inclination to stick close comes primarily from an undue preoccupation with old or non-game bird scent, he probably needs only to get into birds quicker and more frequently.

Should his actions reflect a natural timidness or trace to heavy handedness, however, he'll need scads of encouragement to transcend his fear of leaving your protective or too watchful eye. In that case, buttressing your dog's self confidence must be achieved by stimulating his native instincts and amplifying the notion that hunting is fun, not drudge-work. Normally, the shortest route to that goal comes via a total suspension of discipline in the field, letting him behave like a puppy for a while, and finding and chasing birds at will. Sometimes, too, a brief moratorium on shooting can speed results, particularly if exposure to too much gunfire too early may have contributed to your dog's timidity.

Breaking point after a minute or two is another not uncommon de fect in pointing dogs aged under a year and a half. Such youngsters customarily are merely getting so hopped up on bird scent that their enthusiasm takes them to the breaking-point —yes, the pun definitely is intended, and meant to underscore our point. Their spirited interest in birds, combined with inexperience in the collaboration required between themselves and the gun, call for a two-fold remedy.

First, a bit of staunching is in order as you encourage your dog to hold each point a little longer than the previous one. For starters, a 50-foot check cord and a few plant ed birds are needed. What you're trying to do is get your dog on point, under controlled conditions, so you can make sure he doesn't break before you reach him. Then, by physically handling him, stroking him reassuringly and gently nudging his hindquarters forward, you'll be staunching his points and simultaneously increasing their duration. Secondly, you must help him link the holding of a staunch point with the gun's arrival and ultimate bring ing of the bird to ground after the flush. Only by killing birds over his points and not shooting at any of those that flush wild or that he bumps, even accidentally, can you be sure the message will get across.

Costing uncountable chances for probable killing shots is the pointing dog that perennially crowds his birds and simply won't respond to the whoa command. Really two distinct and separate transgressions, the first one can sometimes be avoided by correcting the latter. Invariably, af ter establishing point, the offending dog cannot resist taking two or three extra steps closer to the quarry, shortening the string just enough to push a spooky bird or covey skyward well out of range of the gun.

The culprit cause of such behavior can many times be traced to too much work exclusively on planted birds. Since they can be dizzied and set to hold tight in heavy cover, such plants do nothing to discourage a dog from approaching much closer than wild birds would ordinarily permit. But, ironically enough, planted birds can be used to cure the problem.

"Flight-planting," my terminology for releasing a bobwhite or Coturnix quail from my gloved hand, enables the bird to air wash any man-scent from itself as it flies a short distance before landing in cover. Not only does this method leave the bird smelling more like a wild bird, but it enables it to deposit some natural ground scent as it walks around seeking a hiding place.

Then, waiting about l0 minutes after releasing a couple of birds out of hand, you can work your dog on a check cord into the area where the birds landed. At the very first sign he's winded body scent, whoa him by voice and, if necessary, halt him with the check cord. Should he try to crowd the bird—even by taking a single step forward—stop him with the cord as you repeat the whoa command. Repetition should eventually bring you success. But even if your dog still evidences a strong inclination to creep on his birds, your reinforcement of his instant obedience to the whoa command should prevent him from crowding birds whenever he's in hearing distance.

Whether flushing or pointing breed, the gun dog that fetches to his owner's hand a partially chomped game bird risks bringing down the wrath of hell on his deserving rump. Few irritations sur pass delivery of a hard won feathered prize all soggy and tooth-punctured and barely salvageable for the table— the hapless victim of "hardmouth."

If your dog has displayed even the slightest tendency to crunch on his birds, don't delay in recognizing and dealing with the problem. It doesn't ever get better, only worse. What you need to do is discourage his chomping and elicit a more gentle carry, using one of several different methods.

Long a favorite cure for "hard mouth" is the crisscrossing of nails, meat skewers, or knitting needles inside a game bird or pigeon. The point is obvious, and that's precisely what the errant dog receives the first time he crunches the booby-trapped bird. He may elect to crunch an additional time or two, but seldom much more than that before realizing that these birds bite back if not handled very gingerly.

Naturally, if he refuses the pickup after being "nailed" the first time, you'll have to force the issue, gently or more firmly, depending on your dog's temperament. A bold dog is usually easier to correct with this method, and a somewhat timid dog is, of course, always more difficult.

For the latter type, there's a slow er, more genteel method you might try, one recommended in my book, The Complete Guide To Bird Dog Training, published by Winchester Press. It consists of using only birds that have been well chilled in the refrigerator. Since the bird's flesh is very cold and somewhat stiff, crun ching down on them will prove to be discomforting to your dog's teeth. A tender pickup and carry elimi nates this discomfort, something your dog will discover very quickly.

A week or so of retrieving only "fridge" birds and he can be switched over to a live bird safely ensconced in a bird sleeve surround ed by a harness with blunted spikes. After a few such retrieves each session for another week, you can begin having him fetch dead birds again.

If he returns to his bad habits, you'll have to return to using cold birds and alternating them with live, sleeved birds in harness until he proves to you that he gets the message permanently.

Certainly, as you look back on past experience, and zero in on any performance frailties your dog dis played, you won't fail to remember the positive aspects of his hunting efforts, too. Take the time to reflect on the good chances he provided you to put birds in the bag, and then try to envision how much less you'd have enjoyed any of those hunts had he not been along with you.