Training a pointer is easy-that's how naive I was before I got my first pointing dog and before I ever heard of NAVHDA. I thought what we call a "finished" dog was natural instinct with a little training. Obviously. I didn't know how wrong I was. While the natural instinct in these dogs amazes me, I have come to learn how many birds, how much training and how much dedication it takes to achieve that "finished" versatile dog ... did I mention how many birds it takes"?
In my defense, I grew up hunting pheasants in southern Minnesota with our family labs and goldens, none of which had any training beyond playing fetch and letting them find birds in the field in the fall. Introduction to gunfire? Sure, lets take them to the shooting range ... So, as you can imagine, didn't really know what Iwas getting into. All I knew was that I wanted a pointing dog.
I started researching different pointing breeds after college. I stumbled across a website called www.dogbreedinfo.com where you can list all dogs by category. I read through every breed description in their hunting dog category. The Braque du Bourbonnais stuck in my head for some reason, and I knew at once that this was the breed for me. But the time wasn't right. Around then my older brother got a yellow lab named Piper. She ended up being a great hunting dog, and I have shot many birds over her. I decided that when I got my Bourbonnais, I was going to train it to be better than Piper. Those of you with older brothers will understand my reasoning.
I met my wife a few years later, and started thinking it was time to get my puppy. On one of our first dates, I told her that I was going to get a Braque du Bourbonnais, and I was going to name him Strider. After we got married, life took another turn, and Kelli and I moved from the pheasant fields of the midwest to the streets of Baltimore so I could attend Graduate School. We moved into a 13-story high-rise right near downtown, but it had a pet area!! After many conversations (or pleading, depending on which one of us you ask), I figured that the situation was right, and we decided that it was finally time to get Strider.
I had previously been in contact with a few of the limited number of Bourbonnais breeders, and, by that time. I had narrowed it down to Lonn Kuck and Elk Run Kennels. He had a litter coming up that spring, and I put my name on the wait-list. Both parents were Prize I Utility dogs-not that I really understood what that meant at the time, but it sounded impressive. As I started planning for the pup, I realized that I didn't know anything about training a pointing dog. I asked Lonn what books or videos he recommended. He sent me some articles and recommended a few books and a DVD series. But, most of all, he recommended contacting my local NAVHDA chapter. I contacted Chip Bonde, who was the secretary for the Potomac chapter. It was the best dog-related decision] ever made!
Chip invited me to a Potomac training day, and even offered to let me handle his dog Magic during the obedience portion of the training sessions. I quickly learned that there was SO much that I did not know, but if I wanted to have a better dog than my brother, this was the organization and the people to help me.
Once I got Strider, he proved to be very smart and quick learner! Everyone fell in love with him, most importantly my wife. Everyone in the Potomac Chapter was great and willing to help out. Training days were the first Saturday of every month. Most other weekends, Kelli would join me to help out. This was really something special, since she was not a dog person and had never hunted in her life. She would help out as long as she didn't have to touch the birds. For the record, she is now a dog lover and will even willingly plant birds. I made just about every beginner's mistake a guy can make but, luckily, I got a great dog, and he was able to work through all my mistakes. It really helped that all the expert advice I needed was a phone call or a training day away.
That fall, when he was nine months old, Strider and I drove back to Minnesota at Christmas, and we went out to South Dakota to get him on some wild birds. After that trip, ] knew he was something special. When I first started training with NAYHDA, I was undecided if I was ever going to test. Then I said I was at least going to run the NA, which I did that next spring and got a Prize I, 108 points. However, the NA level wasn't where I wanted my dog to be. So I started Force Fetch training with Chip's help and then moved back to Minnesota to start my new job in Minneapolis. I was calling Chip quite frequently. He suggested 1 contact Clyde Vetter at Sharp Shooter's Kennels and that I join the St Croix Chapter. Another very wise decision.
Clyde invited me out to his kennel and h he and Jessica Lieffort watched me handle my dog in force fetch and had me do some lining drills for them. I expected that they would make corrections to my dog. Again,. I was wrong. After verifying that he was indeed force broke, they proceeded to correct ME, not the dog! They gave me homework and sent me away. I came back a few weeks later-his retrieving was vastly improved, and we did some fieldwork. Again, the corrections were to me, not the dog.
Then came another successful hunting season. The next spring, we had the Braque du Bourbonnais Club of America annual meeting in Minnesota. I had never seen a Bourbonnais in person (other than my own dog). so it was a great experience. Lonn came from Idaho and was very impressed with Strider. He told me that if I kept with it, Strider had the talent to become a VC. Lonn had successfully passed with his Patty some years earlier.
At the same time, I got set up through the St. Croix mentor program with Ross Goerdt from Gunslinger's Kennel. Ross guided me through the duck search training; I will never be able to thank him enough. When we started, he was training his Cody who ran in his UT in the spring, enough. When we started, he was training his Cody who ran in his UT in the spring, then Ross continued to help me out even after Cody had earned his Prize I. Some nights, Ross would drive out to help me even if he didn't have a dog to train himself' As August approached and Strider's UT was on the horizon, I didn't think he was quite ready. All the SI. Croix members we were training with encouraged me, and Strider came away with a Prize I, 201 points!'! The Invitational was in sight, and I was now fully hooked on NAVHDA and training dogs.
I decided I needed another challenge as well, so another puppy was on its way to me. Lonn sent me Shadow, and now I really had my work cut out for me with an NA and an "Invi" dog for the summer. Up went the bird pen, the kayak came from Craigslist, the dog trailer from Illinois-it was either a trailer or a new truck with the baby on the way-did I mention the baby on the way?? Then Ross continued to help me out even after Cody had earned his Prize I. Some nights, Ross would drive out to help me even if he didn't have a dog to train himself' As August approached and Strider's UT was on the horizon, I didn't think he was quite ready. All the St. Croix members we were training with encouraged me, and Strider came away with a Prize I, 201 points!'! The Invitational was in sight, and I was now fully hooked on NAVHDA and training dogs. I decided I needed another challenge as well, so another puppy was on its way to me. Lonn sent me Shadow. and now I really had my work cut out for me with an NA and an "Invi" dog for the summer. Up went the bird pen, the kayak came from Craigslist, the dog trailer from Illinois-it was either a trailer or a new truck with the baby on the way-did I mention the baby on the way?? Some people, including my wife, thought I was crazy. But Shadow got her NA Prize I in June and Strider re-qualified with another UT Prize I. My wife is due in November, and I really look forward to teaching my child to love nature, the outdoors and, of course, bird hunting behind great dogs.
Then the Invitational training started; this was a real test for me. Strider and I had some issues that had to be worked through. At one point, I was ready to pull him. But, again, my NAYHDA friends came to the rescue. This past summer I learned more about how to handle and read my dog than ever before. I had Carey, Steve, Nathan, Jessica, Brian, Clyde, Marilyn, Ross, Travis, and many others sharing their knowledge with me. Once I figured out how to properly handle Strider, it all clicked for him. He was peaking right before the test!
If you haven't noticed, the main theme here has been the PEOPLE within NAVHDA and how they are willing to give their time to others. Strider is a once in a lifetime dog, and I don't think I have fully tapped all his potential. But I do know that without the people I have met though NAVHDA, I would have never even come close to getting as much out of him as I have.
At the Invitational, my story is no different. The people there were awesome. I have never seen anything like it; the quality of dogs amazed me, but not as much as to how friendly everyone was. For a relative outsider, it felt like a large family gathering. I think the key is that everyone is there for a shared passion, and everyone knows how much time, effort and hard work goes into getting a dog to that level. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces from the past as well.
Strider's double mark went well, and then came his blind. We watched a few geese fly in while we were waiting for our turn, and, of course, he went on a wild goose chase on his first send-at least he got them off the water for the other dogs-I was able to recover on the re-send and he completed the task. He had me nervous at this point. Real nervous. Last came the field and he rocked it! An amazing run! I came out of the field feeling that I didn't care if the blind affected his passing score, I was happy that he was my dog. Everyone could tell my nervousness before the scores were read. Complete strangers were coming up to me as friends asking how my dog did. When my scores were finally read, as soon as I heard the “3”for the blind, things became a haze. I didn’t even hear the rest of my scores, but I knew we passed! People-friends and strangers alike-swarmed me with congratulation and compliments about my dog. An amazing end to an amazing journey! I hope to be back in Ohio in 2015 with Shadow!