My five year old German wirehaired pointer Hazel runs a marathon on every hunt. Last upland game bird season, the idea of splitting the labor between two dogs sounded like a logical reason to start a new wirehair pup in 2011
We hunt near home, Conrad, Montana, population 2,700, where we live in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain Front. This is a great place to raise a bird dog puppy and seemed reasonable until the drive home from the kennel. Once you have that noisy, little, needy, wriggling, peeing bundle of promise in the back seat it is impossible to deny what you've on. You may think "uh-oh, what have I done?" — but it is too late. The journey has begun.
"Starting" a new puppy is, for bird hunters, a time unlike any other. The right start draws from the wisdom of past experience, what previous dogs have taught us, and what hunting mentors have shared with us.
There are moments when it is impossible not to think about wonderful dogs past and to dream about the adventures to come with this new pup.
This is a journal of my new puppy Chet's promising start.
I contacted Hazel's kennel and reserved a spring puppy. Ninety-five percent of a dog's health and performance potential are inherited and the best predictors of success.
Today I picked out my new pup: an eight-week old German wirehaired pointer with crisp black and white markings and a lively curiosity, that I named Chet. The 14-hour ride home from his Bend, Oregon, breeder's kennel gave me plenty of time to recall how much work a puppy is.
Step one in socializing a new puppy is exposing him to new sights, sounds, smells and people with positive feedback. With Chet that included local parades, little league games, vehicle rides, walks on Main Street, vet visits, splashing in ponds, chasing butterflies and song birds, and play with vaccinated dogs only. It is time consuming, but all these experiences help Chet be confident in new situations.
I am training Chet with 5-minute bouts of simple obedience daily (come, giv, whoa, heel, and NO) with lots of praise and some small dog treats. Manners work is ongoing every day.
We start play-training retrieves with a ball and a small canvas training dummy with a few pheasant wing feathers attached: I toss the object down a long hallway, Chet grabs it, and comes back by me. I don't take the object from his mouth but instead rub his ears, praise him, and hold him in my arms until he drops it, or I trade him a small piece of hotdog. Eventually he figures out that I won't steal his prize and is happily retrieving to me.
I expose him to unexpected sounds: clanging pans together and dropping noisy things on the floor. We go on fun walks a quarter mile behind the trap club while shooters are blasting clay pigeons. Over the next month we gradually work closer until we are in front of the traphouse with spectators giving him rubs and treats while the shooters are a stone's throw away. Chet thrives on the excitement until he is dead tired.
Hazel, Chet and I attend some local pointer dog training opportunities where Hazel gets a chance to work birds. Chet meets people and dogs, hears gun shots and sees/smells pigeons and quail.
Quail tobogganing: I bought a few bobwhite quail in a cage in my basement bathroom. The first time I load the quail into the field bird carrier, they call and flutter. Suddenly there is a loud CRASH! Chet has knocked down the child gate at the top of the stairs. It slides half way down the stairs. Right behind it, all wiggly and intent to find the birds, Chet plops down the steps, stumbles onto the slick plastic gate and rides it to the bottom of the stairs like a snow board. When it hits the wall he jumps off and races into the bathroom to score a bird. Hmmmm ... there may be a chance he'll grow into a bird dog after all.
Chet points a mourning dove in my yard which really makes me happy! A puppy point isn't the confident straight up tail of a veteran dog, but to be pointing at that stage of training was a very good sign!
I continue all the various socialization activities along with daily long walks. Hazel points birds while Chet is busy hunting grasshoppers. Will he grow into a pointer eventually?
I see a sharp-tailed grouse along a two-track road. I walk toward the bird with Chet, but he doesn't see it before it runs into dense cover and disappears. When Chet hits the bird scent he instantly focuses on the ground and starts searching the alfalafa. Over the next minute he finds and puppy points a dozen sharptails. I catch myself smiling ear to ear. Little Chet has it in him to be a great bird dog.
Chet retrieves his first grouse.