George Hickox School of Dog Training Articles
Put a pack of gundog owners together, and odds are that conversation will be wholly focused on training, hunting and bragging. Throughout my years of involvement in such talks at lodges, camps and our gundog training schools, people have asked me the gamut of dog questions. They've ranged from, "How do I get my beagle to point with style?" (to which my answer was, "I don't know") to "My dog is four years old. Is she too old to train?" Following are some of the more frequently posed queries and my thoughts on each.
The old adage "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear" certainly rings true when it comes to purchasing a dog. If the genes that determine drive for birds, pointing or retrieving instincts and canine athleticism are lost in the mix, the resulting dog may turn out to be an inferior hunter. Far too often, by the time the owner has realized that Fido will never make a great hunting partner, the dog has become a member of the family. Parting may not be sweet sorrow. In fact it may be impossible. Now what? Your better half votes an emphatic "No!" on a second dog, and the kids have fallen in love with the new addition. This is a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.
The polished waterfowling dog is a master of its trade. Whether waiting patiently with impeccable manners until the arrival of the next flock of greenheads or leaving a wake when zeroing-in on a downed cripple, a trained retriever sends a shiver of admiration through any hunter.
It is pure joy to watch a high-caliber duck and goose dog. A fully trained 'fowler is line-steady and alertly sits in the blind or boat until given instructions to propel itself into the water. After putting forth a Herculean effort chasing down a cripple, the steadfast retriever brings back the prize, sits by its handler's side and awaits the command to gently release the bird into its master's hand-all without damaging the bird in any way.
Field trials are like ice cream-there's a flavor that appeals to everyone's palate. Whether you want to prove you are a great trainer and your dog is the best, get together with other like-minded sporting-dog enthusiasts for some casual fun, or extend your hunting season, there is a field trial that will suit your tastes. I am an avid proponent of the many virtues of field trials. Field trials are the best means of testing dogs to a standard that will lead to improvements of a breed. By becoming a member of one of the sundry trialing communities, you will gain knowledge regarding training dogs to hunt with style and control. Members of the trialing fraternity share a love of dogs and a desire to train their dogs to be better field workers.
There are two fundamental requirements if a dog is to become a fine retriever: exceptional marking ability and an excellent nose. Although there is no substitute for genetics, both of these traits can be honed by experience. The more opportunity your flusher has to mark and retrieve fallen birds, the better it will be at performing these duties.
On my sixth birthday, I got my first puppy. I was hooked for life. Forty years and a lot of pups later I am an unrepentant dog addict. Without that first pup, I might have buckled down in school, become a respectable young man and today even had a bank account with some money in it. Instead have field-trialed and hunted gamebirds and waterfowl across North America. My wife says I'm the ultimate Peter Pan. I love it. And here I am again, thinking about my latest two pups, Tex and Scout. The matched bundles of English setter energy are temporarily bedded down, tuckered out after a social session of rowdy wrestling, racing through dandelions and growling attacks on my shoelaces. I have high expectations for these handsome brothers. Their genetics are top-shelf: a blend of US National Grouse and Pheasant Championship stock. And their personalities... well, let's just say I have a feeling we'll be best friends.
The decision has been made. The household executive board has met, and the motion has passed to allocate money to a priority capital investment; a new gun dog. However, before you rush out to spend your dollars for a new hunting partner, take time to consider the pros and cons of buying a puppy versus an older dog.
Based on the level of training and performance of a particular dog, I place it into one of four categories: puppy, introduced, started or finished. It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of dog before deciding which is right for you.
The two hunters were working their way through a CRP field, following a black Lab that was covering ground by running straight out and back again. Suddenly, a cackling rooster flushed to the side and behind them, setting its wings and sailing straight away into the wind. The pair spun around at the sound, but were so surprised that neither could get a shot off. Both knew the dog had a great nose; they'd seen him smoke birds from 20 yards on other hunts. But it wasn't until they'd stood for a minute with the breeze in their face that they realized their mistake: Improper patterning and ineffective use of the wind had been the culprits in this case.
I must admit to having many fond memories of days spent hunting over dogs unsteady to wing and shot. Yet, I cannot deny that I am a strong proponent of training dogs for steadiness. In presenting my case, I must assert that a dog cannot be considered truly finished unless it has mastered this ability.
The sandhill cranes are circling above and we've seen several flocks of snow geese glistening in the evening light. The cackles of cock pheasants are ringing throughout the countryside. It is late October in South Dakota - a perfect time for developing a bird dog.
Indy, a young vizsla, is doing her owner proud. Carol has brought her two vizslas to hunt pheasants with us and for some training on wild birds. In just two days, Indy, the younger of the two dogs, has begun holding point longer and chasing birds less. The sheer number of bird contacts have catapulted her up the ladder of becoming a first-rate hunting dog.