Our performance testing consists of several different elements. We do not employ them in a segmented fashion. We utilize all of the elements as the dog advances through our selection process as needed for each individual dog. The elements and approximate chronology are as follows.
Phase I starts at 14-16 weeks on liberated birds. Each year we start 20-30 pups. We keep a couple hundred quail and do not use them until they are well conditioned for flight. We release and push these quail nearly every day and they fly almost as hard as wild birds. I mention this because really strong birds contribute greatly to this process. The pups don't form bad habits and we don't have to worry about them catching birds. This allows us to let the pups go unrestricted and we can evaluate their tendencies around game. It also helps that we have 54 acres fenced with 5ft high woven wire so we never have to worry about a pup getting on to a road or neighboring properties. All of this allows us to get young pups into a ton of birds very young while maintaining a natural environment. We do very little that resembles formal training at this stage. We are observing their innate abilities and traits at this point. This stage lasts until approximately 26 weeks of age.
Phase II is light yard training and we get started on wild birds as the time of year dictates. We really prefer they have very little contact with liberated birds from this point until they have had substantial contact with wild birds. We also introduce the whoa command during this phase. With most dogs we combine whoa training with a game of fetch. It reinforces fetching and makes a game out of whoa training. The dogs are still quite young so mixing in the retrieving keeps their attention and keeps it fun for the pup. We are looking for early signs of biddability and how well they take training.
Phase III is the start of a variety of wild bird work. Evaluating dogs on a variety of species and various terrain is very helpful in determining intelligence, biddability, bird finding ability, and natural ability to handle wild birds. Our prospects will be exposed to wild birds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, and Canada. Listed below is a rough break-down. This varies dependant on available bird numbers. We go where we can find good bird numbers! The break-down on wild bird work is listed below. We are looking for dogs that figure it out quickly and demonstrate a superior ability to handle wild birds. The variety also shows their natural tendencies in terms of adapting their range to the terrain. Depending on the dogs age this phase will usually go up to the spring woodcock migration.
- 35% - Ruffed Grouse - Minnesota & Wisconsin
- 35% - Sharptail & Huns - North Dakota and Montana
- 20% - Quail - Missouri & Texas
- 10% - Pheasant - Minnesota, North & South Dakota
Phase IV is polishing of manners. Very few hunters are going to demand that a dog be steady to wing and shot, stop to flush, and honor another dog on point 100% of the time. However, a dog’s willingness to take this type of training and advanced manners around game should be an important part of determining if they are suitable candidates for breeding. At this stage the evaluation becomes much more advanced. We demand above average to superior ability in the following areas.
- Bird finding ability
- Pattern – adaptation of range / pattern to the cover and intelligent search of objectives
- Ability to get birds pointed and hold them
- Manners around game
- Style running and pointing
Phase V, the final phase, is testing the dogs in a competitive environment. At this point we have a strong opinion about the dog’s bird finding skills. One 30-60 minute session is not proof of bird finding ability. However, trials are a very good place to test attributes like stamina, drive, intelligence of pattern, handling, style and manners around game relative to other dogs. We believe walking trials are an ideal environment for unbiased evaluation of a class bird dog. About one-third of the dogs that make our program will have the extended range required for trials. The other two-thirds will have range and perhaps slightly less drive but they will possess all of the other attributes of our winning trial dogs.