Jerry Kolter

Jerry Kolter is a nationally recognized trainer whose dogs have won numerous grouse dog championships and awards. He has more than 20 years of training, upland bird guiding and field trial experience. He and his wife, Betsy, own Northwoods Bird Dogs, a breeding and training facility.

How to pet a dog

Posted by: Jerry Kolter under Dogs, Pet care, Training Updated: January 10, 2010 - 3:22 PM

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!

Pheasants and grouse dogs

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: December 9, 2009 - 11:11 AM
I am often asked the question:  “Should I hunt my grouse dog on pheasants? Or will that ruin it for grouse?”

My answer is another question about goals:  “Do you want the ultimate grouse dog or do you enjoy hunting pheasants as much as grouse?”

If you want your dog perfected on grouse, my answer is no. Don’t use your pointing dog on pheasants. If, however, you like to hunt both grouse and pheasants, then I say okay.

There are key differences between pheasants and grouse and one, rather unfamiliar, similarity.

Pheasants tend to run out from a dog’s points and to not sit well. But so, occasionally, do grouse, especially wily, adult birds in late season. Many times I’ve spotted grouse running ahead of the dog in dense cover.

When a pheasant does hold, it allows a pointing dog to approach it more closely. Most ruffed grouse don’t. The ability to point a grouse accurately—but at a distance—is what separates real grouse dogs from those that occasionally point a grouse.

Pheasants have a stronger scent because they are larger than a ruffed grouse and are likely to be in a group. Grouse are smaller birds and tend to be solitary which makes them more difficult to locate.

Despite those distinctions, though, there are pheasant hunting conditions that favor pointing dogs…and those that don’t. The ideal situation is an expansive, grassy piece with mixed terrain. A running pheasant could stop and hide at various breaks in the cover and, thereby, provide a spot for a pointing dog to pin it.   

I wouldn’t hunt my pointing dog where it’s unlikely the pheasant will ever hold—such as cattail slews, standing corn or sorghum feed strips. Even if my dog points a rooster in such cover, it usually evolves into a cat-and-mouse game that only serves to frustrate the dog. Another tough scenario is many birds in a small area, i.e., a food plot, when too much scent is difficult. A flushing dog is the better dog in these situations.

Ultimately, if you want your dog to be the best grouse dog it can be, then avoid more than the occasional pheasant hunt. If the goal is a good wild bird dog and you enjoy hunting pheasants as much as grouse, use you’re pointing dog.

Grouse flushes up...but hard to see

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: November 9, 2009 - 1:55 PM
So far this season, my days in the woods have produced more flushes than last year by a good margin—perhaps not as big a bump as predicted but an obvious increase. This is corroborated by many of our clients, guiding customers and other serious grouse hunters.  

And I do mean “flushes.”  A majority of the grouse encountered were heard but not seen due to the latest leaf fall I have ever experienced. Leaves of most trees and shrubs hadn’t even begun to fall until well in mid October—and then many were still green. Later, the culprit was the foliage of hazel, the brushy shrub with foliage at just about eye level, which didn’t drop leaves until late October.

The season has been unusual in another way. Though the prediction was for higher grouse populations, during September I found fewer birds and broods than last year. Or at best, hunting was spotty. By the second week of October, though, I found substantially more birds. Where did they come from? Why couldn’t I find them earlier?

Despite years of research, no one really seems to completely understand ruffed grouse. They are still somewhat of a mystery. But that is okay with me and one of the reasons the ruffed grouse is called king of upland game birds.

Help! My dog is bumping grouse.

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: October 11, 2009 - 12:25 PM
Around mid October, I often hear this complaint from grouse hunters and, according to some legends of the grouse woods, with good reason.   

The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, famed field trial judge and author of Training Your Own Bird Dog

From my experience, dogs bump birds for many reasons. First determine why your dog is doing it and then take proper steps to correct the problem.

Cover and weather conditions.
Early season cover can be thick and heavy or weather can be warm and dry. These conditions can make scenting difficult for both veteran grouse dogs and those less inexperienced.
How to correct:  This will usually correct itself as conditions change and improve.

Seeing grouse on the ground.
Frequently, dogs see grouse on the ground. The temptation is just too much for some dogs and they will try to catch the bird which results in a flushed bird.
How to correct:  Whoa/steadiness training with a bird visible on the ground.

Lack of experience.
While the occasional dog will be a natural and show an innate ability to point grouse with just a few contacts, generally, repeated exposure over several seasons are necessary to make a good grouse dog.
How to correct: More grouse contacts.

Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t understand it is not supposed to flush birds.
How to correct:  Train the dog using the “whoa” command and teach “stop to flush.” Both are critical means to communicate to the dog what we want it to do.

Planted game birds.
The dog has been over-exposed to planted game birds. A dog can get very close to a planted game bird before it stops to point. Grouse, on the other hand, are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
How to correct:  Give the planted bird contacts a rest and provide more exposure to grouse.

The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a genetic reason:  bad nose, bad pointing instincts or physical limitations.
How to correct:  Next time you’re in the market for a grouse dog, thoroughly check out the breeding.

As you can see, some reasons dogs bump grouse are out of our control but many others can be corrected by a sound training program designed to teach the dog what we expect of it and to correct the dog when it makes a mistake. Ultimately, plenty of opportunity to point them is critical. 

Grouse field trial dates

Posted by: Jerry Kolter Updated: October 5, 2009 - 5:21 PM
I'm excited about the fast-approaching field trial season. For several months I’ve been conditioning and training our string of extremely talented dogs.

The trials I compete in are quite different from any other type of pointing dog competition. Trials are held in the woods on native grouse and woodcock. No birds are planted. Handlers and the gallery (onlookers) walk while judges are usually provided horses. No birds are shot but a blank pistol is used to simulate an actual hunting situation.

These grouse field trials are run under the auspices of The American Field and are widely acknowledged as the epitome in grouse dog competition.

While it’s not a stellar spectator sport, visitors are always welcome to walk on any of the braces or to just hang around. Directions to field trial grounds are on our website.

Listed below, in chronological order, are the field trials and championships I plan to compete in this fall.

Chippewa Valley Grouse Dog Association
Wisconsin Cover Dog Championship, Wednesday, October 7, to conclusion
Open Derby, Saturday, October 10
Eau Claire County Forest, near Augusta, Wisconsin

Minnesota Grouse Dog Association
Minnesota Grouse Championship
Monday, October 12, to conclusion
Reuel Pietz Open Derby Classic, following the championship
Rum River State Forest, near Mora, Minnesota

Moose River Field Trial Club
Open Shooting Dog and Companion Stakes
Friday, October 23, to conclusion
Douglas County Forest, near Moose Junction, Wisconsin

Grand National Grouse Championship
Tuesday, November 3, to conclusion
Allegheny National Forest, Marienville, Pennsylvania


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