Hello friends! I realize I have been entirely derelict with making regular posts, and even getting the couple I promised finished and posted. I am still nibbling away at them - I promise. We took a year off from producing a litter for ourselves, to catch up on life and to do some things we had been meaning to do but couldn't because we had a litter on the ground. If you follow @TwoGunKennels or @Two_Gun_Kennels any, then you have a few ideas of what we have been up to...
One of the things we have been wanting to do is work on Ila's Certificate of Merit, as close to a Champion title a breed in the AKC's FSS can aspire to within that system (aside from multiple CM's). The preponderance of Open Shows in our region take place in the spring when she would have puppies on the ground. Even then, there just aren't many offered, and most are four or more hours away... The few remaining Open Shows are sporadically offered during the time she drops coat, and frankly looks her worst.
We had a nice weekend at the Moses Lake show cluster where we all did well, with multiple group placements for all the dogs we had entered. However, Ila was given the opportunity to make history again! That's right, last summer, with a rough coat, she was the first female Drent to win a Best in Open Show (BIOC, Best in Open Conformation - yes, it is a bit confusing...), and as of Friday, 14 April 2023 she is the first female Drent to win multiple Best in Open Shows in AKC History!
Another proud breeder moment: so far, our paternal line coming down from Esp. Ch. Joksan NABAR the Gloucester has produced all the AKC's Best in Open Show winners to date.
I got into birddogs later in life, but I have always been nutz about dogs, to include their training, learning, and later their conformation/structure, breeding and so on...
My Air Force career kept me from doing many of the things I wanted to do with my dogs. Long hours, working on my days off, deployments, travel, etc. A real sob story. So being able to do the "field work" I wanted to do with them was a far-off dream. These days, as long as things are working halfway decently, "playing with my dogs" is what I do.
Powder was initially trained by Dan Hoke of Dunfur kennels just outside of town. Dan is a GSP guy and has a field trail resume few can equal. Moreover, when Dan was a young fellow, he was an apprentice to Sigbot "Bodo" Winterhelt - The Bodo Winterhelt! Dan is a gifted dog handler for sure, and I will forever love watching him handle a dog I believe. He has a gift that is just magical! Still, he wasn't able to steady Powder up for whatever reason.
Powder has been a great companion to me. She is MY dog without question, and well in tune with me as one would hope (expect) from a Medical Alert Service Dog. In the field she has been a consistent producer, best yet she has become more proficient with each passing year. I have always wanted to do more with her steadiness for a long time now and this summer finally presented the opportunity I have been looking for!
This little video is kind of a big deal since Powder has spent most of her life treating gunfire in the field the same way Usain Bolt treated a starter's pistol sounding off! I had hoped to work on this last season, but she was injured, then pregnant, and went straight into hunting season just after the pup left. At 8 years of age, and only 4 dedicated training sessions for her this training season she now understands being steady to wing, shot, and release. So here we are, Team Hunting with Tule and Powder. This is their first co-session together. Tule did a great job of supporting Powder's initial point, so I gave her permission to come up and establish her own point, which she took advantage of. They worked well (even though Powder was a bit slippery as I walked in) and were nice and steady, overall, I'm really happy with them both. We use structure over force and high pressure. For her to demonstrate this level of steadiness with another dog in the mix is pretty awesome.
by Mark Dinsmore of L'Etoile du Nord Kennels
Well maybe not, since I am borrowing this from a breeder I have followed for the past decade, and odds are he has been inspired by other serious breeders and maybe a serious client… So, these aren’t my words, but we do share sentiment on how many prospective clients give too many breeders (fill in the breed of your choice, this isn’t a Drent or Spinone specific thing) an easy pass. I have permission to post this and have made a few light edits, mostly grammar and format for readability since this was originally a multi-part post. I will identify any additional thought(s) I have added with (Ed.). So without further ado:
One Breeder's Perspective
There has been an explosion of people starting to have litters (most certainly since the pandemic, Ed.). So how do you know if they are knowledgeable and have dogs that are worthy of breeding? Frankly, you don’t and many are not. I have decided to give my perspective on what someone looking at getting a puppy should be looking for, and some of the questions you should be asking.
I see a lot of people advertising puppies out of "Great" hunting parents. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen someone advertise anything less than that. Really? Every one of those dogs is a GREAT hunter. Says who? Sorry but reality is such that they all can't be great. Secondly, who is making that judgment?
Questions that should be asked:
First and foremost, can you go see the dog hunt? It is the old adage, seeing is believing. At a minimum, the breeder should be able to have a video for you to see of their dogs hunting.
What are they hunting? Wild Birds? Pen raised birds. It does make a difference. Wild birds are by definition wild. They will not tolerate a dog that is a sloppy hunter. A dog pressures the bird too much, the bird leaves. A pen raised bird will often just sit there. It doesn't matter that the dog is inches from it, frankly it has very little survival instinct or skills, it has never needed them. I have often seen where someone has had to pick up the bird and throw it, to get it to maybe fly. Also, a dog often doesn't need to hunt to find birds that have been put out for it. It is just an Easter Egg hunt. I understand that it can be hard for some people to hunt wild birds, and hence hunt planted birds. I will say at least the dog is getting to see some birds, but please don't say it is a great hunter, as you have no way of knowing if that is true.
How often do the dogs get to hunt? A couple of times a year for an hour or so? Doesn't really tell you much about the dog’s ability. To know just how good of a hunter a dog is, it needs to get out A LOT. It needs to hunt when the birds are plentiful, and more importantly when the birds are scarce. The truly great dogs will hunt all day to find that one bird, and not only will they be hunting, but they will also be hunting HARD.
I would caution you to take what you hear about their dogs being great, with a grain of salt. Remember, it is one person's opinion. Ask hard questions.
A bird dog is just that, a hunter of birds. But without training how can a dog rise to its true potential? Not all dogs are created equal. Training separates the wheat from the chaff. A Breeder needs to train their dog, before they can brag about how good they are. It is a question a prospective buyer should be asking.
Training shows a breeder a number of things. Does the dog have the brain and mindset to be able to handle training? Training is stressful for dogs, just as it is for humans. Not all dogs can handle that. It shows how quickly a dog can adapt to new situations, and trust me, they must be able to adapt in the field while hunting. It shows what level of intelligence a dog has. Dogs are not robots; they must be able to think in the field and make decisions while they are hunting. They must be able to learn where birds are likely to be. Training also shows biddability, the willingness to work with you.
So, your dog is a "Natural" and doesn't need to be trained. Sorry but NOPE. No one can tell me their dog wouldn't be better without training, not to mention without training you are not able evaluate to the afford mentioned comments on training. Case in point. Many of you have probably heard of a dog by the name of Vernon de L'Escarbot. Vern was a "Natural" at 4 months of age. He ran the field well, quartering, and always turning into the wind. He found and pointed birds and was staunch. He retrieved to hand starting with his first ever shot bird. Did he need to be trained. ABSOLUTELY. He would never have achieved the heights without the training, plus I would have not known just how good he truly was. ALL dogs will benefit from training. When asking a breeder how well their dogs are trained, don't accept them saying they are "Naturals", frankly in my opinion that is just a copout.
So, you are not as lucky as I am to live in the country with wide open tracts of land to run on, nor birds to train with. Send the dog out to a trainer. How can you say it is too expensive to do that, if you are making money selling the puppies out of those dogs? There are things I can't do training wise. Right now, I have a young dog with a trainer to be trained to be handled off a horse. I don't have a horse at this time, so I can't train him. I went online, posted what I was looking for, Found, met with and dropped off Styx for training with the trainer, all in less than 24 hours. (We too needed a trainer with a horse, we did our own search, made the appointment, and was part of the training event. We did what was needed to ensure our dog was set up for success. It was a super cool afternoon to boot, Ed.).
A reputable trainer will have trained the dogs they are breeding. That doesn't mean they have to fully broke, but they need to go through some level of formal training to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and suitability for breeding.
Knowledge of the breed
A reputable breeder should possess a good amount of knowledge of the breed. It doesn’t mean they have to know everything, but they should have a good grasp on many subjects.
At a minimum:
A breeder should know the history of the breed.
What the conformation standard of the breed is and where their dogs fit in that. They should be able to articulate why their dogs are in standard and not just say they are in standard. Be able to list strengths and more importantly weaknesses, and EVERY DOG has weaknesses.
What the working standard of the breed is, meaning how they are supposed to hunt, and not simply say their dogs are good or great hunters. Every single one says they have good or great hunters. Do you really think every dog is great? They should be able to tell you exactly why they are great, based on the working standard, not based on what their opinion is. Sadly, most people don’t know how the dogs are supposed to hunt.
A breeder should know the lineage of their dogs, not just say they are great lines, but rather why they are great lines and what the titles mean. I am amazed when someone says they are “Champion lines” but then don’t even know what the titles mean and the requirements to achieve them. Always remember a pedigree is just a piece of paper. Too many people just breed dogs based that piece of paper, not based on the actual dog. Remember, you are buying a dog, not a piece of paper!
Do your due diligence and ask questions. A reputable breeder wants questions (Ed.). If they can’t answer your questions or give you vague answers, is that what you want? I suspect you aren’t looking for a vague dog.
Conformation, aka the breed standard.
What is conformation, and what does it have to do with the breed standard? Is it important?
The simple answer to the second question is a resounding YES!! A breed standard is how we define a dog breed. It lists out the attributes a dog is supposed to have to be considered a particular breed. Without breed standards, simply put, we don't have individual dog breeds. Surprisingly, and more so, sadly, a lot of people breeding dogs don't think it is that big of a deal. SERIOUSLY??!! All they care about is function in the field (or some other narrow band of traits, Ed.). That is a ridiculous assertion.
A breed standard dictates how a dog moves in the field and hunts (and quite possibly much more depending upon the breed and its standard, Ed.). If a dog is out of standard, it may not run properly, and that leads to decreased stamina, and wear on the dog's joints. Which can lead to increased (number of and severity of, Ed.) injuries and shorten the hunting career of a dog. In this regard a breed standard is vitally important.
Conformation is how well a dog adheres to the breed standard. No dog is perfect, let me repeat that, NO DOG IS PERFECT! All dogs have areas where they are weaker, as well as areas where they are stronger. In France, I don't know about the rest of Europe, to be registered a dog must go in front of a Conformateur, after the age of one. If they don't meet a minimum standard, they cannot be registered. (This is not common in Europe, I've shown dogs in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, but I see a tremendous amount of value in such a system. The Dutch have Breeder's Day where mated pairs of dogs are invited to be shown with their offspring as a unit and individually in an effort to gauge the success of creating the next generation of Drents. This is an ideal time to learn about the breed, Ed.). In the show ring dogs are rated, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Insufficient. At the CEB-US dogs are given a written evaluation so a breeder can know the strengths and weaknesses of their dogs (At Breeder's Day and other similarly formatted shows Drents are given a detailed written evaluation much in the same way, Ed.). Remember, the evaluation is only as good as the Judge (italics, Ed.), so things do have to be taken with a grain of salt (No truer words have been spoken or written! Ed.). They don't always get an expert for the breed to do it, and yes that can make a difference. (In North America there are no qualified judges for the Drent, and for the Spinone not all approved judges are well versed in the breed standard oftentimes selecting a few elements and hanging the whole enchilada on that versus a balanced approach...but I digress. In short don't rely on a judge to be the one to tell you about your dog - learn the breed, what's right and what's not, Ed.).
How does this all apply to breeding, you ask? Well, if you don't know the weaknesses of your dog, how can you improve it? Knowledge is power, the more knowledge you have of your breeding dog, the better decision(s) you can make when it comes to pairing dogs. One of the purposes of breeding is to better the breed, you need that knowledge to be able to attempt to do that.
Sadly, right now, as far as I can tell, the purpose of a lot of people breeding dogs is to make some money (Breeding dogs to make money in my experience is laughable, Ed.). It is not a bad thing to make money, but it is a bad thing if you don't really know anything about the breed or the dogs you are using, because then you are only doing it to (try to, Ed.) make money. Remember, you should also be trying to better the breed. Without a doubt some breeders have a lot of knowledge about the breed, but sadly most do not. Try asking the breeder you are talking to, "Where are your dogs lacking?" I would be willing to bet you will be greeted with a pause, if you even get an answer at all, and then a response that says their dogs have great conformation, or something like that. That is not an answer to what you asked. I can tell you the strengths of all my dogs, and more importantly the weaknesses, any breeder should be able to do that (we can as well and happily bore you to tears talking each dog's ups and downs, Ed.).
Remember, knowledge is power.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in my first ever IABCA Show with Ila. The IABCA has a unique format where they limit the number of entries, so each exhibitor gets some one-on-one time with the judge. Also, the judge will provide a limited written critique on your dog against its breed standard. Judges are both foreign and domestic, some are new, others may have quite the resume!
The IABCA format allows you to show your dog a lot, if you signed up for everything that your dog is eligible for. Our two days were composed of four shows, two each day! Judges evaluate an entire Group, e.g. Sporting group, one breed at a time, then judge the group as a whole. With a brief lunch break, Groups are rotated to a new judge and then you show again. At the end of the day the first show gets all its "Best in Show" dogs run, then the second show follows soon after. It makes for a full day of dog showing! On day two, with shows three and four, everyone is rotated again, so your dog gets seen by a new judge. The only difference is there will be a few special categories run, and then at the very end any dog who earned a Best in Show placement from any of the preceding shows can compete to see who won the whole enchilada!
For a rare breed there is no other way to build that much ring time! In all Ila was shown seven times on each day (in the blazing heat I might add) and should have been shown at the final event, but I was unaware of her eligibility to do so.
The IABCA has multiple categories which are treated as their own individual show. I find this to be interesting, and depending on your situation, you can enter your dog under multiple categories and squeak out an extra show and the possibility to win!
The downside for a rare breed like the Drent (or super low entry breed like the Spinone), just as in conventional showing (AKC or UKC), judges truly have little or no knowledge of your breed. Most assuredly they have not taken Judge's Education for the breed! Sure, they have the breed standard at their side, but that alone isn't sufficient to make a full and legitimate judgement. Of interest Ila's judges stuck to what they knew - movement. Then quickly perused the standard and went back over certain aspects of her during the write up phase to see if she matched what they believed they had read. All in all, most observations made were pretty good, and mostly accurate.
There were a few observations that were a bit comical. For example, one judge would have liked to see Ila with more muscle! In reality, she is the most well-muscled female Drent I have ever seen. She has surpassed her mother in that department, which is saying something. I'm not sure what she was expecting, but I took a moment to explain to the judge that Ila was a hoss for her breed. The other item that sticks out at the moment is the judge would have liked to seen more hair on Ila's ears... I of course explained to her that what she was seeing was a correctly groomed Drent, and that Drents with shaggy ears were in fact ungroomed savages living at the local homeless camp - this got a lot of laughter from her.
In principle you show your dog like you would at any other dog show, but you get face time with the judge and a critique. Dogs are rated on a scale of three to one (one being the best) on their overall conformation to the breed standard. The judge can grade some, all, or none the top grade and so on. Still there will be only one winner from each breed, with placements of first through third... At the group level, be it "Bred by" or regular, Dogs can be placed first through third with the first-place winner being able to go on to compete in the Best in Show. There are more classes to compete in, and each class is treated as its own show, and consequently there are more opportunities to win rosettes at the end of the day.
If your dog receives good grades, you can apply for IABCA titles. If anything, this is the one area the IABCA could be more protective of. The number of top grades needed is surprisingly low. If you have a nice dog, odds are it will grade well enough, and therefore become eligible in short order for a title. It then should go without explanation, Ila qualified for her International Champion title, and only needs one more point for her second IABCA title.
The titles are not what will bring me back though. Overall, the shows were well organized and ran efficiently. Their group awards, little medallions, are a tad outdated/silly. But their Best in Show rosettes are quite nice. For me it will be the ability to put my dog in the ring and have fun talking about her and educating others about her breed. There were plenty of people excited to see and pet their first Drent!
We used to send this by email to our clients many months in advance, now it lives here getting updated from time to time and the link finds its way to your inbox. Yes, we know, it could be a year or more before a new Two Gun pup will cross the threshold into your home. Which means, right now is a wonderful time to start looking into different training options and methods, as there is little pressure. You can read, ask questions, seek out advice, find a local trainer: observe training sessions, etc. and really see what is going to work for you. Making these kinds of decisions once you have the puppy is a whole lot like attempting to fix an airplane while it is in flight...generally not advisable. So here it is, I have dusted off the Recommended Reading list yet once again.
What do these books have in common? They are in tune with modern canine behavioral science vs. the old school ways. We believe in working smarter and not harder whenever possible and these resources will certainly help you to do so.
Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training, by Karen Pryor
The Puppy Primer, by Patricia B. McConnell
- for that matter, any Patricia B. McConnell book on training/dog behavior
How to raise a puppy you can live with, by Clarice Rutherford
When Pigs Fly! Training Success with Impossible Dogs, by Jane Killion, founder/creator of Puppy Culture. This book picks up where we left off with the Puppy Culture protocols, we used with our puppies and isn't just for "impossible" dogs! However, those who are intending to develop your Drent for field work please disregard pages 80-84 her ball & tug games run contrary to your aim.
Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw
The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare
Absolutely Positively Gundog Training, by Robert Milner. To learn the mechanics of "Positive/ Force Free Training" and developing a retrieve based on stimulus control.
The Drentsche Patrijshond for the North American Fancier, by B. P. O'Connor
Since we have you here in the mindset to learn and read. In short, the "early" pediatric spay/neuter is being strongly implicated/tied to joint irregularities, tendon injury, and even increased the risk of many cancers, amongst many other developmental issues, please take some time to review these scientific articles:
There are also some great training resources on the internet:
Leerburg / The Michael Ellis School for Dog trainers: Michael Ellis is considered by many to be one of the World's Greatest dog trainers. He uses LIMA principles to achieve incredible performance from a wide range of dogs for all types of dog sport. Michael's system covers a wide range of topics and is both highly effective, humane, and applicable to all aspects of canine sports.
McCann Dog Training: I am a big fan of McCann as they offer a wide range of well put together videos covering all manner of training challenges using Rewards and Markers, and even offer online courses here.
Dog Training by Kikopup: Run by Emily Larlham, owner operator of Dogmantics. She shares her impressive skill with easy to learn and follow videos for the regular person. Solving unusual problems suddenly got easier, if not surprisingly fun using her methodology.
Higgins GunDogs: Mr. Higgins has used his experience and background in training falcons for the benefit of gun dogs. This method hinges upon a dog's natural cooperation with his boss/co-hunter. The Higgins method isn't exactly 100% fully force and pressure free as its creator pitches. However, the Higgins Method presents stress to the dog in a minimalist and constructive fashion and is without question the best overall and most humane, system for training and managing a high drive gun dog! We use the Higgins Method with all our dogs.
Regular visitors to this spot will note I have included Standing Stone Kennels, removed them, reinstated them, and now note they are off again... They have been moving in the right direction. It is important to note that SSK pays their bills by producing content on a rapid production cycle. So, it is important to recognize that the quality of their content varies widely. A knowledgeable trainer can easily sort the wheat from the chaff whereas the novice may not. Therefore, my best advice is to use their content with objective care, or leave it be if you don't know what good training looks like.
For the three of you who follow my blog, recently renamed The TGK Blog, you will know that I enjoy spending time with my dogs. I’ve come to learn ‘training’ and hunting with them are simply different avenues to cultivate a stronger relationship with them as companions. I’ve ‘trained’ dogs since I was ten years old, and I learned as most of us have at that age by following an adult and using the method they used. It was easy to accept, as there didn’t seem to be any other way to go about ‘training’ a dog. The books that were available at the time only further supported the process. I remember when the Monks of New Skeet’s books were the hottest thing on dog training next to a branding iron ready to go…
I recall being introduced to ‘clicker’ training in the early 90’s when I lived in Alaska. The way it was presented made me more than just a skeptic, to be honest; I thought it was a joke. I did see there was intent to train without the use of force/pressure/use of harsh aversives. But I just didn’t get it.
It wasn’t until I moved to New Mexico and began training with Janet Miller that I saw ‘balanced training’ in action, and I immediately liked it. I saw the benefits of using things the dog liked to get them to perform versus just making them do it because it is what I wanted. When I got into agility with Shadow, my Golden, through Janet – that was all positive. But I wasn’t clever enough to recognize it at the time. Still, my time training with and learning from Janet redefined how I worked with and wanted to work with my dogs.
Years later I re-discovered the Drent and really wanted to make this bird dog thing happen. I read dozens of books on training a dog for field use. All of them required the use of force in one way or another. Nothing I was comfortable with, in fact, one book I ordered as a reprint of a famous out of print training book went into explicit detail on how to properly hit your dog with a 2”x4”! Feeling shocked, I recall throwing that book away. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to train with a few notable gundog guys in New Mexico and Washington. At the puppy end of their programs, it was all fun and games, but to get high trials levels of ‘performance’ aka steadiness, the need for the use of force was there. Still, they weren’t doing some of the incredibly harsh things some so-called trainers were doing. Things that were as shocking if not more so than the 2x4 guy… Fast forward a few years, my own style had become more and more LIMA (Least Invasive Minimally Aversive) through fits and starts in a clumsy haphazard way that tends to occur when a person is without a road map or mentor. I often wondered about how this could apply to the world of Gun Dogs. In the Gun Dog world Positive/Force Free/LIMA ‘training’ is rare as hen’s teeth, and as I have learned, a highly taboo topic.
When Jenna had lived in Western Washington state, she trained in a group that used the Gibbons-West method; a low-pressure, low-force way of training for her Fowler dog. This intrigued me – so it was possible! Why had I not heard of this? It made sense to me that training gun dogs should be able to be done without the use of force, after all in nearly all other facets of dog-sport the use of force in training is taboo these days. From Agility, Dog dancing, Flyball, frisbee, even in Mondioring and so many points in between people have been getting high drive dogs to do totally amazing things. More importantly, how have they done it? Well, the more amazing the behavior has been, the more likely it is that the handler/trainer has gotten the dog to offer the behavior and then rewarded the dog for doing so. Then the act of performing became rewarding for the dog. The dog chooses compliance…
Jenna suggested we try to train with Brad Higgins. Contact was made, and the appointment set. I don’t recall the last time I was so excited to learn something. From the moment you arrive, you are being educated. This I loved. I will not bore you with repeating the experience here, as I have written about it already. In short, I will say this, we both had a wonderful experience and came away with our eyes opened further and our heads reeling from trying to take in so much added information. We returned home with elevated expectations for the hunting season and how we would ‘train’ the following summer. Sadly, our original quail lady had elected to skip out on far more than producing quail for us, so our big summer of working with Ila and Tule was tabled. I did, however, add several books to my pile to read.
Just like leading up to our first Higgins experience dumping out old irrelevant information was without question the single greatest hurdle to learning the new. Learning is a journey, a fantastic one if you are ready and wanting to grow. I had become inspired and given the impetus to make another big step in the direction I had been pointed for a long time. This time with purpose and direction and possibly a mentor. With this experience fresh in my mind, I reread several canine behavior books – now with a whole new level of meaning and a much deeper level of understanding. I also joined force free training groups, added all kinds of books on learning theory, modern force free training methodology to my reading pile.
Over that summer I realized I, more than Ila, needed to go back to train with Brad. I returned to Nevada and with Brad’s help we focused intently on my handling. Brad videoed me and he critiqued my handling, missed queues, off timing, and the few things I did well. It was then he went from teacher to mentor. I had a lot of respect for Brad before, his care and passion are unmistakable, and dare I say it, palpable. We covered a lot of ground, I learned a great deal about myself and what I was doing, or rather what I thought I was doing. I spent those days so focused and deep in concentration I ended up with a truly crushing migraine – I had thrown everything I had at learning.
It should go without saying, Jenna and I had a great hunting season, better yet we had secured a new quail lady! Amanda has been fantastic. She works hard to deliver healthy strong birds for our program, and we are appreciative of her great attitude and commitment towards helping us achieve our goals. For this first summer of having a flight pen full of quail, we used Pharaoh quail. Amanda brought in a strain that was going to be edgier than the normal docile pharoah for us. While some were flightier, most were not so impressive. We learned the lighter color the bird was, the more likely it was to act wild. Ultra-rare it was when a rich-brown or dark grey one got up and left Dodge.
With the Higgins method it has been my observation that the use of pressure and harsh aversives are replaced with structure. To be successful with the Higgins method you need birds that will act wild, and you need to adhere to a deviously simple protocol. With some patience and a few good birds, the dog comes to understand you are critical to its success as a hunter. Better yet, the dog believes you are the key to his success! With this ‘truth’ installed in the dog’s mind his level of cooperation is amplified. All you have to do is not screw it up. This relationship is built upon trust and cooperation. The more this is allowed to grow, the higher the level of performance you will get from your dog: better bird management, points that are stauncher and more dramatic, and yes, even better retrieves. All by basically just slowing down, being quiet, paying attention and being calm - of course a gross oversimplification.
this may So back to our pharaohs. One of the more interesting and useful parts of the Higgins Method is allowing the dog to flush. Yes, it seems unusual and maybe even quite contrary. But after your dog has established its point, and you have situated yourself the dog is taught the “all right” queue, where the dog has permission to charge in and flush the bird, or simply relocate, or stand and defer to you. But in many cases one or two explosive steps is all it takes to get a bird to break and its game on. Do you like to shoot doubles? Here is your chance. What we learned in ‘training’ is our birds wouldn’t go and the girls would simply scoop the bird up on the “all right” – which technically is fair play, but what wild bird would let that happen? Moreover, this ninja grabbing became problematic for us, most notably Ila learned to stalk in like a panther and snatch the bird. There is a clear difference between when a dog is managing birds and creeping. Ila still didn’t have intent to put the bird up because if it flew, she stood steady, but if it sat tight, she would panther cruise in until the bird was in her mouth.
We consulted with Brad, and he confirmed our suspicions – we had a bird problem. To move forward we had to ditch “all right” at least temporarily. But what to do about Ila, the furry bird snatching glacier? Since we don’t use “whoa” or zap our dogs, just what were our options? Well truth be told; the solution was incredibly simple. I knew the difference between Ila managing a bird on the move, and when she had intent to cruise in for a snatch. This was the cornerstone to the fix. When she went into cruise mode, I simply recalled her, I knelt and praised her for returning and we left that bird alone and went to another. She was denied her reward, which is all. It took two times that day, and another on the following training day. She hasn’t cruised since. No yelling, no whistle bleating, no “whoa'ing", no zapping, no dramas; it was that simple.
In all we had a great summer of fun Ila, Tule, and I. We ‘trained’ three or four days a week. I honed my craft and improved my timing by taking video of most of our sessions. I did learn I am a terrible videographer, but what I managed to capture was adequate for its intended purpose, for me to learn and improve. Yes, with the Higgins Method the handler is held accountable for what goes on and how well the dog performs. We understand what the dog will do when they make associations. With consistency in handling, it becomes easy for the dog to make the associations we find desirable. In this case awesome points and steadiness, basically the dog becomes non-reactive to birds flying, gunfire, birds being shot, etc. Chasing is eliminated entirely. All the things I just mentioned become queues to remain steady for the dog, all done without drama, pressure, hollering a 'command', or zapping the dog. Early in the program dogs are helped to make the association that flying/flushing birds mean to be steady without verbal commands or queues be it verbal or electronic. We then make the association that they may flush the bird, but become steady again once the bird flies, again without command or queue from us, the flying bird is again our queue for steadiness. This is much easier than you might think.
Once the gun gets involved a lot of energy is added to the situation, and once we have added a bird tumbling to the ground, there is again even more energy added. For us, this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle for us, and one we can defeat without the use of any kind of harshness. Our dogs learn the gunfire is also a queue for steadiness. Even while hunting at our local preserve hunters in other fields shooting will cause our dogs to pause briefly. Typically, the opposite of dogs trained conventionally, who when they hear gunfire usually rocket off in the direction of the report of the shot! Because so many of our birds were very weak to get off the line, I had to put a bit more emphasis on gunfire, being a queue for steadiness to ensure the safety of the situation. Again, this was done without the use of force. I simply leaned a little further into the associations we had already built.
How did I do that? To be honest it was simple and based on modern learning theory. Done again in the Higgins way, as quietly as I am capable of. By emphasizing my return to the dog after the shot, varying the time to get back, and varying the time for release once I got back to the dog, my queue “hunt dead” was properly reinforced as the association I wanted to make. Releasing the dog is easy, there is a lot going on, a lot of energy and excitement in the air, and usually a downed bird to be found and retrieved. Once we had the release ironed out, on occasion I would let the girls go without returning to them, but only if they remained steady and turned to look for me – anticipate my return to them. This will be the area I focus on through the upcoming hunting season. I intend to be mindful of making a point to return to them on occasion before offering the “hunt dead” queue. Just a few times here and there will be all it takes to keep the whole thing together.
I ended my ‘training’ season by starting our Spinone pup using the Higgins Method with remarkable success and having two Drents that were dead nuts bang on steady to release.
With the few birds I had left I elected to try working Tule & Ila as a brace. They both played the game by the same set of ‘rules’, and they both used the same queues to the same level of fidelity no less. I wasn’t nervous about running them together at all. I just wanted to see how it would go down. Tule works closer, Ila tends to run bigger. As a pair it’s about perfect. They worked so well together, very cooperative! If Ila has the bird, Tule very naturally will honor her. Once I walked past her, she would resume working and either establish her own point or would again ‘honor’ depending on the wind or situation. Ila is by default of her personality is a risk taker, instead of ‘honoring’ she would work around and set her own point in her own way at the distance she thought was right for the situation – never with the intent to compete or interfere. Yeah, so just like that I now have a brace of Higgins dogs. Lucky me.
Haha, I say it like it just happened, but in some ways it did because we all just had a lot of fun over the course of last summer. We learned a lot from one another. Trust, timing, teamwork. I improved my handling, timing, and consistency. My patience and persistence grew by using the video because I stopped repeating mistakes, and even when I did repeat an error it was never to the degree it was before – improvement is the name of the game. So really it was through diligence and attention to detail I have a brace of Higgins Gundogs and an eight-month-old pup that performs better than most folks seasoned pros…
We even got to take our act on the road and offered guiding services for Sage Canyon Outfitters in Oregon where every client we took out made similar remarks about enjoying the slower more casual pace of the hunt, the quiet: no yelling or whistle bleating from me, and never hearing a dog squeal from being shocked – they all commented on that and how much it bothered them to see it happen to the other guys dogs. Additionally, they really liked being able to get set up around the dogs they watched work and with a ‘thumbs up’ all around the “all right” was given and easy shots presented to the guns.
Everywhere I go, and the tailgate gets opened, or every time I post a photo that shows my truck vault people take notice of my drawer system. A little backstory for you, my friend Dave had offered to build me a vault for several years, and I finally built the courage to ask him to help me make it happen. We set a weekend and I drove over to Bozeman. Dave got a head start by picking up the bulk of the supplies needed and went started by laminating and cross-screwing two sheets of 3/4" together to make the uprights of the box. I arrived, and the flurry of activity started!
From start to finish I have ~$500 worth of materials involved: wood, screws, glue, finishes, hardware and so on. Currently I have the top surface/load deck coated in Flexi Seal after using various other deck/fence paints with varying levels of success. The top surface of the load deck from the bed is 10.25".
The box and drawers are all made from 3/4" hardwood plywood. The uprights are doubled up, cross screwed and laminated. I've had 3,100 pounds loaded on top and the drawers still worked perfectly. Down the center of my box, I have 6" lag bolts punched through the centers of my medium duty tie-down anchors, strategically placed based on various kennel arrangements and use oak runners with 2,500# ratchet straps to secure my kennels. We can carry: 4 Roughland Intermediates, or 3 Roughland Intermediates and a Roughland Large, or 3 Roughland Intermediates and 2 Roughland Mediums.
The drawers are about 10" deep and are about 6'1" long and ride on hand planed waxed oak sliders. The two small side drawers run to the wheel well. One holds grooming tools, and water port parts, the other ammo. The Ammo drawer was built to hold 12 ga ammo.
The area ahead of the wheel well, I could use as drop in storage, I just haven't cut the panels for it.
I've added some notes to the slide show to make it easier to pair comments with photos.
Enjoy, and if you have questions or comments, please feel free to reach out.
The complete and unabridged version
So, what’s it like to hunt over a Drentsche Patrijshond, one of North America’s rarest versatile pointing breeds?
And what if the game you were hunting was one of North America’s most prized birds, an uncommon species many hunters have pinned to the top of their bird hunting bucket list?
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess most of you do not know what a Drentsche Patrijshond, aka Drent, is and without boring you with a textbook introduction to the breed, I’ll offer this snapshot. The Drent is nearly four hundred years old, and, unlike the German versatile breeds, it was developed in a more organic way. For example, in the Dutch Province of Drenthe, located in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, commoners had the right to hunt. But most of them were quite poor and couldn’t afford more than one dog. Therefore, that one dog had to do it all; keep vermin out of the barn, pull a cart full of produce or cheese to market, play with the children, warn of approaching strangers, and yes of course, hunt. The rest I hope to convey with an account from the field.
I am by all accounts a Mearns quail hunting nutter and have spent no less than one hundred and thirty days over the past eleven years hunting them along our southern border, I’ve identified two different color phases of the female and four different crest patterns of the male. Forecast reports, bird counts and weather, mean little to me, as I am drawn to the region for its ruggedness and austere beauty, locally produced wine, and of course the opportunity to meet up with friends to hunt these amazing little birds.
This hunt took place a couple of years ago. Accompanying me was my favorite and cutest hunting partner ever, my wife Jenna. We had planned to hunt with a duo of dogs. First, Jenna’s boy Fowler, a classic Nimrod-type Drent, who is at the heavily coated end of the spectrum for the breed. He was eight years old at the time and sports a fluffy white tail you simply can’t miss. Additionally, he happens to be the first NAVHDA UT titled Drent. He would hunt with my girl, a Drent with heavy Clovis-type influences, a coat at the opposite end of what is considered allowable and nearly all white. She moves like a flash of lightning, scales rocky slopes like Spiderman, is my medical response Service Dog, and is one of the most honest dogs I’ve hunted over. The difference in type boils down to subtle variations in skull structure and overall bone mass of the dog. A Clovis dog will have a bit more of a heavier and domed skull and carry more bone than a Nimrod type, with a flatter and more wedged-shaped skull. Both are wonderful examples of each type and really show the allowable variation within the breed between them. Of note, there is quite a bit of allowable variation in the breed and one really needs to spend time learning breed to know what ‘right looks like’ – but once you know, it’s easy to spot those who fall outside the boundaries of fair play.
On this hunt, the action had been slow but steady. Down from the year before – an all to familiar trend. Yet, when we asked other hunters about their hunts, it seemed like we were finding more birds than most of them – again, nothing new to us, but that isn’t to say we don’t work for it. After all, some days are hard.
This day’s location was brand new and was chosen primarily by looking over satellite imagery and making comparisons to other areas where we’d had success before.
As we wound our way to a suitable parking spot, attempting to avoid as much of the catclaw and mesquite branches as possible, I can tell you this; it did not look anything like the traditional old man strolls you see in video footage or photos you see in print. This place looked daunting. This was going to be something: a proper canyon, much bigger than we had realized. Still, we were committed, being so far off the beaten path, with the sun already coming up. How hard could it be? After all, it had already been a tough season, so why not hunt this ragged gash tucked deep into the Madrean Sky Island habitat of the Chihuahuan Desert?
The end of the trail for the Power wagon was break under a large evergreen oak. The peaks towering ahead of us were a bit over a thousand feet above the boulder strewn creek bottom we parked on. This was going to be interesting; we had all the right habitat even if it was much rockier and vertical than what most people are looking to hunt, or so we thought. We booted the dogs up and readied ourselves for a long hike.
As Jenna was gathering snacks for the hike, and I was relieving myself of my coffee rental, I heard “the dogs are on point!”. Standing there, with the wrong gun in my hand, I said “what!?”. “Powder and Fowler are both on point” she said. Less than fifteen yards from the front of the truck, on the steep bank of the mouth of the canyon, the dogs were sharing a point on a covey of Mearns. Both neatly crouched, as is most typical, frozen in time and space on the steep embankment. A Drent’s tail is a good barometer as to what may be in front of him or her. A flagging tail generally indicates the dog is unsure; maybe the birds are running out? But when they are sure, you will see that brushy tail outstretched, positioned between two and three o’clock, in-line with the backbone much like the tail of a weathervane – it’s just how they are built, there is no changing it. A Drent’s tail is there mostly to knock things off the end table. I carefully made my way forward with a handful of shells hastily jammed into my front pocket. And that is when I realized just how steep the embankment was. The covey flushed as I neared Fowler as a dry branch snapped underfoot. Most of the birds flew straight up and into the sun, but one juvenile bull made a tactical mistake and veered left. My shot connected just before he crested the rise of this spit of land which would have allowed him to really travel. With minimal interference from me, Powder was on the retrieve. Drents have a strong retrieving instinct and can rival more traditional retrieving breeds. In fact, doubly so if the right training methodologies are employed. The breed has a reputation for being both soft and stubborn, but I challenge the notion of stubbornness after having trained a dozen or so Drents. Using traditional training methods, Drents will become either bored, frustrated, or worse yet, intimidated and will shut down, leading many to think they are stubborn. Since I have converted to ‘Force-Free training’ for all aspects of my training program; from the mundane, to field and retrieving work. I’ve not experienced a ‘shut-down’ (stubborn) dog since. Moreover, this change has enabled me to tap into the Drent’s innate desire to please and work with their ‘boss’. We were on the board right from the start. How about that?
With this rather immediate and unexpected success, we set out into the canyon. In Sky Island country, conditions and temperatures can change throughout the day depending on the orientation of the land in relation to the sun, and of course changes in elevation.
We rounded a bend, barely ten minutes from leaving the truck. My GPS told me Powder was on point up ahead and above us in the full heat of the sun. She had worked just out of eyesight. A Drent will adjust its range depending on conditions and terrain to remain in loose contact with the gun, with ranges typically flexing between thirty yards for deep brush and out to around one hundred and fifty yards or more in the open. The Drent was, after all, built by foot hunters for foot hunters to hunt patchwork fields customarily separated by dense hedgerows and the brushy edges of watery dikes surrounding polders. But that wasn’t the case here. I began my ascent up the steep side, carefully negotiating the crumbly slope dotted with scabby grasses. Every step up was reduced by half as the soft unset rock gave way. I had to use the edge of my Kenetrek boots in an effort to gain purchase. Progress was slow, and the heat of the unfiltered sun was withering. Yet, Powder held her point. The covey was moving, but they were in no rush. She would take an occasional step and re-establish her point. Drents are highly intelligent and learn early how to gauge scent as well as the movement of their quarry. Mearns are renowned for holding tight for the pointing dog, which is only somewhat true these days. It seems, too many hunters have taken advantage of the Mearns’ predictability. This coupled with increased hunting pressure of recent years, has all the dedicated talking about the change in Mearns tactics. Some will hold, while many will run like their more common desert brethren. Most recently I’ve witnessed coveys flush wild from a hundred yards away or more – if I wanted to hunt Huns, I’d go to Montana! These are not the Fool’s Quail of yore, which have enticed many to hunt them.
As my body heat began to fog my safety glasses, I opened my vest for ventilation. Powder held her point but when I paused to catch my breath or sort my gear out, she looked back to verify my location and progress. This is quite typical for the Drent. As a breed they are naturally cooperative team hunters which thrive under benevolent leadership. I believe the Drent to be ideal for the hunter who wants to hunt with a friend and is willing to trust their dog to make decisions versus a four-legged tool – there are other breeds for that.
As I neared her, my steps became more tentative on the steep unstable surface. I worked to get above her, managed to get parallel to her and paused. The footing was better, and she hadn’t moved in some time. The birds were close. Powder shifted her gaze to me, then looked forward and stretched her neck. I released her to flush the birds. I set my bead on the dark underside of a large bull quail flying uphill towards the deep grass. With a puff of feathers and cartwheeling wings, he pitched in. I asked Powder to make the retrieve. It was an easy find, as he was caught in a dramatic flutter as gravity wedged him into the base of a dense tuft of grass. Two birds down already. It was shaping up to be a genuinely nice day. Might I have enough tender Mearns meat to make a batch of my somewhat famous quail Posole by the end of the day? For sure I’d be able to put them to use in my quail Marsala recipe. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself...
Moving down hill is quicker than going up, so within a moment we were back to Jenna and Fowler and boy was he ready to go! A few yards further we entered the throat of the main canyon where the conditions swung a full 180-degrees. It was as if the canyon was alive and breathing. As the ‘outside’ temperature was rising, it was causing an inversion in the canyon, forcing freezing cold air from the upper reaches of the system down and out the mouth. Then after a few minutes this ‘push’ would stabilize, and just as you could get feeling worked back into your fingers, another push of arctic grade air would snake through, stinging our eyes, cheeks, thinly gloved hands, and sending chills into our cores.
Was it the second push of this artic air, or the third? One of them caused Fowler to move forward in an entranced walk, as if here were stalking something. He moved in this way for over a hundred yards. He took a long pause in the creek bottom; the thermal belt had paused again.
Powder caught up but was staying clear of Fowler. She knew he had something she hadn’t caught a hold of. Then the cold air drainage restarted, our glasses fogged, and Fowler began to move again, this time couched, like panther stalking its prey. Powder moved alongside, also stalking. But it was clear she still did not have the scent; she was just mimicking Fowler’s movements as she carefully picked her way through the dense catclaw.
Fowler scaled the short cut bank to a grassy plateau choked with catclaw and dense grass. A few mature evergreen oaks dotted the braided boulder laden creek bottom. Both dogs froze like statuary, a bit more upright than normal. But here was no way for Jenna and I to get through the catclaw, we had to stay in the creek bed and work our way around until we could find a break and work our way in.
As we did, the Drents took turns, one pointing the other backing, and then switching roles. This team stalking is something we are very used to, and just love being a part of it. As we rounded the bend to get onto the island with the dogs, Powder slipped down into a braid of the creek on the far side. She had managed to work up wind of the covey and come back in from above.
Team Double Dutch had the covey in a pincer with only one way out, across the other portion of the creek bed, and up a rocky landslide which had tumbled from the canyon top a thousand feet above. I didn’t need to release the dogs to flush. As I found stable footing, I found myself in the middle of the covey. Birds erupted from all around me, I fired, then fired again – a double. Birds continued to flush! There were at least two dozen of them. What a find! This was easily two if not three family groups together, a regional conference. If I’d had better presence of mind I could have reloaded and taken more as several quail were late to depart in a delayed popcorn flush. Were we the first hunters to make contact with these birds this year? With three rich covey finds in this first hour of hunting and four birds in the game bag this was setting up to be a wonderful day afield.
As we made our way further into the canyon the cold air pulses continued at regular intervals, the gentle whooshes lasted just long enough to make us wonder if we were crazy. Then they would subside long enough to rewarm ourselves as we trekked further in and up the rocky creek bottom. Each bend was different. Shaded, cool and comfortable, or fully sunlit and broiling hot. Around yet another bend the scene would be wrapped in shadow, a place where the hoar frost grew to epic proportions in its freezing shadowy depths.
It was in one of these shadowlands that we noticed both dogs on point; Fowler high up in the sun near a partially burned oak and Powder low in a bramble of brush, grass, and younger oaks. As I approached Powder her point intensified, I had to pause to take stock of the situation. She checked in with me, then I resumed by circling to her right and coming over a slight ridge covered with some tall dense grass. A single sunbeam had managed to penetrate the cold and darkness around us. Meanwhile just a few feet away, Powder lowered her head, her breath melting the frost on the grass in front of her. It was a tight spot to be in. I gave her the release command, but all she did was look me in the eye, then look ahead and nod her head as if to say – they are right here!
Sure enough, there was a covey right in front of me, tucked away in a patch of gently warming frost-free grass. I carefully looped the shotgun over my shoulder and lifted the camera up to rattle off a few shots hoping desperately the autofocus would find a way to grab a quail or two through the grass. I put the camera away, grabbed my gun and took a step.
All hell broke loose! Quail shot out of that grass like popcorn on a stove top; bouncing off branches, zinging here and there, and just when I thought the show was over, one hen lit through my little window. It proved to be an unfortunate decision for her, but still there was enough vegetation to keep it from being a super clean shot, and she buzzed off a short distance. Easy for Powder to relocate, but where was Fowler? Funny thing about Mearns, their habitat is immense. You can find them on flat easy walks in the open chaparral, or tucked away under clumps of cat claw, most of all, you find them where they are – in the most unlikely and damnedest places. He was still up on the hillside, still pointing – good boy! Powder located our little hen with a bonus point and flush at her release. Five birds and six shots today – I’m on fire and still have a dog on point. By the time I was able to get to Fowler, his tail had begun to flag, which was a sign of things to come.
Still Powder backed him once she got to within a few yards… and that’s when the large Coatimundi (Nasua nasua, a member of the raccoon family found in Arizona) decided to make a break for it and climb to the top of the tree. We had a good laugh and were glad that the big male Coati didn’t want any trouble.
Pushing ever higher the canyon opened and began to resemble more typical Mearns country. This one, however, was on a breath-taking scale. We had gained enough elevation to make our way into the chaparral where the winds could blow. And with the wind blowing, we knew we’d probably have some running birds, even in a place like this. It wasn’t long before our beloved Drents made bird contact again on a lower bench which led up to the highest reaches.
Powder and Fowler were exchanging roles, pointing and backing, with Fowler mostly in the lead. Up and up we went, and the higher we got, the stronger the wind. The birds were running. We’d catch a glimpse of one here and another there cutting and running from grass clump to catclaw in the scabby open area and gusting winds. They were like phantoms. I’m sure I had seen them darting about. Fowler managed to get a nice long point, but we just couldn’t get up hill fast enough to his side. Powder was running from side to side behind us, as if marshalling nervous birds, stopping to pause when Fowler pointed.
Then, just as we thought we were in the money and ready for a shot, the most peculiar thing happened. The quail began to talk. I’ve never heard them chatter like this before, a harmony of high-pitched alerts, sounding much line a bubbling spring to notify their mates of a strategy change. For us, it was a wave of excitement washed with confusion; after all, how could they be so close, yet never appear? But when the chatter stopped, the grasses jostled violently as the quail began running again. The covey had split up and were hauling ass every which way, except towards us. We continued to press them to the top. This was a grudge match now. Once at the top, on the backside of a depression, and out of the wind, Fowler nailed a solid point. Powder backed. I was able to walk in like royalty, right past Powder, then past Fowler. The few remaining birds flushed. I took one on a nice passing shot as it headed into the air current. The other barrel I let off just because I enjoy the sound and wanted to strike fear into their little hearts (no seriously, I missed like everyone does).
We had a great day, our dogs had a great day, and we had a long walk back to the truck. Despite the Drent being established nearly half a millennia ago half the world away by farmers for farmers to hunt hedgerows and patchwork fields, it seems to me, the Drent’s qualities are perfectly suited for hunting these native polka dotted kings of the high desert. Our success, is perhaps a case of having the right tool for the job? I’d like to think so. Scenting conditions can be difficult in the heat of the sun and scabby dry grass, having a dog that will calmly work areas and stay on task, make effective calculations on its own, and work as a team seems to be a winning combination. Since this was an out and back hunt, I found one of Fowler’s favorite songs in my music library, Prince’s Purple Rain, and put it on speaker as we headed back down our boulder strewn path.
We’ll see you all again next year.
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I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.