Just a Dog

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Just a Dog

by George Hickox

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.

By way of introduction, I am a full-time professional dog breeder, trainer and guide. I am a former field-trial junkie who kicked that habit for the chance to develop world-class shooting dogs and guide upland bird hunters. I am the owner of Grouse Wing Kennel, in Nova Scotia, where we raise, train and finish four breeds of gundogs-English (Llewellin) setters, English pointers, Labrador retrievers and English springer spaniels. With this arsenal, there is no gamebird I cannot hunt effectively. September through February finds me guiding sportsmen for upland birds and waterfowl in Canada and the US over their dogs and ours. Clearly I am a lucky man whose addiction allows him to live his fantasy.

Tex and Scout will join me in gallivanting around the continent doing what Mother Nature intended them to do: hunt, find and point gamebirds. I am anticipating the magic of their first grouse point, their first ringneck flush, their cement-like stature in the face of an exploding covey of quail, one dog backing the other. I see them clearly on the canvas of my imagination a brace of bragging-rights shooting dogs.

However, before the dream can become reality, I must make a commitment to train the pups properly. Assuming proper genetics have been passed on; it is my responsibility to mold Tex and Scout into finished dogs that hunt in control with blue-ribbon style.

Of course, I do have an advantage over many new puppy owners in that I have owned and trained gundogs for four decades and, as a professional, have had the opportunity to work with many clients' dogs through Grouse Wing Kennel's training and field-trial programs as well as hunting trips. When I was field-trialing, I competed using some very talented dogs. I have trained and campaigned a dozen Field Champions and produced the only Canadian back-to-back National High Point Dog. Both my Grouse Wing Swaps and Grouse Wing Britches placed in the Nationals and won the National High Point Championship. Riley, a client's dog, won the Canadian National High Point Puppy Trophy, competing in 15 trials and placing in 14, with seven wins, six seconds and a third, in the process compiling the most points ever by a puppy in one year.

I relate this information not to brag (well, not too much) but to lend credence to two fundamental rules that have been etched into my training approach. The first is that you should start with the best genetics available. This is the cornerstone. A well-bred dog with sound genes makes a trainer look good. Conversely, a poorly bred individual will inevitably make a trainer look bad. (Besides, it is immeasurably more fun to work with a good gundog than one that is hopelessly mediocre.) The second rule is to remember that a dog is just that: a dog. In order to develop one to its full potential, you must understand how a dog ticks. You must not project human emotions onto it emotions that don't exist in canines.
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