Written by Jason Carter| May 16, 2019| Bird Dog Training, Bird Hunting Articles, Latest in Upland Hunting
Not all gun dogs are created equal, or personalities, or characters and those details matter.
“I don’t know who or what possessed my dog, but he just systematically relocated every bird into the next county!”
If you have been in this game any time at all, you have been in a similar situation where things simply fall apart at the worst possible moments. Usually during a test or when you’re bragging to your buds on how amazing your bird dog works. It’s in these moments where we get to see the unadulterated character of our dog, highlighting weaknesses in our own foundational work, reminding us how bad things can truly get when the wheels come off.
“Bird dog training at its core is behavior modification reliant upon catching your dog in the thought process and being able to read their emotions.”
These are most certainly not the most enjoyable moments we have with our dog, though it does show us the holes in our training. It’s at this point we are forced to rummage through our bag of training tools (techniques) in hopes of finding the right tool for the job. And hopefully, one that matches the dog’s character at that moment, coining the phrase, “Train towards the character of your dog.”
Bird dog training at its core is behavior modification reliant upon catching your dog in the thought process and being able to read their emotions. Doing so allows us to predict behaviors before they occur, thereby maximizing the potential for learning. Also, the character of the dog at that moment and the behaviors they are exhibiting dictates the amount of pressure required to gain compliance.
Pressure comes in various forms. Understanding pressure and how to use it is entirely another article in itself. Basically, pressure can be generated in a variety of ways. Food pressure is when the dog feels internal pressure to perform for food. The leash and collar is an example of physical pressure. Standing in the proximity of your dog places spatial pressure on them and using corrective tones places verbal pressure on them. Social pressure can even come from the competition of using other dogs.
It’s our job to do our homework to learn how to best utilize pressure to become great teachers for our dogs. Training them to understand how to avoid or turn off the pressure, then driving them up to work while maintaining balanced attention, accuracy, and attitude. Always remember that a dog that has to work acts differently than a dog that desiresto work. Finishing each lesson with the dog wanting more.
Imagine now the possible emotions you would take on if I provided you with a large stack of cash, yet the moment you reached for it I applied heavy physical and verbal pressure on you. Some of you would run for the hills, some of you would stop, thoughtfully assess the situation and wait, where others would selflessly dive head first into the stack yelling, “Show me the money!”
These personality characteristics or reactions are largely genetically reinforced by your parents, with a fair amount of environmental influence thrown in, as well. Basically, you are just wired that way. To get each of you to wait patiently, you can imagine the amounts of pressure I would need to apply would vary wildly. The same is true when dealing with the character of your dogs.
What if I intermittently gave you some cash because I felt bad for you? The payoff would set you back towards where you started, muddying the waters towards confusion. Being a consistent leader is essential to learning. It takes many hours and layers of consistent and predictable training to create good behavior. Though it takes just one mistake at the wrong time to create bad behavior.
A dog’s character is perpetually in emotional flux, requiring you to be fluid in how you handle them. For example, watch a pointing dog and carefully study the dog’s emotions as its handler approaches them and the bird. Often you will see the dog flinch, eyes become fixed and ears perk forward as the body stiffens, loading into catch mode. Conversely, you may see the whites of the eyes begin to show, nervous flagging start and the dog loosens its pointing stance or may even lay down or retreat from the bird altogether.
These antecedent behaviors are a series of reactions to your steadiness (steadiness begins the moment the dog realizes the presence of its handler.) exercises. Behaviors, especially in young dogs, can be abrupt and overt, at other times subtle or even invisible to the untrained eye. It takes a laser-focused trainer to be able to deal with these emotions at the right time. One that requires them to shift quickly from the punishment mindset to reinforcement and back as the dog’s character shifts.
It is impossible to do this if you are distracted in conversation, watching the bird or even worse, taking on the exhibiting emotion yourself. However, if done correctly, from outward appearances one would think you are batshit crazy. Shifting back and forth instantly from the happy, “Atta boy!” tone to the “Bad dog! Don’t you do that again!” tone, all the while matching your tone to the character of the dog. As a rule, the volume of your commands should be limited to the level the dog can hear. It’s our tone that draws out emotional responses that help us shape behavior.
Though you may vary your volume, it’s the inflection in your command that lets the dog know when you’re unhappy, no matter how loud you get. Your tonal bipolar mannerisms help the dog realize in the moment what they are doing is good or bad. Those theatrical emotional reactions generate teachable moments in the training process. It will create clarity, motivation, and understanding while painting a clear picture for your dog. In the end, we are training towards learning while maintaining mental balance. Mental balance being a calm or alert dog that is ready to take in information, keeping in mind that if we go too high into praise or too deep into punishment we lose balance and understanding.
A mother weaning her pup is the perfect example of how to scaffold your training towards the character of your dog. As a pup approaches its mother, the mother will visually posture and may curl a lip. If the puppy persists, she’ll escalate to a verbal growl with an aggressive bark. If still the puppy persists, the mother will verbally and physically pin the pup and mouth it harmlessly until the pup submits. Once the pup gives up the pursuit, she will lick the pup, reassuring them that all is okay with the world. Her discipline of undesirable behavior is absolute.
“Too often folks muck the waters attempting to humanize their dogs and let their emotional attachments interfere with their training choices.”
This illustrates perfectly how we should communicate as handlers. There is no grey area here to confuse the pup. As the bitch never nags her pups, nor should we. Nagging is a habit trainers get into that is simply an inefficient and ineffective way to shape behavior. Too often folks muck the waters attempting to humanize their dogs and let their emotional attachments interfere with their training choices. This prevents them from having the right timing and being able to give the appropriate level of correction when necessary. Instead, they second guess themselves and begin to hack and nag their dog incessantly — thus stealing the joy of the hunt from you, the dog and everyone around you that has to listen. We all should strive to be the pack leader for our dogs. Being fair and absolute balances our dogs mentally, giving them one less thing to think about during the hunt or training.
It’s also important to note the pitfalls of being a one-trick pony, as every dog learns differently. Adding tools and developing a variety of approaches is essential if we are going to meet the needs of the genetic packages we are provided. It’s essential that we are capable of tweaking our approaches to meet each dog’s individual characteristics as they appear. It certainly takes time to develop these skills, copious amounts of patience and realistically some guidance from folks who have been there before.
Your evolution as a dog trainer is dependent on the time you spend with boots on the ground. Don’t worry if you crash and burn, as burning is learning. Have fun, be a thoughtful and fair trainer, and success will eventually find both you and your dog.
BREED PROFILE: GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER
MEET THE EFFICIENT, EFFECTIVE, DO-IT-ALL SWISS ARMY KNIFE OF HUNTING DOGS
By Bill Miller
Its versatility is legendary. Even those unfortunate enough to not spend much time in the outdoors know about the Swiss Army Knife. It’s a pocketknife, but it’s so much more. It’s also a can opener, a corkscrew, a scissors, a saw, a file, even a tweezers and a toothpick
Typical Teutonic design principles make it functional, rugged … some say, over-built. Its color, the simple Swiss Army logo, and even its silhouette, are all iconic. When you look at it, you know exactly what it is and its purpose for being. If you are happy owning a single knife for all your outdoor needs, the Swiss Army Knife is a superb choice.
Now take that description, but put it into the nomenclature of bird dogs. You have aptly and precisely described the German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP). If you are the kind of hunter (and we’re intentionally omitting the modifiers “bird” and “upland” here) who wants one dog with the capability to handle any task – in the field and at home – the GSP is a superb selection.
As might be expected from German efficiency, the name of the German Shorthaired Pointer is very specific and to the point. Germany is where it was developed. It indeed has short hair, which is a main differentiator between it and the Verein Deutsch Draathar (which translates to True German Wirehair) and the German Longhaired Pointer. And it is primarily a pointer of upland birds, but it is so much more.
Informal nicknames are simply “short hair” and GSP.
The GSP was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1930, but in its native Germany its origins date back to the 17th century or before. According to the AKC, it’s likely the GSP descended from an early breed called the German Bird Dog which itself was a combination of even earlier breeds. Along the way, there was influence of Spanish and English pointers as well as several hounds and tracking dogs. The first studbook for GSPs didn’t show up until 1870.
The silhouette of a German Shorthaired Pointer locked on point, one paw lifted in the air, frozen in space and time except for the slightest quiver of that stubby tail pointed straight back, will make a bird hunter’s heart skip a beat … or several. While the silhouette is universal, the color and pattern of a GSP’s coat is far, far from it. Most GSP coats incorporate dark brown, called “liver”, and some are black. The dog’s head is usually solid or nearly solid while the body can range from solid to patched to freckled to nearly all white.
The GSP is a continental pointing dog – meaning its origins are on the continent of Europe rather than the British Isles. As is the trademark of continental breeds, the GSP has a docked tail. You may think this an unnecessary and archaic ritual, but then you’ve probably never hunted quail in the prickly pear or ruffed grouse in blackberry brambles or pheasants in frozen cattails, thorny plum thickets or dense willow tangles. A long tail beating the cover in merciless thorns is quickly converted into a bloody, painful, infection-prone mess. And back in their history when shorthairs’ predecessors were used for cornering dangerous game like wild boar, a long tail was just another appendage onto which cornered quarry could grab a fatal hold.
The GSP is currently the 11th most popular breed in the American Kennel Club registries. It’s third in the AKC sporting breeds behind only the Labrador and Golden retriever, and the GSP is the most popular pointing breed. It’s also the most popular breed registered with the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).
n its “Aims, Programs, Test Rules” NAVHDA defines versatility as “the dog that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water.” This standard could well be the definitive description of the characteristics of the GSP. Tack on a biddable nature that makes a properly socialized shorthair a great family pet and guardian, and you have even more evidence equating the GSP breed to the iconic SAK (Swiss Army Knife) … one dog to do it all.
TRAINING THE GSP
While the shorthair has genetics for ultimate hunting versatility, it takes the right training and environment to bring it out. GSPs tend to mature faster than other pointing breeds, but owners must resist the temptation to push too fast or train on a timetable.
Focus on the basics of obedience first. Only then should you turn to simple fieldwork. Don’t graduate to more advanced skills until the foundation is securely established and proven.
If you’re new to the versatile breeds, attend NAVHDA events and get to know the owners in your local breed club and versatile breed training groups.
To learn more about the breed, its standards, and what a GSP is capable of, check out resources from:
• American Kennel Club
• German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America
• North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association
It’s not hard to see that GSP is the Swiss Army Knife of hunting dogs. With the right training it will handle any upland bird situation with aplomb. It will retrieve the birds you shoot, as well as web-footed fowl, and furred game like rabbits and squirrels if you ask it to. Given a chance, it will even do a masterful job of tracking down that whitetail you hit “just a little too far back.” The cherry on top is that with the right socialization and the chance to get good exercise every day, a shorthair makes a terrific family dog and all-around good citizen, to boot.
Is the Swiss Army Knife the “BEST” knife for every task under the sun? Nope. None is. But with one on your side, there’s not much you can’t do and do very well!
Dr. Gracey Welsh gives the veterinarians view on what should be in your gun dog first aid kit.
Advice in this article is meant to help educate and prepare you, but should never substitute for a veterinary examination. If you are concerned about something with your dog, please visit your veterinarian. This is article pertains to what should be in a gun dog first aid kit.
I often get asked what the must-have items in a gun dog first aid kit are. I hope this article proves helpful to people who have been considering this question. Here is a list of my must-haves:
Saline Eye Flush: This can be purchased over the counter and is good for flushing out eyes that may have picked up seeds or other debris while out in the cover.
Saline Wound Wash: This can also be purchased over the counter. It’s a great item for initial wound clean ups in the field. Many brands come in an aerosolized canisters that allow you to flush the wound with some force. This helps remove dirt and debris from the wound and is an essential first step at decontaminating a wound. I do not recommend any additives in the wound flush—just plain saline. Saline is better than water, because it is more physiologically similar to the fluid within the body. As a result, it’s gentler on the cells and will not cause further damage.
Bandage Scissors: These are helpful in a variety of situations, whether it’s applying bandages or cutting away snags in a coat.
Hemostats: I usually carry a variety of sizes from small to large. These are my go-to tools for removing foreign objects (quills, thorns, and others), since they grasp the object firmly and pull.
Tick Key: There are many commercial tick pullers out there (I like the ones that look like spoons with a nick in them). They’re great at removing embedded ticks. Not just part of the tick, but the whole tick.
Non-Adherent Pad: These are coated gauze pads which provide some absorbing action and are a great first layer for bandaging bleeding wounds. Since they don’t stick to the open skin, they peel away without causing further pain or damage. You can purchase them in bulk from many medical supply stores or drug stores.
Cast Padding: This soft bulky material is the second layer in any bandage and is used to hold the non-adherent pad in place over a wound. Two to three layers of cast padding provide pressure and protection to an affected area.
Stretch Gauze or ‘Cling’ Wrap: This is the third layer in an appropriate bandage. It provides more pressure and security to the previously applied cast padding. One layer is usually sufficient over the cast padding.
Vet Wrap: This self adhering wrap is a literal lifesaver. It’s traditionally the fourth layer in a bandage application, but can also be used as a tourniquet or a sling for a limb. It’s uses are limitless…
Gauze Squares: Helpful to stop bleeding, apply pressure, clean up blood, and provide extra padding.
Digital Thermometer: In instances where heat stroke or hypothermia are possible, you’ll need to check your dog’s rectal temperature.
1-inch medical tape: Like vet wrap, this is a must have.
Individual sterile lubricant packets: I use these for protecting dog wounds until we can address them more appropriately. After flushing, putting lubricant in a wound will keep out further debris until the wound can be further assessed. It can also make temperature taking more comfortable!
Benadryl Tablets: Useful for allergic reactions in the field.
Hydrogen Peroxide: I don’t recommend using this to clean wounds, as I prefer saline wash. However, this is good at cleaning up blood from hair and skin around the wound. Getting rid of all that dried blood will help you better assess wound size and depth. Hydrogen peroxide is also a good emergency emetic, if your dog ingests something potentially harmful. Ideally, you would only use hydrogen peroxide in this way under the direction of a veterinarian. Some poisons are more harmful if they come back up.
Honey Packets: These are helpful for dogs who experience hypoglycemia or shock events in the field. They can be applied to the gums to provide a quick blood sugar boost.
Iodine scrub: Good for cleaning abrasions or wounds.
Latex Gloves: Wear them to keep wounds clean as you bandage or assess them.
Mylar Emergency Blanket: Very helpful for dogs experiencing shock or hypothermia.
Instant Cold Pack: Provides relief to swollen or painful areas and can be activated on demand, becoming cold within minutes.
Flea/Tick Comb: Removes any bugs that your dog may have picked up.
Dawn Dish Soap: If your dog has an encounter with skunks or gets into a potentially toxic material such as oil, gas, or crop fertilizer, it’s a good idea to rinse him down in this. Some dangerous chemicals can soak into the skin; it’s best to not risk that.
Skin Stapler: Not everyone feels comfortable using these on their dog, but they can be helpful to close large wounds. In most cases, however, a pressure bandage will do the trick. Note that if you close a wound in the field with a stapler, the staples should be removed as soon as you are out of the woods. After that, the wound should be properly cleaned and assessed. If it needs to be closed more permanently, do it under the sterile conditions of a veterinary hospital. A skin stapler is not a replacement for a vet visit!
Veterinary first aid book: A good go-to guide for help during common situations. There are many respectable books on the market to choose from.
Emergency Phone Number: Make sure that you have the phone number of your veterinarian and the closest emergency veterinarians on hand. If you’re hunting in new places, this should always be part of your research. Find out where veterinarians are located and if they will see new clients on an emergency basis. Not all will.
You may have noticed that I did not list aspirin. In my professional opinion, there are almost no circumstances where giving your dog aspirin is necessary. Especially in an emergency situation. Aspirin can be toxic to dogs and can interfere with other drugs that may need to be given in a veterinary setting.
I will admit that I don’t carry all of this with me when in the field. Rather, it lives in a gun dog first aid kit in the back of the truck. It’s best to carry some small supplies with you, like a roll of vet wrap or gauze. That way, you can tackle issues that arise more immediately until you get back to the truck.
Spending time to familiarize yourself with common veterinary emergencies and appropriate care—before you are faced with emergency—can save you time and your dog’s life. Ask your trusted veterinarian for their advice on common emergencies. Or, take the time to read a veterinary first aid book. Some locations regularly host dog first aid classes.
Poetry Shooting Club promotes the safe use of guns at all times.
Below are the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety which are taught in every state during their Hunter Education Classes. To learn more about hunter education classes in your state visit www.hunter-ed.com.
- Watch that muzzle!
ALWAYS keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Treat EVERY firearm as if it were loaded.
The firearm might be loaded, even if you do not think so.
- Be sure of the target, what is in front, above, to the sides and beyond.
Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make sure you have an adequate backstop – don’t shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
This is the best way to prevent an unplanned discharge.
- Check your barrel and ammunition.
Make sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions, and carry only the proper ammunition for your firearm.
- Unload firearms when not in use.
Leave actions open, and carry firearms in cases and unloaded to and from the shooting area.
- Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot.
Avoid all horseplay with a gun.
- DON’T run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm.
Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle
- Store firearms and ammunition separately and securely.
Store each in secured locations beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting.
Also avoid mind – or behavior – altering prescription medicines or drugs.
Hi Rowdy Thanks one more time for sharing.What about this situation. I am in touch with a man who has two GSP males 16 months old that have not been worked. He owns the parents and tells a story of them being trailed and doing well. The pups are AKC registered and the old man is in bad health and wanting to get them in a place where they will get work. He is softly asking $500 each which in these times sounds like a deal. What would be the concerns with dogs this age and no bird work?
The concerns would be socializaiton and the type of birddogs they are. If they are dual quality, true Shorthairs (Kurzhaars) with extnesive socialization you are in great shape. If they have been tucked away in a kennel with no human contact and are all-age quality dogs, you are fucked. Find out what quality they are or get a copy of their pedigrees and let me look at it. Also find out what kind of socialization they have had.
Bird work is not even close to being a problem.
Tell me more what this means “dual quality, true Shorthairs (Kurzhaars)” and also “are all-age quality dogs,”‘
Your old dog Heisman was a Kurzhaar. Kurzhaar is the German word for Shorthair.
No pointer crossed into them. I guarantee Josie has more Pointer than Shorthair in her.
“All-age” is the craziest birddogs. They want to run from here to forever and not look back. They are thoroughbreds on steroids with a white coat.
Josie, for example, would be a mild example of an all-age dog.
Yes I remember you touching on this information before. Very interesting indeed. I will get some more background information the owner sounds like he has been a bird dog man a good long while. He says he has the sire and dam and one is one pass away from a champion something or other. AKC papered which I guess does not mean much. Can you look a pictures and know about the dogs breeding??
To a certain extent. I have been out of Shorthairs for about seven years, so it’s harder now. I can tell you if they are crossed with a Pointer or not.
Ask Rowdy one asks One question for you, if you don’t mind giving advice. My brother always says that you should never stimulate the dog with the eCollar when she’s on a bird, for fear that you will accidentally punish her for finding birds. From viewing the video that came with my collar, and some of the resources that you’ve pointed me towards, however, I don’t think that is necessarily true. I have worked really hard to keep Gracey from thinking of the collar as punishment, and when she starts to creep when we’re just working on “woah” at the backyard or in the field, if I give her a really light stimulation and repeat the “woah” command, she locks back up again. So I guess my question is – if she has a bird pointed, and I see that she’s getting ready to creep, do you think it’s okay to lightly bump her with the collar, or is that a no-no?
I’ll give you a short synapsis of how I train my dogs and give you the “why” then I’ ll answer your question in a more general sense. I train my dogs by giving them plenty of pen bird exposure as young dogs. By “young”, I mean roughly four to six monhts of age, depending on the dog. Pen raised birds are great, but they should only be offered in certain settings. After my dog is of a certain age I take away the pen raised birds until we’re starting the breaking process and I go exclusively with wild birds. I go to GREAT lengths to get a dog on ample wild birds. If I can just get him on two or three bird contacts the entire time I have him still keep him off pen raised birds.
Then the breaking. I teach a dog to Stand. Standing is much like Whoaing, but there is no command. You start it by pulling up on a lead and walking away then transfer it over to the eCollar so you can be a hundred yards away, stimulate them around the neck with the collar and they stop dead in their tracks. Then we start birds work. There are several steps, but essentially you let the dog establish point and when he takes his first step – or if you can read him to tell before he takes his first step – you launch the bird and stimulate him to stand. No words are spoken. There are only a few things different about this method and most other methods, but the differences are suttle, though huge. First, you don’t talk AT ALL. The dog goes on point, you don’t say a word. The dog creeps, you don’t say a word. The dog stands up and does the Waltz, you don’t say a word to him. Nothing. This keeps it between the dog and the bird. This is huge. Think about if your dog knows the stimulation is coming form you because you yell Whoa to coincide with the stimulation.
Now, when you’re hunting the dog breaks a hill and slams on point two hundred yards out. He wants to creep and he will because you’re not there and he’s not moved in the past because he’s been on Whoa, not because he’s actually been pointing. Next, launching the bird the minute he moves any part of his body makes the training session not a standoff betwen the dog wanting to get closer to the bird, but having to face the shock from the collar. Think of it. Everything in this dog’s genetic makeup for hundreds of years has made him want to get the bird. Period, end of story. But, we’re laying this out to say, “Okay, if you go after the bird you’re going to be shocked. Go ahead and try it.” That doesn’t make sense. What happens when he takes the first step and is stimulated? He realizes the bird didn’t move so he can take another step. He just has to get the gumption up to get past the shock. He takes another step, gets shocked and the bird still hasn’t moved. Let’s take my method (LARGELY taken from the West method). He takes a steps and BOOM! The bird is up and gone and he gets a queue with the collar saying to stay put. The queue isn’t enough for a correction, just enough to convince him not to move.
Next time he goes on point he’ll think twice about moving because he doesn’t want the bird to be gone. Pretty soon he’ll get the idea and he’ll stay put. If you just want him to be steady to the flush you can let him break IF he can hold and let you flush the bird. If he flushes the bird, you make him stand after. See, we humans tend to make a mountain of a difference between pen raised birds and wild bird. The dog comes into wild birds and they often time flush before the dog gets to them. On the other hand we leave a pen raised bird on the ground until the paint dries. It takes the excitement out of it for the dogs. I often time don’t let the dogs point, often times I wait until the dog gets close enough to get a really great view of the bird then launch it. He thinks, “Goodness, these birds are spooky!”
Your brother is right… and he’s wrong. I had stimulated dogs on point once upon a time, but never could have made it work. I don’t know why, but it must have been the way I was doing it. I’ve seen some people be able to train dogs this way and do wonderfully at it. It is all very, very subjective. The only “law” I consider to be truth in birddogs is to not hurt a dog. I don’t force break my dogs because I don’t like to put undue pressure on them. There is a joke that Ronnie Smith told me once. It went, “The only thing two dog trainers can agree on is what the third is doing wrong, but still can’t agree on how he’s doing it wrong.” I don’t mean to be vague or elusive with my reply, but I have seen this very much in dogs.
There are SO many different methods and such and there are so many who think they have the absolute best way to train a dog that it is insane. I talk to people online who tell me about how they’re training their dog. In my head I think, “Oh, no. You don’t want to do that!” But, I just smile and tell them how great that is because it is great. Don’t hurt your dog and never, ever stop learning, reading, etc. Don’t listen to someone who says he’s got the best method and there are no others who equal it. Follow these few rules and you and your dog should have a very many great days afield. I’m sorry for any typos. I had surgery not too long ago and it affected my ability to read, so proo reading is rough.
You can alter the grammar, etc.
Chat Conversation End
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Poetry Shooting Club offers free demonstration for members with first time use. Rent is $20 per session.