What makes a grouse dog?
Ruffed grouse tend to inhabit wooded areas with high stem density which makes it more difficult for ground predators to approach. Generally, they prefer a bare forest floor with good visibility and an over story for protection from aerial predators. Grouse live singly and are therefore responsible for their own survival. Their preferred means of travel is walking. When threatened, evasive options are many and grouse will run, flush, fly into a tree, sit tight or any combination.
What Betsy and I seek in a grouse dog are qualities that allow the dog to find the most birds and the ability to point them in a manner that provides the best shooting opportunities. We choose our grouse dogs based on the habits, and habitat, of the birds.
Ruffed grouse are solitary birds that live in big woods.
Even though the woods are vast, only a small portion holds grouse. We require a dog that will cover a good amount of territory searching for these individual birds while staying in contact with the handler.
Ruffed grouse inhabit some nasty areas.
Not only does a grouse dog have to penetrate the bird’s realm but it also has to get there. This includes traversing rough cover of debris-strewn, moss-covered, logged-over areas, tall grass, thorny berry briars and lots of water—whether in swamps, streams, marshes or ponds. A grouse dog is constantly ducking under, jumping over or otherwise dodging something in its path. We want a tenacious dog that is not deterred by tough terrain.
Ruffed grouse also like bare forest floors.
A grouse leaves little scent on a bare forest floor. That open-ness at bird level also gives grouse a good view of its surroundings. We require a dog with superb scenting ability that can follow a bird’s movements. The dog should have the dual qualities of strong pointing instinct and boldness to engage the bird.
In addition to those qualities that are bird-oriented, Betsy and I want a tractable, intelligent dog with physical ability and style. It should have good hearing with natural ability to orient to its handler. It should effortlessly adapt to different cover. It should move easily and hunt for long periods of time, even under hot, dry conditions. Finally, we want a stylish dog that hunts with zeal.
We know that’s asking a lot of a dog but we’ve seen many dogs do it.
And the only way to find out is to work dogs on grouse. It takes time, knowledge of the bird and boot leather. Some abilities can be ascertained when a dog is young but most will be at least three years of age before its true capabilities are known.
The weather certainly doesn’t feel like fall, but hunting season will be here before you know it. And, like it or not, now is the time to prepare for those fall trips and to make sure your dog is ready. You can have the best hunting spots and the nicest shotgun, but if your dog isn’t ready, what does it matter?
Here are five things to do now to get your dog ready for fall. Happy hunting!
1. Check your dog’s weight.
This is crucial in many ways. An overweight dog can’t perform its best in the field and could get itself in trouble with overexertion, especially in extreme heat. A crash diet isn’t the best answer. Rather reduce your dog’s weight slowly. (See our entry titled “Feeding For Ideal Body Condition” for more information.)
2. Check your dog’s health.
Lingering parasites and bacteria that don’t cause problems normally could become issues when your dog is stressed. At a minimum, get a stool sample checked by your vet for giardia, coccidia and worms.
3. Start a conditioning program.
It takes a good 6 – 8 weeks of regular exercise to get a dog in top-notch shape. Start slowly with moderate exercise and progress to more strenuous routines as the dog improves. Conditioning your dog in the cooler part of the day will provide the most benefit.
4. Make time for training sessions.
Schedule training sessions to tune-up your dog on obedience and bird work. Expect your dog to be a little rusty. Don’t try to get all the training done in one or two sessions. Short sessions spread over a period of time will give the best results—and keep your dog happy and motivated, too!
5. Check your dog gear.
Make sure your dog gear is in good working order and check that your ecollar batteries still hold a charge. Better yet, technology improves all the time and perhaps it’s time to upgrade to newer equipment. Buy now and you’ll still have time to learn how it operates.
The weekend has also become synonymous with big displays of fireworks…and an occasion when more than a few puppies have been made gun shy by bottle rockets, firecrackers and other pyrotechnic explosions.
Over the years Betsy and I have heard too many sad stories of young dogs that were badly frightened—or worse—by loud fireworks. Puppies have become so scared that they panic, run away and are lost or hit by a vehicle. Others have chewed out of crates, sometimes breaking teeth and scratching until their paws are bloody.
Fortunately, the solution is easy. Simply isolate your puppy during the duration of the fireworks. Put it in a crate in a place safe from the noisy explosions. Consider your basement or garage. Keep in mind that the dog’s sense of hearing is much more sensitive than ours.
Coming next: The proper way to introduce gunfire to your puppy.
Puppies aren’t born gun shy. it’s a man-made problem usually caused by loud noises. Hunting dogs require a planned introduction to gunfire. The best way is gradually.
Spring is a great time to get out and work dogs on grouse and woodcock. The woods are open and it is easier to see what dogs are doing when they encounter birds.
Spring is also a great time to attend local grouse and woodcock trials. Even if you don’t compete, it’s a fun day in the woods with fellow bird dog lovers.
Below are the dates, locations and contact information for local grouse and woodcock field trials. Directions to the field trial grounds are on our blog, Northwoods News Blog, on our website.
Chippewa Valley Grouse Dog Association
Saturday, March 27 – Sunday, March 28
Eau Claire County Forest
Near Stanley, Wisconsin
Roger King 715-845-6833
Minnesota Grouse Dog Association
Friday, April 9 – Sunday, April 11
Saturday, April 17 – Sunday, April 18
Rum River State Forest
Near Mora, Minnesota
Scott Anderson 651-338-4921
Moose River Grouse Dog Club
Friday, April 25 – Sunday, April 27
Douglas County Forest
Near Moose Junction, Wisconsin
Mary-Beth Esser 262-567-8176
Physical touch is a powerful way to communicate with a dog. By far the most common means is petting. While petting might seem like a no-brainer, that so many people do it incorrectly is incredible.
First of all, petting a dog is not “patting” a dog. “Patting” is a slap and similar in motion to dribbling a basketball. Dogs don’t like to be “patted” anywhere but especially on their heads. (I’ve seen dogs flinch when being “patted” on the head.) Watch while a dog is getting “patted.” It’s obvious by the expression and reaction of the dog that it’s not a pleasing or enjoyable experience.
What dogs really like is being touched with gentle, stroking motions. This petting can be applied differently to various parts of the dog’s anatomy and to convey specific messages. Long, slow, light strokes calm and quiet a dog while harder, short, quick pets will excite. Petting a dog under its chin is similar to how a submissive dog reacts to a more dominate dog and isn’t the message to convey. When petting the side of the head or cheek area in a front-to-back motion, the dog assumes a “submissive grin” which reinforces your status as the pack leader.
All dogs have a “sweet spot” where they love being petted. This spot is the area between and slightly behind the shoulder blades. When dogs roll on their backs on grass or carpet, they are really focusing on these parts of their bodies. It’s obvious how good it feels.
Petting your dog using the proper touch, technique and location is very important. You’ll be communicating the message you desire and the dog will be much happier, too!