My Pointer Lexi passed away last Wednesday, 11/18. She was 6-1/2 years old, and up until 11/11, she wasn’t exhibiting any obvious signs of her illness (cancer).
Goodbye, little girl. You’re missed and you’ll always be loved and remembered.
Check out my latest article from the January-February 2020 edition of Shooting Sportsman magazine. Scroll down to read the entire piece.
Building a Grouse Dog: From Puppy to Polished Performer, by Craig Doherty
True love and truly great dog trainers are hard to come by. It has taken me decades to find both. I married in 2012 and, in 2014 I started sending my Pointers to Craig Doherty, author of the new book Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer.
I met Craig back two twenty years ago when I started hanging around field trials. Since then, he has been breeding top-notch grouse dogs for hunters throughout the Northeast and bringing home ribbons from field trials throughout the country, including a first-place win at the 2007 Grand National Grouse Championship–the Superbowl of upland-hunting style dog competitions. While doing all this, he has also built a guiding and dog-training business in northern New Hampshire. So when it comes to top-notch bird dogs, Craig knows what he’s talking about. He has walked the walk, and his new book teaches you how to walk down your own path to success.
As it says on the cover, Craig Doherty’s Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer is a how-to, and across its 168 pages, and with dozens of full-color pictures, it covers everything from a pup’s first time out of the whelping box to finishing it up on its second season in the grouse woods and beyond. It suggests what training gear you should own, gives you tips on buying, using and introducing your dog to a GPS e-collar, and even discusses where to hunt Ruffed Grouse, and the gun to carry while doing it.
The lessons it teaches are practical, gimmick-free, and easy to apply to any pointing breed. They’re also kind to the dogs. Some current “alpha dog” training philosophies inspire people to be heavy-handed with their pups. Craig doesn’t practice that nonsense or promote it in his book. Instead, he believes “…you need to work at becoming a hunting partner as opposed to a hunting master” and tells you how to do it.
My favorite parts are the bits of wisdom Craig drops in throughout his book, insights like what the breeder of your next grouse dog should be obsessed with, the best time of year for your new pup to be born, why leather collars are not ideal, and how to deal with bloody tails. I’m sure Craig has spent years gathering this knowledge. Gaining just reading his book feels like cheating — but I’ll take it.
Craig was a writer and educator before he became a full-time dog trainer, and his storytelling skills and ability to break down complex ideas into easy-to-understand lessons are evident throughout his new book. So is his empathy for his students, four- and two-legged. Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer is easy to follow and a joy to read. Best of all, its lessons are easy to apply and it’s full of wisdom anyone interested in gun dogs will benefit from discovering.
Like I said in the beginning, great dog trainers are hard to come by. It’s even harder to find ones who can teach you their skills. Craig Doherty new book Building a Grouse Dog, From Puppy to Polished Performer does just that, and like true love, it’s something worth experiencing for yourself.
Building a Grouse Dog: From Puppy to Polished Performer, by Craig Doherty,
I love English Pointers, especially ones from strong Elhew lines. So I was excited to see this litter of pups from Northern California’s Blackney Kennels. These great looking dogs are full of potential. And they’re darn cute, too.
According to the breeder’s About Us page: “Blackney Kennels breeds Elhew English Pointers for hunters and competitors, and their families, who desire an outstanding representative of the finest line of pointing dogs ever developed. Our objective is to produce dogs of the highest quality, conforming to the Elhew standards: high-powered, highly intelligent, highly biddable, conformationally correct and strikingly beautiful, with ideal companion-dog temperaments.”
3 Questions for kennel owner Daniel Riviera
1.) Dogs & Doubles: Why did you pick Brigadoon & Aviatrix? What strengths were you trying to bring together?
Daniel Riviera: First, this is a “pure” Elhew breeding. I have had Elhew pointers for the past 20 years and have been thrilled with them. I agree entirely with, and want for myself, the kind of dog Bob Wehle developed. For the low-volume breeder, who wants the highest quality, consistent litter, I believe breeding within the Elhew family, which is broad and has many lines, is the best route.
Specifically, I like, and want to breed, a high-powered, exceptionally athletic dog, who is exciting, even thrilling at times, to watch work and with whom to partner in the hunt. I want the dog to be highly biddable, meaning responsive and communicative in the field, highly intelligent, beautifully structured and marked, with a handsome, correct head and a straight, cracking tail, and a warm, outgoing, engaged, and expressive personality and temperament. Both Brigadoon and Aviatrix meet this description.
Brigadoon is a powerfully built, beautiful dog, with good bone and substance, and tremendous vitality – excellent qualities in a sire. Aviatrix is finer boned, sharply outlined, with great intensity. I felt they would be a good combination because I did not want to go further in either direction, toward more bone or toward more refinement. It seems to have been a good choice as the pups show both good bone and substance, and beautiful emerging outlines.
Brigadoon and Aviatrix share many desirable traits, so their strengths are compounded in the pups. Just picking one of their strengths, both Brigadoon and Aviatrix are notably tenacious. When we were just beginning to work Brigadoon on birds, when he was still a little tyke, we shot a chukar for him and it unfortunately dropped into the middle of a huge blackberry bush, common in the open fields around here. Before we could stop Brigadoon, he was crawling into the middle of the blackberry bush and was soon crawling back out, pushing through the vines, ignoring the stickers, with the bird. It was quite amazing.
I should add that both Brigadoon and Aviatrix are very healthy dogs, and so far, knock on wood, have not been prone to injury. The pups they produced are very robust.
2.) Dogs & Doubles: What traits are you hoping to see in these pups? What will set them apart?
Daniel Riviera: I want to see a robust, beautiful dog, with a handsome head and cracking tail, forward, engaged, with a warm, loving personality. The ideal hunting-companion dog, who may also be competed successfully in shooting dog and comparable stakes. This is what I am seeing in the pups. I began with pointing dogs nearly 30 years ago, showing Vizslas (a wonderful breed) in conformation. This litter is so uniformly excellent you could finish the championship of every one of these pups. I wish I could keep them all.
3.) Dogs & Doubles: Say I’m a potential customer, what’s your elevator pitch on your pups? Why should consider them, what will I get from them?
Daniel Riviera: The ideal hunting-companion dog, beautiful, thrilling to watch and to hunt, rewarding to own every day of the dog’s life.
I spend a LOT of time with my dogs–most of my time, really. I work from home, and so Lexi and Sky are my constant companions: A run in early am, in the office together all day, a walk in the PM, repeat.
But not this July and August. Both girls went to Wild Apple Kennel at the end of June for summer training, and they’ll be there through this month.
I’m counting down the days.
Only one thing sucks more than planted quail: cold, wet, planted quail.
In the best conditions, planted quail prefer running to flushing. When these birds are cold and wet, they’re as likely to fly as a frog or groundhog.
And cold, wet planted quail, plus a handful of well-trained bird dogs, is what Lexi and I faced off against at the Northern NH Bird Dog Club 2018 Annual Trial.
This trial ran from April 27-29. We were in Sunday’s Amateur Shooting Dog stake. It was a cold, cloudy day. Rain shifted back-and-forth from drizzling to pouring.
Lexi was in the third brace (there were only 4 in the entire stake). She had a great run, stayed in the pocket the whole time, handled perfectly, and, as you can see in the videos, the didn’t let those lousy quail throw her off her game (or make her break point). By the time we finished the course, I thought for sure we would be taking home a yellow ribbon.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. While I was disappointed, Lexi didn’t mind. She just had fun chasing birds.
I’ve always wanted to hunt wild bobwhites. Watch this video to see on reason why.
Check out hard these birds bust cover and how high and fast they fly. Notice the handler doesn’t need a flushing whip or a Cocker spaniel to get them up and going.
That great-looking pointer is Hifive Kennels’ Champion Titanium’s Jacksin. Hifive is well-known kennel out of Beulah, MI. They’ve been breeding, training, and trialing dogs for 20+ years, and they’ve produced a long list of great dogs.
We used to have one big bed for both Lexi & Sky (the green one to the left). But that didn’t work. Sharing was not something they wanted to do. So I bought another bed. Now they fight over the new one, even though the older one is bigger. Go figure.
My pointer, Sky, loves chewing up shoes and slippers. Since October, she has chewed, chomped, and torn her way through 4 pairs. Now when I catch her doing it, this is her reaction.
This shows she has a conscious and she knows that if she’s super cute, no one can get mad at her.
Sky and I headed up to northern NH on Saturday to say “hello” to Lexi and Craig Doherty. Craig runs Wild Apple Kennel, and this is the second season he has worked with Lexi.
Lexi left for training camp at the end of June, and this was the first time the Sky has seen her since then. After they had a moment to reacquaint, we put took some pigeons out for them and ran a couple other dogs Craig has in his kennel this summer. Overall, a great day.
You hear all sorts of “truths” about Pointers: They’re not personable; they make lousy house dogs; they don’t retrieve (not naturally, anyway). Sky is my third pointer, and just like my first two, she has shown me that all these “truths” are total BS. Watch this video to see her dispel the third.
A couple Saturdays ago, the latest addition to our team arrived. Meet out new pointer pup: Striking Elhew Sky.
Sky’s out of Superior Pointers. She’s half-sister to Lexi by the father. We’re thrilled to have her, and I’m more excited than ever to have another bird dog for this fall.
Paul Fuller of Bird Dogs Afield just posted this great interview with legendary pointer breeder and field trialer Ferrell Miller. If you’re into bird dogs, you should make time to watch the whole thing.
And if you don’t know much about Pointers, this short video is a nice introduction to the breed. It also features Ferrell Miller, and is worth watching just to see Mr Miller in the field working his dogs.
Lexi and I made it down to Addieville East Game Farm yesterday to chase some chukars along with some friends of this sight.
Lexi had never seen a chukar. She’s hasn’t done much hunting in fields, either. So I was a little worried about how she would handle things.
She bumped two, but overall, she handled the chukars like a champ. I even has my first retrieve-to-hand from her.
It finally happened: Yesterday, I killed my first wild bird over Lexi.
It was a woodcock, and I shot it after she gave me a nice, solid point. The one I shot turned out to be part of a 3-bird cluster. They were all together in an alder tangle, and after I shot the first birds (it took me two shots), the other birds went up.
Today we hit some other alder covers, but it was real cold last night and everything was frosted up. We hit another spot on higher ground and found several woodcock and a grouse. Lexi did her job, but I didn’t.
We have another week to hunt and the grouse are starting to move, to I hope to kill one of those for her soon.
I never set out to be a Pointer guy. Back before I got Puck (my first pointer), I had never even seen one, except for in books and magazines. Then one day I was flipping through an issue of the Pointing Dog Journal, and I noticed an add from a Pointer breeder near me.
This was Autumn Memory Kennels in Bolton, MA. Ten months after my first visit there, Puck was mine. Today, I can’t imagine owning any other breed of pointing dog.
In The pointers of Northwoods Bird Dogs, you can read a bit more about what makes pointers such great dogs.
“Perhaps no other breed of bird dog has had more selective breeding based solely on their performance in the field than pointers. Even so, pointers are also excellent hunting companions and house pets.
In addition to our English setters, Jerry and I always have owned pointers. We’ve bred, trained, competed and lived with them for more than 20 years and are now producing our fifth generation.”
Read all of The pointers of Northwoods Bird Dogs now.
So far, it’s been several days of ups and days. We’ve been finding birds, but not many. Some of the woodcock have been holding for points, but the grouse have been flushing wild.I saw these birds flush on their own, so I know Lexi was not pushing them up. I’ve never seen such skittish grouse.
It wasn’t until today that we got into a significant number of woodcock. They were right where they should be this time of year – in an stand of Alders – and in about 30 minutes we put up 12 birds. Lexi had solid points on three of them. I missed them all. On the others, a couple flushed wild and Lexi bumped the rest.
Bumped birds are one of the frustrations of breaking in a dog, and it’s hard for me to remain calm and patient when I see Lexi pushing birds into the sky. She’s also had her share of long pauses/false points. After a while, these things drive me mad.
I strapped my pointer cam on her so I could get a better look at what she was doing in the woods. The videos below are what we shot. There’s a long and short version. Take a look and let me know your thoughts.