A Nice Season With the Young Dog

Gaia is now two and a half and did well in her hunting season this year. We started off with the grouse counting, which is fairly relaxed as there is no demand for anything other than hunt, point and flush. No tricky markings of fallen birds and running ones to catch. If they “bump” a covey of birds, we can still count how many there were, so it’s good training for getting a good hunting pattern etc.

Below is a picture that a friend took just at the moment when Gollum flushed a nice covey and Gaia is just looking on, it’s not her turn.

16 Jan 15 1 copy16 Jan 15 2 copyShe came on really well after 12th August. I used all three dogs in a mixture of my own days and working them for clients. I learned that having just one or two dogs out at a time is best. Running three and carrying a gun ends in chaos because they know they can get away with more naughty behavior. Below is a day at Ralia with Adam and my self. Gaia is on point, holding the birds’ scent in her nose, waiting for us to get to her before she flushes on command.

16 Jan 15 3 copyIn total, I worked the pointers 19 days on grouse and there are lots of great little experiences happening. Below is a faun. I saw Gollum on point, but when you get to know your dog and the birds and the terrain, you get to have a suspicion when something is odd. I knew his point was maybe not on feather, so instead of asking him to get in and flush, I peaked in (with my camera at the ready). Sure enough, he had found a roe faun and I got to take the snap.

16 Jan 15 4 copyThe dogs obviously form a huge bond with the handler through the training and long days on the hill, but the guests also become very fond of them. After a good day, where a guest has been provided with good sport by a dog, most people feel a special affinity with that dog.

16 Jan 15 5 copyYou always know when Gaia definitely has a bird in front of her: her ears are inside out. She bounces along as she moves in at the end and it makes her ears turn out.

16 Jan 15 6 copy16 Jan 7 copyThe excitement increases as the guns see the dog on point and get them selves organised round the point.

16 Jan 9 copyJonny, trusting Gaia (ears inside out, lol) moving in ready to take a shot.

16 Jan 8 copyWe had a great day at Kildemorie and Jonny enjoys a moment of contemplation with his new friend, Gollum.

16 Jan 15 10 copyBut nobody loves them more than the handler (and Mummy).

After the grouse, the other birds become interesting. Just from a pointing view, snipe and woodcock are particularly great. Wild birds to be found in beautiful areas. Below is Gaia on point and I managed to see the bird: a wee Jack Snipe that I took a photo of with my phone.

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16 Jan 15 12 copyIn the winter Gaia ripped her ear really badly and had to get 10 staplers in. A lampshade was duly fitted, but it did not prevent Gollum from attending the wound and licking it inside the shade.

16 Jan 15 14 copyAlso, it did not prevent her from hunting, either with a sock over her head or simply Gaffa tape to keep the ear still and not bleeding.

16 Jan 15 15 copy16 Jan 15 17 copyThis morning I went out with her to shoot what we are going to eat tonight. An old cock pheasant, which will be fine once it’s slow cooked for a while. It’s good to get rid of the old cocks to let the younger ones breed with the hens.

He sat under a bush and I would never have found him without a pointer.

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Goodbye Alice

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to add this chapter to the ‘Working Pointer Blog’. On Wednesday night we had to let Alice go to Doggie Heaven. Over the last two weeks she had started to have seizures, which yesterday became a horrendously distressing, three hour long affair only stopped by using sedating drugs. This was probably caused by something going on behind her right eye (visible, but not treatable) which we can only guess was a growth of some kind. At 12 years old, this was only going to get worse and nasty for Alice.

What a great dog. Never demanded anything, always trying to please and carry out her tasks to the best of her ability. She overcame gun-nervousness early on and became the most reliable little hunting dog. I shot three brace of grouse over her only last August at the age of 12. At her peak she kept surprising everyone with her bravery and I remember her marking a bird down across a river in spate on the grouse moor. I knew she had it in her sight so I asked her to go. She crossed the river, retrieved and as she returned back through the river, she got swept under by violent current of the peaty brown water, just to reappear further down stream, still with the bird undamaged in her mouth. The ‘keepers faces were the most entertaining sight as they had never imagined that this little dainty dog could do what she just did.

She had two litters and in true Alice style she did motherhood to perfection with impeccable attention to detail.

She came on the moor for a walk when we counted grouse only two weeks ago. I took her so she could have one more day out. She loved it, just walking with me, watching the other dogs and the birds. After lunch, she chose to stay in the back of the open pickup and I just left her there, sunbathing on her Tuffie with the smell of the mountains wafting past her. I am sure she enjoyed that. She knew where she was and she knew we would be back.

We buried her deep down in her favourite Nest in the garden Thursday morning. I can’t bear to write anything else.

Thank you Alice

RIP Alice, you were FABULOUS!!!

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Gaia’s Sporting Season

The last blog I wrote described Gaia’s first encounter with grouse hunting where she managed to have some birds shot over her towards the end of the grouse season. Since then the season carried on and she gained some more experience with other quarries, but I am of the opinion that it is better to hold back too much excitement, especially with an energetic dog like Gaia. I know that I allowed Tippex to be part of too much excitement when she was young and I don’t think it was good for her calmness in pointing situations. So Gaia has not been doing a massive amount during this winter, but just enough to get some practice and I have given her ample exposure to other dogs for the socialising purposes. In the beginning of the season, I separated the hunt-point and retrieve and only let her hunt, point and flush. All alog I let someone else do the retrieve, but in other circumstances I have allowed Gaia to have a few retrieves when it was not off her own point. There is plenty of time and she is still only 18 months. Once you have over excited a dog, it’s practically impossible to turn back that time. The end result should hopefully be a steady dog that is also calmer in the picking up situation and therefore less likely to damage the birds that will ultimately end up via the kitchen on the table. At the very end of this winter I did let her have the full experience, but mainly as a nice little outing with just me. We went out in the afternoon, I let her hunt and point and I took down a big old cock pheasant. I let her sit for long enough to calm down before she was allowed to go out and retrieve it. End of story, no more and we went home. Just nice. Mr Pheasant went in the pot as they all do.

So the most important thing in the winter 2013-2014 has been to practice and practice the hunting, pointing and flushing. The retrieving will come easily later. It’s the careful finding of birds, carefully pointing and most importantly of all, being in touch with me, the handler. As you hunt the dog into the wind I think it is nice to see “the glance” as they pass. On the photos below Gaia is hunting snipe and as she passes me, she glances very briefly and we make eye contact. For me, this is very important and it’s why you should never take your eyes of your dog because it needs to know that we are still hunting together.

If you run a HPR in a field trial, you are not put out if the dog misses a snipe, but if your dog points a snipe, you impress the judges. This must be because snipe is not that easy. They are jolly small as well. I am privileged to have access to a fantastic little piece of ground which is normally stuffed with snipe in the winter. There is no shooting there, but I can go and practice snipe pointing. Gaia seems to have ticked the box finding snipe and that is a nice skill to have to move on with. Here she is on a “sudden” point and later on with a nice, calm point:

I also got her out on the beating line on shoots where there were only few birds and here I got the chance to take the photo of her and the bird although it is in two frames:

Natural on the wind
The wirehaired Pointers I have had and seen are all very inclined to hunt across the wind by instinct. Of course most of them tend to go forward a bit too much if there is scent ahead and they can therefore miss birds because they just go forward rather than thoroughly out to the sides. But without specific temptations ahead, it’s mostly a good zig-zag-zig-zag pattern across the wind.

The back wind is more of a problem as the IDEAL is that the dog should run out, away from you about 150meters, straight down the wind and then start to quarter back towards you zig-zagging into the wind. If the dog then goes on point, you will be face to face with the dog and the bird will be sitting on the ground in between you.

I do find it difficult to “let go” and allow the dog to go downwind hoping that it will quarter back towards you, but if you can hold your nerve, it’s the correct way to work the back wind. Here is a little series of pictures that I was very pleased to take as Gaia shows how she can work the back wind. So as you see the pictures, I am standing still with the wind blowing on my back. Gaia has run out 150 meters and is now quartering back to me taking one bite of the ground at a time.

So far, so good. The next few months will be less and less hunting as the birds start to nest (although we will be running on the moor for grouse some time yet and hopefully get a spring pointing test in some time). I will work her with dummies and teach her directions for finding dummies that she hasn’t seen fall (blinds).

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Grouse 2013

So, at last the season came round to grouse. Obviously the 12th of August and the days that follow are the best, but they also come with the pressure of the dogs performing in their job of finding, pointing and retrieving birds, so they are a bit serious. The brood counts, or July counts, are a lot more relaxed and they are a welcome opportunity to get the dogs trained and in shape for the hard hill running.
Young Gaia came along to the counting, but I didn’t let her run too much as she was only 11 months. It is too young to allow her body to take too much, but I did give her little runs here and there and I made an effort to allow her up behind one of the others while they were on point so she could get the idea.

When I sent her out hunting, she didn’t really know what she was looking for in the beginning, so she seemed a bit lost.

The first time she had a point she was just out of sight for a little while and I went to look. She was just behind a little bump in the terrain and she was NAILED to the floor. The pointing instinct had taken over, but I don’t think she really knew what she was standing there for. I was pleased to have carried my camera all the way as I got this snap.

Ah, the innocence of youth. In the picture below a bird flushes out of the heather and I got a chance to take the photo. Look how Gaia just looks at the camera while the experienced Tippex is staring at the bird. The photo below that shows that she suddenly paid the quarry some attention.

By the way, as I had the fortune of being invited to shoot on 12th of August, I thought I had better put some practice in with the clays. On a little piece of ground outside the premises, I fired some clays and shot at them. It didn’t take long before Tippex defied the garden fence and turned up, sitting beside me as a peg dog marking all the (unfortunately un-shot) clays falling. Desperate for a retrieve, I allowed her to fetch:

As we started the hunting, I left Gaia at home because I am simply a mollycoddler. I was aware that I had not trained her to shots so I didn’t take her out to the shoots just yet. Then I came home to ALL the wall insulation from the kennels spread around the garden and I knew I had one very bored dog.

So I took her along on the next shoot, which was a bit of a disaster. Firstly, from the minute we started to walk, she whined in impatience. Then, as the first shot was fired, she cowered. Well, I have had a nervous dog before and Gaia is a wirehaired, so I was not mollycoddling any more, I just dragged her with me. This went on for about three shoots and every now and then I would spot her feeling a little bit more relaxed, so I would just take the lead off her and allow her to run, which she then suddenly was happy with.

Gaia must have been out with me on shoots about five days when we were working on a patch with heaps of birds and I asked the guns if they would allow me to run my young dog for a little more. Well, she ran, pointed and had a bird shot over her. On that shoot, she had four birds shot for her and she was just sitting there in amazement. There is no more cowering and no more whining. She is just a happy little dog.

Although she is not allowed to pick her own birds up, I let her fetch warm birds that I throw for her and she is perfectly careful and respectful to the birds, delivering them to hand. Wow, I can’t wait till she can work for real.

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Time to get the young dog on the moor.

So Gaia is ready to get going on the moor. We went out to have a little, tentative trial run a couple of days ago. It is quite hot, but we started at 8am and just had a couple of hours, so the dogs didn’t get overly hot. We obviously carry water and stop regularly to let them take what they need.

It takes a lot of fitness to run in the taller heather and with such a young dog, a couple of hours, running only 10 minutes at a time (alternating with Tippex), is as much as I will allow.

Finding game was not my highest priority as I was simply looking to get her to run in a nice pattern into the wind and remain in control. I kind of wished to come across a hare or a deer to test my control of her sit command, but we didn’t see any. All I needed was a good run to see if she would turn nicely into the wind and instinctively run across the wind. This was all good and it’s nice to see the potential of a young dog.

She came across two opportunities to point: a pair of grouse and later two young birds, but she ran smack into them and then sat on the whistle. It’s a start. I then went over to her and put her back where I would have liked her to have stopped and praised her there.

I like the idea of using an older dog to give the young one some ideas and when Tippex went on point, I put Gaia up behind her to see if she could catch some of the scent that had stopped Tippex. Some dogs “back” other dogs automatically, but not Gaia. Once she is up there, she needs a lot of “steeeady!” command to get her stand still and not just pile in and snatch the point. In the first picture she has moved too far forward and in the second she is in a better place. Check out the concentration in Tippex’s eyes!!

The day was Gaia’s first introduction and it was also important to let her learn the cooling down methods from Tippex. This dry weather had reduced the number of waterholes, but they made the most of what was there.

On the way back to the car, we had the odd little retrieve, but the enthusiasm was dwindling as she was getting rather tired.

Next week we will be counting a few more places and I am glad to say that my fitness training of Tippex, who is now 8years old, has paid off. She has stamina and looks great.

More to follow now that the season is nearly upon us.

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The Controlled Retrieve

After some upset on Facebook over this I thought it best for a clearer and correct understanding of the writing below to call this it’s UK title, the controled retrieve.
No!!!! Not all Wirehaired pointers have hard mouths!!! However, when breeding the German Wirehaired Pointer, a very strong hunting instinct is favoured. This is because we want a dog that will keep on going with enthusiasm and drive all day. To see a dog loving the work all day is a true delight. Now, with that territory inevitably comes a somewhat keen attitude to the game. Let’s say there can be a touch of ownership attitude in the sense that the dog hunts for himself and sees the game as his. Training a dog like that is a great challenge because you have to make him understand that the game belongs to you and only by co-operating with the handler will he be invited back. So the dog has to find the birds, be steady on point, flush the birds on command and indeed curtail his instinct to go and fetch straight away. He has to go out, on command, and carefully pick up his master’s game in order to bring it back in perfect condition for the kitchen. All of this goes against the dog’s nature. However, if we don’t achieve this mind-set in the dog, we lose control and the day ends in tears. With plenty of experience the hunting dog learns that co-operation with the guns means more fun and more game to retrieve.

In this blog I am addressing the retrieve part of the work. When a dog loves the hunt so much there is a danger that he, in his excitement, damages the bird when he picks it up. This is no good when the idea is to use the game for human consumption.
Let’s firstly agree that birds shot sustainably in the wild, heading for the kitchen, is better than mass-farmed chickens, scoped up with machinery! Happy meat as we call it.

The controlled retrieve simply consists of two parts: firstly teaching the dog to hold an object (dummy or game) tenderly in its mouth and secondly to pick the object up even when it doesn’t feel like it. The “controlling” just happens when the dog refuses to pick up and you make it clear that retrieving is NOT optional.

First the dog has to learn to HOLD the training dummy (here a soft toy). I have her on the lead and place the dummy in her mouth. In the beginning she simply spits it out, but she soon learns to have it there. Every time she spits it out, I put it back in with the command “HOLD”.

The lead helps to make her understand that I am in charge and that she needs to hold the dummy. A firm tuck at the lead focuses her mind.

Once she understands not to spit it out, I make a point of stroking her and praising her, but she must still understand that I am in charge. I also make sure that she still holds the dummy even when my hand is under her mouth. This is a vital part of the training because if I detect ANY biting on the dummy, I respond with a “A-A-NO!” She understands that this is MY property and she cannot chew on it. She has a submissive ear-position. This soft toy is great as it is stuffed with some noisy filling, which makes a sound if she bites. It makes it easier for me to know when she squeezes and to stop her.

She now needs to learn to let go and deliver on command, so on the word “DROP” I ease the dummy out of her mouth. She is very happy to let go of it.

The next step is to make her HOLD the dummy and carry it. Here I am leading her while I emphasise the command “HOLD”.

And then I sit her down before the command “DROP”.

Now I need her to carry the dummy carefully to me. I have established the very important impression on her through the “HOLD” command. She knows that the object has to be held very, very tenderly. As I sit her down at a distance, I back away whilst facing her and repeating the HOLD command. Then I call her, but I keep reminding her of the HOLD. She understands that this dummy is mine, not hers and from the pictures below you can see her agreeable walk towards me.

Now to the next stage: Actually taking the dummy on command, which is the step before picking it up at a distance.
I mix the dummies all the time and here I am using a soft Kong type dummy. This exercise can be really tricky and let me warn you: it can seem like nothing is happening for days or even weeks when the dog doesn’t want to “FETCH” the dummy from your hand, but trust me, the penny will drop eventually. Holding the dummy in front of her mouth I say “FETCH”, open her mouth and put the dummy in, then say HOLD. Suddenly one day she opens her mouth and actively takes the dummy for which she get a HUGE amount of praise. Repeating this exercise will end up with the dog understanding what you mean. Titbits are fine to make the praise better. In the pictures below the dog has learnt to take the dummy on the “FETCH” command, but if she at any time refuses to do this then it is a matter of giving a tuck on the lead. The whole point of this is to make her fetch that dummy because she knows her master wants it, not because she just wants to do it for her self. Most Labradors have been bred to have a soft mouth and an insatiable appetite for retrieving and you will rarely have this problem.

Once she has understood the fetch command and takes it from my hand, I put it on the ground in front of me and make her fetch it from there, which is done in little bits at a time: I hold the dummy near the ground, dog on the lead, and say the command FETCH. She reaches out and takes it very carefully. The moment she reaches it, I also say HOLD. This is all to prepare for the fetch in the field, where she is away from me and needs to pick up the bird under my command.

The pictures below show her taking the dummy, holding it whilst being praised and letting go on command. The lead is off, only a collar to keep her in check in case she decides not to do as she is told.

The yellow dummies I am using here are fabulous. They are Squeaky AirKongs. No, we don’t sell them, maybe we should: they are big and bouncy, but they squeak at the slightest squeeze. That way you know exactly what is going on if the dog is hard on it at any time. I have stuck feathers on one of them for effect.

I leave the dummy about 15 meters away and send her to pick it up. As you can see, she bounces towards it, which is usually a sure sign that she is going to “kill” it when she gets there. So JUST as she arrives at the dummy I say HOLD!!! And as you can see in the picture, she picks it up carefully and returns to me in a slower pace with her tail a bit down and her ears in submissive position. Delivery is nice and an enormous fuss is made.

If you can extend this dicipline to the field when everything is super exciting, you will get a long way towards a dog with a soft mouth.

It takes patience, but again, if we are going to defend field sport, we should always take care that the quarry is treated with respect and that it is used in the kitchen. Careful picking up by dogs is the first stage of this.

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Dog beds and trophy at Crufts

Crufts this year was again fantastic!! When we set up stall in hall 5 at Crufts every year, we enter four days of the amazing world of dog people and Tuffie fans. Lots and lots of known faces come to us at our stand to see how we are doing. Lots of people bring friends, whom they think ought to get them selves a Tuffie. Many people simply make it the yearly event to top up the Tuffie collection at Crufts. Customers come along to see if we are doing anything new they might like and of course there is an army of new customers who have had Tuffies recommended by friends and who would like to make their first purchase taking advantage of the fact that there is no delivery charge if they can take the dog beds home on the day.

We also have nice (and weird and wonderful) visitors such as the Bulldog below. As a representative of the Bulldog rescue charity, he was proudly attending Crufts and decided to check out a Tuffie nest. In fact, he was so reluctant to leave the nest that his owner gave in at the end and took that bed home. What a face he has and I got a chance to look inside his mouth, which took me back somewhat. Half his tongue was sticking out under the upper jaw. I’ve never seen anything like it.

On the Gundog Day we are particularly excited as the Tuffie Trophy is awarded to the best WORKING HPR bitch shown in the BASC ring. As I am always too busy to get away from the stand, I only see the final result just as it is my turn to run over and present the trophy to the winner. Off I run and leave the dog beds alone to congratulate the winner, who this year turned out to be Ms Dempster with Hungarian Vizsla Moricroft Moonshine Miatt Madilor. We have had the trophy made as a shield about six years ago, by Julian Schmechel, who makes fine furniture here in Scotland.

Oh, and a small child also came along to test one of our dog beds: THE GIANT NEST:

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Tippex, the nurse, on Gollum’s dog bed

Just thought I would share this little moment: When working Gollum (and Tippex) in the deep snow at the end of January, I noticed a bit of blood spillage in the snow. I inspected Gollum and found a wound on his chest right between the two front legs. He wasn’t bothered, so we just carried on.

The position of the wound meant that Gollum couldn’t clean it himself, so it crusted up and looked a bit dirty that night. So when all the dogs were inside in the evening, Tippex spotted the troubled area and decided to help. This was gratefully appreciated by Gollum, who staid still while the long cleaning process took place.

Another interesting photo (I think) is one I took on the day. I have made an explanation on the picture below.

Finally, here is Tippex on what is not one of her great dog beds, but in certain situations, one must improvise….

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The Trudvang Victory

After all that work, it paid off. …Gollum (Trudvang Faurbauste) got the first prize at an All Age HPR field trial stake yesterday. This was also a fantastic victory for Chris Gray, who bred Gollum as his own dog, Trudvang Balder, got second prize. There were no third and fourth prizes, but two certificates of Merit awarded.

There is no doubt that you need a little bit of luck on the day and yesterday everything went just right for Gollum and me. There were 12 dogs running and he got two runs that he solved perfectly. I was lucky that we found birds very quickly on both runs, so it was short and sweet. Well, it is good to get birds quickly, but it can also work against you as the danger can be that the dog is slightly headless when you first cast it off and therefore bumps the birds and fail to point them, but Gollum seemed to keep his head cool.

After my two runs without faults, I was asked to send him for a third bird that needed to be picked up quickly. Once that was done, Gollum qualified for the water retrieve, which was tricky as the dogs have to swim across a river “blind” and, once they are across, take directions from the handler in order to find a pheasant on the other side. In this case the banks were steep and all four dogs that had qualified for the water test struggled to get up on the other side. Gollum has developed a habit of picking up his bird and then start running to find the bridge…… I struggled a bit with getting him to return back, but he did it in the end (getting himself awkwardly through the rapids).

Such a nice feeling when you have worked hard to get the dog trained.

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Gaia’s first training drills

After Gaia came home with us from Denmark, it got rather hectic as Christmas came along and the dog bed manufacturing was all-consuming right up to the last day. So Gaia was left to just get used to our house and the other dogs and live at Tuffies in general. Christmas involved family and friends around and everyone seemed to get a good dose of the flu, so we didn’t get much constructive training done.

So this has to be sorted now and Gaia comes out most days for basic obedience training, even just for 20 minutes at a time. She is of course also being trained in general house manners. Basically to behave almost as one would like an adult dog to behave. Here are some photos of today’s training as the weather was nice and clear.

The all-important stop-whistle is being implemented and the sit and stay is being built in too. Here she has been stopped at heel and I have told her to stay and walked away about 25 meters.

And sit-stay on the other side of the stream, which seems more disconcerting for her. It took me a few attempts to make it over the stream without her following.

I have also decided to get her to go flat down on command and stay there. This is going to be built in on a separate whistle and the reason for this trick is that if the dog hits the deck on a special whistle with its head between its paws, it can’t see the hare that you don’t want it to chase….

Here I have put her down on the ground and walked away. Later she should go down in that position by a whistle-blow from a distance.

It’s good to get on with the water asap, but right now it really is very cold for swimming and I don’t want to put her totally off. So I have just kept it to paddling and this is looking a bit cold in itself.

After a bit of all this boring discipline, it was time for some “hunting” and Gaia certainly loves the running and searching. She has a nice pattern across the wind and is looking out for me all the time, which makes it easier to guide her direction with my body movements.

The retrieving is proving to be challenging as she doesn’t seem to have any interest. I confine this to play indoors for now and with a little piece of cheese, she can be persuaded to give up the dummy (if she has bothered to pick it up) if I sit on her dog bed and pretend to be a vending machine: put dummy in mum’s hand, claim cheese bit. Whatever it takes….

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