One of our Founding Members of RymanSetters.com is Walt Cottrell, DVM, of Vermont. Walt not only has a long history in breeding and hunting ryman-type setters but he is also a veterinarian, a wildlife biologist and a regular columnist for the magazine Upland Almanac. His column, “Healthy Dog” is a long standing tradition for the magazine and has covered in-numerous important topics for bird hunters and their dogs. In the fresh-off-the-press Summer 2018 edition of Upland Almanac Walt discusses RymanSetters.com: how and why we breeders came together, our goals and philosophies, as well as an overview of our Annual Breeder Gatherings. As usual in his writing, Walt did an excellent job with the article and I encourage all to check out his “Healthy Dog” column this summer and year round.
Wild birds, wild birds, wild birds, wild birds…”Our dogs handle wild birds”…”We prove our dogs on wild birds”…etc etc. We’ve all heard it before but what does it really mean? Does it really matter? Is it just an advertising tactic? In short, yes it really matters. But why and how it makes a difference is another story.
Simply hunting a dog on wild birds is not, in and of itself, the critical factor. It’s having the experience and knowledge to see and evaluate a dog’s ability to handle those birds. Making a point or two on birds he blunders into doesn’t make him a great dog. It’s the almost intangibles that make a dog great and, as a result, more likely to pass on greatness to his offspring. Only they’re not quite intangible. Is he thinking about where the birds might be? Does he evaluate cover? Learn where different species of birds live? Know how to use wind? Know when he’s following running birds? Learn what they’re going to do to try to evade him? And on and on. How many people actually think about these things while hunting? How many would recognize that these things are happening? I guess I don’t know the answer to that but I do know this. If you don’t hunt you can’t know what it takes, much less if your dog has it. And even if you do hunt you might not have noticed any of this.
Let me back up and start from the beginning, my beginning that is. My first setter was very good at finding and pointing grouse. She had plenty of faults but she was a really good grouse dog right out of the box. I was clueless and had no idea what set her apart so I decided I should try to learn what I could from her while I had the chance. The very next hunt I took her on provided an Ahah! moment for me. I was walking a logging trail as she ran ahead of me on the road. I watched her swivel her head as she ran, looking side to side at the cover on both sides of the road. She locked onto a patch of dogwoods, veered off the road, and swung around the downwind side of the birdy looking cover, slowing down to check for scent as she passed by. The exact place I thought might produce a grouse. I remember stopping dead in my tracks, mouth agape, and thinking “Holy $&*?, she’s looking at the cover!” I was amazed. Prior to this I guess I had assumed dogs just ran around searching randomly for scent. In hindsight it seems kind of dumb to not have realized she learned which types of cover grouse were likely to be found in. Of course she did and that was part of what made her so good at pointing them.
That observation led to 25 years of studying dogs’ performance and evaluating the way they search for and locate birds. What they learn and when they learn it. There have been plenty more of those Ahah! moments along the way. I remember taking Comet out for Huns when has was about 1 1/2 years old. Birds were sparse that year and he’d never seen a Hun but he hunted like an experienced dog, hitting the places I expected to find them. He only had a couple hunts under his belt with no contacts but he knew where to find them? How?
Fast forward to 2015. Iris is nine months old and has never seen a bird in the three hunts I’ve taken her on. Chukars and Huns were difficult to impossible to find that year but I’ve watched her slow to investigate likely locations over and over again. On her fourth hunt she’s swinging downwind of each likely location, checking for scent as she passes by. She was checking roost locations in brushy draws, feeding areas on steep ridges, loafing areas around rock outcroppings, etc. She was an experienced dog but with no bird contacts. How? By then I knew how and when she swung over to check out a feeding area, caught scent, then turned and worked forty yards to where she pointed a pair of Huns you’d think she’d done it many times. This is a dog that showed me she had the intelligence to figure out where to find a bird she’d never seen before. And she did so at only nine months of age. Made her first retrieve on one of those Huns too. Yes it takes birds to make a bird dog but this girl didn’t even need to find them to figure them out. She showed me more on a few hunts with zero bird contacts than you could ever learn about her with planted birds.
Those are the kinds of things that set the great dogs apart from the rest of the pack and you can’t begin to understand them unless you’ve hunted those birds where they live. If you aren’t familiar with the birds and their habits yourself, how can you recognize when, or how, your dog figures them out? You can’t.
So when I say my dogs handle wild birds this is what I mean. Not that a dog made a point or saw a few birds, they really know how to handle them. Have learned where they live and how to locate and point them. Follow/relocate if they run off. Anticipate where they will run. Then find and point them. It’s a beautiful thing…
I wanted to introduce Stoney Brook Outfitters. We are from the great state of Wisconsin.
We are more focused on hunting than breeding. The majority of our hunting consists of hunting Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock in Wisconsin. We also spend around 90 days a year taking advantage of 10,000 acres of public land groomed for Prairie Chickens in Central Wisconsin. To start our hunting season, we take an annual trip to South Dakota to hunt Prairie Chickens and Sharptails. Occasionally we will also hunt quail, pheasants, ducks and geese too. The majority of our work surrounds the kennel and training all dogs from hunting to obedience to service dogs. We have three Rymans (and a couple Pointers and a Lab) and are getting ready for our second litter of Rymans this spring.
Feel free to ask questions if you have them!
First I want to state that I am not claiming to be a professional trainer with decades training dozens of pups. However, I no longer consider myself a “newbie” either, as I’ve successfully trained a few of my own setters as well as friend’s pups. There have been many books and articles written by professional trainers, some even focused on the Ryman-Type setter that I’ve personally read and continue to use. I have a theory that often as we gain more experience in something and grow further from that beginner, the harder it is to relate to the beginner (for us older folks, think of relating to a teenager). This article is meant to give the new owner of a Ryman-Type setter a simple, yet effective guide to training their own pup to the point of a started hunting companion.
When I got my first Ryman-Type setter, I kept hearing that you need to be careful with these dogs, too much training, too much pressure or the wrong kind of training can damage or at the very least, hinder their natural instincts. Wanting to do things correctly and heed the advice of many with lots of experience, I set out to learn as much as I could. I read many books, articles, talked to trainers, but ones nearby with experience with this type of dog are not easy to come by. I quickly found myself overwhelmed when trying to put it all together. Having some experience now, with successes and mistakes, and still being able to relate to the completely novice me, I hope to give some perspective and clear guidance to the new owner/trainer of these truly wonderful dogs.
Before I get started, I’d like to give some good tips or phrases that have helped me and I use as guidance throughout training.
- These pups learn more from positive reinforcement and success. Always try to setup training so the pup succeeds and can be rewarded.
- Avoid introducing more than one “new thing” at any one time. Almost everything is a progression.
- There are “suggestions” and “commands”, you must know the difference if you want your pup to know the difference. Example: Early on when teaching “come” it is a suggestion, later on when you know they know the command, it must be a command and must be enforced. If you give commands and allow the pup to decide when he or she wants to obey, to the pup it is a suggestion. If you don’t plan on enforcing, don’t give the command.
- Setters never forget. (Just keep this in mind, you’ll know what I mean in a few years)
- I don’t find it necessary to use the “wing on a string”, although it’s fun to see those first puppy points. Just DO NOT OVERDO IT, you don’t want to encourage sight pointing.
- Starting the first week, it’s most important that your pup become accustomed to and confident in his or her new surroundings.
- From the first day/night start crate training. Use treats to entice in and say “In” or “Kennel” every time they go through the crate door. Always make this a pleasant experience, never a punishment.
- If pup cries when in the crate. Start by putting the crate in the family room during the day and next to your bed at night. Every night, move the crate a few feet away from the bed, until furthest away. I have had great luck with this and more sleep for us during the first week.
- Don’t use any crate pads, towels, blankets, etc.
- Use a crate just big enough.
- Also starting first day:
- Start teaching and encouraging the “come” command as a suggestion. You can use treats or just by getting down to pups level and entice. Don’t overdo it, but whenever pup is coming to you, it doesn’t hurt to say “come”. Doing this familiarizes them with the command and associates the command with the action.
- Start with “PLAY” fetch. I now use the small squeaky Kong balls (look like small tennis balls). On a non-slippery floor, roll the ball for the pup to chase, I don’t give any commands at this point, I just want the pup to learn to chase and pick up. If pup brings it back to you, great, if not, great, let them play with it and have fun. Each pup is likely to develop differently. The trick I’ve learned with these pups is to not go too quickly or overdo it, it must always be fun. It’s always best to leave them wanting more as opposed to you trying to coax them to chase it “one more time”. Also, DO NOT chase the pup to try to get the ball from them, always entice them to come to you if possible. Always pick the ball up at the end of the session, it should not be used as a chew toy. Keep having play sessions with pup, increase the size of the ball as they grow. As the pup grows and is having fun play retrieving, introduce a small bumper in addition to the ball. I use the 2” diameter ones. If you have a hallway that you can throw it down so that pup has to come back your way, this is optimal. At this point when you throw it, command fetch as they are nearing the bumper and about to pick it up. Once they show strong retrieving drive, gently stop them as they try to get by you and give the “release” or “give” command and gently take the bumper out of their mouth. If they start to try to avoid you or drop short, let them keep it and run by you. Again, be careful not to overdo this. Later on, you can take the ball and or bumper outside in the yard, but don’t be alarmed if they want to play keep away. Don’t chase them, just try to call them to you and let them have fun. Also, as you continue daily sessions, if they seem to look bored or lose interest, change locations, maybe hide it around a corner of the house, toss it in a bush, etc., to keep it new and fun. The one thing I’ve learned the hard way with these dogs is to NEVER FORCE them to retrieve. If they don’t show interest at any time, just pick up the ball or bumper and find something else to do. My Belle showed little interest in retrieving after the first few months, at around 2 years old, she followed up a pheasant I shot and made a perfect retrieve and is now a strong retriever, it was that easy.
- Starting second week, start introducing noise. This will be the beginning of conditioning to gun blast. If done correctly, I rarely see any reaction when the gun is introduced at around 6 months.
- While they are eating, go as far away as possible (20+ feet) where you can still see them and clap your hands together once. If it doesn’t seem to bother them and pup continues eating, wait a minute and do it again, but don’t overdo it. The important thing is you don’t see any negative reaction or fear, if you do, stop and either move further away or clap softer. As the pup does not seem to be bothered by the noise, each day clap a little louder, once at that point, move in a little closer until about 10’ away.
- At this point, I will go back to the original distance and make a louder noise by smacking a rolled up newspaper or magazine on my palm. Repeat the same progression as you did with the single clap. After that, use two blocks wood (6 inch 2×4 scrap works well). I usually make each progression (clap, rolled up paper, blocks of wood) last at least 1 – 2 weeks, just ensure you do not rush or see any negative reactions.
- Introduction to Whoa. After a few weeks of good success with noise conditioning during feeding, hold the pup gently a few feet away from their feeding area and have someone put the bowl of food down. As you are holding them, say “whoa”. Try to get the pup to stand still for 1 to 2 seconds without you restraining them, then give your release command, I use “Go On”. Repeat each day and lengthen the time at first, then the time and distance. The goal is to be able get your pup to stand for a few minutes at about 15 feet away until you give the release command. Be consistent and use small progressions, always building on success. As they get the idea, I will add in styling their tail by gently rubbing under tail feathering, as well as pushing forward on their hind end forward to prompt them to push back against you.
- Depending on time of year, and when pup is at least 3 to 5 months, and they have had all necessary shots to be able to get out in the country, take them to a field where they can run around and get used to the fields or woods. I like to use the same fields that I will introduce training birds. Depending on situation and your comfort level of pup obeying, have them drag a 10’ check cord about ¼” diameter (just be careful they don’t get tangled on something where you don’t know where they are).
- During your trips to the field, this is a good time to start using a whistle. I use two whistle commands, 1 blast for “come”, 2 blasts for “turn” or “come around”. While in an open field, when following a pup, start walking 90 degrees to the right of left and give 2 blasts on the whistle, most likely the pup will see you and want to get back in front of you. After a while, give 2 blasts and turn the opposite way. I like to give a hand signal the way that I’m walking or the way I want the pup to go. It’s amazing how they pick up body language and quickly put together the whistle signal. Continue to do to this every time in the field.
- Once your pup is happy running around in the fields and assuming your noise progression mentioned early has gone well, you’ll want to introduce to the blank pistol. I do this over at least 3 to 4 sessions, limiting to 1 session per day.
- I have 2 methods I use:
- Method 1: Using a training partner, run with your pup through the fields that you’ve been going to, get out to about 100 yards away from your training partner and when you know pup is happily chasing you or running with you, motion to your partner to fire the blank pistol by waving your arms. Be sure to notice any negative reaction, but most likely pup will just stop, look and resume having fun. Be sure not to say anything or acknowledge the noise or the pup’s reaction. If the pup resumes having fun and chasing, repeat 3 – 5 more times and stop for that day. Repeat these sessions on subsequent days, working a little closer each time until about 30 yards away. At this point I will start all over again at 100 yards distance, except now I will use a 28ga or 20ga shotgun instead of the pistol and working back down to 30 yards. Basically pup has learned that the noise is just part of the surroundings and nothing to worry about.
- Method 2: If you have an older experienced bird dog, let the older pup run with the pup, thus replacing the need for a second person. Typically the older pup will be all business when running through the fields and the pup will be close behind looking to chase and play. When the pup is out about 100 yards and having fun running in the fields, fire the pistol, if the pup doesn’t react negatively, follow the progression above, and remembering to stop at 30 yards.
- I have 2 methods I use:
- After the first session with of introducing blank pistol and things have gone well, you can start the introduction to training birds (but separate from noise training):
- I introduce to the remote launcher by putting it in the backyard in a released state (you never want to risk the pup having the launcher release and hit them, as this will most certainly make them afraid of the launcher, and if the launcher has old bird scent on it, you’ve potentially created a bird shy pup). Leave the launcher in the backyard, at first pup will likely notice and sniff the new thing in his/her world, but eventually will be distracted by other things and won’t pay much attention to the launcher. After a day or two of this, place the launcher in the yard in the set position. When the pup is far enough away about 20’ feet or more, release the launcher remotely and observe pups reaction. Do this from time to time until the pup doesn’t pay much attention to it.
- You are now ready to introduce the pup to pigeons in the launcher. Take the pup to the training fields, set a pigeon in a launcher. Make sure you know where the launcher is and the pup can’t see it (I use a little piece of marker tape or string on a taller blade of grass. Bring your pup on a check cord downwind the same way as above, again be sure to not let pup get too close to the launcher, you definitely don’t want them setting it off in their face. Once on point and the pup has had a chance to drink in the scent, have a partner walk in 90 degrees and flush the bird as they get close (5 – 10 feet). Once I’ve done this successfully at least once, I will look to shoot the pup’s first bird for them. I like to have two people for this, one to handle the pup, and one gunner. I do same as above, but shoot the bird once it gets a little ways out. I like to time the release of the check cord to immediately after the shot.
At some point when you are confident the pup will point and hold on their own without the check cord, allow them to make the mistake of breaking point or trying to creep in on the bird after you know they have scented it. In my experience, most will do this at some point. If they do, launch the bird and let it fly away. This will teach the pup that “if I take one more step, the bird is gone”. This is why I use pigeons, as they can almost never be caught, teaching the pup bad habits of trying to bust and catch a bird, which can easily happen with quail or chukars. Again, just be sure pup is not in danger of being too close and having the launcher or bird smack them in the face.
- Step 1: I like to start with training quail dizzied and tucked under a little mound of grass, just enough to hold the bird for a little while. Don’t let the pup see you plat the bird. I take the pup on the check cord and walk or run behind them working them into the scent, The idea is to have them come across the scent cone downwind so the scent hits them all at once. (This doesn’t always work out perfectly, just be sure you don’t jerk the check cord or make this unpleasant in any way for the pup). Usually you can tell when they catch scent of the bird, they will point briefly i.e. flash point. I usually like to “help” pup into their first point by giving a little resistance on the cord and putting my hand under their belly. After a few seconds, have your training partner come in at 90 degrees and flush the bird. Don’t be alarmed if pup gets a little nervous and rears back away from the bird. Once the bird flushes, let the pup chase. I find it best if the bird flushes and the pup can’t catch it, but if they do, don’t worry, just pick up the bird and get control of the check cord. I usually will do this 2 or 3 times for the first session and if this goes well, the last time I use quail.
- Step 2: Next I get some good flying chukars and put them in a “tip up” release. I will repeat the same steps as above using the check cord, but when pup is chasing and at least 30 yards away, I will fire the blank pistol. Always looking for no negative reaction. By this time, pup should be scent pointing and the intensity starting to show.
- Step 3: I like to use remote launchers with pigeons, however you first have to introduce them to the remote launcher.
- Always allow some time for scent of the planted bird to build up.
- Pick days with good scenting conditions. No hot, dry and still days. Cool, moist breezy days or mornings are always preferable.
- Never let pup see you plant birds. Put in crate where they can’t see you between sessions.
- At about 6 months and after gun and birds, I introduce the E-Collar. I start out by putting the collar (turned off) on the pup around the house. Start with 1 hour a day and work up to 6 – 8 hours per day. Never leave the pup completely unattended with the collar on, crate is fine if you are home. Basically the pup should get used to wearing the collar during its everyday routine. This should be done prior to introducing the stimulation on the pup, which I won’t go over here. It’s very difficult to convey everything that one needs to do to be successful, and we certainly don’t want things to go wrong here. Seek advice from someone with a good track record of properly introducing to E-Collar.
Now that you’ve shot a few training birds over points, what’s next. Go Hunting and shoot birds over good points! If you really want a hunting companion that learns how to handle different birds and develops natural staunchness, only shoot pointed birds. If the pup bumps or busts a bird, let it go for another encounter. These pups learn quickly, both good things and bad things. Reward them for bad behavior like busting a bird and they will certainly look to repeat it.
Things you should be doing throughout consistently:
- Get them accustom to riding in the car/truck. Always in a crate. If pup vomits, try to take shorter trips on less bumpy roads. Some pups never have this issue, some have to be slowly conditioned. Best if done when they have an empty stomach as well.
- When opening a door to go outside, or going into another room, make them wait for your command. I tell my pups to “wait”, as I slowly open the door, if they try to rush through, I close door, back them up and do it again. You don’t want a pup that busts through every open door, potentially knocking over anyone in the way, or worse running into danger.
Best of luck training your pup!
Temps were in the 50’s and the sun was shining today for our last day of hunting. Combining the wonderful weather with the company of good bird dogs and good friends made for a grand way to close out the 2nd Annual Ryman Breeders Gathering & Hunt. Tomorrow will find us on the road, traveling up to 1500 miles to our homes. But conversation is already underway for plans for next year. We have enjoyed sharing our event with you all through our posts and photos and hope that you have enjoyed them along with us.