• Training Helpers

    Whoa Training pointers

    When training, especailly training with birds, you always need a helper. Sam, my 5 year old loves to help as long as it involves a BB gun. Unfortunately he needs a little backup to bring the birds down for the dogs to retrieve.

    This pup, Josie, an 8-month old german shorthair pointer has come a long way in the last six weeks. She is showing good instincts on birds. However, she loves to run off with birds rather than bring them in. She was proud of this bird!

    Josie German Shorthair Pointer whoa training

  • Introduction to water 2

    teaching dogs to swim

    I’ve written about introducing dogs to water before, but I guess with the beautiful weather we are having I have been thinking this over. We got back from a hard run this morning with all our tongues dragging from the heat.

    A great way to introduce puppies to water is to get out and run with them until their tongues are hanging and their hot.  This in and of itself is great physically and mentally both for you and them. Run them on a lead, or if they will follow, let them run along with you. Finish your run with them on lead at a water body deep enough that they can swim.  Lead them right out to into the water up to their bellies. Let them drink for a minute, then, before they cool off too much, lead them out deeper until they are swimming. Let this be their reward at the end of a long hot run. They’ll learn to love it and see the water as a great reward. (Summer is almost here!)

    Proper introduction to water help dogs for later success in training and in the field

  • Rattlesnake Vaccine

    Dog - Rattlesnake bite

    Photo: USFWS

    Rattlesnake season is here!

    There is a new canine rattlesnake vaccine out from a company called Red Rocks Biologics, and there is a fair amount of interest and discussion among hunting dog owners.  The vaccine has been out for a couple of years now, and has some practical testing by vets and dogs afield. Based on the manufactures website, the vaccine helps stimulate the dogs system to manufacture venom antibodies which will neutralize rattlesnake poison if bitten. The first year the dog is vaccinated, they should get two injections spaced one month apart, then should receive annual booster shots about a month before the likelihood of snake encounter.

    There are two main questions a dog owner should ask about this vaccine; is it safe for my dog, and do they really need it.

    Red Rocks Biologics reports that this vaccine is approved by the USDA and is as safe as other animal vaccines. They report that it is safe for use in pregnant and lactating dogs, puppies and healthy adult dogs. They report few minor side effects and few serious cases resulting from inoculations. On the other hand, researching the web, I did come across several dog owners that reported problems their dog experienced (from minor to fatal) in reaction to the vaccine.

    I think the first question you should ask is whether or not your dog really needs the vaccination. Often times, we are so scared of snakes (ophidiophobia) that we can’t make a balanced judgment. Hollywood has made millions on this fear. The thing to ask is, realistically, how often do you actually encounter rattlesnakes. For many people, especially here in Utah, I venture to say that it is seldom to never. For others, particularly in the Mojave Desert country of southwestern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the answer is very different. Rattlesnakes are a very real threat.

    One of the main problems for gun dogs is that they are often in hunting mode with their nose to the ground and are curious about snakes. I wonder how much a snake smells like a bird (phylogenetically speaking, there are some connections). My pointer commonly points box turtles in the Nebraska Sand Hills while hunting prairie chickens. (I have heard that this is common for bird dogs to point turtles and other reptiles.) With this curiosity and prey drive, they are very likely to get bitten from a snake if they encounter one. A second problem is that dogs are often bitten in the face and they are small enough that the venom from a snake can be very serious.

    I have talked to two different vets in southwest rattlesnake country that strongly recommend to their clients the preventive use of rattlesnake vaccine. They have used the vaccine on tens, if not hundreds of dogs over the past two years with very little problems, and report several positive results after snake envenomations. Closer to home, a good friend of mine has inoculated his dog two years in a row now and not had any complications. He certainly feels more at ease hunting chukars and desert quail in rattlesnake country. One comment on this issue I found particularly useful is on doggienews.com. For the full article see the following link (http://www.doggienews.com/2005/02/rattlesnake-venom-vaccinations.htm).

    Something else to consider is snake avoidance training. Look for these clinics in particularly snake prone regions. Using training collars and actual rattlesnakes, you can train your dog to avoid snakes altogether. Snake avoidance training is offered here at Cove Mountain Kennels, however, due to the complication of handling rattlesnakes, I like to hold a clinic just once a year and get as many dogs as possible trained. This training is very effective against having your dog seek out snakes; however, there is always the threat of a surprise encounter and therefore, maybe reason for the vaccine.

  • Annie’s First Chukar

    I wrote this post in late January, but accidentally deleted it. It was such a fun experience, I had to add it back in .

    Brittany Spaniel and wild chukar - Utah

    During the last few weeks of the chukar season I decided that I wanted to get Annie, the Brittney Spaniel we are training, out on wild birds. She is a bit young (14 weeks), but so long as shooting over her would not produce any gun sensitivity, I thought any experience this season on wild birds would not be a bonus; she could dream about finding chukars all during the off-season.

    I have been working with gun sensitivity with her during mealtimes and she hasn’t shown any reaction at all to gun shots. Nevertheless, I decided that I would forgo any shots right over her head and only take ones away from the puppy.

    I got Annie out with about two hours left to hunt. She was clueless, but had a great time following one of the older dogs around the steep rocky slopes. She did a great job and only had to be lifted over obstacles a few times. When we got into birds it worked out perfectly. Allie, my older dog (18 months) hit scent and started working a flock around a rock outcrop. Annie saw her excitement and started following the scent. She was behind me by 10 yards or so when the covey flushed, but she saw one of the birds fall, thanks to the sweet 16 o/u.

    Allie was right on the downed bird, but aside from a broken wing the bird was in good shape and it still had its feet. We worked the scent but were having a little trouble coming up with the bird. Then I looked over and Annie, the 14 week old puppy was nosing up into a cavity under two rocks. Mistakenly, I pulled her off and went back to where the bird hit and left some feathers and we tried to initiate the search again. After a few minutes I looked over and Annie was again working the little cavity, so I decided to trust her and we went over to investigate. Darned if that little puppy didn’t come up with that chukar way up under the rock. The hole was so tight that the older dog couldn’t fit, but little Annie was just right and she pulled out a fluttering flabbergasted chukar. Needless to say I was beaming. We’ll both be dreaming of that one all through the off-season.

    Brittany puppy and her first wild chukar

  • Blue Grouse (dusky grouse), a perfect bird for a kid

    Blue Grouse, kids and grandpa (David Anderson)

    I have been thinking about next season and getting my kids out hunting with me. As far as building a kid’s interest in hunting, there is nothing better than blue grouse hunting. (The Blue Grouse was recently renamed dusky grouse by the American Ornithologist’s Union. I think they did so, because they were way behind the botanists in the name changing department and wanted to try to catch up.)

    Blue grouse (dusky grouse) is a perfect game bird to introduce a youngster on and help build their passion for hunting and for the outdoors for the following reasons: First, they are fairly easy to shoot, second, they are relatively easy to find and generally it’s easy walking, third, they are found on public land, and fourth, they are tasty.

    Blue grouse are way overlooked in the west, and as a consequence are often not very wily and can be shot on the ground or off a tree limb by a youngster still learning how to point a scatter gun. As a side note, when you put a dog on them, they act very differently and are much sportier. I will say that there is a reason they are nick named the fool’s hen. They can make a fool out of you. They seem so dumb walking in front of you, but when you try to close the gap just a bit, or try to clear a low tree limb for a good shot and they’ll disappear through some downfall, around a tree and flush safely from the back side, giving you no shot..

    Blue grouse are relatively easy to find. Once you have an understanding of what habitat type and density of overhead cover and downed logs/debris they prefer, you can get pretty efficient at locating birds. Once you find birds, mark the spot on your map, it’s the habitat they are keying in on and there will likely be birds year after year. Also, in most of the mountain ranges in the west, there are roads that take you near the top of the mountain, which is where you’ll find the birds in October and November. Once you are in grouse habitat, you can usually stay on a contour and the walking isn’t too strenuous. This is all relative of course, but compared to chukar hunting, it’s a walk in the park.

    Third, grouse can be found on public land, so you don’t have to worry about finding land owners and securing permission. These lands, our National Forests and some high elevation BLM lands are some of the most beautiful places in the world. We are lucky here in Utah to have something like 80+% of the state in public ownership. (Truth be told, I wouldn’t trade that for all the pheasants in Nebraska.)

    Finally, blue grouse are tasty. This is particularly true if you can get them before they switch over to their winter diet of pine needles. This switch usually occurs in mid to late November, or when the frost kills the forbs and insects and the snow begins to fly. Our favorite way to prepare it is to cube it up and marinate it in a fajita mix and fry it up with onions and peppers and wrap it in a tortilla with sour cream, cheese and salsa. Wow, it’s yummy!

    Last year we had a fun experience. We were headed out on a family hike on the forest near our house in Sevier County. Since it was grouse season and we were headed to a really grousey area, I threw in the 16 and a couple of bird dogs just to keep us safe from attacking duskies. (At least that’s what I told my wife.) As we were bumping along the 2-track road, my daughter (7 yrs) said, “Hey Dad, there’s some quail.”  I thought, “Quail?” Then I realized she probably meant grouse. I never saw them, but sitting in the back seat, she picked them up like a good bird dog.

    Needless to say, it was fun getting a nice point (a gimme really), and shooting a brace of birds all with my family right there. Now Sarah can’t wait until next season to go grouse hunting with Dad.

    Kids and grouse hunting Dusky grouse hunting with kids

    A special thanks to David Anderson for the awesome family grouse hunting photos. Thanks David!

  • Introducing Dogs to Water

    Golden Retriever introduction to water Golden Retriever Introduction to water

    Golden Retriever Swimming

    The warm weather is coming, time to get your puppy out and introduce her to water. With proper introduction, most dogs will love the water, especially the retrievers and longer coated dogs. There are all sorts of ways to introduce your dog to water, all depending on what type of waterbody you have at hand. The key is to check any aprehension you may have; make crossing or swimming the water seem as a routine thing. I usually try to introduce puppies to water between three and five months, provided the weather is warm enough. Warm weather is important, because you want your dog to have a good experience. I usually just put on the hip boots and wade out into the water and call the dog along. They’ll hesitate at the shoreline, pawing the water, but usually following before too long.

    If reluctant, I pick them up, being careful not to give the impression I’m chasing or threatening (just routinely picking them up, as if I were putting them back in the crate as usual). Then, I carry them out and set them in the water where it’s deep enough to get their belly wet. For a timid dog, usually this is enough, just getting wet. If not, next time carry them a bit deeper and then deeper still.

    Another way is to use a favorite toy, stick, or retrieving bumper and toss it close enough that they really want it, but just far enough to make them swim. A lot of times, I’ll cross the water and call them and get them to swim across to me. Yet another way is to get out when it is really hot and run the dog for a ways until they are hot and they realize just how good it feels to get all the way in and cool off.

    Anyway you do it, make it fun.

    Puppy Introduction to Water

    I love to swim with the dogs, you just have to watch out for their nails. When they swim, they splay out their toes and their nails are in max scratch mode and will leave nice tracks down your chest, legs or back. As they come close, just gently divert them to the side.

  • Force Fetching

    Force Fecthing a German Shorthaired Pointer

    I am often asked if I think someone should “force fetch” their gun dog as a matter of standard training (even if their particular breed, or individual dog loves to retrieve). My answer is yes. Along with making the retrieve a command, it can do a lot of others things for the dog, like boost their confidence, soften a hard mouth, establish a solid platform for more advanced training, plus it makes for polished, classy field work. Without a doubt, you can take them through the force fetch training and maintain and even strengthen their passion for retrieving.

    Above is a photo of a wonderful, big running German short-haired pointer named Rat during the force fetch training. If a dog is willing to hold this ugly, uncomfortable metal sprinkler, he will hold anything.

  • To Collar or Not

    Lab puppies

    This is not something I have given much thought to until someone specifically asked me the question, “is it safer to have a collar on your dog or not?” I have always had a collar on my dogs and thought that was just how it should be. So I gave this some serious thought. This person’s argument was that it was safer not to have a collar on the dog, in case the dog was swimming and got a foot up through the collar, or was hunting wide and got the collar caught on a limb or a fence.

    Here are my thoughts on the matter. If your dog was a farm dog out in Arthur County, Nebraska he may not need a collar (trust me, this is some empty country, beautiful, but empty). Otherwise, dogs need collars in today’s world. Here are a few reasons why: First, a collar acts as a handle on the dog. Often times you need to get a hold of the dog, when a truck is zipping by, when you encounter a rattlesnake, meet another hunting party with dogs in the field, or any other myriad of other things you encounter. Without a collar, people end up grabbing the dog’s tail, a handful of skin, or other inhumane and less effective methods.

    Second, a collar on a dog says that it is someone’s and not a stray. A collar on a dog with a reward tag and phone number is the very very best way to get a lost dog back. When you are on an extended hunting trip in Arizona or South Dakota and your dog turns up missing, the best way to get him back is to have a collar and tag. Microchips help once they hit the shelter, but the family at the farmhouse that finds him can call you directly as soon as they find him.

    If your dog can get a leg through their collar, or a limb can fit up through it, the collar is way too loose. You should be just able to get three fingers under the collar. If you are using a e-training collar, it should ride even higher on the neck, right behind the head and to ensure consistent contact with the points, you should just be able to fit one finger under the collar.

    In my opinion, the ability to get physical control of the dog and the information provided on the collar in case of a lost dog is well worth the small risk of a dog getting caught up by the collar in a life threatening situation.

    The type of dog collar is really a matter of personal choice. I like the looks of a leather collar, but they do not hold up as long as nylon ones. As for durability, the best collars I have found are the plastic coated nylon collars. No matter which collar material I use, I prefer one with a center ring, because of the ease of clipping on a lead. I just ordered six collars from Scott’s Dog Supply and they came with engraved brass nameplates. I was pleased with the quality and their service.

  • Kennel Floors

    Dog Kennel Floor Wood vs. Concrete

    Kennel floors are always a difficult issue. Some of the common options are native dirt floor, concrete, gravel, and wire mesh. In my opinion, a native dirt floor, while probably the most common, is not an acceptable option. Dogs can dig out, it gets muddy when wet, is uncomfortable for the dogs, is difficult to clean, and most importantly, it is a health hazard. Concrete works well, but is expensive to pour and is permanent (once you have poured it, you can’t change your mind). Gravel drains well, and certainly toughens a hunting dogs feet, but is not very comfortable for the dog and is difficult to clean (particularly in the winter). As for wire mesh (i.e. Scott’s Dog Supply “above ground kennel”), I don’t have any experience and can’t comment.

    My solution for the past fifteen plus years is wood. I built panels with 2″x6″ joists and decked with 1″x6″ pine. I purchased one side rough and put that side down, since it is about half the cost of finished lumber. I cut all the pieces to size, and then stain all sides with a quality stain. I spaced the planks 3/4″ apart using an extra plank as a guide and screw everything down with deck screws.

    I made each panel 5′ wide and spaced the joists 20″ on center. When I put four of these together it fit my four Priefert kennels with just enough to room to spare all the way around. I have also built panels 3′ wide with 18″ centers, which worked well. I’m sure 24″ centers would work, but they have a bit more flex than I like. The wood needs to be stained once a year and will last for many years.

    Once built, I put the panels together and place up on cinder blocks. The dogs really like the clean dry surface. The advantages are the cost (I built a 10’x20′ deck in 4 panels for $320), they are easy to clean (a 4″ flexible drywall knife and plastic bag works perfectly), they are movable (I move them to an easterly aspect under large shade trees in the summer, and to a southerly exposure in direct sunlight during the winter. They are lightweight enough that my wife helps me move them easily and doesn’t want to kill me. It gives me satisfaction to look outside and see the dogs lounging on a warm, dry, clean surface.

  • Puppy Socialization

    Puppy Socialization English Pointer

    Recently, I was asked by a new pointer puppy owner what he should be working on with his new puppy. My answer may have been a bit of a surprise. I think the most important thing he could do with the puppy is to properly socialize it. I’ll point out here that my focus on gun dogs is in developing well mannered hunting companions. There are two critical phases of canine development. The first is between 4 and 6 weeks old, and the second is between 6 and 12 weeks. During this time it is critical to understand these phases and treat the puppy accordingly.

    The first phase is the pack socialization phase. During this period, the puppies begin to venture around and out of the litter box more, their teeth emerge, they start on semi-solid food, and are weaned. During this period, the dam spends less time with the pups and as a consequence, they begin to focus on each other. It is during this period that dogs learn how to relate to other dogs. They begin to establish a hierarchy, and learn proper canine social behavior and communication. Puppies taken from their mother or littermates before 6 weeks often have serious behavior problems as they mature.

    The second phase is the human socialization phase. During this phase, the puppy’s focus should be on people and the human environment. Most gun dog puppies should be taken between seven and eight weeks of age. It is critical that the breeder begins the human socialization with the puppies during this stage. The new owner should continue this work. If there is ever a time a dog should not be stuck in kennel in isolation, now is it. This is where the dog’s connection with humans is largely established. We do everything we can to develop hunting companions that are team players and a pleasure to be around.

    During this period you should purposely focus on eye contact and facial expressions. Pups are very focused on the face; spend two minutes with a puppy and you will see this. This is where you begin to establish a strong partnership with your dog. You can also begin to work on come, sit and heel with your new puppy, but by far, the most important thing you can do is socialize the puppy. Spend time with the dog, get him into new surroundings and let him experience new situations. Don’t put too much pressure on him, but get him out and about. Kids are excellent at socializing puppies; they fondle, chase, and love them up. Neither seem to be able to get enough, the kids or the puppies.