Working your dog in the off-season with training partners helps ensure you get the most out of your fall.
Working your dog in the off-season is a good way to ensure you get the most out of your fall. Find some training partners, develop relationships with them, and if you don’t know anyone, reach out to others in your area that might have birds, equipment and access to training grounds.
Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society members are a dedicated group of hunters and conservationists, and attending an RGS or AWS birds and brew event, meet and greet, fun hunt, shoot or banquet can be a great resource to find like-minded hunters that have a passion for good dog work and time in the field pursuing birds.
Last week, my friend Randy Ott, an RGS member and volunteer (Women’s Intro to Wingshooting and National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt) made plans to join Ted Dick, Minnesota DNR Forest Gamebird Coordinator at Pineridge Grouse Camp near Longville, Minnesota, with his setter Ace, for a summer training session. My 14-month-old male drahthaar Aix and I had hit one of a few bumps in the training road with retrieving, and our relationship was strained. Including Aix, we had a total of five dogs in Randy’s topper and my 5-year-old drahthaar Meine in the cab (she thinks she deserves special treatment!). In all, a truck load of good dogs with the potential to clean up a 40-pound bag of dog food in a few short minutes. We were set to get some preseason training on pups and polish on finished dogs.
Pineridge was a gracious host with the features needed to train upland and versatile dogs, including complex water nearby, pigeon kit and fields. With multiple launchers between the group, we cycled through birds and dogs in quick succession. This was a special opportunity where we could watch a single dog make improvements right before our eyes with each bird. Although we had drahthaar pups to train for testing in the coming fall, the importance of training this evening went well beyond meeting breed requirements.
Like many RGS and AWS members, our training group owns dogs so that they can hunt them in the fall. Even solid older dogs need old lessons reinforced in the months leading up to grouse season. Fall is such a short and precious time, and often conditions in the field make for difficult to impossible conditions for reinforcement of training. It is in your best interest, and anyone that might hunt with you, to enter the fall with a prepared dog!
That evening Aix ran first, and despite our earlier struggle he was jovial as always when I approached him on the gang to put on his collar. When we set out in to the field, I admired how well this large male moved in open country and how regal he looked. His big black body was cat-like as he acknowledged scent and worked the cone in to a favorable wind. His movements slowing down and eventually grinding to a halt with tail high and noble head tilted slightly skyward.
The highlight of the training evening was the work of Izzie, a German wirehaired pointer owned by Lindsey Shartell (Minnesota DNR Forest Wildlife Research Biologist and student of the 2016 Women’s Intro to Wingshooting program). Izzie had not shown pointing tendency a few weeks prior at a Pineridge training session. On that particular evening, Izzie pointed birds multiple times. I can only postulate on how Lindsey felt watching her wooly unruly point that first bird. I know that when I saw Meine point for the first time, I was overwhelmingly relieved. For a gal that grew up working stock dogs and in the company of hounds, I still think pointing is mysterious and strange. When it happens, it is like a miracle . . . again and again.
Not everything went so smooth that evening, but that is why we train in the summer. Hiccups can be expected in new places with dogs that may be distracted by deer flies, puppyhood and birds that make the mistake of flying straight in to the face of a high-drive dog. These summer training opportunities pay off in the fall when your dog does what it is supposed to with minimal effort by you. It is better to identify and correct any issues in July than to discover them during one of your precious fall days afield. An un-prepared dog can be counterproductive.
Take the time throughout the year to reinforce training, maintain obedience through consistency, and keep your dog on birds. Even if they don’t seem to need it, take them out and work them. They will be happy for the work and possibly the chance to retrieve a shot bird after handling it correctly. Afterwards you can enjoy a content pooch and build confidence in and anticipation of the coming season.
That evening, we worked an English pointer (Sky), two English setters (Creek and Ace), four drahthaars (Aix, Zeus, Ike, Meine) and the German wirehair pointer (Izzie). We drank ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon from bottles while reloading a hodgepodge of launchers placed next to blooming fringed orchids, yarrow, black-eyed Susans and daisies. We wrangled flights of pigeons from the kit, dunked dogs in the trough and wore gloves to protect against a check chord ripping through our hands on one less than steady brute until she progressed. We talked dogs, planned hunts, bonded through gentle ribbing and watched as other handlers sweat from nerves.
I know that I am looking forward to our next training day and watching my pup progress. I know it will eventually pay off this fall when I get to watch him handle the most challenging birds in North America.