Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Dreamboat Annie Docks With Gen 8!

by Lynn Dee Galey

As Annie was just now standing close, leaning on me to get some loving, I realize how important the role of breeding plays in my relationship with each of my dogs. From handling the mating through the care and extra attention of pregnancy, to the vulnerability, support and 24 hour care shared during whelping and postpartum, the trust bond built during these times is even greater than the hunting partnership which is the other real light that shines between us.

Firelight Dreamboat Annie

Firelight has been gifted once again with an easy whelping and my eighth generation of healthy, robust of setter puppies is here.  I call them The Milk Drunks. They really don’t leave the milk bar until they roll off with overfull bellies.

At the bar

Annie has thrown her switch from a bit of fast-footed wild child to doting mother.  I have to unplug The Drunks just to get her to eat one of her multiple dinners or to stretch her legs outside.  Once out she will take a quick token lap around the yard, check on the grouse who seems to be nesting just beyond the back fence, and then comes trotting back to the door.

Being a new momma doesn't mean you can't carry your Jolly Ball in from the yard

As usual with litters here, sleep for me has been at a minimum. Although Annie blessed me with a daylight whelping there were the long hours of restless panting the night prior. I had snuck in a couple of naps on the sofa with her tucked tight against me. That day began abruptly with a wet warmth on my leg as her water broke.  I was thankful for my Girl Scout-ness of having placed a waterproof cover over the new sofa. 

My dear friend Paul quickly answered the expected ring on his phone at 5:30 am; he arrived at the house 15 minutes before the first puppy. As I jotted down the time and gender of the pup we laughed about the last whelping we did together where we lost count and were panic-stricken as we checked every towel, corner and even the laundry for a pup that we were certain had arrived but had not. 

Annie wasted no time and in two hours we had a nice litter. She then rested but it was obvious that there was another pup to come. An hour later I had barely stepped out of the room to get a tea when I heard my name. I ran in to find Paul holding onto a fat-bottomed girl pup, helping to ease her into the world.  Gen 8, Firelight Setters:  present and accounted for!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

By Randy Lawrence

He belonged, always, to Lisa Weisse.  He knew it.  I knew it.  But when October Blue Doc left Idaho for retirement in southern Ohio, he and I made the best of it.  I showed him what would be his bed on the floor near mine.  Doc showed me game birds.  We became thick as thieves, and even though he was not my dog,  he never let on.

 Retirement Porch Sittin'

So tonight, when I got the text "We're moving into the Puppy Room," I went up on the hill to sit near him.  I got there just in time to watch what media folks were calling "the Super Pink Moon" grow right out of the eastern horizon.  

The Shawnee who hunted this hills before satellite dishes beamed in names to the natural world called the one that heralded our month of May "the Strawberry Moon." We'll go with that handle instead.

The writer in me wanted to hear a woodcock peenting as the sky began to glow;  instead, Doc and I got an angry wild turkey gobbling somewhere up Donkey Hollow, probably scolding an owl silly enough to try to claim this night as his own.

"We're moving into the Puppy Room," Lynn Dee wrote.  In a year dominated by other "p" words - Pandemic, Protests,  Parasite,  Prison for "Aunt Becky" (Lori Loughlin),  Ariana Grande's "Positions" -  I suppose "puppy" doesn't hold the candle that maybe Doc and I think it should.  

But this is our hilltop, our night.  We'll decide between moonshine and shinola.


Dreamboat Annie, riding a little low in the water at birthin' time.

After all, that's Doc and Mustang Sally's own daughter, all moody and miserable 6 and 1/2 hours north of us.  Reports are that she's refusing food, tottering out into the yard to relieve pressure - some pressure, any pressure - trying to get comfortable on the couch, on the floor...and now in the Puppy Room.  

P-words.   "Precipitation" is another.  It snowed today in Mio, and that's fitting, as a whiteout played a role in this litter from the start, threatening to derail the mating with Tip, from foolhardy travel to endless maddening foreplay in the upstate New York drifts. 

In fairness, Annie's no Lady.  But then Tip's far from anyone's idea of a Tramp.

 Oh, and we can't forget "Pool," as in the one Lynn Dee Galey sponsored amongst the Firelight Faithful, trying to predict when Dreamboat Annie's cork would pop.  My date, May 1, is not looking so good under this big puppy pulling moon.

In the end, the "P" words holding Doc and me together tonight are "progeny" and "posterity."   Those are Doc's grandpuppies itching to get born.  Progeny,  Posterity, and Proof - proof that even though he cannot leave this hillside, Doc is not done, that his blood runs thick with class and companionship, grit and smarts and a predator's keen edge.  


  October Blue Doc in the alders.

He will hunt on through this batch of what, in a matter of hours, will start out as white mewling hamsters and then suddenly turn into little dogletts, surely some of them sporting a telltale "Doc Spot,"  all of them - every jack 'n' jill of 'em - a piece of Doc...which means a piece of maybe the best of me, too.

C'mon, Dreamboat Annie.  Ship full of dreams.  May this Strawberry Moon light you safely into port.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Checklist Time

 by Lynn Dee Galey

It was over a year ago that the juggling in my head of pedigrees and talents landed on breeding my Annie to Firelight KM Tip.  Both dogs were escorted to their respective vets for orthopedic xrays and cleared that hurdle easily with OFA ratings of Excellent/Normal and Good/Normal.  Back to the vets in January to verify clear of brucellosis and overall excellent health.  Eight and a half weeks ago a 16 hour drive through snowy whiteouts and then breeding maiden dogs outdoors as another foot of snow fell didn't stop us from achieving the actual breeding.  

Annie knew that she was pregnant by the time we got back home.  Subtle signs were there and by week 4 - 5 she had me convinced as well.  With only days now until the pups arrive she lays beneath the table at my feet, not wanting me out of her sight, and her normally slim athletic body is round and full.

I have been teased that I am a Girl Scout because I like to be prepared. No matter how many litters I have whelped over the many years, I still walk myself through a checklist to try to be ready for when the puppies arrived.  I am almost ready:

  • whelping box disinfected and placed in puppy room   
  • heated nest install into box and tested
  • new sofa for naps (me!) and overnight supervision as needed
  • new monitor/camera to replace my 1970's static-maker so I can sleep in my own bed yet keep an eye on things in the puppy room
  • side box and heat lamp to temporarily hold pups while Annie is still busy
  • call vet to make sure they are available. This was a big one this year. The one downside to having wonderful vets who are themselves bird dog breeders and hunters is that once a year they close shop and travel to their major breed event. When they told me they would be gone from Weds - Sun my heart skipped a beat. I rarely need vet assistance in whelping but when I need one, I really need one. I totally lucked out though as one of the hunters who is on the list for a pup is a vet and he generously agreed to be available to Annie and I if needed.  He is kind, experienced and knows me and my dogs.  Whew.
  • I have ample calcium and pedialyte here if Annie needs them during whelping
  • refrigerator is stocked with food for myself and Annie so I don't have to drag my sleep-deprived self out into public for a bit
  • there is a stack of clean "dog" towels ready to use
  • the usual equipment of scale, suction, clamps, etc are at hand
  • to be done this afternoon is to scissor down Annie's lovely feathering for hygiene and preventing puppies from getting tangled
  • my well worn dog reproduction book is at hand although I have read and re-read it so many times that I quote much of it.  My favorite section addresses the difficulty of being patient once the dog starts the earliest signs of labor. It says to begin reading a mystery novel and that about when you get to the who-dun-it part the puppies might be ready to arrive.  Now where did I leave that new novel that I want to read...... 

At the request of many friends and followers I continue to chronicle the process of producing my next litter of Firelights.  Send us good wishes and stay tuned.....

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Blest Be The Vines That Tie


by Randy Lawrence

Made during one of the very first Delmar Smith Bird Dog Clinic, this check cord has tales to wag.

Ok, so I confess.  I used to be kind of kinky for check cords.

They were in the middle of my everything.  I bought them.  Made them.  Worked dogs with them.  Worked horses with them when I was too lazy to fetch a lunge line.

I lost them.  Found them with the bush hog (!) and three times over the years had to cut them out of the riding lawn mower blades.  I broke them towing heavy things when I couldn't find a log chain or snatch strap.

I experimented with different lengths, thicknesses, material - even colors.  I mean, "Who could ever lose a blaze orange cord?"  I did.  The second one under the lawn mower ...

I soaked them in the horse trough, left them in a mud puddle to give them a gritty body.  I loaned them, never to be returned, and have been gifted them in the wrong ply, wrong shape, wrong clip, by well-meaning folks who didn't understand the kind of proprietary zeal I had with what they saw as "just a piece of rope" (or poly or nylon or hemp or any number of other unsuitable materials).

Nossir.  No, ma'am.  A check cord has to be slick so it can snake along behind the dog with fewer hangups than a Buddhist monk.  It has to be stiff but supple for easier translation of ideas between the dog and me.  Length and weight depend on the age and "burly factor" of the dog and what we're trying to accomplish.  

I know that a "lock jaw" snap is more secure, but my hands are trained for the standard bolt type connector...on a swivel of course.  After thousands of trials and triple that number of errors, the dogs and I have figured out what works for us in making connections.  We teach "Heel" with what we fondly call "The Hillbilly Half-Hitch."  We use a check cord with "Come here, *&#@", on quartering drills,  reinforcing steady to flush.  Most often a check cord just makes it easier to recapture a dog and bring her back in to be set up, loved up, coached up...then sent on, our handy handle vining through the cover behind her.

Pro Trainer George Hickox uses a check cord to employ what my friends and I call "The Hillbilly Half-Hitch" in honor of the Kentucky dog trainer who showed us this in 1982.  George is using it here as part of a steadying exercise for a very intense GSP; we use it with our setters only for very rudimentary "Heel" schooling.

I have seen miracles worked with check cords in the hands of master communicators.  I have seen train wrecks with check cords, too: over-controlling, under-schooled splatterninnies on one end and confused and annoyed canines on the other.  I have seen city hands scored with rope burns and have helped to untangle panic stricken gun dogs.  I have seen how quickly clever dogs (and horses) learn exactly how far he or she has to remain from the handler to keep the slithering, tantalizing end of that cord just...out...of...reach.

The root problem is this: As basic as it is, a check cord is mechanical.  It still can be misused.  It can actually interfere with connecting important dots, can douse enthusiasm, can encourage laze "training," can take the place of important repetition and shaping that takes longer but embeds a more lasting and deeper bond between handler and dog.  I have seen folks (with whom I've never trained again) run backward to time an outgoing dog just so that the animal is flipped arse over applecart as punishment for breaking some poorly trained and communicated command.  I have seen dogs learn to flag and go soft on point because some control freak was diddling with the checkcord instead of positioning him or herself where best to support the dog's stand.

I am check cord poor these days.  I have but two: a heavier model that is (embarrassed pause here) 80 ft. long.  A puckish setter fancier took one look at it and said, "That must be your pointer cord."

(OK...maybe there might have possibly, allegedly been a pointer on the business end of that cord a time or two.  She's not talking and neither am I.)

That bully cord was once bright red.  But I left it out all last summer on the porch after using it to pull that devil riding lawn mover out of a tough spot in steep terrain.  Now it's kind of a pale pink.  I am here to admit I am a secure enough male to flip a pink check cord.  

Jus' sayin'...for the record...

But I digress.  It seems the only check cord I use now, and I use it less over time, is probably 40 years old.  It was handcrafted by the patriarch of dog training clinicians, Delmar Smith, a patron saint of all we try to do with dogs and horses on this old farm.  By 'handcrafted," I mean a friend of mine paid crisp American greenbacks to wait in line at one of those early bird dog clinics, listening to Delmar tell stories while sitting in the shade during lunch, cutting lengths of 5/16" nylon, wrapping one end with electrician's tape around a bolt snap, and burning the other end black with a lighter.

We've had to replace the snap once.  If I think of it, I re-burn the free end when it gets frayed.  We're due for a singeing as I type this.

I wish I could bring back (most of) the dogs that wore that cord.  (Some of them) would wear it far less this time around.  

Delmar Smith's "Best Way To Train Your Bird Dog," ghostwritten by the best and brightest gun dog writer of them all, Bill Tarrant, was the first training book I ever purchased.  I still have that copy, signed by Bill.  It is stained, spine-warped, dog-eared, and fittingly puppy-chewed on one corner.  I don't necessarily recommend it as a cookbook, suburbanite-suited dog training manual, but I do consider it one of the very few Bibles in our sport in terms of fundamental methods, attitudes and ethics toward bird dogs and game birds.

From "Best Way To Train Your Bird Dog" by Delmar Smith and Bill Tarrant 

It only took about ten readings for me to understand that the three unifying principles of the book that matter most are Delmar's (and Tarrant's) notion of "Point of contact, repetition, and association."   In Delmar's training rubric, the check cord is just one mechanical means for "point of contact."  

For too many years, I needed all of those check cords (and a bunch of other gadget gear) in part because of all the knowledge I didn't have about establishing the very spirit of those three cornerstones.  Admittedly, part of that was the sort of dog I was running at the time.  Most of it was due to my infatuation for what I mistakenly perceived as short cuts and my moronic insistence that communication on the roll collar-pinch collar -chain collar-check cord-eCollar ran only downhill.

"Me, Tarzan.  You, Bird Dog.  Ungawa!"

The Firelight setters, Labrador retrievers, and (may God have mercy) Great Pyrenees that are charged now with my advanced education will put up with exactly none of that stuff.  They show me over and over that they do best when "point of contact, repetition, and association" is a broad bandwidth streaming into every aspect of our living together.  We all have things to say; we are all duty bound to respect those things in context.

Yogi, the Occasionally Great Pyrenees says, "Check cord, schmeck cord!"

My crew insists that school be in session from dawn til after dark, and "point of contact, repetition, and association" inform our every interaction, from who goes through a door first, how we take our meals, crate manners, the sanctity of the kitchen countertop, what is a "toy" and what is an expensive leather boot, when I want a 55 lb. English setter in my lap and when I don't, how we walk into the farm feed store and...oh we go about our business in the field on birds.

We all do best when I spend more time receiving rather than sending.  Clumsy as I am, they are mostly patient and give me do-overs on lots of our interactions.  It's mostly a virtual check cord for us now, but I've brought the pink T-Rex cord in from the porch.  It's hanging in the mudroom where all and sundry can be reminded that Tarzan can still swing, albeit on a much more informed vine.

(Note:  Training suggestions in this blog are based on the experiences of the author of individual posts.  They have been proven to work for that individual with his or her dogs.  Neither Lynn Dee Galey nor Randy Lawrence presume there is just one way to develop a pointing dog;  however, these are "best practices" that have worked for them over a combined 90 years' field experience.)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Of Puppy Prices, Innernet Surfing, and Trout Pate

By Randy Lawrence 

Firelight Cool Hand Luke

In a post-hunt huddle over smoked trout pate and adult libations, a guest went on at some length about the price of puppies, one of those yawn-inducing songs-of-himself that insured he would not be invited back.  Apparently he wanted us to know what he'd paid for his most recent prodigy, shipped into Columbus all the way from West Texas, dontchaknow.

As he laid out his outlay in graphic, cringe-worthy detail, I found myself carefully studying the label on my beer, you know, to see if they still admonished against drinking during pregnancy or operating heavy equipment.  I wasn't scheduled for either of those activities that afternoon, but I kept busy with my research, dreading what I knew was coming.

And come it did, just as our guest stopped to catch his breath and cram his boasting maw with trout-on-a-Ritz. I heard the rocking chair in the corner squeak.  Ice rattled in the signature plastic drinking glass, the Jameson all sipped away.  That's when our host, a curmudgeonly bird dog veteran from since before his guests were born, leaned forward and began the beguine: The Price of Puppies -  Lecture #9.

Firelight Encore Deacon and Firelight Encore Tucker

"Whatcha pay for a puppy is the expenditure that ought to matter the least," he said, teeing up the rest of the oration I'd heard, when prompted, for more than twenty years.  "Nobody ought to be impressed with the size of the check.  Nobody should be impressed by how far you flew that puppy in - matter o' fact, I got issues about people flying weanling puppies 'round the country, but that's a different discussion."

(Indeed.  That "discussion" I had archived under "Ya Don't Put A Puppy On A #@%*& Airplane, Vol. 1 and 2")

"What you want to talk about is why you went where you did to pick that particular dog.  What was it about the breeder's hunting that was like yours?  How long's he or she been breedin' the kind of dog you like?  Is she a reg'lar or just one of those, "I Got A Good 'Un An' So Does My Neighbor, Let's Bump Uglies One Time" people?  

Couch Full o' Firelights

"Didja get references?  Didja talk to folks who hunt like you do who have one of his or her dogs?  Did you get to see any of her dogs work or see 'em hunt over the innernet?"  

(The "innernet" reference was a recent addition to the text.  Our host was proud of being up to date on how folks puppy shopped in what he considered to be these debauched times.)

He shuffled to the sink and held his glass up to the window so his new pour could be backlighted.  Not a good sign.  That meant we were gonna get The Full Monty version of "Price of Puppies."  I was running out of beer and label reading material far too quickly.  But the cooler was out on the porch, and I figured I'd better sit tight.

The beleaguered guest sputtered into a meager pedigree defense.  "That's nice," our host said in a tone one might use for a child's Thanksgiving finger turkey drawing.  "I've heard of most of those dogs.  But did you get to see the sire of this puppies work?  What about the mama?  Do both of them hunt?  All wild birds?  Preserve?  A mix?  Did the breeder raise 'em?  Do they live in the house like your dogs do, or are they inside/outside like mine?"

Firelight Cool Hand Luke

There was a lilt of panic as our host offered "what a good business" his breeder had, given the price charged per puppy.  He'd have been better served to chew his own leg off to escape our host's frosty finale.

"Good business?  Seriously?  You think anybody who's doing this the right way is making real money?  Go ahead.  Do the math around what it takes to keep several, maybe even a half dozen or so good dogs in the field enough to really prove 'em out and know what you've got.  Think about the vet care that goes into a planned mating, especially one that happens away from home and a live mating is backed by AI.  Think about the time and effort put into planning a breeding of healthy dogs that are backed with OFA numbers...and call me crazy, but I want OFA numbers, not some ol' boy bragging that he knows what he's breedin', and these puppies' grandmammy was runnin' ahead of a jeep after quail until she was 14!" 

 Firelight Seth (top)
Firelight Storm

I didn't look up when the ice rattled. "Think about trying to arrange travel and work schedules to time up a heat cycle.  What about the vet costs in making that a little bit less of a crap shoot?  Think about whelping a bunch of pups, then givin' them the kind of medical care of shots, wormings, maybe even a BAER test, let alone constant handling and monitoring, stimulation and start on everything from house-training to blank gun conditioning to maybe even some pigeon exposure...Think about the phone calls and innernet mail, weeding through the trolls 'n' tire-kickers and bargain hunters, arranging pick-ups, meeting folks partway who come from off to get a nice puppy.  It's just endless.

"Hey - I made some money in business.  There isn't money in that business if you're doing things the right way.  I don't care what you charge a head.  The volume breeders turning out a bunch of puppies every year, speculatin' on pedigree paper, who don't hunt or trial or have any first hand way to evaluate their dogs, who don't x-ray, or who breed for looks or color or reputation or who knows what...maybe they make some money, at least for a while.

Firelight Mustang Sally and the Encore Litter by October Heath

"But that's a dirty business.  Disrespectful to the good dogs on those pedigrees, passing off puppies related to them as anything other than...related.  Disrespectful to customers who are after a bird dog.  Disrespectful to other folks tryin' to do it right."

Here's where I was ever so thankful for a pause filled by another guest who had brought a new shotgun for show 'n' tell.   His fetching that in from the front porch rack allowed The Puppy Guy to spread some more pate on a cracker to help swallow his pride, allowed our host to throw him a bone ("From what I saw when you had that pup out in the barnyard, she's a good lookin' rascal") and got me back to the cooler...just in case somebody mentioned "choke tubes."

October Blue Doc,  flush of an Ohio woodcock

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Tail That Saved My Hat

by Lynn Dee Galey 

"Your hat is safe" was the title to the email.  Months prior I had sold a pup to an avid grouse and woodcock hunter and as often happens we discussed my personal preference (okay, okay, it borders on a fetish) for just the right tail position in my dogs' points. I want 10:00 - 11:00, the straighter the better.  

When this guys' pup was about 5 months old he sent me photos from his pup's bird intro with pen raised quail stuffed into the edge of a field somewhere.  She was standing "on point" but her tail was low, below her topline, and her posture lacked intensity.  The disappointment could be heard through his written word as he mumbled something about tail position not really mattering as much as her nose, holding birds etc.  I replied, "wild birds only from here on and I will eat my hat if that tail doesn't come up.  A lot."  

Fall and hunting season arrived and I smiled as I saw that email  I opened it to see a photo of the youngster pointing a grouse with lovely intensity and a nice high tail.  

With my dogs, I'm not concerned with puppy style. I'm in it for the end product, the intelligent, stylish bird dog who has developed through good, fun, natural exposure. Keep your hands off, remain silent and let wild birds be the teacher.  Grouse or quail or Huns as teachers never depress a pups style, they only amp it up. 

Following are three examples of Firelights as pups on pen birds for their bird/gun intro and then the same dog as an adult after letting wild birds be the only teacher thereafter.  After all, we Firelights don't eat our caps;  we let Nature put a feather in them!



Friday, April 2, 2021

Week 5: Dont Mix Up Your Utensils

by Lynn Dee Galey

It was 6 degrees out this morning, and I was wishing that I had more than my LLBean flannel shirt over my nightgown.  But with a repurposed soup ladle gripped in my cold hand, I was focused on only one goal.  

We are five weeks into Annie's presumed pregnancy, and I now feel comfortable saying this about that: Annie's "with pups".  Each week my hunch has been confirmed more.  This week I sent the email to the folks on her wait list letting them know that yes, puppies are on the way.  

I reiterated that I would not be doing an ultrasound but that all of the signs are present.  I chuckled when one prospective owner replied, "Hmmm. Always hungry, expanding waistline decreased energy/activity? By Gawd I must be pregnant."

The past few days I noticed that Annie frequently had a sense of urgency about going outside to relieve herself.  Thus my soup ladle wielding escapade in the back yard this morning, aimed at collecting a urine sample to rule out a possible UTI (urinary tract infection).  Off we went to the vet where she confirmed no infection.  

It is a comfort to have vets who themselves are breeders.  That can be as big a boost to the humans involved as the dogs!  I love that she agreed that an ultrasound to verify puppies was clearly not necessary.   I relaxed when she smiled and said that Annie either has a whole lot of puppies in that compact body or she is a drama queen about the increasing pressure (a friend and Ardent Annie Admirer suggested both of these could be true😶). 

With 4 weeks left to go, a whole bunch of families and I are trying to contain our excitement. Meanwhile...Dreamboat Annie is sailing on cruise control! 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Of Prospects, Perspective, and A Good Escape Tree

by Randy Lawrence

Firelight style: (Kate/Mack youngster, Kali, on spring woodcock, March 2021)

I tried.  Honestly, I did.  36 years ago, not long after English setters and pointers had taken me over, I uprooted my five-generation home life and moved to be closer to the grouse woods we were only then learning to hunt.  I arrived just in time to witness a Ruffed Grouse population free fall, numbers plummeting to historic lows from which they likely will never recover.

So we bless the woodcock, autumn and spring.  We relish the very few renegade pheasants that skulk on the margins of antiquated farming practices.  We own a battered little travel trailer and haul long distances to hunt during the season.  But on those long nights when I toss and turn, sneaking glances at the setter puppy snoring in his crate at the foot of my bed, I can hear the voices that have haunted me for nearly a decade now: "Only a fool would dedicate himself to bird dogs in a place with no wild birds."

But such a fool am I.  That will not change as long as I can stumble along behind a nice dog who can convince us both that there just might be a bird to point somewhere out there.

Like everyone else I know who is serious about this game but lives in a game bird desert, I have tried every method I could find to bring a young dog along.  We keep three free-standing lofts stocked with hardy homing pigeons.  We own state of the art release traps and a half-dozen "whoa" boards.  Along the wall hang check cords of every imaginable length, weight, and flex.

On the woods edge above my house stand two low profile wire mesh keeps fashioned after those once used at Nilo Farms in Illinois.  We have a "Dog Training Grounds" license and in season, we live trap over two hundred quail from those pens and turn them out between our travels, just to keep us "hunting"...after a fashion.

Yes, it's cute.  But less is more in terms of sight-pointing with the wing-on-a-string.  

But the truth is, no matter how expertly we manage all of the's still artificial.  Far too often, we make assessments of young dogs based on how well they navigate our well-meant shenanigans and tricked up introductions to "bird work."  Between thee and me, most of this, from overdoing the old "wing on a string" pointing drill (curse you, Richard Wolters, for the sight-pointers your book encouraged), to virtually leading pups downwind of death-dizzied, broken feathered, poorly conditioned pen birds stuffed in green cover is mostly about one thing:  the owner is almost desperate to see his little darling point.  

Something.  Anything.

I confess that I get extra twitchy when someone with a well-bred puppy worries to me over the corollary to "Will She/Won't She Point Angst":   They are concerned with their young dog's "lack of intensity" on point or, my current favorite, "lack of prey drive."

I get it.  Some youngsters have more innate point than others.  Some are more precocious about searching game.  When I fly pigeons out of my shoulder pouch, some will give a chase then come back in and nearly undress me, trying to climb into that bird bag.  Others (some of whom grew up to be savants) chase a couple, then go sniff horse dung.

"Lemme know when you wanna fly another of those noisy buggers."

I am no different from most folks.   What I don't do is lie awake at night, distraught over the Dung Sniffers, or dyspeptic when the dog shows more "Stop" in her practice points than "Electric Slide."

There is much talk in athletic coaching circles these days about "The Process."  The assumption is that if we have a thoughtful, proven way of doing things that gets desired results, then what we should do is "Trust the Process."  

After forty years, I have a Process (we'll dignify it with a capitol "P," just because it makes me feel better to do so).  The Process begins with the kind of Prospect that has the best chance to succeed: a puppy from sane parents who sport that other important "P" word: "Proven," as in "Proven on Wild Birds of More Than One Species and Over More Than One Season."   My Process depends on Prospects who come from a Proven genetic background.

There it is.

I spend the next hopefully decade and a half putting that Prospect in Position to within the Process.

Firelight Seth figuring out prairie birds.  The intensity that will come with experience and confidence is not yet evident.

Five years and wild bird experience charged Firelight Seth's "style."

Do we train?  After a fashion.  But the better the Prospects that find me, the more "training" becomes socialization, manners, forging a connection, leash etiquette, and coming when called.  Do we do "bird work"?  Some.  We call it "Playing The Scales," fundamental work that we are careful not to overdo.

The key is, whatever we do with practice birds we do completely on the schedule of the weather, the pup's confidence level, cover conditions, etc....and we do it more sparingly than ever to lessen the risk of mishaps, to lessen the risk of a young dog going stale.

I "get" training groups.  I used to host them myself.  I had the land, the birds, the gear, and an almost embarrassing evangelical zeal "to help others" with their dogs.  It can be beneficial to pool resources and equipment; having several dogs to work means the individual is not running hers over and over.  Well-managed training groups with a clear set of objectives and a prevailing patient, accepting attitude about an individual dog's prowess and progress can be a real boon, especially to the open minded novice who lucks upon the right kind of mentors.

But training groups meet on human schedules, not relative to the circumstances listed above. Some of the nicest weather and amenable cover for people on clock or calendar can be the worst time and place for scenting conditions if we have contrived pointing drills on the program.

Some groups over-rely on equipment. I believe that the use of radio launchers may be the most commonly abused bit of training gear in our arsenal, from making dogs "trap shy" from explosive flushes to ham-handed, stubborn timing on just when to push the release button:  "If I just hold out another ten seconds, maybe Puppy will point!" Pup creeps, circles, flags, does the Macarena...

  Firelight Deacon, "playin' the scales," spring woodcock before his second season.

Clumsy blank gun etiquette.  Too many check cords or the wrong kind in the wrong application.  Too many people talking or whistling.  Too many hands on dogs that are trying to figure things out.

Youngsters appear "soft."  They lack "intensity."  They "don't show enough prey drive."  

Most of that's pigeon poop.  It's people desperate to see their puppy point.  It's people obsessed with trying to do something, anything, so they feel like they are training.  It's not about youngsters not showing enough; it's people not showing enough savvy...trusting neither Prospect nor Process.

I am embarrassed to admit that there was a time when I thought I could tell what a dog was going to be after watching her perform under these galling circumstances.  I would like to go back and ask forgiveness of every dog and handler I subjected to my splatterninny takes.

But dogs and more insightful handlers than I gave the lie to that misinformed perspective enough times that, clumsy pun intended, I got the point:  Maybe we ought to let these youngsters develop on their individual schedule under far more authentic conditions before we even dare venture an opinion about what they might become in the field.

Firelight Cool Hand Luke (Firelight Kate X October Blue Doc)

But even after becoming more "Bird Dog Woke," I couldn't resist offering advice, albeit in a different cause.

I once affronted a phone caller passionately lamenting "lack of style on point" in his young dog. 

"Get a cat," I urged, tongue so firmly lodged in my cheek that I feared a puncture wound.  "That's what all the great gun dog photographers do when they need a fiery picture of some field trial champion; they let him point a cat.  Nothing puts more hot point in a pup than a nasty barn cat."

I told him to site that trap close to an inviting "escape tree," as if that was some sort of technical term, and to keep his hands off his dog and not speak to it while it was on point, you know, just as I was sure he'd been doing all along (cough, cough, eye roll, cough).  

I suggested he might want to have a ladder and welding gloves at the ready if he wanted to fetch said feline for another go.

I didn't hear from that guy for some time.

People are people.  That means that with some training groups, members aren't helped to maintain a healthy perspective about the Progress of their Prospect within the Process.  They become competitive.  Instead of keeping the faith with their dog, they compare her aptitude to that of their friends' dogs.

I once found myself sitting with a long-time friend, a veterinarian, who had brought her admittedly rather dim, galumphing young shorthair to an expensive three day, "dogs under two years" seminar hosted by a famous pro.  As the weekend was winding down, it was commonly whispered between newly minted "experts" present that Doc's dog Phineas was firmly lodged at the bottom of the class.

Since that was in my Bad Ol' Days when I still knew everything about pointing dogs, I plopped down next to my friend late on Sunday afternoon to offer a little "hang in there" sentiment.  The good doctor looked at me and smiled.

"This has been a great weekend," she said. "We had a fine time.  I learned a lot, but the big deal was that it confirmed what I already knew."

Doc chuckled as the big liver and white dog at her feet rolled over to cadge a belly rub.  "Phineas is a mighty athlete," she said, reaching down to oblige her dog.   

"We just have yet to find his event."*

Firelight Storm in the Michigan grouse woods

(*Epilogue:  Doc and her husband, a springer spaniel devotee, retired not long after, kept a home on the Northern Plains, and shot prairie birds over Phineas's stolid points in between fits of spaniel mania.  Phineas, indeed, finally found "his event.")