Wild Apple Kennel and Guide Service

Wild Apple Kennel and Guide Service
The 2007 Grand National Grouse Champion, Winner 2008 Northern New England Woodcock Championship, Winner 2010 Lake States Grouse Championship, Runner-up 2011 Northeast Grouse and Woodcock Championship, Winner 2011 International Amateur Woodcock Championship, Winner 2012 Southern New England Woodcock Championship

Wild Apple Kennel Training Blog

This blog will try to present a running account of the training and field trialing season for the pointers of Wild Apple Kennel. NOW ACCEPTING BOOKINGS FOR THE 2015 GROUSE AND WOODCOCK SEASON WITH WILD APPLE KENNEL GUIDE SERVICE! PHONE NUMBERS 603-449-3419 OR CELL 603-381-8763.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grouse Trial Primer Part Three

Training a Cover Dog Trial Prospect Part A

Let me start this part of the discussion by saying it is my opinion that you can definitely hunt your cover dog competitors, but it’s hard to win a cover dog trial with your hunting dog.  Ch. Wild Apple Jack, Ch. Stokely’s Ginger B, Ch. Mr. Ted Stokely, R/U Ch. Stokely’s Mikey D, Ch. Stokely’s Al B, Ch. Stokely’s Diablo Ginger, Classic winner Stokely’s Diablo Buddy, and many other dogs that I have trained or trained with along with the current crop of puppies that both Tony and I are working were started with the goal of winning wild bird trials in the woods but all spent or spend many more days having birds shot for them than they did or do competing.  The differences between the way we approach training these dogs and what we might do to come up with a dog that we were strictly going to hunt are many but often very subtle.  The dogs that we start and don’t make the cut as trial dogs are more often than not great hunting dogs that any hunter would be happy to have.

Training for our trial dogs starts very early in life and at first is what you would do with any of the pointing breeds.  I’ll use Wild Apple LJ and his litter as an example.  I start watching the puppies in the whelping box that is under the table in my office.  I watch them feed, I watch them start to play, and I pick them up frequently and handle them.  This litter was born in early May, so I was able to start taking them out on the lawn when they were just over four weeks old. I let them play and explore the world on their own.  Visitors were encouraged to sit on the lawn and play with them.  Every time they go out I’m evaluating them.  I want to know which one’s the most aggressive, which one stays the closest, who do I have to get up and go look for, whose the last one to come and flop in my lap after playtime.  By five weeks we start taking short trips around the yard.  On these walks I change direction frequently and call the puppies trying to impress on them that they need to stay with me.  I don’t get into a lot of pack behavior discussions, but in reality what I’m doing is getting them to pay attention to me as their leader.  Most of the puppies in this litter, as well as their father and the subsequent repeat breedings that I did with Wynot Ace and Elhew Liebotschaner, want to go with you and very early on start keeping track of me.  The puppies that seem to consistently find the front on their own as I wander around the yard are the ones I take an early interest in. 

By seven weeks we start leaving the immediate yard and going on longer walks through a series of narrow mowed fields which includes going through my planted bird area on the way out and the way back.  There are a number of various turns I can take and try to vary the route every time.  It’s about 20 to 25 minutes out and back.  On the way back, I usually stop at the quail pen and let a couple of birds out for the puppies to do whatever they want with.  The first few times some of them may show a little timidity as the bird flushes out in front of them but very soon they begin hunting birds.  After the first four puppies had gone down the road and I just had PI and LJ, they would often run ahead on the way back and be found sitting quietly by the gate to the quail pen waiting for me to let some birds out for them.  After the initial flush I would let them chase and re-point the birds a few times.  Somewhere along in here I usually shoot a 22 crimp when they are chasing a bird.  I’ve had a couple of pups over the years stop at the shot the first few times but most of them quickly associate the shot with all the other fun they’re having.  The pups out of this line have such a high pointing instinct that they often hold point long enough for pictures and sometimes even a flushing attempt.  At this point, the puppies can do no wrong.  When they get a little bolder we start taking them up the hill away from the fields and into the woods where they get to explore even more.  If we’re lucky they stumble onto a wild bird or two.  If they don’t, I really don’t worry about it.

The next faze of their training may surprise some of you.  We now take puppies, some times as young as ten weeks old, and let them tag along with our finished shooting dogs as we work them in the woods.  As long as we don’t have to hunt for them and they come in when called they get to be tag-a-longs.  When one of the older dogs goes on point, we make it stand while we get the puppy and bring it in on the point.  On numerous occasions, we have literally picked up a puppy and set in down in front of the dog on point to flush the bird.  All this time they are learning a number of lessons.  They learn that if the come when called they are rewarded with getting to flush the wild bird.  They are also learning that the birds are in the cover and not usually along the paths where they were walking with us.  They also learn that a standing dog means there is a bird in front of them.  It’s amazing to watch a little puppy realize this and start to back naturally or in many cases get in front of the dog, catch scent, and point on their own.  It does not take long for the good ones to start going into the cover on their own and hopefully finding their own birds.  If you have Earl Crangle’s book Pointing Dogs: Their Training and
Handling reread the chapter on “The Mexico Method” to get another perspective on this type of training where the puppy is learning its job through experience.

Once the puppies get bold enough that we need to pay attention to them when they’re running, they stop being the tag-a-long dog and get either run on their own or with an experienced bracemate.  Once they start showing an interest in finding birds, about the only time they run with another puppy is when they are entered in a puppy stake or on rare occasion when we don’t have enough shooting dogs on the truck.  Once puppies start being run on their own and are instinctively pointing birds we might have them drag a light rope so we can start staunching them up a little bit.  You have to keep in mind that up to this point we have done little or no yardwork with a puppy.  That doesn’t happen until they are ready for it.  By that I mean they are blatantly disregarding their handler, intentionally ripping out birds, or worse.  At that point, I’ll do enough yard work to introduce the e-collar in the yard for handling.  If they are real wild around birds, they may also begin their heel and whoa training in preparation of using the bellyband around birds.  This happens with different dogs at different stages.  Tony’s dog Frankie got the bellyband fairly early in the fall of last year once the hunting season had started and he was obviously ripping out birds.  Within a very short period of time, because he had already pointed many and had some shot for him, Frankie was standing his birds and finished the season as our top puppy.  The fact that he placed as both a puppy and as derby this spring shows you how far along he was ready to come.  LJ on the other hand never had an e-collar on either his neck or belly through the entire fall hunting season.  It was not until this spring that he began needing an e-collar for handling and will get introduced to the bellyband soon. 

All during the hunting season LJ was worked on an almost daily basis.  Many days he would get the end of the day run at the house where he would regularly find and often point double digit numbers of grouse.  One of the more memorable finds was on a small knoll that is covered in apple trees amongst a number of poplar and other hardwood whips.  The grouse would come to feed in the apples at the end of the day.  On this one occasion I was still about 100 yards away when his bell stopped.  When I got close to him a grouse lifted and I shot at it. I expected LJ to break as I knew he was close by even though I hadn’t seen him yet.  Then two more grouse lifted and still the puppy that was 5 ½ months old at the time still didn’t move.  I saw him on point by the top of a pine tree that had blown down and when I stepped toward him a fourth grouse lifted from right in front of him and then he broke.  My only response was to miss when I shot and yell “good boy.”  Just in the walks LJ took on the home course at the end of the day, he must have been exposed to a couple hundred grouse and that’s probably a conservative number.  By the time the snow finally came around Christmas he was an accomplished grouse finder and has also had a number of woodcock shot over him as well.  He had been taught little but learned much.  He was as close to being a naturally trained dog as you can imagine.  With very little guidance he had learned where the birds live, how close he could get with out flushing them, and the early conditioning to stay with me was still working most of the time. 

In the next part of this series I’ll talk about the more formal training that LJ is receiving and will receive as the summer leads into his fall trial season as derby and his second hunting season.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grouse Trial Primer Part Two

The Handler’s Job

When you handle a dog in a grouse trial, other than the obvious objective, which is to win, you need to have a plan.  It is your responsibility to know the course you’re going to run on and have in mind where you want the dog to be at various points.  You need to be able to anticipate major changes in direction and also know where the regular bird locations are.  Most of the venues we run on have courses that have been used over and over and are well known to most experienced handlers.  Even though you have a plan, you have to also be flexible enough to go with the flow.  If the dog is on the right and you think there’s a bird on the left don’t stop and hack it in to try and put it in a birdy spot.  You want the hour to flow and you want any bird work to come off that flow. 

Once you turn the dog loose you have to concentrate on the dog 100% for the full 60 minutes.  Don’t chat with the judges, the other handler, the gallery, or your scout.  It’s when you let your attention wander that the dog often stops and then you’re not sure where it is.  One of the hardest things for handlers to do is SHUT UP.  In the heat of the moment many handlers just can’t help keeping up a meaningless shouting of commands that the dog is often obviously ignoring.  If you can hear the bell and it’s to the front there is no reason to do more than occasionally remind the dog that you are there.  Wild Apple Jack’s winning performance in the 2007 Grand National was a perfect example of this as evidenced by Ryan Frame’s write up on his brace that appeared in The American Field:

Brace 8:

"Tehaar’s Elvis (Hughes) and Wild Apple Jack (Doherty) were loosed on Lonesome Ridge.  Jack went big and laid to the front with little handle required.  Elvis checked back close three times early and then laid out in the cover by 12.  Both carried themselves well, the pointer checking in from the distance.  Neither handler said much from 20 to 40 but both dogs worked well forward and in the cover, handlers stopping to listen now and then.  When seen both were going well and very stylish.  Jack’s bell was missing forward at 40 and he was found well forward and right, pointing back [towards] the course.  He looked good and had a grouse pinned neatly, the dog never wavering at the flush or shot.  He continued his big going, easy handling effort, through the swampy stuff and into the bigger woods.  Elvis continued well to the front and when seen looked good.  We ran out of course at 54 and turned left down the dirt road.  Shortly after Elvis dug into the right and stopped near some evergreen trees.  He was a picture and a grouse flew out to his left, all in order.  Both dogs finished well down the road.  At this point, according to the judges, Jack and Elvis bumped out Maxima."

You want to at least act like you have total confidence in your dog to do the right thing through the hour.  You have to believe the dog is going to find a bird and that you will be able to find the dog.  Although some judges frown on it, you should caution a dog on point once or twice when you find it.  You should flush with confidence and authority assuming that the bird is there – but make sure you have the judge with you and that you don’t fire your blank gun in his or her face when the bird goes.  Believe me when I tell you it doesn’t go over that well.  If you don’t produce a bird in a reasonable amount of time confidently send the dog on to relocate even if this is not one of your dog’s strong suits.  If your dog doesn’t back well and consistently, try to go forward and draw your dog away from another dog on point.  Even the most reluctant backing dogs can be force broke to back and should be.  However, in cover dog trials you have to worry about it less then in a released bird trial where dogs are usually going to be pointing out in the open.

You also have to be objective about your dog’s performance. If it does something that you obviously know has taken it out of contention the judge shouldn’t have to ask you to pick up a dog.  If you’re not sure of how the judge viewed something ask him or her, I’ve never known a judge not to be upfront, sometimes brutally, with a handler when asked during a brace.  If you’re not “making money,” show some consideration to the judges and your bracemate and put the dog on the lead.  Your entry fee was to give you a chance to win not for a guaranteed hour of training time. Your training should have been done in advance of the trial and should not be done on the course at the expense of the judge’s time and effort.  Although there are times when the best thing to do is tell the judge you’re picking up and then correct your dog for whatever breach of manners might have occurred.

Picking a scout who knows your dog, knows the course, and knows what to do when out away from the judges is also important.  A good scout can be a real asset.  At the same time a bad scout can cost you a championship.  No scout is better than a bad one.  I did not have a scout for at least two of Jack’s championship wins including the Grand National win described above.  When your dog goes on point well away from the trail, you need to have a good line.  Try to stick to it and send your scout out at to one side or the other.  It seems like some people are much better at estimating the distance, but when they don’t find the dog right away it’s usually that they didn’t go far enough.  That’s what happened at the Amateur last year.  I had a really good line on Jack when the bell stopped at 50, but he was probably 30 yards farther away than I thought originally.  The alder run he was standing in was so dense we had to get almost right on top of him to see him.  That was one time when the scout was invaluable.  Mike Flewelling remembered finding another dog buried in the same spot a number of years earlier when the course had come through differently. 

Bracemates can be a help or a hindrance both intentionally or unintentionally.  If you have a running dog and your bracemate is a closer working dog with a big bell you’re in trouble.  If your bracemate goes too fast and or yells all the time, it can detract from your dog’s performance.  In the Grand National brace reported above Jack and Elvis complimented each other.  On more than one of Jack’s championship placements the bracemate picked up or was picked up and Jack had a good part of the course to himself that meant that both judges were present for his finds and saw a high percentage of his hour.

The best field trial dogs that ever ran still lost far more often than they won, go with a plan to win but don’t be a jerk when things don’t the way you think they should.  Remember that you may have to run under that judge again in the future or be braced with them when your dog finally is getting it done.  There are myriad ways to take out your bracemate and the last thing you want is to antagonize someone to the point where there looking to get even.

Check back later for the next part on training for cover dog trials.