When I got Tommy, an August pup, he was five months old. He had no chance to hunt with me when he was a puppy. At ten months old, I sent him to Summer Camp in North Dakota with Randy Anderson of Cross Country Kennels. He was run from horseback on sharptails and pheasants several times a week. When I picked him up from Randy at the end of September, Tommy was an unbroke, big-running bird monster. Randy grinned and asked me, “Are you gonna hunt this dog?” Yep.
Heading from North Dakota to Montana, I hunted Tommy in the big open for several weeks. What he showed me was thrilling and a bit scary. I put the Astro on him, and set him down on some big ground where Pete and I have often found good sharptail hunting. Tommy went left and forward burning up the ground and stuck a covey of birds at about 800 yards, then busted them and rolled forward again. At 1000 yards the Astro began to read in miles. At over three quarters of a mile, Tommy went right, crossing the front, and went up a low parallel ridge, responded to the whistle and took the ridge back towards us and came to me. Being accustomed to shooting dog range, I was a bit dazzled by this run and I felt I would need to get a better handle on him if it was going to hunt him.
November of that year I ran Tommy in a horseback derby event and he impressed a number of people and was awarded a placement - his first time out. We decided to get him ready to run in the Pacific Coast Derby Championship. But he was not ready for the training regimen and I had to take him home from the trainer. He still loved birds, but he did not want anything to do with that training thing. He would just shut down, obviously not wanting to work. Worse yet, be would sometimes blink a bird during training.
I kept Tommy with me for a month, then took him to Mike McGinnis in Baker City, Oregon and explained the problem. We flew some wing clipped pigeons and let him chase and retrieve them. Mike said he’d work with Tommy and report back. His report - “Something happened with this dog”. What, we do not know. Mike and Nicky worked with Tommy for about five months, gaining his trust and coaxing him with johnny house chukars that were shot for him - just what Mike and I thought he needed. Mike did not not attempt to break him steady to wing and shot, but he was finding and holding birds well.
In the Fall I took him to Montana and Saskatchewan with me and hunted him. He loved the birds, handled much better, and still ran well, but was still not broke. We came home from the Fall trip and I pondered my options. Make him into a hunting dog only and forget trials? Given all that he had shown me, and his love for birds, I decided to try one more time, so he was sent to Maurice Lindley, who employs the “West System” - low pressure training that seemed to be suited to Tommy’s needs.
Got a report yesterday from Maurice... “Mike I am able to move forward with Tommy.. What I did and I am still doing is kill some birds for him while I am checkcording him. Doing this changed his attitude about work in general and made this work positive to him, he wants to work and be out there with me. Now that his attitude is good I am working on getting him broke on game like I want. Normally I will not kill birds until the dog is steady to wing and shot but with Tommy I go ahead and have my helper kill him a bird every so often, this is keeping his attitude up enough so he is taking training pressure. I am easy on the dogs but training a dog to be steady is totally not natural to dogs. The pressure I use is from my pinch collar at 1st, no jerking. He has not tried to blink a bird in awhile. Now I want to see if I can start overlaying the e-collar, this will be a real test for Tommy... I will let you know pretty fast what I find out. He has been wearing the collar but I have not even tried to use it...”
This dog is quite intelligent, which can be either a joy or a challenge in training. It seems that, with the right approach, we may have turned the corner. I have my fingers crossed.