Brittanys as companion bird dogs. Hunting, training, trialing and more.

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Teaching ‘come’ last for soft dogs?

In the last 38 years of training my own dogs and the last 16 for hire, I have developed my own Brittany training formulas.  It’s not that someone else isn’t doing it my way or hasn’t already used “my formula” before, but certainly no one came forward and wrote it on a napkin at a restaurant and said, “Hey pal, here’s the path to easy training”. LOL.  Like anything else in life, there is a privileged path and then there is the road via the University of  Hard Knocks.  Since I didn’t inherit money or a training program, I made lots and lots of mistakes.  I’ll tell you this much, I know what not to do that’s for darn sure!

My opinions are those that I’ve gleaned from traveling different paths with hundreds of dogs.

One thing I learned about soft dogs is that if you want that dog to range out independently as it was bred to do, you better not depress prey drive by putting too much pressure on them early on in life.  What affects independence is forcing the dog to “come” or “sit” very early in its life and/or harshly.  Turning your dog loose and then shocking him to come or sit, especially soft bird dogs, usually results in a shoe polisher.   Coming to you and sitting becomes their default submissive posture.

The Brittany should independently seek game and  hold it until you arrive.

So with soft dogs, “Come” is one of the last things I teach.  How do I keep my young dog from running off?  I teach all new arrivals that me saying “bird!” is automatically followed by the release of actual pigeons – the reward.  This association helps the dog begin to understand that birds are synonymous with my presence.   You can walk into my kennel and say “Bird!” and every dog in there comes to attention looking for the bird in your hand.  This is a passive yet exciting way to get your young pups attention from day one and is also a way to get your pup to stay with you afield.

Look, nothing is perfect.  Don’t take a dog that doesn’t know ‘come’ to a dangerous area where it can get hurt.  I do all of this in the safety of my training grounds.

Now that my young pup knows that I am the bird “god”, they are more interested in being with me and excitedly greet me for their lessons.  So the birdy pup now learns fundamental commands (whoa-change direction) in the yard and afield.  After that we start shooting birds over them when they learn to independently stop & hold.  After this goes on for a bit (over days / weeks), and they have a taste of shot birds and true team work, I then work on ‘come’ separate of all other work.   Following this process makes the pup understand that independent seeking birds and hunting with me is what we do.  They gain confidence and learn what their J-O-B on earth is all about before learning to come/sit!

Mostly, they have not learned to come to me as a default submissive posture.

When I do begin to teach come, they are eager to be with me and want to please me so they can get………………yeah, more birds.  :-)

Hope this bit of opinion is useful to you or perhaps a buddy who is just beginning.

Give your dog a treat for me and tell ‘em “Dave says good dog!”


May 22, 2012   No Comments

My e-collar doesn’t work!

No matter the brand of e-collar you use, inevitably there will be a day when you question whether it is working properly.  E-collars are similar to computers in that we humans just expect them to work perfectly every time.  Thankfully,  most of the time they do.  When things go wrong it never fails it’s when you need it most.

Let’s talk about ‘collar testing’ first.   1st and foremost, verify the transmitter & collar are fully charged  and / or new batteries if that applies to your model.  Assuming you are fully charged, proceed to testing each level of stimulation using the test light that was included with your collar.  Test each level with the nick / momentary button then again with the stimulate / constant button.

If the collar is not working properly and fully charged, then we need to talk about another common issue on some models – the electrode prongs.  Some screw on to a post which attaches the electrode to the collar.  The post could be rusty and therefore the electrode is not making consistent contact with the screw.  If that appears to be the issue, clean the screw with oil and a small brush then replace the electrode and retest with your test light.

It goes without saying that if your collar isn’t indicating that its receiving the signal from the transmitter that either the transmitter or receiver is possibly defective and will need to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair.  Make sure your transmitter antenna is screwed in properly and the threads where it screws on are not rusty before sending it back.

Assuming your e-collar is now working properly it’s time to consider proper application to your dog – the number one problem only second to weak batteries.

The collar is snugly placed directly behind and touching the back of the ears.   The receiver portion of the collar is on the underside of the neck with the electrodes straddling the center line of the throat.   The reason the collar is placed at the top of the neck is because the neck is tapered like an inverted cone.  One end of the cone is narrow (up next to the ears) and the wide end is at the shoulders.  If you accidentally place the collar on a bit too loose the weight of the collar will cause it to ride down thus maintaining contact and hopefully, avoiding intermittent contact with the neck.  Too much slack causes the collar’s electrodes to bounce up and down as the dog runs resulting in intermittent stimuli.

With some long haired / thick coat dogs, you may want to take inexpensive barber clippers and thin the hair on the throat.   Some collars come with two sets of electrode prongs.  Long electrodes for long haired dogs and short electrodes for short haired dogs.  I recommend you just put the long electrodes on and stick with them.

The weather conditions, wet ground, wet dog, dry dog, etc affect impedance.  Before you begin your test on your dog, you should place him at whoa/stay then start at the lowest level and work your way up until he feels it – he will blink or the skin will twitch, etc.  That is his ‘felt’ level, not necessarily his ‘response’ level.  He can feel, for example, level 3 but may no do what you say until you get to level 5.  This changes from time to time and dog to dog so you must always start your obedience with determining his felt level.  I have a good article about ‘impedance phenomenon’, ’overstepping’ and ‘felt levels’ on my free training tips web page.

If after testing the collar with the test light, applying  it properly to the dog and ensuring the hair isn’t too thick on the throat, it still doesn’t work properly, then try one last trick.  Try wetting the throat area and testing again – ALWAYS start at the lowest setting.  You might find that impedance is an issue if this solves the problem.  Water helps conductivity thus reducing impedance which is why we always start at the lowest setting. If application of water to the neck area makes it work, then you need to recheck proper snugging of the collar on the neck and whether there is still too much hair on the neck.  On particularly hot dry days, I always encourage each dog in training to go for a swim in my dog pool just prior to its session.  It reduces impedance and cools the dog prior to a hard work out.

There are a lot of other issues that could be talked about but the purpose of this article is to get you thinking about the basics whenever you feel like something is amiss.

Hope that helps!  Good luck and happy training!


April 14, 2012   No Comments

Teaching your dog to hold on ‘first scent’, and a tribute to Lou

“My dog won’t hold on first scent!” is basically the same as  ”My dog crowds birds before pointing”.    A dog not stopping at first scent may indeed stop within a couple of steps of first scent while the “crowding dog” may not stop until it can count the number of feathers on the birds head.  They share the same problem.

Both dogs have learned that they can get closer to the bird without consequences.  What sort of consequences?  For one, the bird is not spooky enough to wild flush when the dog moves closer – a fault created by the use of pen raised birds and/or  improper use of the remote controlled launcher.

In the old days my grandfather, and probably yours, simply took the young pup afield and got them into a lot of wild birds.  This natural method teaches the pup that their actions directly affect whether the wild birds will fly away or not.   While the natural method conjures up dreams of yesteryear and a better way to train…it isn’t entirely true.  Some dogs have such a strong prey drive that they just don’t seem to get it.  In the olden days, these sort of dogs didn’t make the cut and in desperation, some were barbarically ‘peppered’ in hope of a cure.  Modern tools such as bird launchers, e-collars and vibration have offered us the chance to work with these sort of dogs and give them a chance to be successful.

Regardless of whose training method you use to teach your pointing bird dog, you eventually have to introduce your dog to birds on the ground.  There are some who do not advocate using remote launchers and that is fine.  For this writing, we are discussing the use of remote controlled launchers.

I strongly advocate the use of remote launchers (after proper introduction of your dog to launchers as you don’t want a launcher-shy dog).  I like to start with pigeons for multiple lessons then I move to pen raised quail – all in remote launchers.  Quail are expensive so using pigeons that return to roost is more economical.  I let my new dogs make most of their mistakes on pigeons before moving to quail just as a lot of other trainers do.

Assuming you don’t have access to wild birds, some want to go straight to released Johnny house birds after pigeons but I think that is too early with some dogs.  By the time my dog is put on released Johnny house birds (In the absence of wild birds), I want the dog thinking the birds will flush just as quick as the birds in launchers.   I won’t disagree with you over the flightiness of top quality Johnny house birds, I am just sayin’ that my experience is that pen raised birds on the foot will eventually let you down.  It never fails they let you down when you most need them to flush wildly.

My old mentor, GSP pro Lou Foehrkolb, taught me 22 years ago that pointing on first scent as far away from the bird as possible is crucial and he called it “cultivating the dog’s nose” (May he eternally hunt endless fields of birds over his best dogs).    He would spend hours with dogs on the lead / check cord, crossing back and forth perpendicular to the down wind scent cone, while carefully studying the dog’s head / nose / ears / eyes for the smallest of hints that the dog just got a whiff of scent.  When it did catch a tiny whiff of scent, the bird exploded from the remote launcher and was gone while the dazed “what the heck happened” pup watched the bird disappear.  Note:  Lou would start at long, long distances when cultivating.  Some clients actually complained that the bird was more difficult to find when the dog pointed from so far away! LOL.  Lou was always smiling, I miss that.

Lou Foehrkolb, my awesome mentor, Rest in Peace

So 22 years later I continue to take my lessons from Lou very serious.  I take great pride in what I fondly call the “L.D.P.” (long distance point).

Many owners / trainers will properly introduce their dog to finding / holding their birds then let it all slip away by shooting birds the dog didn’t handle properly.  If you shoot a bird that your dog cheated on, whether it’s one step or 10 yards, you just told the dog it’s ok to crowd birds.

Lou once told me “Dave, every time you put your dog on the ground it’s going to learn something good or something bad”… oh so true, oh so true.

It’s really simple no matter whose training method you use.  I specifically didn’t address methods to teach the dog to whoa, whether it is “silent”, whoa post, place board, or flank collar.  Each of these methods still require introduction to birds.  Teaching your dog that birds are spooky up front, makes training a bit easier and lends itself to a more honest dog.

Good luck and happy trainin’


P.S.  I train exclusively with DT Systems products.  This is a link to the remote launcher I use:  D.T. Systems Remote Bird Launcher 500 Series for Quail and Pigeon Sized Birds with Transmitter Included

Disclosure:  Member, DT Systems Pro Staff

April 5, 2012   No Comments

Can a soft dog be stubborn?

I recognize that perplexed look every time I see it in an owners face.  It’s when I say “Mr. Smith, while your dog has a very soft disposition, she is quite stubborn.”  That’s when the owner’s brow becomes furrowed with that concentrating look, trying to understand, but I can tell it just ain’t registerin’.

Chief's Reload

Buckshot as a one year old wins puppy

It is often confusing for the owner to understand the difference between ‘soft’ and stubborn.  A soft dog generally describes a dog whose disposition is such that it is easily intimidated and/or requires only a light touch for discipline – generally it doesn’t take corrections very well.  Heavy handed pressure on a soft dog can easily destroy prey drive.   CAVEAT:  Soft disposition dogs can and will take advantage of your tender heart to get their way.

A ‘hard’ dog is a dog that can take greater amounts of training pressure without fear of depressing its prey drive.

Soft does Not  mean easy to train!  A dog that is easy to train is often described as ‘biddable’.  Biddable is defined as willing to do what is asked (and sometimes called docile).  NOTE: A docile (biddable) dog can be hard or soft in personality.

So soft (or hard) is the dog’s personality, not the dog’s biddability.


Y’all have a good day and give your dog a treat for me!


March 31, 2012   No Comments

Review of the Remote Controlled Bird Launcher, DT systems Natural Flush, Model BL 509

DT Systems Remote Launcher

DT Systems Remote Launcher

There is no doubt that the remote bird launcher revolutionized bird dog training.  Plain and simple whether some want to admit it or not.  I can set up almost any situation that a bird dog might encounter through remote launchers.

(NOTE: Multiple ’how to’ video clips at bottom of page)

The number one most important thing you can do with a remote launcher… [Read more →]

March 24, 2012   No Comments

Review of D.T. Systems H2O e-collar system

DT Systems H2O e-collar

Field Test of DT Systems H2O e-collar system

I think an important description that tells you if you should read further is this:  The H2O has high-end capabilities with few limitations for a mid-range price.  I would say that it is exactly what you want if you are in the 240 to 340 range.  Comparatively, the SPT is DT’s flagship collar for Pro’s and is a bit more.  On the low-end, there is DT’s Micro-IDT should you want less range with similar functions.

When the H2O first appeared on the market, I had already tested it on Oklahoma and Texas wild quail hunts.  We appeared on a Oklahoma ‘hook and bullet’ show testing the unit and the commercial for that show appears here.  Please note, they describe the EZT system but the controls are similar.

D.T. Systems H2O E-collar system. Simplicity!

It was a very windy & cold western Oklahoma day, not too far from Woodward, Oklahoma.  Wind gusts in excess of 35 mph and white puffs of clouds swept across the sky.  We were guests on an old ranch that was established back in the ‘sooner’ days!  A very rich history in Oklahoma ranches, a winner of the federal / state ranch management awards.  The ranch is full of innovative land management techniques good for both livestock and native wild game.  Despite oppressive wind gusts, we did find quail though it was extremely tough wing shooting.  Wild quail in windy conditions are quite wily.

On that blustery day in Oklahoma, I used the H2O 2-dog system.  (DT’s new H2O “Plus” allows you to buy a one dog system initially and add up to 2 more collars later.)  Immediately and with little study, I familiarized myself with the dials and toggles…a jump back in time from LCD’s.  It was really a new ‘old’ feel, kind of retro from the SPT I use daily. What I found almost from the git-go is that I could easily, without looking, toggle between collar A and collar B.  The SPT series of collars have an LCD screen that requires you to look at the display …well…not exactly, it’s just that if it has a display, I think folks are inclined to look at it when changes are made.

The other thing that I quickly became accustomed to was the rotary dial for selecting stimulation levels.  It has 1 through 16 with what DT calls GTS, ‘gentle touch stimulation’ – very humane lower levels.  I found that level 3 worked well on my Brittanys.  If you know where ‘number one’ is on the dial ,which is easy to detect because it won’t go any further in that direction, you can adjust stimulation levels without looking!  I liked it!  My unit had the beeper vs. the vibration option and that was fine as the grass was tall and the wind loud. After the hunt I had to agree that the H2O is absolutely user-friendly.

I continued to use the unit on more hunts and put it through its paces.  It never failed.  IMHO, if you want simplicity with high-tech capability, the H2O is the ticket.  Shortly after trying it out, I ran into an English Pointer friend of mine at Cabela’s where I was demo’ing DT products.  He told me that he actually liked the H2O and EZT models over the SPT for the reasons I highlighted earlier.  Just goes to show, different strokes for different folks.

After quite a bit of abuse by me and the dogs, I felt I had done more to the H2O than the average owner of several years.  I had to agree that DT had hit a home run.  Waterfowler’s have to be happy with this unit since the transmitter floats!  This unit is what I would call a ‘cross-over’.  It serves both Waterfowlers and Upland hunters. What I like about the H2O:

  • 16 levels of stim on a rotary dial
  • Toggle switch for changing between collars
  • ‘Add a collar’ feature on the plus models
  • New jump and rise features on some models
  • 1 mile plus range!
  • Waterproof, floating transmitter!  Tough in all conditions!
  • Waterproof e-collars
  • Variations of the collar to fit any budget
  • Lifetime parts warranty, 1 year bumper to bumper
  • More info at DT systems

If you want to avoid LCD screens and prefer things that click like toggles and dials, the H2O is probably the collar for you…especially if you grew up back in the day of tv dials and remotes that went click!

note: If you want the model with a beeper, be advised that it is a fixed beeper and comes standard to fit medium to large dogs.  If you have a dog with a small neck, you will need to have DT move the beeper for you which is a free service.

That’s it for today. Give your dog a treat for me and tell ‘em “Dave says Good Dog!” Dave

Disclosure: I am on the DT’s Pro Staff and field test new products.

March 6, 2012   No Comments

Transportation to the field and back, then & now

Foreword: I’d like to thank Glen Bahde for inspiring this Journal entry.

When I was a kid, my mom would drive me out to my honey hole after school and weekends during Mississippi bobwhite quail season.  This was in the early 70′s when she felt I was old enough to hunt alone – I was probably too young but in those days, it was normal.  Mom owned a gi-normous (giant/enormous) white Buick LeSabre 4 door.  I’d say the rolling weight of a Sherman tank, many thousands of pounds and it could get stuck on a snotty handkerchief.  Everything was steel, chrome, etc.  She would … [Read more →]

March 3, 2012   No Comments

The unfortunate demise of Mr. and Mrs. Bob White Quail in Texas

2002 Wild Bobwhite Quail hunt

Dave & his Dad

The folks from Texas and Oklahoma continue to lament about the loss of wild bobwhite quail.  It’s an epidemic caused by a multitude of problems.   “Multifactorial” I think is the word.  Add the loss of quail with ridiculous facts that make no sense and it just makes me sick.  I witnessed the demise of quail in Mississippi and I feel like its Mississippi all over again.

Nonsensical facts:  Texas bobwhite quail can be …

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February 29, 2012   1 Comment

Promeris for flea’s and ticks…and mange?

****Update**** Promeris has been discontinued.***

Promeris appeared on the market a few years ago and like any good breeder and dog owner, I am willing to try something new and / or improved if I feel it will make the life of my dogs better.

I did try Promeris for flea’s and ticks for a few months but eventually dropped its use, especially for my inside pets.  The reason:

Promeris has a very offensive odor IMHO.  So much so that my wife complained for several days after application to our inside pets.  I have allergies and the strong chemical smell (some say strong eucalyptus smell) was a bit much for me too.  That’s a deal breaker right there.  I did go ahead and finish my 3 month supply but only on an outside dog.

It seemed to work on fleas and ticks as advertised so if you are looking for something new to try for your area, go for it.  I cannot attest as to whether it is better than other products as I don’t have a big flea/tick problem in my part of Texas.

One thing that Vets discovered was that Promeris seems to work on Demodectic mange (used at a rate greater than what is on the label for fleas and ticks).  Promeris was recently approved for use on Demodectic mange.  This is something that your Vet will prescribe and help you with.  It seems lots of shelters are employing its use for demodex so it must be working.

There are two types of mange out there.  1st is Sarcoptic.  This is usually a total body mange and is contagious.  The 2nd type is Demodectic or Demodex, not contagious. Promeris seems to work on Demodectic mange.  I am not a Veterinarian so will not try to explain the two types of mange but you can find more info here.

So what do I use for fleas and ticks?  I use a permethrin / nylar combination.  The permethrin is a chemical derivative from the Chrysanthemum flower, a known natural bug repellent.  Nylar is a growth inhibitor.  This is important since some fleas / ticks are now resistant to permethrin.  It’s job is to inhibit growth and reproduction should the pest not die from the permethrin.  In my area of Texas and throughout the mid-west, I have found this to work very well.  It is in liquid form and a few drops (as prescribed by my Vet) are applied between the shoulders and base of the tail.

The above preparation of drops that are applied is not a barrier product.  It is a kill after the pest is ‘on board’ your animal product.  I strongly recommend the use of barrier products when hunting afield, especially in mild weather.  Barrier products repel the pest from getting on board, therefore there is no actual bite that takes place in order to die.

A couple of barrier products that I like are BioSpot SPRAY and Adams SPRAY.

Guess that’s it for now.

Give your dog a treat for me and tell ‘em “Dave says good dog!”


February 29, 2012   No Comments

Age Range Expectations for Brittanys ™

What sort of performance should I expect from a Brittany that is less than one year of age?  Less than two years of age?  Three years of age?

These are good questions and based on the training program you use, when you train and the maturation of your young dog, it can vary widely.  One thing is for sure, no matter the program, you can expect young dogs to behave like young dogs.  You can’t expect robotic (nor should you) performance and perfection at any age, most certainly not at 2 years and less.

The number one surprise for owners is that a professionally trained puppy and/or juvenile will still make many mistakes.  The next surprise is the owner learns that he/she is required to know how to handle and fix mistakes.  A lot of folks just assume that if they send their pup off for training that they will get back a pro.  A pro dog that will do everything automatically and without mistakes.  Nothing could be farther from reality!

I don’t care if  you or “your pro” is in the hall of fame, his/her methods will not offer you a perfectly trained dog that performs like a pro at 10 months of age.  Yes, a properly trained 10 month old will hunt but it won’t hunt with the wisdom and finesse that many trips afield provide.  It won’t handle difficult hunting situations like a pro until it has learned what a difficult situation is!  Furthermore, a young dog is tempted by birds like a 3 year old child in a candy store and if it isn’t, you have to wonder about the maturation & desire of your young prospect.

What causes problems with young pups / juveniles in their training is that the level of pressure / training required to get near perfection of an older dog is simply too much pressure for a young dog.  Young dogs build desire with each and every hunt.  That is why by age 3 or 4 years, you can put increasing pressure on your dog…because his desire is much greater!  Let’s look at the AKC / American Field field trial stakes as a good reference for expectations in training.  These rules / stakes were created over the years by many wise professionals who know what to expect from young dogs.

  • Dogs 6 months to 15 months are in Puppy stakes.  All that is required for the puppy is to show the run / desire to seek and find game.  Many times birds aren’t even released on the course for puppies.  The judges are looking at the raw talent of the puppy.
  • Dogs up to 24 months of age are in Derby stakes.  A derby dog should show the same desire as the puppy and should point birds although he does not have to be steady for more than a few seconds!
  • Dogs over two are placed in adult stakes.  In adult stakes the dog must seek, find and hold steady on birds.

Based on this very brief summation of what field trialers expect, do you really think your pup should be perfect at age 10 months?  This overview of what field trialers expect vs. what hunters expect is why I coined the phrase “Age Range Expectations” for Brittanys.  Just speaking “Age Range Expectations” should make one consider whether they have realistic expectations for their dog based on age and maturation, regardless of whether the pup has formal training or not.

An analogy for one to consider is this:  You tell your young child not to touch your cookie.  He understands yet when you turn your back, the child touches it, takes a bite.  Did the child do this out of malice?  I think not.  Did the child not understand what you said?  Oh  he understood you completely.  So why?  Well, first of all, he’s a child and at that age they will simply do things you wish they wouldn’t. Young dogs are like this.

“But hunting dogs start earlier than trial dogs!”  Yes, they do.  Not because they are more mature than a trial dog but because they are our companions and we can’t wait to get in the field to which I heartily endorse!  You just have to do it knowing that your young pup will mature painstakingly slow (in your mind) and that each jaunt afield is another lesson.  Even if your dog has been professionally instructed (such as our Puppy and Phase I programs), you have to remember what age range you are dealing with.  They will test you.

Assuming you regularly take your young dog afield where there are birds, consider this:  To me, dogs under 1 year of age are like a two or three year old child.  They just can’t help themselves.  Even if trained, they mess up even though they know better.  Dogs one to two years of age are like teenagers.  They are rebellious over their lessons and act out to show their independence.  By the time they reach age 3 years, they are becoming a adult and team player.  They are beginning to hunt with wisdom and finesse.  Finesse continues to grow through about age 8 years.  They continue to amaze you with their smarts, outsmarting birds on the run, etc.

Of course there are always exceptions, especially if you happened to obtain Willy the Wonder Pup.  The dog that does it all before one year of age.  The complete natural!  I’ve owned a lot of dogs and only owned a few of these and I have owned many dogs from top bloodlines.  It’s kinda like the smoker who started when he was age 4 and didn’t die until he was 104.  It happens…but not usually.

The hardest part of it all I think is for the first time owner who has never bird hunted and / or started a young bird dog pup from scratch.   These are usually the folks with unrealistic expectations.  They just weren’t informed as to how much work it is to start a young pup that hopefully ends up being a nice finished dog by the time it is 3 years of age.   If this is you, ask friends who have been through the whole process, from puppyhood to old age.

Don’t be scared by Age Range Expectations.  You can do it!  A pro trainer will give the novice a head start on it all and be there for your every question and concern.  The pro will tell you where you & your dog are at and how you should proceed.

The person who goes it alone without any help will have millions of questions that they ask of a million people and get a million different answers.  Pick a training plan and stick to it.  I strongly recommend you pick a training plan in which you have a local pro who can help you out when you hit each stumbling block.

That’s it for now.

Give your dog a treat for me and tell ‘em “Dave says good dog!”



February 27, 2012   No Comments