Last week, I wrote about a CBS news story reporting on a scientific study detailing four dogs’ ability to diagnose lung cancer in humans. My reaction to the study was one of amazement, but not shock. I, too, have seen the incredible power of a bird dog’s nose. Whether it’s locating a ruffed grouse under a foot of fresh snow, zeroing in on a rooster in a windstorm or finding a covey of quail that just landed; I’ve witnessed the incredible sense of smell most bird dogs possess.
One of the most frequent reactions to last week’s blog was pheasant hunters remarking their bird dog’s nose could distinguish between hens and rooster pheasants. While most of us have that one buddy who will make the claim: “my dog doesn’t even bother with hens, he’ll only flush roosters;” I haven’t ever taken the boast seriously because I’ve seen that buddy’s dog flush hens as well as roosters every time we’ve been hunting. To be honest, the hunters making that boast to me in the past have lost credibility in my eyes and so do their dogs. However, I am self-aware enough to realize that I haven’t seen it all and I surely don’t know it all. So, I thought I’d ask a couple of the more knowledgeable dog and pheasant folks I know for their opinion to the question:
Have you ever seen a bird dog that could tell the difference between a hen and a rooster by smell?
“I could swear some of my Labs have known the difference. They won’t completely ignore hens, but I’ve been able to watch their intensity level – in their tail, in their speed, in their entire body language – increase when they are on a rooster,” explained Rick Young, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Field Operations and a wildlife biologist. “I believe dogs smell pheasants through the bird’s breath and although it may be subtle, I think some dogs can detect the difference between roosters and hens under the best conditions.”
“I’ve watched hundreds of dogs and dozens of breeds, and I don’t think bird dogs can detect the difference between a rooster and a hen; at least not during hunting season,” offered Bob West, Purina Dog Foods Director of Breeder Enthusiast & Sporting Groups, as well as a professional dog trainer. “There might be a time of the year when roosters may smell different, but I don’t think that’s during hunting season. I’ve just seen too many dogs lock up just as hard on a hen as they do on a rooster to believe differently, but that doesn’t stop me from holding out hope that one day I’ll find that perfect dog that can detect the difference.”
So there you have it. The jury remains out! What’s your opinion: Can your bird dog tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?