Recently I’ve received a couple of phone calls and emails inquiring about puppies and the most important question for the people contacting me is how big will your puppies run? They seem to have a predetermined number in mind. One person said their current dog runs 50 to 80 yards and he was looking for something in the 100 to 150 range. Another seemed to want a dog that he would be able to see about half the time. Another said he didn’t want a field trial range dog. I think this is the wrong question to ask because for most dogs the answer to how big will the dog run is — as big as you let him. If you take them out as puppies and let them go where ever they want to and as far as they want to you’re going to end up with a dog that is at best out of control and at worst a run off. Range is a controllable factor in a dog especially with the sophistication of e-collars and GPS. You want a dog that stays within a certain range you start when they’re little puppies programming them to that range. It may take some work and at times it may be frustrating but you can pattern most dogs to run to the front and stay in gun dog range.
Although that is relatively straight forward, I rarely do it with one of my own dogs. What I want is a dog that stays to the front and goes to likely cover then finds birds. If the cover is right in front of me I expect the dog to hunt it before it goes. If there’s no good cover close by than I expect the dog to run forward until he finds it, even if that’s 200 or 300 yards away. One of my summer training covers runs along a canal so the dogs are always near water. The problem is the best spot for a dog to find a bird is about 600 yards from the break away. Wild Apple Jack has run there so many times over the years he usually hits the afterburners at the truck and then goes straight to the bird spot. Even without the GPS I would be able to find him in this cover because we both know where the birds are. He’s not a run off — it’s just that he’s smart enough to remember where the birds are and goes to them.
Instead of asking about range when your looking for a puppy I think the most important questions should be about intelligence and biddability. Then you should ask about how personable the dogs in a line are. Dogs that like and crave people are going to want to please you more than dogs that don’t seem to care. The other questions I think important are how much natural ability did they come out of the womb with? Did they point (at least briefly) the first bird they smelled or did they run over a couple hundred before they pointed one? Once they found a couple of birds in the thick cover did they dig in on their own and find more birds? Do they naturally seem to run a quartering pattern? You can’t fix a dog’s nose or its brain but you can always adjust it’s range.
June 1st, the woodcock was still singing in the front yard and Katie noticed he’d started feeding in the garden. She hopes he’ll eat some slugs as well as helping himself to the abundant earthworms in her organic soil that is rich in compost.
The weather was perfect for the woodcock hatch in our area. We had an exceptionally warm and dry month of May. Now that June is here and the grouse should be hatching in numbers, there is reason for concern. In the last 24 hours the temperature ranged from the upper 40s to the mid-50s with 1.75″ of rain and it is not supposed to really dry out and warm up for a few more days. The birds that hatched out last weekend, like the brood we were able to photograph just after they hatched, should be OK as they have had time to add some feathering and size but a chick that hatched yesterday may be in trouble. If the hen loses it’s entire brood early it will re-nest however if a chick or two survives the cold and rain then the hen will raise them and not re-nest. We won’t know about brood sizes for about a month when we start going back into the grouse brooding covers to work dogs.