New Experiences For Young Dogs

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.

June 2009

In previous columns I’ve mentioned that excellent training instruction is available by attending an AKC or NAVHDA training day. Both organizations want to help you train your bird dog.

On April 25, the NH Merrimack Valley Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) held a training day in Lee, NH. Attending was a no-brainer since Lee is only a few miles from my home.

I arrived at 8:30 am and found several cars and trucks already on-site. A registration table was set-up and dog owners were queued up to register what they hoped to be their next great dog. I introduced myself to Gary Sullivan, Chapter President, and we discussed the day’s schedule. The program for the day was primarily to test the natural abilities of younger dogs. Most of the dogs were one year or younger.

I’m not sure if I saw all the breeds represented but I did see German Shorthairs, German Wirehairs, Griffons and English Pointers. Represented were folks totally new to pointing dogs and also well-seasoned dog owners who never miss a training day. There were dogs that at one year had outstanding obedience training and dogs that owners were concerned about catching them if the dog were off lead. For the latter dog, NAVHDA officials insisted that the dog have a long check-cord.

The natural ability of the dogs was tested in three segments. The three segments were (1) search pattern and locating/pointing a bird; (2) tracking and (3) water retrieving. NAVHDA is very committed to recovering all shot and wounded game. The word versatile is part of the NAVHDA name. This means a dog that is trained to do more than just point. It’s trained to both track and retrieve game.

Every NAVHDA member working at each testing area was a volunteer. These folks are to be commended. They worked very hard all day to help folks learn more about the natural abilities of their dogs and how to help the dog further develop those natural abilities.

The first group of dogs I watched was being tested for search pattern, locating and pointing birds. I watched a Griffon, two English Pointers and one shorthair. All these dogs were one year or younger. Professional trainer Dave Trahan of Deerfield, NH was the leader of this segment. The dogs are run individually and allowed to run freely in a very large field. Dave offered suggestions to the owners on how to create a back and forth search pattern if it wasn’t already being displayed. One suggestion is to walk in the pattern of a shoestring and every time you turn, signal your dog to turn. The dog will soon pick up on the pattern. In hunting, you want to be able to walk in a straight line and let your dog do the hard work.

There was a huge difference amongst the dogs in their reaction to live birds. During the search pattern exercise, a live chukar was planted. Eventually, the segment leader would work toward the planted bird. With many of these dogs, it was their first encounter with a bird. One dog simply ran over the bird with no recognition of scent. The bird did not flush so the dog was brought back on a check cord and encouraged to work around the bird’s location. She eventually noticed the scent and stuck her nose right into the bird which produced a flush and a very excited dog. Other dogs caught the scent immediately and then flushed and chased the bird. And yet other dogs actually pointed their first bird. The owner was shown how to walk up on the dog and stroke it’s back. The dog was then carried away to prevent a negative bird encounter. It was a great deal of fun to watch these young dogs encounter their first bird.

The next segment I visited was water retrieving. If a dog had never encountered water, the instructor would start by using a clock face retrieve. The first few dummies would be thrown on the ground at about straight up 12:00. Water would be at about 3:00. Dogs would be encouraged to retrieve from straight up 12:00 and then eventually reach the water. I was actually surprised at the number of dogs that, having never been in water, readily took to a water retrieve. English Pointers are not considered part of the versatile dog group but they sure performed well with the water retrieve. I was impressed.

The third, and final, segment was tracking. Owners and dog would stay behind a brush thicket so their dogs would not be able to see the segment leader walking a live pheasant down through a field to establish a scent trail. The bird was left in a small cage at the end of the scent trail. The segment leader would return, and the dog owner would then bring the dog out on a check cord, and the dog would be introduced to the scent. The segment leader would walk along with the dog and keep pointing to the scent to encourage the dog to keep their nose on the scent trail. This seemed to be the toughest test of the three segments. Of the dogs I watched only one did it well. Most dogs wanted to break, run and hunt. Again, these are really puppies so it’s unfair to ask too much of these dogs. This ability will develop.

At noon, President Gary Sullivan was on the grill and serving hot dogs and hamburgers. Owners, dogs and segment leaders were rotating in and out to keep the training day going. The amount of knowledge and assistance available through a NAVHDA or AKC training day is invaluable. Whether you’re a rookie dog owner or a seasoned veteran, you’ll learn something by attending one of these events. Google either organization and find a local chapter which will list upcoming events. Visiting and taking your dog to a training day is well worth the time.