IN STEP WITH STOHON – Raising a Bird Dog,Part 3: 13-18 months
Part One of this series recorded the first six months of my gundog’s care and nurturing. In Part Two, I described my regimens and challenges regarding Stohon’s nutrition, training, and aiding devices in months 7-12. Today, in Part Three, our update reflects the reinforcement and maintaining of nutrition and field training as Stohon transitions into an adult German Shorthaired Pointer.
Maintaining Field Work
Formality vs. Fun Coming off what I considered our first and successful winter hunt season for my rookie, I worried my pup would lose everything he learned during the March to September hiatus. Whether you’re conditioning a flushing or pointing dog or working a retriever for waterfowl exploits, training can feel like a chore. Several knowledgeable pros reassured me to relax and just let my companion explore – with all five senses – the wonderments of spring and summer.
Exercise provides both a mental and physical steam blow for your dog, and GSPs need to sprint twice a day, or their energy and anxiety build. It also creates the perfect situation for interspersing actions you want to encourage in the context of a field situation. Like keeping your dog out in front of you, running/hunting between 10 and 2 o’clock, and not letting him loop around covering the same parcel area twice. It’s a waste of your time and his energy, and reinforcing simple stuff like that pays off come hunt season.
Many hunting breeds are known for short attention spans, so formal training sessions should be kept to fifteen minutes a day, max. My wife took Stohy’s several-mile morning walk except for weekends, and I handled his evening field run and training stints. Teamwork makes a difference.
Retrieving the Right Stuff
Unless you raise the upland variety or have a connection for barn pigeons, and I do not, the warm months make it almost impossible to train over live birds. I stuck with my Dokken Dead Fowl Trainer dummies as they make the best there is. A soft body is what a dog wants to grab. The hard plastic head and tail discourage extremity grabs. Rotating a rooster, bobwhite, ruffy, and drake into the playtime (with corresponding scents) kept the boredom down and his olfactory receptors primed.
Most states provide an opportunity to purchase a dog handler’s license through the DNR and work on private land. It is free in Indiana, but there is paperwork to file and a few regulations to follow. Come September, I was able to get ahold of some pheasants and work my dog for a new hunting buddy needing real practice after several clay simulations. The Cackle Box, made by Ruff Land Kennels, really made it easy to transport birds in the truck bed.
Now, throwing a novice pointer into bodies of ice water for late-season divers’ missions is hard to endorse. Last summer, I wanted to have Stohon out on local lakes working on dummy retrieves. However, our state’s COVID-19 restrictions made it tough on travel and park visits, and the bacteria of dirty geese infiltrated our subdivision ponds.
Common in the Midwest, infected goose droppings are the source of the Eimeria (false) parasite or even Campylobacter, often less severe but causing diarrhea. A more serious fungal infection is histoplasmosis. Hunting breeds like pointers, Weimaraners, and Brittanys are more susceptible to eating those feces, so watch for fever, depression, weight loss, and chronic cough; vague signs seem to stick around.
While pointer breeds can most definitely water retrieve, there’s a whole different skill set to develop in a waterfowl dog, and I won’t elaborate out of honest ignorance. But the self-control your buddy needs in waiting out long freezing stints – on blind, ground, or water – is nothing short of remarkable. Contrary to some trainers’ success, and understandable in southern weather, a GSP’s ADHD and short coat are not conducive to this activity. In late October, Stohon proved that morning number one over a prairie pothole in South Dakota. Without continuous movement, they cannot regulate and retain heat like a thick-coated Labrador. So, we stuck with our upland plans for the rest of the week.
You’ll hear me mention from time to time in articles that your dog’s seeming failures or confusions in the field are his master’s fault. Training Stohon to hold firm over hunkered birds was barely solidified when I thrust him into to chaos of South Dakota parcel pushes. I knew his first few hours might be a rough presentation to fellow hunters. I can’t blame the dog.
Once Stohon realized that ogling Sadie wasn’t producing pheasants, the peer pressure from labs Red and Tucker worked to his advantage. As the crew frantically zig-zagged cornstalks towering ten feet, rays of sunlight illuminated those golden jail cells that seemed to extend to eternity. He turned “all business,” flushing and retrieving our limits without a hiccup the remainder of the trip. “Helluva’ dawg” was heard around the lodge fireplace each night.
Friday morning saw good flushes despite a three-man and one dog attempt on thirty acres. When our host had to skedaddle for matters that afternoon, my buddy and I took on the seemingly impossible task of covering seventy of the back eighty-acres. Stohy took such a bloody beating busting through the briars and broom grass that we doubted he’d recover for Saturday morning.
Seeing fellow GSPs working for his master’s quarry flipped a jealousy switch in demeanor. I strapped on his Bird Dog Armor Vest 2 from Lion Country Supply for extra protection. He hunted till sunset, retrieved our limits, and limped out an educated schoolboy. A rough, two-inch gash from the barbed wire fence exposed his wrist bone. Any other part of his body, and it would’ve been a staple job and vet run.
That November night, Stohon drank his first half-beer by ambushing my glass with Phil’s help. I let him finish the Boston Lager, and he slept like a baby. I guess we call that rite of passage.
Maintaining Nutrition and
“Research has proven that fat puppies are not healthy puppies,” says Karl Gunzer, Director of the Sporting Dog Group for Nestle Purina Pet Care. “Maintaining ideal body condition is key to encouraging proper growth in all puppies, especially large breeds and field dogs. Lean dogs live 1.8 years longer on average with less osteoarthritis and other ailments than heavier dogs. Find a dog food containing EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid, and glucosamine to help support joint health and mobility. Antioxidant-rich nutrition nourishes the immune system and helps defend against free radicals.”
Field trials or gundog, no matter the moniker, need adequate time to process their meals to help fuel metabolic needs, optimize oxygen metabolism for endurance, and maintain lean muscle mass. The right 30/20 blend of protein-to-fat ratio on 12-24 hours digestion time allows them to perform in the field without bloat or, even worse, torsion. Torsion is when gas rapidly builds, and the dog’s stomach turns over; fatal if not treated immediately.
A side note on gastric torsion: If your dog or breed is prone to this concern, there is a surgery remedy (gastropexy) with stitching their stomach to the abdominal wall, eliminating that twist.
“Increasing your dogs’ intake by an extra cup or so the day before a taxing event is fine. However, performance dogs are at their best on an empty stomach,” says Gunzer. “Take along a small treat if you’re still working certain stimulus-response objectives but breaks for rest and water are all they’ll need nutritionally while hunting. After their exercise, let them wind down an hour or so before feeding them. You’ll notice they’ll still want water for some time afterward.”
Vet Care and Field Care
There are some considerations for vet care once you get your pup running fields and woods. First, you’ll want to keep up with routine vaccinations and meds for heartworm and tick. If you have to board your dog at another kennel or lodge during travel, make sure it was vaccinated against kennel cough.
In the field, you need to know your terrain and watch for potential pitfalls for excitable dogs. Garmin’s Pro 550 GPS provides simple, at-a-glance directional tracking up to two miles away using a built-in display. And while many owners and guides think a safety vest is silly on their partner, I’ve heard too many trauma stories – like impalement – that could have avoided this.
Keep a trauma kit in your vehicle and maybe a smaller version for your vest or backpack. Eyewash, antiseptic wipes, bandages, stapler, forceps, syringes, tourniquet, you get it. Check their entire body for cuts, thorns, or an embedded foreign body. Don’t forget to examine between his toe pads, legs, along his undercarriage, and inside his mouth. Check his eyes for signs of scratches. Watch for limping, avoidance, whimpering, or unusual aggression, all of which could be signs of a broken bone or a sprain.
Carry enough water to keep your dog hydrated and take shade breaks to prevent heatstroke. The signs include excessive panting or drooling, difficulty breathing, disorientation, vomiting, collapse, bright red tongue, and increased heart rate. Remember, the most essential tool in your vest is a charged cellphone with your vet’s number on speed dial.
If this article helped in your understandings and decision making towards owning a gun dog or even a German Shorthaired Pointer, check out Part 1: 0-6 months from March 2020, Part 2: 7-12 months from July 2020, and my last installment focusing on this particular breed coming out fall of 2021.