Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Selling a 'reject' trial dog

I recently received this contribution from Dr. Charles Hjerpe. Charlie has vast experience raising and training trial dogs, and wrote this as a 'owner's manual' for those people who buy dogs that don't quite cut it as trial prospects. 

I should point out that these are not inferior dogs and will often make a real brag dog for the hunter. They simply have some  (real or perceived) shortcoming that would hamper their success in field trials.


To: Yaller’s New Owner
From: Dr. Charles A. Hjerpe

I am going to discuss the positives and negatives of your new bird dog, and make some suggestions on how to work with him to maximize your enjoyment of him and to avoid future problems. This letter is like the Owner’s Manual that you get when you buy a new pickup truck.

A. His Positive Attributes:

Yaller is a well bred, male, English pointer and is registered with the Field Dog Stud Book (FDSB) maintained by the offices of The American Field Publishing Company, 542 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60605 (312) 663-9797

He is a big, strong, handsome dog that wants to please you.

He has a great nose, and is an excellent bird finder.

He hunts at medium range, and is easy to handle.

He has been yard trained to obey the commands “heel”, “whoa”, and “come here”.

He is trained to move out to the front using short blasts on the whistle, and to turn right or left or to come back to me with the verbal command “How! How! How!” which is repeated until he responds appropriately. If he doesn’t respond, I then change to “Why-you!” “Why-you!” with the accent on the 1st syllable, and “knick” him with the electronic collar until he does. If I want him to come all the way in to me, I begin using the “here” command when he is getting close.

He is steady to wing and shot, and will back another pointing dog on command (the latter means that he may not always back another dog that is on point when he first sees him/her, unless you command him to “whoa”).

He has had a total of 12 weeks of summer horseback training on wild birds in Canada (sharp-tailed grouse), and a total of 8 weeks of winter horseback training on wild birds in Arizona (Gambel’s quail) during 2009 and 2010.

Yaller has one field trial placement, which was a 2nd place in the Mortlach Field Trial Club’s Open Derby Stake. This trial took place on September 14, 2009, in Mortlach, Saskatchewan, Canada. A total of 17 dogs competed in this stake.

B. His Negative Attributes and Deficiencies:

Yaller is afraid of other big male dogs that he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t understand how to behave submissively to avoid conflict. Instead, he will bristle up, growl, make eye contact with, and stare at them. This may cause a dominant alpha male dog to attack him. He will not attack the other dog, and if he is attacked himself, he doesn’t know how to fight and will not fight back. This has never happened while he was actually hunting, only just before or just after hunting. If there will be other hunters and dogs present where you are hunting, I recommend avoiding them while hunting, and taking Yaller out to the field and back to your vehicle while on a leash.

Yaller has never been in my house and is not housebroken.

During his entire life, Yaller has always been encouraged to hunt as far out from me as he is comfortable doing, because he was being groomed as a field trial prospect. You may find that his range is excessive for your preferences, especially if you are hunting on commercial hunting clubs where there are lots of other hunters and dogs. If so, you are going to have to reprogram Yaller to hunt at shorter ranges. You can have this done by a professional dog trainer, or may choose to do it yourself. If you do it yourself, you will definitely want to obtain an electronic training device and learn how to use it. What you will need to do is to keep calling him back to you, whenever he gets outside of the perimeter within which you want him to hunt.

Yaller is field trial broke. This means that, when he smells a bird, he points it and allows you to flush it and fire a blank pistol, all the while remaining in a rigid pointing attitude. However, Yaller has never been shot over with a shotgun, only with a blank pistol, and has never had any birds killed for him. Because the sound of a shotgun is much louder than that of a blank pistol, some precautions should be taken when you do begin to kill birds for him (see C.3. below).

Yaller has never been trained to retrieve anything, and since he has never had a bird killed for him, we don’t know whether he might be a natural retriever, or whether he will need to be force broken to retrieve (assuming you will be requiring him to retrieve). I have force broken several of my own dogs to retrieve, and it is a long, tedious process that would require working with him for 15 to 20 minutes each day for at least 3 months (see C.3.d. for further details). This is one of the reasons why Yaller is priced so reasonably.

Yaller has had a lot of experience pointing bobwhite quail and sharp-tailed grouse. He has never seen or pointed a pheasant or chukar partridge. The first time he sees a pheasant flush, he will probably want to chase it. With some (if not many) individual bird dogs, training on one species of game bird does not carry over to other species of game birds. They have to be taught to be steady on each species of game bird they are likely to encounter. However, once a dog is steady on one species, it usually takes only a few lessons for them to learn that they must also be steady on a second species. (continued... click to read more)

Yaller is being sold because, in all likelihood, he will not be a winning field trial dog. His main deficiencies in this respect are (a) his fear of other male dogs, (b) he doesn’t range out quite far enough when hunting, (c) he doesn’t run quite fast enough and hunt with quite enough urgency, and (d) he has a tendency to“flag” on point (he wags his tail when pointing). Yaller will almost certainly stop flagging when you start killing birds for him. I could correct this myself by killing birds. The problem would be when he found out that the birds he pointed in field trials are never killed. He would then probably revert back to flagging.

Yaller was 2 years old on July 7. He is still a young dog and still has a lot to learn. He will not be the best that he can be, physically or mentally, until 3 years from now. A bird dog is not like a machine that comes out of the factory working at 100% efficiency and always performing that way, until worn out. The training of a bird dog is a job that is never quite finished, as dogs are not people, and they can and will “screw up” from time to time. Yaller has had quite a lot of training and experience, but he will continue to test you, from time to time, for the rest of his life. He will flush a bird from time to time. He will chase a bird from time to time. He will ignore your commands from time to time. This is what a bird dog is and does! Yaller will require constant discipline and training for the rest of his life. If you ignore a mistake he makes (like chasing a bird) I will guarantee that he will keep on making that same mistake, over and over again. You can MAKE a bird dog heel, or stop, or come to you, or quit flushing and chasing birds, but no one can MAKE a bird dog hunt. They hunt only because THEY want to. If you get too tough on them and too demanding of perfection, you may find that hunting is no longer any fun for them, and when it is no longer fun, they will no longer be very good at it. So, the owner of a bird dog must be like the coach of a little kids’ athletic team: observant, firm, and constantly striving for perfection in his/her pupils, but also kind, sympathetic, flexible and encouraging. If you have not previously owned a pointing breed bird dog, I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the book “The Brittany: Amateurs Training with Professionals”.  It is available from Glade Run Press, P.O. Box 160, Valencia, PA 16059, for $29.00. Many older books that are available on this subject do not discuss some of the more modern training concepts, and do not adequately cover the use of the most modern electronic training aids.

C. Some things to do, and some things not to do:

Don’t take Yaller hunting with you for the first week or two after bringing him home with you. Wait until after he gets to know you and he likes you. During this time, work with him for 10 to 15 minutes each day in the backyard on the “heel”, “whoa” and “come here” commands, using a check cord and spike collar, if necessary. Insist on prompt obedience, and praise and pet him each time he obeys a command. Try to make him your “buddy”.

Always put an electronic dog-training collar on him each time you run him or hunt him, and always insist that he obey all of your commands promptly. Start with the lowest possible voltage setting (test it on yourself, first) and work up from there, as required to obtain compliance with your commands.

Yaller is not gun-shy, now. Dogs are never born gun-shy. They are made gun-shy by people who don’t know what they are doing. We do not know how Yaller will react to his first exposure to close by shotgun fire. If mistakes are made in introducing Yaller to the shotgun, he could BECOME gun-shy. The following are some things you should do to prevent Yaller from becoming gun-shy:

The first few times you go hunting with Yaller, stay away from other hunters. The worst thing that could happen would be for 3 or 4 near-by hunters to shoot 2 or 3 blasts each at a bird that Yaller didn’t even see. 

The first 5 or 6 times that you shoot at a bird while hunting with Yaller, (1) be certain, before you shoot, that Yaller sees the bird, (2) try as hard as you can to kill the bird, and (3) don’t fire more than one shot at the bird (even if you miss with the first shot). You may want to take ONE friend hunting with you, and let him/her do the shooting. That way, all of your attention can be focused on Yaller. After you have killed 5 or 6 birds for Yaller in this way, the possibility that he might become gun-shy will have been greatly diminished.

If Yaller appears to become upset or disturbed by gunfire while hunting, immediately stop hunting, take him back to your car or truck, put him in his box, and take him home. Then, either read up on this subject or consult with a professional dog trainer, in order to determine what should be the next step. There are a wide variety of options, and nearly all gun shyness can be corrected, if it is promptly addressed.

If you kill the bird with the first shot, Yaller will probably not be steady, but will run over to the bird and pick it up. This is OK, if you do not plan to run him in field trials. When he does pick up the bird, call him to you and get him to give the bird to you, as promptly as possible. Don’t let him maul and chew on the bird. If he does the latter, he is not a natural retriever, and you will probably either have to train him to stand and be steady (while you, yourself, retrieve the birds by hand) or force break him to retrieve on command.

Good luck with Yaller!!!

1 comment:

PBurns said...

This is a great post and a great service to this new dog's owner/ A good read!