Grouse Trial Primer Part Six

The Rope
One way to control a young dog around birds is with the bellyband.  By putting an e-collar on the dogs flank during heel and whoa drills in the yard you can transition from the lead to the collar rather quickly.  Then, when the dog is in the woods it’s easy to push the button to get the dog to stop when it’s starting to crowd a bird, needs to stop to flush on a bumped bird, and later when you want to stop it from breaking after the shot.  The big problem with the bellyband is that you can easily make a young dog too cautious around birds which can lead to non-productives.  In the worse case scenario a dog might start blinking birds to avoid getting shocked.
If you don’t feel like you and/or your dog are ready for the bellyband, there is a simple alternative – a short piece of rope.  Before I get to that I have a couple of horror stories to relate.  The first has to do with attaching a light drag rope to a dog’s collar.  I know of at least one incident where a dog was running in the woods with a rope attached to its collar, the rope hung up and the dog’s neck was broken.  When Wild Apple Jack’s dam was a derby I had her wearing a harness and dragging about 40 feet of heavy polypro rope.  The rope was intended to slow her down so I could keep her close and get a hold of her when she pointed.  It had worked effectively a number of times.  However, on a Saturday I took her for a run in a new spot and all was going well until the bell just seemed to stop.  This was before reliable tracking devices that you could carry in the woods and by the time I realized she was not on point she was long gone.  We found her with the rope wrapped around a blowdown two days later.  So, that was the end of having a dog drag a long heavy rope in the woods even when it’s attached to a harness.  On another occasion, a friend was running a promising young dog and hitched a couple of lengths of logging chain to the harness.  That dog was able to drag them through the cover but the problem came when he went over a bank to get a drink of water and the water’s edge went straight down to a murky depth of 25 – 30 feet.  We weren’t sure where he went in and there was no way we could dive in to find him.
So, when I do run a rope, it’s always with a harness and I use a light piece of polypro that is stiff enough that it doesn’t whip around brush and saplings and short enough that it really doesn’t slow the dog down much.  This rope makes it a lot easier to get a hold of the dog when it’s on point.  If you’re working alone you can throw a quick hitch around the nearest tree or bush and the dog is brought up short if it tries to follow you in on the flush or tries to break when the bird goes.  I usually don’t say much if anything in these situations – I let the rope do it’s work just like I did with the piggin’ string.  Another strategy I use once the dog is staunch is to carry a six-foot rope lead and snap it on the dog’s collar and anchor it to something before I flush.  It’s a pretty stubborn dog that doesn’t quickly learn that there is no point (pun intended) trying to creep in or chase at the flush when it’s tied to something solid.  After a few times with this you can start setting the dog back just enough to take the pressure off the rope.  When the dog starts standing on its own without being brought up short by the rope you can stop tying it up every time and have the rope handy as a flushing whip if (when) the dog does break again.
Let the Training Begin
The endless hours of yardwork are behind us and as July 1strapidly approaches we spent one final day mowing and weed whacking in Red Barn Friday.  In the course of working we flushed one woodcock from the side of the trail as we passed through section two.  Tony flushed a good size brood of grouse while working in section three.  Next week we’ll start running dogs on a regular schedule.

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