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Nutrition & Training Tips

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Generalize Your Training

Wow-- it seems everywhere I go, folks have puppies! And, they’re anxious for training advice.  Here’s advice that every puppy owner can use.  It’s about making your training more widely applicable.  In the gun dog training business, this is often referred to as generalizing commands and instruction. 

One example would be the use of a training table to teach the “whoa” command.  The training table is an excellent tool.  The primary purpose is to save your back from too much bending and have easy access to your pup when correction is needed. The same training could be done on the ground but with more effort. 

After only two or three sessions on the table, the pup will begin to understand what you’re asking him to do.  After five or six sessions, that pup will begin to look pretty good.  You’ll say, “Hey, that wasn’t as hard as I thought.”  Well, you’re only kidding yourself.  Put the pup on the ground, off lead, and allow it to run freely.  Then say “whoa”.  What happened?  Most likely the pup totally ignored you.  Why, because he was only taught to whoa on the training table. 

That doesn’t mean that your work on the training table was without value.  You have to plant the seed somewhere and the training table is an easy place to begin the effort.  And, you’ll want to make sure that they fully understand the command before you begin making the pup compliant in different locations.  If fully compliant on the training table, generalizing to new locations will be much easier.  After the whoa command is fully understood by your pup around the yard, you then need to move the training to the field.  The field is the ultimate testing grounds.  If you encounter non-compliance in the field, you need to go back and start over.  And that’s true with any command or desired action.

Another example of a lack of applicability I’ve witnessed is yard training on birds.  Several years ago I was asked to visit a new pointing dog owner and observe his pup.  He wanted to enter the pup in the AKC testing program.  In a very large yard, he had small clumps of shrubs, flowers, etc.  He had planted a quail in several of the clumps.  The pup was released about 30 feet from the first planted bird.  The pup then went very nicely from clump to clump and demonstrated a nice point at each clump.  As I watched, I felt the whole process appeared to be too structured and a robotic performance by the pup, which was about one year old as I recall.

I asked the pup owner if he had a field where we could run the same exercise.  The owner looked at me with a blank stare.  He then blinked and said “Well, I guess we could.”  We drove down the road to a field where he planted three birds.  He then returned to the truck for the pup.  He wanted to take the pup to the first bird on a check cord.  I suggested that he not do that.  In a test, the pup would have to locate the birds without being led to them.  He released the pup and it was a disaster.  The pup bumped two of the three birds and never showed any interest in the third bird. 

The issue, of course, is that the pup was trained to do something in a restricted manner.  It was obvious that this process was done over and over without any generalization.  Removed from the structured yard environment, the pup was lost.  After the owner of the pup saw a couple of nice finds and points in the yard, he should have immediately moved the training to a new location.  And, after a few successful exercises in the new location, move yet to another new location. 

Training must be widely applicable or it has very little value.  Allow that pup to have new, varied experiences in your training program to create a brag dog.

Paul Fuller is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV program.  Paul’s website is

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How Good is Your Bird Dog?

How good is your pointing grouse dog?  Fair? Good?  Outstanding?  What is the standard you use to judge your dog?  Your author has had the good fortune to watch and shoot over many pointing breed grouse dogs.  Those include English setter, English pointer, German shorthaired pointer, pointing griffon, Brittany and many more.  The training of these dogs has been from minimal to the very best field trial dogs. 

Now let’s back-up perhaps 150 years.  In the 1800s, outdoor and gun dog writers classified the ruffed grouse as unfit for sporting purposes.  The bird’s desire to quickly flush made it unfit for pointing dogs.  Course untrained dogs were used by the market shooters but that was the limit of grouse shooting with dogs.  It wasn’t until some of the more trained dogs from the South made their way North before it was discovered that pointing dogs could be trained to properly handle the elusive ruffed grouse.

Today, as mentioned above, there are many pointing breeds capable of handling the King of Gamebirds.  Now, let’s get back to the opening sentence:  How good is your pointing dog on grouse? Most gun dog owners overrate their dog(s).  They want so badly to have a good grouse dog that they make believe that their dog is good.  I occasionally find myself in that group.  One of my shorthairs will make a mess of a grouse find and I’ll make an excuse for him.  The really good grouse dogs rarely make a mistake…and I truly mean the really good dogs. 

Here’s an example of someone who thought he had a really good dog.  Several years ago, I received an email asking me if I had knowledge of a Brittany kennel in Maine.  The man wanted to buy a Brittany puppy from this kennel.  I called the kennel and asked if their dam was a hunter.  The woman said that they didn’t hunt but I could call a buyer of one of their pups who is an avid upland hunter.  I called the man who bought a pup three years earlier from this kennel.  He said he had the best grouse dog in the State of Maine.  He invited me to come watch his dog work. That was fine because I was traveling his way the following week.  If I recall, it was the second week in September.  The dog owner had a very nice grouse covert that he promised would hold grouse.  And it did.  The dog had three grouse finds in about one hour.  All three grouse were runners and flushed way ahead of the dog and the dog owner.  After each flush, the dog owner would say “Wasn’t that great dog work?”  And, when we finished, he said:  “Have you ever seen anything that good?”   Well, I was very diplomatic and told him he had a “nice” dog and I appreciated his time.  However, that was lousy dog work. 

The bottom line, the absolute standard, for outstanding pointing dog work on ruffed grouse is whether the bird is there when you, the hunter, gets to the dog.  Is the bird within range for a shot?  The number of faraway flushes made in front of the dog has no value to the hunter.   

Having established a standard for outstanding grouse work, how many dogs can actually pin every grouse find and have it there when you, the hunter, arrives?  Very few.  In fact, I’ve only seen one.  Her name was Long Gone Madison, an English setter, and she was considered amongst the top five grouse dogs ever.  I watched her pin nine grouse in one hour.

Now we know what the very best can do.  How about your dog?  If your dog can pin 50% of their grouse finds, then you have a very good grouse dog.  More than 50%, you have a true “brag dog” that can run with the best.  Pinning less than 50% will still give you a good dog, however, if it’s say one in ten, then your dog is simply a weekend hunter and you’re both out just for fun.  And, just being out for a fun day with your best friend is a beautiful thing. 

Paul Fuller is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV program.  Paul’s website is

Monday, August 1, 2016

Anatomy of A Litter, Part Two

In last month’s column, we reviewed how my wife and I decided to breed our female German shorthaired pointer, the process of artificial insemination and selecting buyers for our litter.  We finished the column explaining that, as litter owners, we had first pick.  I promised that I would reveal, in this column, the puppy we chose to keep.

As mentioned in last month’s column, we loved all eight of our puppies.  Choosing which puppy to keep would be very difficult.  There were no bullies and no wall-flowers in the litter.  All appeared to be bold and ready to learn.  In the end, we chose to keep the runt of the litter.  She was the very first puppy to lick my face.  Also, she was cooperative always in everything we attempted to do…like trimming her nails.  She’s a sweetheart, and we feel she has great potential in the field.  Her litter nickname was Hearts; however, we now call her Cordie. 

At eight and one-half weeks, all the other puppies went to their new owners.  This was a very sad day for the Fuller household.  We said goodbye to pups that we handled and nurtured every day.  As mentioned last month, we found seven buyers we’re very comfortable with.  We hear from four of the buyers two or three times per week; that’s comforting.

Now the fun begins.  We have a fresh student that wants to learn.  However, we don’t want to go too fast.  Cordie needs to have puppy fun or we’ll have a puppy that loses its puppy time and will be difficult in the future. 

At eleven weeks, here is what we’re working on.  We start the day with a run at approximately 6:30 am.  The early hour is due to the warm weather.  Little Cordie is running with our ten-year-old Dillon and Cordie’s mother, Dena.  The run is for about 45 to 60 minutes.  We alternate between woods and fields since we hunt the prairies in the early fall and the woods during October and November.  We avoid paths as much as possible since we want to develop a dog that hunts cover and not take the easy way…paths.  Also, we make sure the puppy has chest protection.  Both of our senior dogs ripped open their chests as puppies while running through the woods.  We want to avoid that issue with Cordie.  Also, during our morning walk, we attempt to walk in a shoelace pattern.  The reason for doing this is to develop a back and forth search pattern that covers the most ground.  Dogs that run in a straight line will find very few birds.  In addition, we put a small Christmas bell on Cordie’s collar.  We want to introduce her to noise while she’s running.  This will help introduce bells and beepers in the future. 

In addition to field work at eleven weeks, we work on neck control…having a lead attached to a collar.  We do this almost daily.  We want a good citizen puppy that is under control at all times.  And, to provide even more training, we’re including the “whoa” command while we work with the lead.

And, of course, we can’t forget water.  The puppies were first exposed to water when we put a water bowl in the weaning box.  They would stumble into the bowl almost every day.  Once we started taking them outdoors, we put a child’s swimming pool in their run.  The entire litter would often be found in the pool.  Early-on, we put two to three inches of water in the pool…today we fill it with six inches of water.

That concludes Anatomy of A Litter through eleven weeks.  We’ll keep you posted in future columns on Cordie’s progress.

Paul Fuller is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV program.  Paul’s website is