Story and photographs by Troy Rodakowski
I have now embarked (no pun intended) on a new journey with a brand new gun-dog pup. He is a relative of my old pal and in many ways reminds me of him when he was little, including all the chewing, biting, puppy messes and training that will one day, hopefully, lead to a full-fledged hunting partner.
Working dogs, as we like to call them, live for two things: 1) you; 2) the hunt or the specific job they are trained to do. Long hours of work and training pay dividends in developing the perfect companion, and this of course does not come without sacrifice from other activities.
I have hunted with several breeds including Labradors, vizslas, pudelpointers, Weimaraners, shorthairs, spaniels, beagles and many more. They all have their own excellent attributes, which makes them special and a fit for our personalities as owners. With the upland and waterfowl seasons quickly approaching we prepare our gear, and, most importantly, we prepare our four-legged companions with training and exercise. Frequent outings into the field are a must with the flame of the coming seasons burning strong. Smells of autumn wafting on the breeze invigorate the senses.
Many folks like to take their dogs to game-bird farms or ranches as a warm-up, and I think this is an excellent idea that can be very insightful when planning for a successful year. Some wildlife ranches open around the middle of August and offer great shooting and training. Hunt and retriever clubs also offer field-trial events throughout the year to keep your dog tuned and in good physical condition. Many times they even offer trial grading towards hunt championships and classifications. These are both important aspects in one’s routine to have better success during the season. “Getting a pup and even a seasoned dog off to a good start or refreshing their memory is important,” says George Dern, owner of the DK Wildlife Ranch in Crawfordsville, Ore.
Having a companion and good hunting partner is all many of us desire to be satisfied and feel accomplished with our canines. Once again, I have chosen to take on the challenge of training a puppy and watching him grow and succeed, much like a proud parent watches their child transform into adulthood.
As I go through the chewing, biting, puking, pooping and endless energy of the puppy stage, I look to the future of a partner to share memories with and sometimes wonder if I was somewhat crazy to take on the challenge once again. I remind myself of what is to come and how much I will miss my buddy being small and pretty darn cute. Dern recently reminded me, “Start your pup off slow and get them excited about birds and feathers. That excitement will build as they mature.” With fall approaching many of us are looking forward to the morning we grab our guns, gear and pooch to chase game birds.
A seasoned dog can sense the change in the seasons, and they do not want to miss a chance to please us. In fact, I have even seen that look after missing a bird. You know the one! The one that says, “Hey, I did my job, obeyed, found the birds and listened to your commands. Now why did you miss again?” Well, because I need more practice on the trap and skeet range, little buddy. As a master I hate to disappoint, and I have found that my shooting skills are not always up to par. Regardless, our furry friends keep doing their job no matter how often we might miss the target.
With any job, there is always a chance of injury, and with hunting dogs it is no different. From small scratches to broken bones, pulled muscles to being sprayed by a skunk, or worse, bitten by a snake, field dogs are put at risk each time they go out. Some dogs have even lost their lives doing what they love and were trained to do.
“We lost a dog in one of our ponds after he had an apparent heart attack following a routine retrieve,” Dern shared. It is heartbreaking but a reality we deal with as sportsman and dog owners. I know a few hunters who have lost good hounds to mountain lions, bears and the environment. It is a risk we take and reality we live with as the owners of working dogs. Accidents happen, especially in the wild.
Regardless of the breed or dog you have and are proud to call your hunting companion, we all share a similar bond as dog owners. “They are more than just pets and hunting dogs; they are a huge part of our lives, and for many of us it’s more than just a desire; it’s a necessity to have that relationship,” says Gary Lewis, author of Hunting Oregon. It’s tough and rewarding work, but worth a lifetime of love and companionship. As we watch our companions grow old, and unable to do what they love, they are just happy being by our side to share time with us. Remember, as you watch that point or retrieve with your best friend this season, make sure you are there for them so together you can keep doing what you love. Good luck and happy hunting. ASJ
“C’mon, hop in … C’mon,” Meyer kept enticing the pups in his calm voice as he and the other dogs continued paddling. Soon both pups were having their first swimming session, part of the training Meyer initiates in the spring and throughout the summer.
“The key is not to force them, but make it fun,” smiled Meyer as he pulled the canoe ashore. The training session lasted nearly two hours, and all five dogs did great, even the pups. During that time, Meyer didn’t raise his voice once.
Now is the time to be training your dog for the upcoming hunting season. As is the case with hunters, dogs need to be in shape for the hunt too, and just because summer days are hot doesn’t mean dog training should be delayed.
Good training starts with clear communication. Meyer, who I’ve been working with over the past year, has been training dogs for over 40 years. For 25 years he was a professor of animal breeding and genetics at Oregon State University, and watching him patiently work his dogs is something to behold. His willingness to help me, a first-time hunting dog owner, speaks a lot of what kind of man he is. His eagerness and dedication is addicting, and his passion to see dogs succeed is admirable.
“The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize you don’t need to holler at a dog to get it to do something,” shares Meyer. “They just need to know what you’re expecting of them. If they don’t respond the way I want them to, it’s likely due to miscommunication on my part.”
I’ve been on several training sessions with Meyer and never once heard him raise his voice towards a dog. They always respond to him no matter their breed or age. Patience and keeping it fun and positive are key elements of Meyer’s training foundation, and a good starting point for all dog owners looking to build a better dog.
Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape so they don’t overheat.
Meyer regularly swims his dogs all summer long. “Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape this time of year so they don’t overheat,” he notes. “You can’t get this kind of conditioning by repeatedly tossing a bumper into the water. In fact, when I’m training with a bumper, I’ll only toss it in four or five times – that’s it.”
Meyers’ swim training usually lasts a couple of hours. He’ll paddle the canoe to one shore, let the dogs get out to play and warm up, then do it again … and again … and again. He ends every training session on a positive note, with the dogs wanting more and this includes swimming.
Jess Spradley, trainer and owner of Cabin Creek Gundogs, offered this advice when asked about summer training tips: “Get the dog’s feet in shape. Just like a human’s, a dog’s
feet have to be in good condition for the hunt.”
Spradley’s favorite training surface is gravel followed by pavement. This time of year, do it early or late in the day when temperatures aren’t overly hot. Be sure to have plenty of water for the dog to drink. Shaving their coat this time of year will also help keep them cool, as will pouring water over them during training sessions.
“Don’t mix play and work,” Meyer advised me. “When training a dog for the hunt, make sure they know it. When playing with them for fun, make sure they know the difference. Don’t use training bumpers as fun toys or vice versa.”
Spradley points out that pointing breeds need to be regularly exercised, while Labs are happy with a stroll down the street. Spradley prefers to train dogs that have been exposed to at least one season of hunting and were taught basic guidelines by their owner. “When they bring a dog to me, I ask what they’ve done and they often say, ‘Nothing; we didn’t want to screw it up.’ That’s valid, but not a good idea as the pup’s gotta learn some basic guidelines in order to achieve a higher level of training.”
This summer, make time to start building a good hunting dog. Practice patience, clearly communicate your expectations and make it fun for your dog. When those elements are solid, everything else will fall into place. ASJ
Author’s note: You can visit Howard Meyer with Chipewa Kennels at chippewa-gsp.com, and Jess Spradley with Cabin Creek Gun Dogs at cabincreekgundogs.com. For amazing Pudelpointer’s visit talltimberpudelpointers.com.
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: Cabin Creek Gun Dogs, Chipewa Kennels, Dog trainer, Gun dogs, Howard Meyer, hunting dogs, Jess Spradley, Oregon State University, Pudelpointers, Scott Haugen, Tall Timber Pudelpointers, training