Puppy Training Daze

I’ve always been suspicious of boastful dog owners bragging on their precocious pups

By Rob Breeding

I didn’t expect a bird dog at four months and I don’t have one, yet.

But the pup’s coming along.

I’ve always been suspicious of boastful dog owners bragging on their precocious pups.

“You should see what that pup can do,” they say. “Four months old and that puppy is already pointing. That pup’s a natural. A bird hunting prodigy, I say.”

So you should take with a grain of salt my next sentence. My pup, Jade, pointed a covey of quail last weekend.

Before you assume I’m the sort of guy who once prowled the sidelines at Kidsports telling anyone within earshot my daughters should have been starting on the varsity soccer team at Glacier when they were still working their way through middle school … actually, sorry about that.

They are my daughters and they are perfect. Sometimes I get carried away.

Back to that point and my illusions of the prodigal puppy. The truth is, I can’t really say it was a point, at least not in the technical sense. But it was a good sign.

We were in an area that holds pheasant, quail and possibly sharptail. We were out for a run, no guns involved, but I knew there was a good chance the dogs would get on some real birds, which would be a first for the pup.

We worked through a long stretch along some heavy cover, the pup mostly trying to keep up with Doll, but then always circling back to me whenever Doll worked out beyond Jade’s comfort zone. The pup would try to follow whenever Doll picked up scent that led her into the thick stuff, but she couldn’t follow for long.

At 70 pounds Doll just plows through heavy grass, but at Jade’s size the pup lacks sufficient mass to plow. Instead, she porpoises over the seed heads. All that leaping is exhausting, and after a bit of effort trailing the big dog, she heads back in my direction.

Jade also develops separation anxiety for Doll when she has been away too long. She’ll get over this in time, of course. These are her first real adventures beyond the yard, after all. Soon enough she’ll hit that bold and adventurous stage and start roaming way out of range. That’s still a month or two away, thankfully.

On our run Doll eventually got a little birdy, though she wasn’t hard on scent. There were birds; she just didn’t know where.

Jade and I stopped at the edge of the cover and watched Doll as she looped back to us, still birdy, though indecisive. As she trotted up to my right, a covey of quail flushed less than 10 feet to my left. I turned and Jade was locked up, sort of, though not in a classic, paw up sort of way.

It was more of a mid-pee pose: motionless, leaning in on the quail.

The flushing birds both thrilled and terrified her. It was a late clutch, and the chicks bobbed and weaved erratically as they took flight. Bobwhite nest spring through summer, so it’s not unusual to find pairs with chicks a month before the season opens.

Young quail don’t fly far and tumble out of the sky. Doll was straight business, and with Jade at her heels, pointed a couple of singles, then found a long-tailed rooster that was probably the source of her initial birdiness.

Jade trailed the big dog on a few more pheasant that day, moving beyond her startled response to that first covey flush toward focused interest on flying birds. There were other positives. At one point Doll grew birdy and I whoaed her. The puppy, who has heard this command before, didn’t freeze as I’d prefer, but did sit down behind her motionless mentor.

After four months, that’s prodigal puppy enough for me.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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