Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dog-Camp: Part Three: Revenge of the Nerds

It doesn’t feel like there’s any major news to report here – although there have been a few more milestones. Most of the dogs will graduate shortly from being broke on pigeons and will then begin applying that knowledge to quail and chukar. Here's a picture of Bill flushing a carded pigeon in front of Tucker.

I should say up front that I have never hunted wild quail or chukar – and by ‘wild’ I mean a population that is self-sustaining in a given area (and which, in effect, have never been handled by humans). I have hunted wild woodcock and ruffed grouse – and living in a state where pheasant are largely stocked for public hunting, I would nevertheless make the argument that you can still tell the difference between a bird that has been on the ground one hour, three hours, or overnight. (Mark Coleman at Wingshot has a brief, but interesting post on the subject.) Rather than an attempt to build a soapbox, this is a segue into saying that Bill + Leon + Harold have an entire course set up with johnny-houses of birds, a course that if need be is large enough to accommodate a one-hour horseback stake.

The birds are bought from a gamebird dealer and brought up to camp. They then spend a minimum of three weeks getting acclimatized to the johnny-house and the environment, understanding that the house will offer them safe refuge, food, and water. Over a certain period of time, increasing numbers of birds are let out of each johnny-house – and while they might forage for a while, the birds generally return to the safety of the house each afternoon, called in by their remaining covey mates. In effect, after their initial encampment in their johnny-house, the quail and chukar are never handled by humans and acquire their own quotidian habits and schedule. And they don’t sit around for any blundering dog or human.

This picture is simply a illustrative request: a wild iris (albeit backlit by the arriving dawn).

I ran Momo from a horse two days ago – Bill’s fabulous Diamond, a horse with great feet and balance despite rocky Arizona soil – and watched him first have to stop-to-flush on a pair of quail, then barely establish a point on a log as I quartered back towards him just in time to watch a half-dozen chukar bail out of there (mercifully, one remained which I was able to flush and fire my blank gun on), and then watched him stop-to-flush on another quail. And while only one other dog we ran that morning established a point on a bird, it made me wonder how dogs filter out the ambient smells of one region and pinpoint the smell of game birds. Or how a bobwhite quail raised in Arizona might smell different from a bobwhite raised in Pennsylvania. (Or for that matter how a blue scaled quail raised out on Long Island might smell different from a native Arizona scalie.) All I know is is that Momo is a generally cautious dog who hates to bump birds – and he’s always been a quick learner. We’ll see how quickly he rebounds from these insults to his diligence.

I forget if I mentioned that Momo blew a pad during his first attempt at roading from an ATV two weeks ago – but he still impressed folks with his commitment to hunting tripod style while he rehabbed his foot. In the meantime I’ve been roading Jozsi with a variety of running mates, even getting up to the full octet on the ATV. But this afternoon was the first time I got to take Momo out again (with Jozsi, Jack, Jill, Saddle, Freckles, Bull, and Speck: two vizslas, two pointers, one GSP, and three setters). And they were just having a ball, pulling against their harnesses, and enjoying the cool, relatively damp air as it slid over them. The only nervous point is noticing if one or other of them has to go to the bathroom – and I apologize for this scatological observation in advance. It is generally one or other of my boys, in part because they are house dogs. Which means that they are accustomed to being let out to go to the bathroom, and the idea of potentially stepping in their poop in their kennel, or peeing where they might lie down, is anathema to their normal existence. And so while they have acclimatized to kennel life here, neither of them has gotten used to going to the bathroom on a stake-out. Being taken off a stake-out to work birds, or being taken out to go roading, therefore gets them to an appropriate psychological time and space for them to go the bathroom. Which means that I road my boys on the front sets of harnesses so I can keep an eye out for the first clues that they will need to stop (and so I will need to brake).

My apologies for the graphic detail – but it’s funny the things you notice.


Meg said...


a beautiful 'snapshot' and observations on your experience! I like the questions you raise about filtering scents and imagine it must be interesting to watch the boys and muse on their actions and adjustments. Can't wait to see the three of you soon! xoxo Meg

Rod Michaelson said...

I am reading with the idea of how much there is to learn to think like a dog and how training has to be done in the mind of a well-conditioned hunting dog.
Your dog's are looking like they are in "field trial" shape. Trim and ready to go.
Thinking like a bird dog is tougher then most people think.
Good training. Off to see Bailey again this morning.

Delilah and Rocket said...

I can relate to the signs that your dog might need to take a *wee*.

Been many a time I've slammed on the brakes on the bicycle so Rocket man could take a poo.

Alas, it does keep you very observant with your pup and therefore you know the signs of many many things they might be up to.

Dan & Margaret said...

From the looks of your pictures you're closer to I-40 than I-10... but if I'm wrong.. stop by Deming, NM on your way back East. Use our guest cabin even. Since you didn't seem to make the trek to Facebook with the rest of us we've lost touch!

I assume you're wishing Alberto to be de-chained sometime soon, as well ;)

Email me.

Z.M. said...

Nice dogs, i have one too :)