Sunday 5 April 2020

You Got Yourself A Bird Dog...

German Shorthaired Pointers cover a lot of ground quickly when searching for game birds. © Dan Brodie 

Wow! It's been 2 full years since my last post. The time has passed so quickly for me as I have been caught up in the wonderful world of training and working bird dogs. In my previous post, I shared the elation I felt when I saw my dog, Trooper go on a real point for the very first time during a CKC Field Test. Well, the following spring, we entered ourselves into another Field Test, this time hosted by the BC All Breed Pointer Club. What the dog did in his first run on that weekend absolutely blew my mind.

I met the judge at the the starting line of the first of three Field Dog Junior tests we were signed up for throughout the weekend. The judge was a well respected dog handler named Adrienne and we had made acquaintance on social media but never in person. As we were introducing ourselves, Trooper eagerly bolted off the line before I had given him the ok. I had to call him back for a restart, apologizing to Adrienne and making note that, "Manners matter." After the recall and a short wait, I released the dog and he tore away with the speed and enthusiasm that I had come to expect from him. Adrienne asked, "What do you think he will do?" I replied, "Well I think he will probably..." Then mid-answer I corrected my response with, "Actually, I don't really know what he will do, but he just makes me smile when he runs." And I was smiling, from ear to ear.

Six months after Trooper went on his first point and with no exposure to game birds or formal training since that day, he hit the ground running. I was astonished to see him find and point 5 planted Chukars! It was obvious to me that in the off time, he had processed what he had learned previously and that, combined with a long lineage of breeding√ for this purpose, had figured out exactly what to do on this day. When our run was over, I called him in to snap his leash on. I wasn't even sure if he had passed or not. Truthfully, I didn't even care. I was just so thrilled to be a part of such an exhilarating experience. On our way off the course, our judge commented, "Well, you got yourself a bird dog."

I have to admit, that wasn't the first time that I had heard that, but this time, the message seemed to have much more merit. My previous pup, Barley, was also a German Shorthaired Pointer and was a pretty intense bird dog in his own right. People often commented on his behaviour when we were out on walks and he would show that he really only had one thing on his mind. Even so, Barley was an unfinished dog in terms of a hunting dog. He never had the opportunity to hunt real game birds or hunt to the gun. I picked him up as an 8 week old pup in the summer of 2002 and had all sorts of romantic aspirations of working with him in the field on birds. However, life got in the way of those dreams and despite the many hours of training and bonding with that beautiful boy, things didn't quite go the way they were intended. My wife and I were raising 3 kids and they were all involved in various types of sports and activities. We were always busy. My photography career was starting to roll and that demanded a lot of my attention. The quality time spent with my best buddy was reduced to early weekend mornings. I had started my C.O.R.E. training but a fatal accident involving a gun that left our only nephew dead at the age of 17, suddenly voided any activity with firearms. Needless to say, every reference to guns or shooting of any capacity, became a very sensitive subject.

"He showed me that he was a bona fide bird dog and that he deserved to fulfill his destiny as a finished gun dog."

Trooper spent his first year as an impressionable pup with Barley and I believe whole heartedly that the senior canine mentorship he received, was a tremendous influence on how he behaves today. Especially in regards to the way he hunts with such speed and range. I believe that following the senior around helped build his confidence and independence. When Trooper came into our lives, I didn't have nearly the same desire to take him hunting as I did with our previous pup. I was just a sucker for GSP puppies and he was the perfect distraction in an otherwise unsettled phase of our families growth. In other words, he was just meant to be another part of our family, to bring all that dogs bring to the table. And he did that, but he also showed me that he wanted to be more. He showed me that he was a bona fide bird dog and that he deserved to fulfill his destiny as a finished gun dog. I have just been trying my best to facilitate that.

Barley, May 13, 2002-June 04, 2016 © Dan Brodie

Trooper went on to earn his first title that weekend. He earned the title of Field Dog Junior. That left us wondering if we were ready for the next step, which had a retrieving component in the test. Even though I felt Trooper was a natural retriever, we started working on it. My biggest worry at the time was that he had never had a dead bird in his mouth. I struggled with the idea of a Force Fetch. I wanted the dog to do it because he loved to do it, not because he was being forced to do it so I relied mostly on his prey drive to go out and pick up whatever I threw for him. As the test weekend approached, we still hadn't worked with real birds, only bumpers and dummies. I was fairly concerned. I had heard stories of dogs that wouldn't pick up birds because they didn't like feathers. At the last minute, a friend of mine offered me a frozen Teal Duck that he had. I brought it home and immediately put it to use in our yard training. It took a few tries but by the end of the session Trooper was retrieving the bird like a champ. We were full of confidence and headed off to try our luck at the next level of testing.

It takes 3 legs to earn a title in the CKC Field Tests for Pointing Dogs. © Dan Brodie