Refining flushing workI am now working with my first hunting dog (A Black Lab). In the past I have hunted upland bird with only guide owned and trained pointing dogs. (Britneys and German Shorthairs)This is quite a task not having seen what a finished product should look like.
I have an 11 month old Lab (Had him since 8 weeks)who comes from a good hunting / field trial stock. I have worked extensively on obedience and field work with training bumpers.The dog is very enthusiastic and responds great. The basics relative to obidience and retreiving are good enough at this point although I will continue to improve on them as time permits.
I have done a limited amount of work at locating and flushing pigeons (7-8 sessions) and locating dead birds(10 - 12 sessions). The dog also appears very enthusiastic in this situation and has a very high success rate. Most of this work is occurring in my yard which is approx. 1/2 acre with heavy timber and brush.
I am now starting to hunt the dog for upland birds (Pheasants and Chukka) on a preserve with stocked game in a semi hunting / training environment. We will typical put out 5-10 birds and then have the dog locate and flush them. When we start the hunt the birds are easier to find and the dog locates them , flushes and retrieves. 1/2 hour to 45 minutes into the hunt we have typically found and flushed 2-3 birds. It seems as the dog starts to have a more difficult time finding birds his enthusiasm and ranging starts to diminish. It almost appears that he is missing birds and looking to me for some help. Further, he has a more difficult time locating the birds in larger fields. It almost seems like he is not always using his nose but just attempting to cover allot of ground to flush the birds. Since we are working two dogs we will give him a rest after about 1 hour for about an hour and then put him out again.
Since I have never hunted with Labs before, could you tell me if this is normal at this stage and also what the next steps might be to better refine the dog in the area of locating birds?
Also, do Labs locate birds the same way that pointing dogs do? Thanks for your help. At 11 months I would say that you have a good start on a fine dog. I have seen a lot of labs in the uplands. They are very good retrievers and work well in the upland as long as you understand they are not built the same as "upland" dogs. Now I am not saying that a lab cant do upland work I am saying that your 11 month old pup might be over worked!
10 birds is a lot of work in a hour time, and that could be some problem. At 11 months I would work on proper quartering and hold the number of birds down. Keep him driving hard. You say "1/2 hour to 45 minutes into the hunt we have typically found and flushed 2-3 birds " This is not enough bird contact to keep him interested. Have the dog find and flush 3 to 4 birds in 15 to 20 minutes max. Keep him driving hard.
I don't think it is really a problem with your dog as much as it is a problem with the hunting area and the birds you are using. You say that on pigeons he has a high success rate. Pigeons are birds with LOST of scent and they normally do not run. Pheasants and chukars are runners. Another thing you have to look at is how are you releasing the birds? if you "fly them", or let them fly from the box to the field the birds are "air washing" Birds that have just flown have less scent. This ability to "air wash" helps them dodge predators. For training I like to shackle chukars and pheasants. I give them enough room to walk but not run. The bird will start to fight the leg shackles and this makes them put out scent.
Another thing to look at is the scenting conditions and the cover. The best scenting conditions are cool with some moisture. The worst cover is hay fields. I have seen very good hunting dogs have a hard time locating planted birds in hay.
You say " It seems as the dog starts to have a more difficult time finding birds his enthusiasm and ranging starts to diminish. It almost appears that he is missing birds and looking to me for some help".
I have seen a lot of dogs do this, mostly retrievers, with a strong background in obedience. The first thing that happens is the dog cant find birds. Most dogs want to please so when the hunting gets poor and they know you are "on edge" because he is not finding birds, the dog will slow down or go to heel they know that is a action they can do that will please you. Also watch the wind and make sure to work him into the wind this helps the dog to locate birds.
You also say " he has a more difficult time locating the birds in larger fields. It almost seems like he is not always using his nose but just attempting to cover allot of ground to flush the birds". Labs are not built to cover LOTS of ground. Keep him in smaller areas of cover. Flushers are not supposed to be big running ground gobblers. They work best in small plots of cover like ditch banks and other small areas of cover. Once this pup figures out what you want he will produce it but big open areas are tough enough on veteran dogs let alone pups.
You ask " could you tell me if this is normal at this stage and also what the next steps might be to better refine the dog in the area of locating birds?"
I would reduce the amount of time the dog is on the ground and increase bird contact to 4 birds in less than 15 minutes, this will keep him working hard. If you are using game birds use shackles and in dry conditions use a spray bottle and wet the birds belly down to increase scent. Use smaller training areas! Flushers are best at small areas and you have said that in a 1/2 acre area he does great. Don't make him work large areas focus on the size of area that would normally produce birds like a ditch bank size piece of cover. Give this dog a little help and let him have time to figure out what you want. It takes time for a dog to figure out how to scent track. Right now everything you are saying sounds like you have a great prospect. I think if you focus on they way you are training and the "set up" he will do fine.
On you last question. do Labs locate birds the same way that pointing dogs do? Yes they smell them! But a pointer in my opinion has a better nose than a lab. Labs are built to swim, mark falls, and handle big waterfowl and big water. Pointers were designed to??? Find upland birds. If you want to find out if your dog is just running or really hunting do this. Put a wing clipped pigeon in your pocket. Work the dog on a down wind direction and when the dog is not looking toss the pigeon in front of you. Then watch the dog when it quarters back for sign of scenting the bird.
Good luck Ron Klimes
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