Archive for the ‘Hunting’ Category

Communication: simple = better

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Remember in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” where the sneering, brutal prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character “what we have here is a failure to communicate?” It’s a new low in not getting what either of them want, simply because they can’t – or don’t want to – make their respective points clearly.

When it comes to your dog, being clear and concise is critical to success. If your dog understands precisely what you want from him, he will be more likely to perform well in the field, in the yard and in your home. If you know what your dog needs, you can help him better understand you.

Better performance starts with better communication

Better performance starts with better communication

I give seminars and talks at events all over the country, and a recent talk at Pheasant Fest generated some spirited feedback and fascinating stories of other dog owners’ trials, tribulations and triumphs. The most intriguing discussion in the aisle had to do with which words to use for which commands, and why. Here’s my take:

In my mind simple is better. According to the U.S. Army, your pup could conceivably understand over 200 different commands. But not at my house. I give my dogs easy to yell names . . . one or two syllables. That way, they learn their unique signal faster. Furthermore …

Sound-alike conflicts are a major bugaboo. Many of our commands can sound like names. Call your setter “Beau,” and he might “whoa” when you want him to hunt on. Rover sounds like “over,” a common command among retriever handlers. And “no” sounds like Beau or whoa, adding to the confusion.

I strive for distinctive words for each desired action. Momma dog uses “aagh” when she disapproves . . . why not take advantage of genetics and use it too? (It may be academic. At our house, most dogs’ first names end up being “goddammit,” at least early in their careers.)

“Here” is easier to yell than “come.” But “heel” and “here” sound the same, so my “heel” command is “walk.” I don’t use “over” when I want my dog to change direction, I use “way” as the command, often accompanied by a hand signal. My release command can’t be “okay,” or there’ll be more confusion. And he might think I’m asking him to hold still … “stay.”  ”Alright” is safe and sounds like nothing else in the lexicon.

I have a theory that most times, dogs simply hear the vowel and ignore the consonants. Testing this theory on Buddy probably doesn’t prove much besides I’m a bad trainer, but it seems to ring true. At Pheasant Fest, one of my new friends disputes this theory and offers various command words and tricky situations where he has tested his dogs and they have learned the difference. More power to ya, Andy. But as I said, for me and Buddy at least, simple is better.

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Acoustics & obedience

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

A giant, natural echo chamber

A giant, natural echo chamber

Whistle blasts, yells, nothing was getting Buddy back to me. It looked like he was actually running away – each command got the opposite reaction from what I wanted.

One more toodle on the whistle and the echo hit me in the face, the problem now quite obvious. Sound waves left my mouth, traveled the hot dry canyon and bounced off the massive basalt walls. That’s what Buddy heard. No wonder he streaked away – he was eagerly trying to please me but headed for the nearer source of the command – the rock, not me.

Wow, that sure changed the way I look at (er, hear) dog commands. Further experimentation showed that knolls, thick forest, even water will all affect what your dog hears, and where he thinks that sound is coming from. It’s a wonder they ever come back to us!

These days I’ll sometimes turn and call or whistle in the opposite direction from my dog so the original sound – and any echoes – are both coming from the vector I want him to take. Other times, lower volume precludes an echo. By default, my dogs have learned that a beep from their collar means the same as “here,” so that works also.

Now that I know this, my dogs seem to be much more obedient.

(Find my training gear and book here.)

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The downside to training with frozen birds

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

This one is easy. Frozen ones, not so much.

This one is easy. Frozen ones, not so much.

Ice cream headache. Did you ever think your dog might have one?

If you train with frozen birds, he might. He’ll never admit it, but the outward manifestation might be lousy retrieves. Thanks pro trainer Larry Lee, for pointing out the obvious – to everyone, apparently, but me. I was lamenting the goofy way Manny would approach a frozen pigeon, then daintily pick it up by a wing and drag it back, sort of.

It was Larry who asked what I would do in a similar situation.  I pondered that. Now, so will you: open the freezer, pull out an ice cube and hold it between your teeth for oh, say the length of a 200-yard retrieve.

It’s no wonder Manny was less than enthusiastic. So was I. Carrying a pigeon by one wing isn’t easy.

(Scott’s line of dog training gear is available here.)

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Thankful … on each hunt

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Sometimes, even the view is something to be thankful for.

Sometimes, even the view is something to be thankful for.

That first long walk without a hunting partner is when it usually hits you: Boy, am I lucky. It’s funny that our “thanksgiving” comes earlier than the one on the calendar … mere days into hunting season.

We sit, scratch a dog’s ear, and reflect. It might be perfect weather, or surprisingly good shooting. Maybe your dog nailed that last covey, staunch as a magazine cover painting. It could (should, would, ought to) be gratefulness at the limp feathered body held in your hands, life gone but soon to sustain life as food.

There’s no reason it needs to be restricted to a single date. In the fields and covers there is always something to be thankful for. I’ve uttered thanks for an ankle untwisted after a leap off a basalt column. Toasted silently with a smoky draft of single malt, glad for the company sharing my campfire. Smiled inwardly at the warm welcome in a small-town’s café-post office-general store where everybody does know your name.

I don’t need a federally-funded study to tell me a better outlook on life starts with being appreciative of things large and small. My dogs, my hunting partners, my surroundings remind me every day, all season … not just on the fourth Thursday of November.

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Our own “New Year’s resolutions”

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Manny might not agree, but we will spend more time here working on Resolution #1.

Manny might not agree, but we will spend more time here working on Resolution #1.

The traditional version comes at the wrong time of year. We are putting things away and reminiscing about past months when we are encouraged to reveal our hopes for the coming 12 months. Thanksgiving, Christmas, then poof! There they are, at the bitter end of our favorite time of year. Instead, my resolution is to make resolutions for our “new year,” Opening Day. Record my dreams and dreads wrapped in blaze orange and dog hair in the weeks leading up to the fresh season. They started on closing day and marinated until the opener was an actual, real date on the new calendar circled in red. Then, aspirations for shooting, desires for favorite coverts and of course, miracles for our dogs are voiced over beers (or in our heads). Mine? Trivial, some might say. Steadiness from Manny on covey flushes. Stamina from 10-year-old Buddy. New places and friends in the field. Some green among the thousands of acres of ash and soot here in the West. And hope, for a safe season, strong legs, happy dogs. What are yours? (Scott’s book What the Dogs Taught Me, is available here.)

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Your best shot, ever

Monday, August 18th, 2014

It happened in this general neighborhood ...

It happened in this general neighborhood …

Having one leg longer than the other is said to help you when chukar hunting. You’re often side-hilling a steep incline, the ground covered with loose rock. You’ve burned lungs and legs getting there, because the devil birds run up the hill, then fly down again. So you must as well.

The covey scrambled up a gully after watering in the trickle of creek at the bottom of the draw. We hadn’t seen enough to take a pass on this bunch, so up I went.

When the birds blew like a party popper at midnight, I was still trying to find a place for my left foot. As they scattered  above me, I spun on my right foot (conveniently perched on a round-bottomed rock) and pointed toward the lead bird, with hope propelling my gun mount.

As you probably guessed, recoil, rock and gravity combined. But as I went ass-over-teakettle I saw the bird stutter, spin, tower up, then drop straight down. By the time I scraped the gravel off my face, Buddy was back with the trophy, gently dropping it at my feet.

That was my best shot – the most memorable, to date at least. What was yours? Or your strangest, luckiest, funniest outcome … you do have one, don’t you?

(Scott’s line of dog training gear is available here.)

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The best advice you’ve ever received

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Make the earn it.

Make them earn it.

“Never give away a bowl of dog food.”

That’s what a grizzled old trainer said, almost off-hand, decades ago. Being a bit slow on the uptake, I asked what he’d meant with that tossed-away comment. His explanation drove home the best bit of advice I’ve ever been given: dogs expect something for everything they do … or don’t do.

Your hunting partner is learning all the time. If their DNA contains anything, it holds the chromosome for cause and effect. Deep in their canine genetic legacy is an innate ability to tie actions with consequences. Scramble more aggressively, get more mother’s milk. Run faster and catch more dinner. Fight hardest, and earn the chance to reproduce.

These fundamentals guide a dog’s entire existence. If he gets nothing for his efforts, he’s probably not going to do it again. If he does, he’ll repeat the behavior. When he does it for food or praise, a bird or even your companionship, it becomes a training strategy.  That observation still guides my training today.

Have you been enlightened?What was that advice?

Who shared their wisdom with you, and why? Most importantly, what did you do with that hard-won knowledge?

(Scott’s TV show is Wingshooting USA. His new book is What the Dogs Taught Me. Learn more here.)

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What’s on your Christmas list?

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Maybe one of these is on your list.

Maybe one of these is on your list.

Before New Year’s Day, there’s another holiday. We hope, we wish, we make lists and check them twice, and it all culminates with the requisite gift-giving and receiving.

But as we discussed a while ago, our hunting life – and mental calendar – marches to a different drummer.  So if we’re going to make hunting-season new year’s resolutions, we might also make a “Christmas” list. It’s not very long around here, but it is full of important items …

A functional tether for my collar transmitter and GPS. Wicking underwear that doesn’t stink after a couple washings.

A good hatch. No more forest fires. Healthy dogs. Friends I haven’t met yet but will, in a diner somewhere in pheasant country. Cool weather when the dogs are on the ground,  but warm enough to hang around a campfire at night.

That’s the extent of it. What’s on your list?

(Scott’s TV show is Wingshooting USA. His new book is What the Dogs Taught Me. Learn more here.)

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Are you ready for fall? Add this gear to your own checklist.

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

And don't forget your "ten essentials," either!

And don’t forget your “ten essentials,” either!

Okay, the obvious stuff is always in the truck, in the garage or at the ready next to the front door. But what about all that other stuff you wish you’d brought on your hunting trip, but didn’t? From my own “Ultimate Upland Checklist” here are a few suggestions:

For your hunting partner: e-collar charger; extra dog collar; dog food/water bowl; chew toy for those long drives; “Lost” posters just in case.

For camp: bungee cords; wet wipes; lawn chairs; ZipLok bags; those little packets of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise; extra flashlight batteries; boot dryer.

For your hunt: choke tube wrench; soft gun case; landowner gifts; game shears; sunblock; gunsmith screwdrivers; bandanna; “town” shoes; spare boot lace.

Add these to your own list and you and your dog will enjoy a more comfortable, less-hassled hunting trip. See you in the field!

Learn more about Scott’s TV show Wingshooting USA, and his new book, here.

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Field trial, hunt test terms you should know

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

This shorthair's ready for the breakaway. Are you?

This shorthair’s ready for the breakaway. Are you?

Thinking about playing some of the dog games? Field trial, hunt test, NSTRA or NAHRA, each has its merits. These terms will help you fit in a bit faster:

AA: All Age dog, as defined by AKC, competes in All Age stakes, which are open to a dog of any age.

Breakaway: A brace of dogs released simultaneously to begin a field trial run, usually commanded by the judge.

Derby Stake: Field trial competition for dogs between six months of age and no more than two years of age.

Green broke: Often the same as a “started” dog, indicates some level of training in obedience and elementary hunting skills, usually including pointing.

Line Manners: A term used to describe how a dog acts while sitting at the “line” under judgment.

Pick up: Taken out of competition and removed from the field. In a field trial, a dog is “picked up” at the order of a judge.

Retired Gun: Used in multiple marks, after an assistant has thrown the item to be retrieved, he or she moves to a concealed location so when the dog returns to the line and looks out to their mark, the assistant (“gun”) is hidden from view.

Scott’s the host of Wingshooting USA, airing on Destination America and Pursuit Channel. More information here.

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