What do you do with your hunting dog when the hunting season ends? Join the club! I’m talking about clubs where you can compete in AKC hunt tests, field trials and fun hunts. I wasn’t able to be there Saturday but Annie passed her first leg of the AKC title “Junior Hunter”. My good friend Chris Colt handled Annie in her first AKC hunt test and she did great. It takes 4 passing runs before she obtains the official JH title behind her name. The spring hunt test was hosted by the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Utah (GSPCU) of which I am one of the newest members.
Next month we will be attending a National Shoot To Retrieve Association (NSTRA) field trial to see how that particular competition is run. I just received my NSTRA membership packet and rule book in the mail today. I look forward to competing with Annie in these competitions and especially look forward to making some new friends and seeing some talented dogs. Joining a local hunting dog club is a great way to meet new people and learn how to train dogs. Club members are always willing to offer advice and even help you in training your hunting dog. Many clubs meet monthly and often host just for fun hunts or training days as well as formal gun dog competitions.
So get off the couch and join a local bird dog club or gun dog association and get your dog tuned up for next years hunting season. Here are a couple of hunting dog clubs to look into:
When learning to train a hunting dog your’e bound to make a few mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes can be easily fixed while others are costly and have a ripple effect. Jake was one of my first hunting dogs and we brought him home at 7 1/2 weeks old. He was very well socialized and had good bird and gun introduction early on. Jake had a great nose and was pointing birds solid at 6 months. When he was just about a year old I shot my first pheasant over him and things were going extremely well. I was proud of Jake and invited a few friends to come see his pointing dog skills.
Looking back it is easy for me to see that I made a mistake, but at the time I was baffled. It is a risky proposition to take a young dog hunting with 3-4 hunters and shoot 20 or so pheasants. I’m pretty sure he was not shot or peppered but I think there were just too many guns going off each time a bird was flushed. He looked great and held his points well for the first bird or two and then he started bumping birds. By the end of the hunt he was blinking birds and cowering at every gunshot. At the time I thought he just had a bad day and was making young dog mistakes. But, it was a lot worse than that.
The next time I took him out alone and planted a couple of birds, he took one look at the shotgun and headed back to the ATV before a shot was even fired. He was still interested in birds and I tried a hundred ways to coax him through it, but he was just plain done hunting. We struggled with it for a while because he was our best behaved dog and the kids liked him a lot. But, I didn’t see the point in keeping him around knowing that he would be left in the kennel every time we went out hunting with the other dogs. Jake deserved better.
Now I know there are some real pros out there that could have pulled Jake through it. But, over a year or so of trying I had no success and I was ready to move on. I ended up contacting a shorthair rescue in Arizona that was able to find Jake a happy home with an active family. We were sad to see him go but we knew he would be better of as a beloved pet than the lone dog left in the kennel. I learned some important lessons while raising and training Jake those three years. Most importantly that you can’t get in hurry with dog training. If your dog is struggling or showing signs of noise sensitivity – slow down, back up a step or even start again from the beginning. It’s never good to take a young dog hunting with a big crowd. I think one gun is plenty for the first year or so of real hunting. I’d be curious to hear of others experiences with gun shy dogs.
This week I guided three days at the pheasant hunting preserve. The birds get a bit silly this time of year and the roosters are running like crazy. The skittish birds and the sparse cover can make for some very challenging pheasant hunting conditions. Annie did well but I decided to take the owners seasoned shorthair pepper to help us out. Pepper has a unique talent that he has developed over 6-7 years of being a guide dog at the pheasant farm. When another dog goes on point, pepper circles around the bird to block their escape. This comes in quite handy when the roosters are running on us.
This is a picture taken after the successful late season pheasant hunt. Pepper’s blocking skills were much appreciated by the clients who ended up taking home a good pile of pheasants (mostly roosters). Another fun thing was a successful water retrieve by Annie when a bird was shot and dropped into the river. She is great with water retrieves as long as she marks the bird down. She hesitates a little still with blind water retrieves. We will work on this during the spring and summer training sessions.
I tried to get some video of Pepper demonstrating his unique skill, but I was a little late getting the camera out. The one thing I don’t like is that Annie won’t fight for a retrieve with a competitive dog. She will just let the other dog have it if they get to the bird at the same time. Sometimes I like to work Annie alone so she can do it all. Pepper is not one to share any of the retrieving duties. With all of our birds sold at the pheasant farm we are winding down for a few months until we get 5,000 day-old pheasant chicks in May and start the whole process over again.