The Makings of a bird dog

When the puppies were only a week or so old, I would bring out a pheasant or duck wing for them to smell. I would run it across their fur as they slept or leave it in the box to see if it would engage them. As they got older, I would drag it or flutter it on the ground to see who would follow.

Although genetics can help determine why some dogs have an affinity for birds and others for sheep, environment can help shape behaviors we are looking for in our working or pet dogs. Since the attention span of a puppy is short, I usually limit my retrieves to 3 or 4. I also choose a hallway or restricted area so the only option is to come back by me!

It is natural for a retriever to go OUT after an item, the return has to be taught. Most dogs would sooner take a “prized possession” back to their den(often a crate or favorite area). If the puppy returns to me with his item, I don’t try to snatch the item directly from them, but praise them for their job well done. Instead, I will keep them close to me and pet them(even if they try to wiggle away) before trading the item for a tasty treat or another item to toss.

So, this leads me to an email I received from George’s owner(lime green boy) last week on his latest adventure.

From the pen of Jim (George’s Person):
So when I got the day off from work because of the weather, I decided to use it to get ahead on my homework for Numerical Analysis. I was busy working a Bounded Value Problem while keeping half an eye on our new Flatcoat puppy, George, when I heard scratching at the door. I thought, “Can’t be the dogs, they’re all inside.” so I ignored it. A few minutes later I heard the scratching again and was instantly mortified. I thought that I left our older min-pin mix, all 9 pounds of her, outside for more than an hour in 20 degree weather. So I slowly opened the door expecting to find a dog-sicle who won’t speak to me for a few days when I found a wren that had found it way between the entry and screen doors.

As is their wont, the wren didn’t wait for me to open the screen door to let him outside but instead took off at top speed into the interior of our home. My first thought was “This can’t be good.” I’ve got a bird in the house with three bird dogs, one crazy dog that barks incessantly at anything more dramatic than shifting one’s bottom in a comfortable chair, three cats and a gecko.

So I went outside and closed the door.

I went to get my bird catching net. I have one, of course, because I sometime raise quail because I like them and they’re cheap. I like motorcycles, too, but they’re not cheap. But I couldn’t find my net because I didn’t want to walk thought the snow to where I store my net so I went back inside to develop “plan B”.

Plan B entailed using one of my wife’s bath towels to try to ensnare the bird without hurting it. I retrieved a towel and joined our three bird dogs: Boomer, our 2-year-old Flatcoat; Cleo, my 6-year-old rescue lab who supposed to be my next duck retrieving machine; and George, our 10-WEEK-old flatcoat pup, who were running willy-nilly trying to find and catch the bird. Run to one side of the house, sniff everything until the bird flushes, and then run to the other side or another room and do it again. They were having great fun. The min-pin, of course, stood in the recliner and barked at everything, the cats were long gone, probably making plans for how to catch the bird once the dogs found a stick that was more interesting, and the gecko only leaves its cave for crickets.

So the four us chased the bird around the house. I would vainly toss the towel at or near the bird more in the hopes of not destroying anything near and dear to my wife, because I can explain a bird in the house, but I can’t explain how Aunt Ginny’s chest got scratched. The min-pin barked. The cats planned. And the four of us ran around the house tossing towels and trying to find where the bird went after I tossed the towel.

Finally, the poor wren made its mistake. He (or she) waited too long to take flight after landing on the kitchen counter and I covered her (or him) with the towel. I was able to get my hand under the towel, get my hand around the exhausted fowl, and extract her. I let her go (outside) and, just like all of the other birds that I’ve caught by hand, she took off none the worse for the wear.

So now I’ve got a hand that smells like fowl and three bird dogs. I put my hand to Boomer. He sniffed it quickly and decided even more quickly to keep looking for the bird. I gave my hand to Cloe, she of the duck retrieving game. She gave it just a moment more than Boomer before deciding to join him in the hunt.

Then I gave my hand to George. He got just a slight sniff at first, but then immediately stuck his nose in my hand to get a noseful of the fowl’s scent. He licked and sniffed my hand until the din of the two big dogs got to his brain and he had to see what they were doing.

I think I found my bird dog.

Doing what she loves best, Taylor brings home dinner

Doing what she loves best, Taylor brings home dinner

Limey at 4 wks after bedtime story from Taylor

“I want to go duck hunting too, Mom” cries lime green at 4 wks


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Updates from the Field

I am happy to report that all the Pemberly pups appear to have adjusted well to their new homes. It can be quite stressful to a puppy to leave the comfort of his mother and litter mates and no longer be part of a pack the same age.

I can imagine what is going on in their little puppy brains :”

WHO is this person?

Fritz discusses politics with Mindy

Fritz discusses politics with Mindy

Why is he calling me Mindy, I am pink girl?

I thought I always wore a orange collar, not blue.

I do NOT want to be in this crate by myself-I WILL ABSOLUTELY die in here alone.

Scout's new cave

Scout’s new cave

Who knew dogs wore spots or came in yellow?

lucy pickles and scout

lucy pickles and scout

What are little people doing with big shovels?

Elsa and Karl shovel the porch as Selma(red supervises their work)

Elsa and Karl shovel the porch as Selma(red supervises their work)

Chris said we were going to the park to pick up chicks-is that what mom was talking about when she said I will grow up to be a hunting dog?

George bonding with a dog of a different color

George bonding with a dog of a different color

Princess Ivy kicks Queen Lily off her throne

Princess Ivy kicks Queen Lily off her throne

Hudson gets a window seat

Hudson gets a window seat

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Life Back at Pemberly

My dogs are happy to be out working again. Taylor was so thrilled to see a bumper the other day and ran a beautiful Simple T drill( an exercise designed to teach a dog to handle on blind retrieves). Taylor is a sensitive dog and handles pressure much different than her dad or half sister, Reagan ,so it was great to see her so positively happy to do drill work.

Taylor, free at last from the constraints of motherhood

Taylor, free at last from the constraints of motherhood

Keaton celebrated his 11th B-day with his obedience training friends with a cake from 3 dog Bakery.  A good flatcoat friend once said to me, “The first 10 years the dogs play by my rules. The next 10 years they play by their own.” So true, Keaton has long forgotten what stay is, that the bed is for humans, and that my food is NOT his food.

Keaton waits for peanut butter cake to be served

Keaton waits for peanut butter cake to be served

Reagan ran  field drills at record breaking speed and heeled like an OTCH(Obedience title champion) dog in training class on Monday. If she were human, she would be working 80 hour work weeks. She is so driven.

Reagan's favorite activity

Reagan’s favorite activity

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Silent Night

Having Limey(aka George) stay an extra week helped “ease the sadness” I knew I would feel when all the babies were gone. I am sure it feels the same to parents when their kids leave for college. It seemed so empty

empty nest

empty nest

and quiet(my husband savors the quiet) after Limey left us friday. I don’t think any in the household cried but me. I know Keaton was thrilled to have his headquarters back.

Raising puppies was a lot of work, but the reward of producing beautiful, well-adjusted flat-coats who will be adored and trained by their new families was worth it. I can now refocus on training my own dogs for the 2015 national and giving more attention back to my “neglected husband. All kidding aside, Virgle was very supportive about my care of the litter and has always been my number one fan and assistant at hunt tests and dog shows.

  • IMG_0942

    Virgle's favorite girl, Miss Red

    Virgle’s favorite girl, Miss Red

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And then their was one

Sunday afternoon seemed so quiet with just the two pups. Miss Red seemed somewhat concerned about the disappearances of her pack members. Limey-well, not so much.
limey left red rightlimey reassures red(right) that all is well

Limey was staying an extra week so his family could prepare to spend the whole next weekend introducing him to life in Ohio with his new pack which included a two year old flat-coat, Boomer , a lab and a mix breed dog in addition to two teenagers.

We were a little worried how well any of us would sleep that night . Knowing it might not be successful, we left limey in the pen with the big dogs in the kitchen outside the pen. Of course, he still felt pretty alone because the big dogs all curled up in the dog bed in the opposite corner of the room so they didn’t hear him yodeling.

So, I took a small crate in our bedroom and placed it next to my bed. He whined off and on till about 3 am with my fingers resting in the side of his crate. Night two was a little better as he fussed very little and woke up at 3 am for a short potty break but still couldn’t hold it all night. Night three we decided to put Grandpa keaton and Mom in the spare room and see if the babysitter, Reagan would lie next to his pen . She did-boy, do I LOVE that dog.  We all slept GREAT!

Other than adjusting to the sleep schedule, Limey was quite the superstar and just became one of the pack . He was pretty convinced that Reagan was a superhero and whatever she did so did he.nylabone meeting

We got our first major cold snap with subzero weather and snow. Other than some cold paws, he enjoyed the white powder.IMG_0874 IMG_0855

He was true to his temperament test during his extra week with us-a bold, fun-loving,  retrieving  addict. This dog was going to make his way into the flat-coat hall of fame. He reminded me so much of his great grandma, Disney, who lived everyday like it was a party .

Before we knew it, Friday was here and so was his new family. Mary and her daughter arrived from Cinci Ohio to take home Limey, aka George (Pemberly’s Olympus). I see great things in his future and look forward to seeing him at performance events and in the duck blind next hunting season.The Huffords with George

I must admit it doesn’t take long to attach yourself to a flat-coat puppy and I am happy to have found such wonderful home for these babies. Be sure to follow-up on this blog and watch for reports of these puppies as they grow.

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New Families

The first of our puppies to go to their new home was Orange now known as Hudson. Hudson will live  my stepson, Christopher in Louisville, Ky. It is his first dog as an adult and his first flat-coat.He will be Chris’s hiking buddy and perhaps hunting dog. I get the added bonus of having the opportunity to show Hudson(Pemberly’s McKinley).

Nancy not only helped me whelp the litter and give them another vet check-up, but she took home Miss Purple (Pemberly’s Destiny Meet Me at the Summit).Nancy was a great help with my litter. I got lots of good advise, puppy supplies and small crates to help with the crate training process.  Call name still up in the air . She will be shown in the breed ring and obedience and run hunt test. She joins her  Flat-Coat Grandma Lilly in Terre Haute, Indiana.nancy and miss purple






Liz, Michael and Hanna took home Mr. Green , “Scout” to Michigan along with their 13 year old Rat Terrier, Lucy Pickles. She will be mom’s obedience dog, Dad’s hunting buddy and Hanna’s best friend. This is their second flat-coat.Scout and Family






On Sunday, we had our little Rainbow girl go home at 9am(sorry Brian for the early pickup). Her new name is Tilly(Pemberly’s Fairweather Flight) and her new flatcoat friend is her aunt Claire(Taylor’s sister). They live in the  Beech Grove Area of Indianapolis. She will be shown and loved by Alicia and Brian Craig.


I do not believe that I mentioned that I had picked up a horrible cold that week and lost my voice saturday so giving all the instructions and information about the new owner’s pups was not easy. I do not get sick very often and I am sure the stress of caring for 11 dogs and the holidays did not help.

The next pickup was for Miss Pink’s new home. Pink has eyes that melted my heart and was always the first one up to the pen side to get pet or held. She was going to be living with good friends of mine, Fritz and Janet Krull. This is their 4th flat-coat. They lost their beloved Whisper last fall. She was Keaton’s only sister and one fun old gal. Mindy(Pemberly’s Blue Ridge) also has a home with  flat-coa companion, Echo another sister of Taylor.

The Krulls live on a lake up in Northern Indiana  so the girls will have the quite the view from the living room window.IMG_0834





At noon Terri and her son from West Lafayette, In came to pick up their new boy, Mr. Blue. We are still waiting to hear his name. He also has a big flatcoat sister, Storm who is a year old . They will have fun with the family pool next summer!IMG_0835







Sunday evening the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and snow had started to land in the area. I had told Heike that she could wait till monday to pick up her little girl, Miss Red if she did not want to travel especially since returning home from Chicago that day. No, she wanted to come get her as she had promised her three kids that she would get their puppy tonight.

Heike and her family just moved here from Germany and live in Zionsville, In. They have a 13 year old flatcoat named Gizmo who they acquired from Hamburg. Hamburg is the city where Keaton’s(Taylor’s dad) brother lives with his mom Wenche. Miss Red is now Selma(Pemberly’s Zugspritz) Zupspritz is the highest mountain in Germany and the family has skied on this mountain.

Selma will be shown in conformation and perhaps other performance venues. She will also be best buddy for Elsa, August and Karl, her 2-legged siblings.IMG_0854






So, you might be asking, Now isn’t there 8 puppies in this litter?  Where is lime green? Well, we get a bonus extra week with Limey. More to come about his week with us.



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Grandma’s Feather Bed

Any John Denver fans would remember the song about visiting Grandma’s house and playing on her old Feather Bed.  The simple canvas elevated bed was one of the puppies favorite spots and it reminded me of Denver singing this story . It was not usual to find the entire pack piled on top of each other.

It was also a “lookout tower” where Miss Pink or Red would stand guard and keep enemy troops from entering their fort. It also served as a “foxhole” where you could ambush your littermate if they passed by on their way to the watering hole.

I got this picture on the puppies final night as a pack of eight. How they had grown ! It brought tear to my eyes to think that their safe little world would be so different over the next few moment IMG_0760

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Conformation Evaluations-the final decisions

In addition to temperament testing, I like to access the structure of all the puppies to make sure that they are capable of the type of work or environment which will best suit them without causing undue stress on their minds or bodies. Many dogs have enough “heart” or “desire” to perform a specific function despite bad hips, weak hocks or chronic ear infections, but is it fair to our canine friends? If we really want them to excel and enjoy a long, pain free life then maybe they would have been better suited to long walks with their family and spending time on the couch watching tv with the kids.

Good friend and long time golden retriever owner-handler,  Dr.Sheree Farber has helped me evaluate many of the litter’s my male dog, Keaton has sired. She uses Pat Hastings Puppy Puzzle program which is designed to evaluate puppies at 8 week( give or take 3 days before or after they turn 8 weeks). It has long been suggested that a puppy at 8 weeks is a preview of what that dog will be like at 2 years of age.

Many long time breeders and dog fanciers know their breed well enough to pick out the puppy which best represents the overall type of their breed. Some breeds such as the pug the head piece is  hallmark that makes the dog. Others are required to have particular coat qualities or markings such as a the Chinese Shar-pei or the Dalmation. However, if the dog’s front assembly is poor, it doesn’t matter how well marked a dog is if he can not move soundly enough to follow the horse carriage or carry a bird.

Sherre has helped develop my eye for a well built dog. As a competitor in the hunter/jumper world for a good portion of my life, I can usually pick out a sound, balanced dog, but she has educated me to know how the pieces fit together to make that dog move the way it does.

By combining this testing with the temperament test, we were able to objectively look at each puppy in the litter and make the appropriate placements for show, work and pet homes. It is hard not to fall in love with one puppy who captures your heart with her sweet expressions and joyful personality even though her structure is not suitable for the task of brood bitch or hunting companion.

Now comes the hard part, letting go of the emotions and matching people and puppies.

Orange shows off for the camera

Orange shows off for the camera

My tough little girl rainbow

My tough little girl rainbow

elegant purple girl

For more information on Pat Hasting’s puppy evaluation, I would strongly encourage you to read her book ” Tricks of the Trade” and Structure in Action books.



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Temperament Testing

Although the breeder often has an idea of the personalities of each puppy, temperament testing using a stranger and a new environment may pick out traits we have not seen. In addition, the testing might also support some of different behaviors we may have seen as they interacted among their siblings in their secure environment.

The testing we use follows the well known Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test which was designed by german shepard breeders. It is recommended to be done on the “49th day” or seven weeks. In the past most breeders and many performance competitors  considered this the magic number. I think this can depend a lot on the environment they are raised in  and interaction of the breeder with the litter. I certainly feel before 7 weeks is too early as they still have lots they can learn from siblings interactions.

When temperament testing it is important to take them to a place or room they have never been in before as well as the person running the test should be unfamiliar with the puppies. Thankfully, we did not have to travel but a few miles to a friend’s home who had an area suitable for testing and training buddy, Susan Steffey was our tester.

The test is not without faults and since it is only performed once other factors could influence the results. We all have “bad” days so if the test really seems to conflict with how the puppy might normally react then the breeder has to use his/her best judgement when placing that puppy. Temperament can be shaped by genetic and environmental factors as well as training. For example, it is natural for a retriever to want to carry items in their mouth and it is natural for a border collie to want to corral a group of running children. You could teach your border collie to fetch and your retriever to corral sheep but it is not a natural instinct.

There are a series of exercises within the test  that evaluate the puppy for social behavior around people,reactions to  new stimuli, prey drive and trainability. Susan and I have slightly modified the test in the retrieve portion by using multiple items vs. just the foil ball since we are looking for desire to retrieve in our field dogs.

They also have an exercise that requires the tester to pinch a pup’s toes for sensitivity test. We drop this test. As a vet, I want no aversion to having their feet handled and we felt like it was an unnecessary stress on the puppies.

I can say with conviction that there was no big surprises on the test results. The more social pups were attracted to the tester and wanted to work for  her. The more cautious pups had to be coaxed a little but not much and the overachievers enjoyed the prey drive exercises. Overall, I think they all exhibited good social skills , good trainability and the adaptability of a well-bred, environmentally calm but stimulating environment. In other words, I was very proud of my little babies!

Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test

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Getting Ready-the Final Week

It is hard to believe 7 weeks has gone by since the pups came to Pemberly via Taylor. They have all the attributes of an adult flatcoat- their licker works fast and efficiently, the tail wags 24/7, and food is a very important resource. They bounce, pounce and circle laps around the trees .Every once in a while somebody gets too rough and then the victim squeals and run or comes back with those viciously sharp baby teeth at the challenger.

Green was the first to go up a step and not to be outdone, Orange took the entire set of steps the next day. Going down is another story and my deck steps are a little steeper and wider than normal.  Much to my dismay, a few have plunged off the top steps but it does not seem to phase them.

Their attachment to me and visitors has really bloomed as they have become more aware of their environment and we practice recalls in the yard daily. What fun it is too watch their ears flapping and legs flying to greet me with unleashed enthusiasm .

Rather than take them into the clinic for vaccines, we brought the clinic to them. They all got their first vaccines for distemper and parvo, another deworming and microchipping. With the help of JIF, the event went smoothly and no one seemed to be too concerned. Maybe just 1 little whimper was heard.  The mother’s antibodies may interfere with vaccines working so it is important that they receive a full series of vaccines  which are separated 3-4 weeks apart till they reach at least 16 weeks of age.

In today’s world, many people are now choosing not to vaccinate their children or pets for fear of developmental problems such as auto immune diseases and autism in children. However, many of the reports are antidotal and the diseases we are preventing can be life threatening such as parvovirus and rabies. In humans, polio was a very debilitating disease and the development of a vaccine saved most of us from contacting the virus and kids today have probably never even heard of polio. That being said, when and how much and how often should be vaccinate is a debate for another day.

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