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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Where Angels Fear to Tread

If you look closely you can see that this grouse is looking back into the cover
on the edge of the road where we saw seven chicks flush when we pulled up --
there may have been more.

It finally stopped raining today and we wanted to get out and check one of our regular training covers.  Boy was it thick.  Tough on both dogs and 61 year old handlers.  On the way out we had two separate hens in the road the first one had at least seven chicks the second six.   That gave us 15 grouse before we cut a dog loose.  I was teaching this morning so we didn't get out until after lunch and it was after two when we broke away Jack and Little Thuddy.  Both ran well despite the afternoon heat and the density of the cover.  Jack had three finds at least one was a single grouse and another was a woodcock.  On his third find we never saw the birds as his bracemate may have helped with the flushing.  Little Thuddy did have a broke find.  When Tony when in to flush there was a snake curled up in the sun in front of the Thudster who still didn't break when his trainer squealed like a little girl (it's not the first time Tony has had that reaction).

The second brace was Trash and LJ who also ran well in the thick cover and afternoon heat but neither one could connect on a bird that we saw.

Tony and I are both bachelors this week so he brought over some pork chops that looked more like bone in rib roasts and we did them on the Weber with charcoal and apple wood and a rub that Big Thud had brought up last weekend to go with them.  (Timmy -- we cooked yours as well and I'll have it as left overs tomorrow.)

Tomorrow we're planning to finish the mowing and cutting in Red Barn (thank God we don't have to train every day where we were today) and may run some dogs down there in the evening.

I'll continue the Grouse Trial Primer series as time permits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grouse Trial Primer Part Five

The Transition from Puppy to Derby

The transition from puppy to derby is a little different in the cover dog trials than elsewhere in the field trial world.  If you show up at a fall derby stake with a future horseback shooting dog than it better be broke.  It doesn’t matter what the Guidelines say or what you can find in any written criteria, today’s derbies in the horseback world and released bird walking trials are not going to win if they are not broke.  In the cover dog world, when we run the derbies on wild birds there is still the tradition of placing exciting derbies that are not yet broke.  That said, for the most part they darn well better be staunch and since wild birds are not usually right along the trail, your dog needs to stay put while you find it.  One caveat here, if the judges are splitting hairs between two derbies where everything else is equal, they will probably give the nod to the derby with more finished bird work, but it is extremely rare that you get to that point when judging.

If you are preparing a young dog to run in the fall derby stakes, you need to know what most judges are looking for.  Most of the people who judge cover dog derbies want to be excited by what they see.  They want to see a young dog that is breathing fire, displaying great drive and application on the ground.  The derby needs to attack the cover with enthusiasm while displaying lots of eye appeal when you do get to see him.  The later it gets in the fall the more you’re going to see of the dog and the bigger it better run.  Hopefully the derby will find a bird on his own, but it is not that unusual for cover dog derbies to be called back and placed on quail in a bird field.

So, my objective for the summer with LJ is to get him ready to win in the fall.  At the same time, I am keeping in mind that he will only be a derby for a year but will hopefully compete as an adult for 6 to 8 years.  I also have to keep in mind that he was a May whelp and won’t be two years old until his derby season is almost over.  It is really important to try and figure out how far you can go with each young dog.  Wynot Ace won his two championships while still a derby other dogs don’t break through at the top levels until they are 4 or 5.  Some puppies are ready to be broke before the fall of their derby season others need more time.  The trick is in knowing how fast you can go with your own dog.  Most of the top cover dogs today are extremely smart dogs not just great athletes.  Sometimes, a young dog will get a better read on its handler than vice versa.  By this I mean that some dogs learn quickly how to avoid what you want them to do.

A Lab trainer demonstrated this point to me most graphically at a seminar I attended many years ago.  He had a dog that didn’t want to submit and didn’t like getting hit with an e-collar.  When doing some drill where the dog was supposed to take his cues visibly from the handler the dog would try to get out of doing the task.  When the handler raised his hand with the transmitter in it, the dog would ki-yi like he was being beat to death before the handler even pushed the button. 

That’s part of the reason that I let puppies develop naturally as much as possible their first hunting season.  I think it gets them more ready for the formal training that will follow as they have learned the rudimentary parts of the job through experience.  That is not to say I would let a puppy run completely wild and rip out birds for a year, but, like I stated in an early post, your puppy will stay with (for the most part) and hold most of its birds until you are close enough for a shot, you don’t have to put a lot of pressure on them that first season.  You’re more likely to end up with a “happy” running dog if you can limit the pressure early on.  On the other hand, if you have a dog that that doesn’t listen and rips out birds continually then you have to turn the screws.  Yard work is my least favorite part of training dogs and I avoid it as much as possible but there are certain things you have to do.  Handling and whoa training are the two fundamentals that you need to work on with any prospect.  A little puppy that won’t listen will spend a certain among of time on a checkcord learning that “come” means come now not when you finish chasing butterflies or eating the flowers.  When they turn on the checkcord before you have to give them a firm pull, you can transition to the collar.  Once I have a young dog collar conditioned, they never run without one unless they are in a trial.  You never know when you’re going to need it, the woods are full of distractions with fur and quills and there are days when even a multiple champion like Wild Apple Jack needs a little tune up.  If you have to go back to the truck to get the collar, you have lost your training opportunity.  People who brag about not needing a collar for their bird dogs are either lucky or liars. 

When you are getting a handle on your dog you can also start working on whoa.  I picked up a “piggin’ string” at a Rick Smith seminar years ago.  Delmar turned them into “Wonder Leads,” by adding a couple of leather washers and selling them for about double what you can buy one on-line from a roping supply site (under $10 vs. around $20). They work great and you really don’t (and probably shouldn’t) need to say anything to a dog when you are first using the lead.  The Smiths preach the Silent Command mantra primarily because most of get excited and give a dog conflicting verbal commands.  What I do is start out silently just walking in the yard keeping the pup in heel and then stopping it.  When it starts stopping when I do, I begin walking around it in a tight circle that allows me to stay in contact with the pup through the lead.  Once the pup is responding quickly to the lead every time you can add the simple “heel” and “whoa” commands.  Once the pup is getting the hang of this you can add an e-collar around its belly.  Tony is a bigger advocate of the bellyband then I am but I will definitely use it with a pup/derby that refuses to get staunch and later when we are breaking a dog.

The big trick at this point as the pup transitions to being a derby is to start getting then reliably staunch and handling well while taking as little as possible out of their run.  One thing you can count on in the vast majority of well bred field trial dogs is that they will most likely run bigger and harder when braced with an unfamiliar dog and handler as well as being followed by judges and a gallery.  They are just hard wired to be competitive.  So, if you let your pup run out on the very edge of control as you get ready for its derby season you can bet that its going over that edge when run in a trial.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grouse Trial Primer Part Four

Training a Cover Dog Trial Prospect Part B

I guess the question I should answer is: “what should I do if I don’t live where there are lots of grouse and woodcock?”

There are two things that many winning performances in the woods share and the obvious one is finding birds and the second is the dog’s race.  It has to fill the course, be to the front, and there usually needs to be some demonstration that the dog and the handler are working together (although there are some judges who like them wilder than others).  So, if you don’t live where you have natural habitat to train in you have to create as natural a setting as you can.  Having a Johnny House with quail in the backyard is okay.  And I’ve definitely done a lot of training over the years with pigeons and various release mechanism, but a bird field is a slippery slope and can easily be over done.  It can also be counter-productive.  Wild Apple Jack is now 8 years old and if I took him tomorrow and let him loose in the bird field near the house that I use to introduce puppies to birds, he would shut down to a slow trot or a walk and go from objective to objective looking for the planted quail or pigeon.  I had one dog that would go on point as soon as you turned him loose at the truck when it was his turn to work the bird field.   You are not going to develop a winning cover dog in a bird field. 

There are ways to avoid this.  A friend of mine who once had five cover dog champions in his kennel at the same time lived where there was good cover but not very many birds.  He devised a system where he had two basic training scenarios.  He would run the dogs in a big cover for conditioning and handling and then had a relatively small cover that he used for bird work.  The bird area was wooded which provided nice shade in the summer when he was training and also had some ferns and brushy understory.  In this area he put a few Johnny Houses and followed some pretty strict rules or training on quail.  First he never handled the birds.  Before working his dogs he would go each House and fly out a few birds.  Then he would work a dog through the cover just like you would in a trial.  He never stopped and hacked a dog into a bird, if they ran through the cover and only found one bird that was fine.  He took them one and expected them to do better the next time.   The dogs only found a bird if they hunted for them and birds were much closer to wild without human scent on them.  There were a few different ways to go through this training area and he would try to mix it up from session to session and make the dog handle to the route he’d taken.  The birds were always dispersed randomly and he avoided the kind of conditioned caution that you can develop in a bird field.

Another trainer has leased a piece of property to train on and has had good luck naturalizing quail and some pheasants so that he has plenty of birds to work on but they are as close to wild as you can get in the Northeast without having access to good grouse and woodcock cover.  Not everyone has the good fortune that Tony and I have to literally have excellent grouse and woodcock cover in our backyards, but if you don’t that doesn’t mean that you can’t build a top cover dog.  You just have to be a little more imaginative in creating training situations that are going to prepare your dogs for the woods.

Another trainer who was a force to be reckoned with in the woods in the not to distant past used to train and condition his dogs on 20 acres outside of Boston than make an annual two week trip to the North Country in late August to get his dogs into the cover and on wild birds before the trial season started in September.  The important thing for him and any one who hopes to be competitive in the woods was having a clear idea of what the dog would have to do to win and then expecting it when you cut it loose. 

For the next installment I’ll talk about making the transition from puppy to derby for a cover dog.