If you read Monday’s post you know that in one workout Frankie and Jack combined for 18 finds on grouse and woodcock in just a little over an hour. I assume many of you are envious that we have access to that quantity of wild birds, and might be led to believe that the abundance of wild birds is the reason that we have been able to develop some really top notch cover dog competitors. It’s definitely a big part of the equation but there’s another part that isn’t as glamorous or as exciting. We are now six weeks away from the first cover dog trial that we’ll run in in the fall and will start changing up our training strategy — especially for the older dogs.
We have a number of covers that don’t hold large numbers of birds and are open enough to let the dogs really run without fighting the dense cover that exists (especially this year) in most of out bird rich covers. We could condition the dogs by roading them but that does not make them handle. It is the covers we have that have something approximating a typical cover dog course that become more valuable as the summer progresses. What we want is the dogs to run 1:15 to 1:30 where they might have two or three finds — preferably on grouse. On these runs we make sure they stay to the front and stay in bell range most of the time. We also always run them with a bracemate to as closely as possible approximate an actual field trial brace.
If you just road your dogs into shape, don’t be surprised if they don’t handle when you get to a trial. And if you keep going to little bird corners and hack them around to get into birds don’t be surprised when they potter around in every little piece of cover that they come across on a course. You also can’t hunt the dog every day for a long stretch before a big trial. You’ll grind them down so they pace themselves and we all can get a little sloppy about dog manners when the long guns come out. Whether you’re hunting or training, you really need to have clear objectives in mind and be always working towards them. The need to have dogs that will run to the extremes of a cover dog course with no let up for an hour is one of the reasons that very few cover dog professionals stay in it for the long haul. More than one has had success and then gone on to other venues where the demands on the dogs are not as severe. The point here is that if you are in the cover dog game to win, it’s your job to bring the dog to the line readyto compete both physically and mentally.
I was reminded of this last year at the Invitational when I had Jack ready physically by skijoring him into shape and running him in the snow, but he was not ready mentally to be under control and a part of the team which has always been one of his strong suits. Something similar happened many years ago when I was getting him ready for the Puppy Classic which was held that year in Rhode Island. he was too strong and not listening after a winter of conditioning in the snow with little or no work on handling to a course. You never know how a dog is going to go on any given day, but you have to do your part to have them ready.