Why Finish Your Hunting Dog

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

August 2008

First, I would like to thank the Northwoods Sporting Journal for inviting me to write the gun dog column. Bird dogs are my passion and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to share this passion with the Journal’s readers. I’ll cover many subjects in the coming months such as selecting a breeder, selecting a puppy, yard training, e-collar training, dog nutrition, field training and much more. I’ll interview trainers, discuss personal hunting experiences, how to search for new coverts, predict grouse and woodcock populations and compare the different bird dog breeds.

This column will really be a joint effort between Dillon and me. Dillon is my German Shorthair. He is also my shadow. He spends practically every hour of every day at my side. Mr. W.C. Kirk, the handler of Johnny Crocket, the last English setter to win the National Championship (1970), said, “I love that dog and he loves me.” I can say the same about Dillon.

Dillon, Susan (my wife) and I travel extensively each fall looking for the utopia of ruffed grouse hunting. Last year we started in New Brunswick, Canada and finished in Northern Wisconsin. We meet bird dog folks from all over the country. One subject, which is frequently discussed at the grouse camp dinner table, is whether to finish a pointing dog. In fact, it’s often more a debate rather than a discussion. A finished or “broke” dog is one that is steady through wing and shot. Finishing your dog is the subject of this column.

Finishing your dog is a personal choice. If you’re happy with your dog at whatever level of training he/she has had, then simply enjoy those beautiful fall days searching for grouse and woodcock. If, however, your dog is already steady on point, why not take the extra step and teach steady to wing and shot? You’ll need time, live birds and patience; however, both you and your dog will have fun and you could have a “brag” dog by the fall.

I’ve heard most of the excuses for not finishing a dog. The most popular excuse is that grouse and woodcock coverts are thick and it’s important that the dog chases the bird to insure an easy dead bird find. That’s a lame excuse. Upon flush, a steady pointing dog marks the flight of the bird. When the command “fetch” or “dead bird” is given, the dog will go in that direction and find the bird. The “thick cover” excuse is an invalid reason for not finishing your dog.

There are many reasons for finishing a pointing dog. The most important simply may be that it’s a safer way to hunt. Every year I hear stories of dogs being shot. In most cases, the dog was shot while chasing a bird. Typically, it’s not the owner or trainer who shot the dog; it’s someone who is not conditioned to the excitement of the flush such as a guest or friend. Another reason is that a chasing dog may accidentally flush new birds, which may have resulted in points rather than bumps. I cherish every point and cuss every bump.

Still another reason for a finished dog is having complete control of your hunting partner. If you travel to the upper mid-west such as Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota looking for the utopia of grouse and woodcock coverts, then you must have total control of your dog. Wolves are a serious and real threat and your dog must be under control at all times. With the recent report of a gray wolf being killed in western Massachusetts, this could possibly be a future problem in New England. If you are planning a trip this fall to the Mid-West, be sure to use both a bell and a beeper.

Paul Long, the author of Training Pointing Dogs, states: “The real reason why more dogs are not made steady to wing and shot may well be that this is a part of training that separates the men from the boys.” 

Next month I’ll walk you through some simple steps to finishing your dog. I will assume that your dog is completely compliant with the “whoa” command. When your dog is finished, you’ll have great pride in both yourself and your dog and you’ll look forward to this October with new enthusiasm.