Bird Dogs and Brains
First a report on the last couple of days of training, the weather has been perfect for running dogs the last few days. Yesterday it was in the 50s when we started and today it was in the high 40s at 7:00 when we broke away the first brace. It was also cool enough to run dogs again in the late afternoon yesterday. So, Sunday morning in Red Barn we had 13 woodcock and 2 grouse in 2 braces. All the dogs had some good work (and some bad) on birds. Frankie had a majestic find on a grouse with Trip backing and Trip had a nice find on a woodcock early in her run with Frankie backing. Then Trip did a little backsliding as she rooted out a couple of woodcock and had to be corrected, but that’s what trainings about. She’s still a relatively inexperienced dog in the woods. I didn’t get her until she was a year and a half and the hunting season she was tow she came down with Lyme disease right at the beginning of October and missed much of the fall. Last summer she missed some of the training season as she was just coming off of the litter that LJ is from. She started coming on last fall and I can see her making progress all the time now.
LJ and Trash ran together and swapped birds as we wound our way through sections 1 and 2. These two fall derbies are really getting the hang of it. They know to dig in and find birds. Little Thuddy got a special privilege Sunday. We ran him by himself in the afternoon here at the kennel. He was the first dog to run here since April. We moved two grouse and saw a bunch of woodcock sign but he didn’t connect on a bird. He’s a competitive dog and gets a little wound up when he gets run with Jack. He was much more in control today.
When we ran LJ and Trash together again today in another cover they each had three finds. They had true divided finds on a woodcock and a grouse. Then Trash had another grouse and LJ had a woodcock. In another cover this morning Jack had 7 or 8 woodcock finds and a stop-to-flush on a pair of adult grouse. We had Abby along and led her in on most of his finds. She’s Dave Hawk’s sister to Frankie and Tony got her to work this spring. She’s still learning the woods and will hopefully figure it out as the summer progresses. The total birds moved this morning was somewhere around 15 woodcock and 4 grouse.
The thought that comes to mind as I watch all these dogs we’re working is that they all have the conformation to run hard with eye appeal and have enough nose to find some birds. There isn’t a dog that Tony and I are working that won’t be a good bird dog. But on the question as to whether or not they have the potential to compete in grouse trials the jury is still out. Besides the adult dogs Tony has four fall derbies and I have one. Out of the five there may be two or three that will go on to compete at the highest level if nothing goes wrong. The difference is between their ears.
To make it to the top of cover dog trials takes a lot more than good breeding and lots of work. It requires a dog with the mental toughness and smarts to understand what you want it to do and take whatever training pressure is required to get where you need to go. To give you a couple of examples, Wild Apple Jack and Stokely’s Ginger B spent countless hours braced together in training and both of them needed some pressure along the way to get them to not only do things right on birds but to handle an run the kind of races they needed to win. When either of those dogs was corrected they never sulked or laid down or tried some other avoidance behavior. Once they knew what was expected of them they stoically took any corrections they deserved and then took off in pursuit of the next bird. They also had the brains to figure out where they needed to go to find birds. They are both gifted athletically but I contend that it is their mental toughness and intelligence that made them both National Grouse champions (The Grand National for Jack and the National Amateur Grouse for Ginger).
If you are trying to develop a young dog with the hopes of being competitive in the woods, you need to be a harsh critic of your dog’s abilities. Especially when it comes to the mental aspects of the game. If they’re not mentally strong enough to take the pressure of training and you have to coddle them to get them to do what you want you need to think long and hard about the time and expense it takes to make a top cover dog competitor. A lot of times you’d be better of cutting your loses and selling or giving a prospect away to hunter and going out and get another puppy. In the 25 years that I’ve been running in cover dog trials, it seems like the level of competition continues to increase. There are more successful pros now in the cover dog game and the dogs they bring to the line are tougher to beat. It was never easy but the level of competition keeps going up. It costs a lot in time and money to develop and campaign any field trial dog and the costs are the same whether your dog has a chance of winning or not. If you are someone who can’t see parting with any dog once it’s slept in your house you’re putting up barriers to winning that may be insurmountable.