The Picardy Spaniel is a new breed in North America and it should be treated as such. As of July 2021 there are only ~170 Picardy Spaniels in North America, and about 1,700 worldwide. Our primary training challenge with the Picardy Spaniel in North America is that very few people have seen a Picardy, much less trained one. There are training basics that work across breeds, but training a Picardy Spaniel is different. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is wrong. If you want a Picardy Spaniel trained properly you can’t listen to other trainers and dog owners who have experience with breeds of dogs that have been in North America for decades. Listen to other Picardy Spaniel owners, especially those from the Europe and the UK, who have decades of experience training this phenomenal breed.
Basic Rules for Training Picardy Spaniels
- Picardy’s mature slowly. Push them too fast and you will risk ruining them.
- Picardy’s like to have fun. All work and no play doesn’t work with this breed. Period.
- Picardy’s are smart. If they’re not learning what you’re trying to teach see above.
- Picardy’s bond strongly with their owners. Train them yourself if at all possible.
Training WildKat Whiskey (Whiskey)
Our dogs are family dogs first, so obedience and manners are at the forefront of our training/conditioning. They are hunters second. Breeding comes last. We’ve found that positive-reinforcement techniques work best with Picardy Spaniels as they are very food motivated. High pressure training does not work well at all with this breed. Joan Bailley’s training philosophy, called “conditioning,” has worked very well for us in training our Picardy Spaniels. If you decide that the Picardy Spaniels is the right breed for you we highly recommend you read her books. Whether you plan to hunt your Picardy Spaniel or not, “How to Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves” will provide you with a good framework for training your new puppy.
At the end of May Ellen made a whirlwind trip to Frankfurt to get Whiskey. COVID travel restrictions were difficult to navigate, but she managed to get to Germany, spend the afternoon and evening with the breeder and then fly Whiskey in the cabin to Chicago. All in about 48 hours! Whiskey turned 8 weeks old the day Ellen flew her home. We would have preferred her to be a bit older before bringing her home, but we were all concerned about the Lufthansa weight restriction of 8kg for Whiskey and the carrier. In addition, Cleo was expecting her second litter in < 3 weeks and Ellen wanted to be home for the last 2 weeks in case any issues arose. Whiskey was pretty much unfazed by long trip from Germany to Wisconsin and spent the early evening hanging out with us in the yard. We assessed her structure and demeanor as she played in the yard, and I thought it would be interesting to test her nose. I got out a training bumper that had some old chukar wings attached and threw it out in the yard. There was a slight breeze so I walked into the scent cone. Whiskey dutifully followed. She didn’t point the scent, but she was all about the bumper. She picked it up and ran off with her prize. I clapped my hands and called her and she whipped a 180 and came back with the bumper. Whiskey’s first “retrieve!” El got it all on video.
In addition to adjusting to a different time zone (-7) and a different language Whiskey got to business with respect to obedience and some of the other things requisite of a “good” dog.
- Name Recognition
- “Come” with and without Orientation at Right Side
- Potty Training
- Crate Conditioning
- Kennel Conditioning
- Pack Socialization (Remi and Cleo only)
- Off-Leash Adventures in the Yard
Like most Picardy’s Whiskey is very food motivated which makes training much easier. She had her first vet visit and the vet said she looked great. Given the long travel day getting to the US we haven’t had her in the truck except to go to the vet. Ellen has been trimming her nails a bit. We’ve done zero formal training sessions to date. All of the conditioning has been part of just spending time- and playing with Whiskey.
Remi and Whiskey have become fast friends. Cleo seems to approve of Whiskey, but given her gestation situation she isn’t up for much play time. Manny barely tolerates Whiskey at this point, and we are doing some light, controlled socialization. Rowan still thinks Whiskey is a snack, so they are not allowed to interact. While we continue with the conditioning from last week the following are add-ons:
- Adding Whistle, Hand Signal and Orientation to “Come!”
- “Over Here” with Hand Signal
- Crated Truck Ride
- Noise Conditioning While Eating
- Lawnmower Introduction
- Water Introduction
- Socialization with Other People
Potty training is going exceedingly well. Whiskey seems to be a nice blend of independent dog and cooperativeness. She and Remi play continually, and Remi has only lost patience with Whiskey once. It was a good lesson. No blood, but an understanding of who is in charge. The water introduction went well. Bringing Remi helped. We will continue with weekly water introductions in different locations, time permitting. All of the conditioning continues to be part of just spending time- and playing with Whiskey.
Whiskey continues to grow and mature. She weighed in at 16.8 pounds and is eating 2/3 cup of food 3x daily. Plus treats of course. It was a lighter week with respect to outings as Cleo is due to whelp her litter in a week. We managed 1 solo swimming excursion ad one solo fallow field walk. We will continue to solo missions in order to keep her from simply becoming a Remi disciple. Whiskey continues to sleep through the night (8pm-5am), and even stayed quiet/sleeping during her first full-on thunderstorm. Whiskey is spending a bit more time in the outdoor kennel during the day, sometimes next to Remi and sometimes in her own kennel. She got some unplanned noise conditioning when some vermin in the orchard needed extermination. El was in the yard with her and Remi and Whiskey wasn’t fazed when I shot the .22.
Week 11 conditioning and command adds include:
- Vacuum Cleaner/Rototiller Conditioning
- “Play Fetch”
- “Heel” with Treat in Hand
- “Kennel Up”
- Leash Intro
- Drinking from a Water Bottle
We have seen a bit of attitude from Whiskey, and next week will be interesting as we plan to incorporate a bit more formal training into her days. Specifically, leash conditioning, play fetch and mandatory crate sessions while we eat meals.
Not much new and no formal training sessions this week for Whiskey. Cleo had a hard time whelping her litter which required a trip to the vet. We also had a guest who came to participate in the whelping, so we didn’t have as much time for Whiskey as we would have liked. We’re seeing a bit more attitude from her, and have decided now that Cleo’s puppies have arrived that we need to spend a bit more one-on-one time with Whiskey. The leash intro has been going poorly at best, and we will shift from a short leash to a check cord for a bit. The only other item to note is that we’ve started crating her while we eat. It’s something we do with all of our dogs so we don’t have table hounds. We call it “dinner manners,” and it works quite well, especially when you have 5 dogs! Whiskey continues to do well with basic obedience commands. Ellen observed her point a songbird as well. She and Remi are fast friends and they roughhouse quite a bit. We don’t run them together yet as Whiskey is too young to try and keep up with Remi and she needs to develop independence in the field. Whiskey weighed in at 18.4 pounds. Like most Picardy’s she’s always hungry, so next week we’ll be mixing some weight management feed in with her food so she can eat more without getting too many calories.
We’ve transitioned to a check cord for morning potty breaks as a means of leash conditioning because Whiskey is like a bucking bronco on a short leash. She’s been much better on the long leash, although she still wants to bite- and pull on it. “Play fetch” sessions have been intermittent, but she’s doing pretty good with them. Whiskey was also introduced to a hunting collar, complete with a bell. We did the intro in the backyard and after about 5 minutes of consternation Whiskey pretty much accepted the bell. She wore it the next 2 days during off-leash runs with no issues. We will continue to have her “belled” on off-leash runs for the forseeable future. Whiskey also got her first game bird intro, but not as planned. We hit a trifecta when we were running the dogs one morning. Remi had a staunch point on what turned out to be a wounded chukar. It flushed, flew a little ways and Manny retrieved it to hand. I carried it back to the truck, grabbed a cord and did a short drag with it. Whiskey did great sniffing it out and even managed a flash point. One morning we took Whiskey to a park for a walk to help condition her to bikes, cars, kids, etc. She took it all in without being too excitable, although she didn’t like the bridge over the Sugar River too well. Whiskey continues to do well with basic commands, and we’ve also introduced her to the lawnmower, rototiller, 4-wheeler and tractor. To date she doesn’t seem noise sensitive at all.
Whiskey weighed in at 23#s this week, and she’s pretty much in line with the weight of her littermates. We continue to work on basic commands, and she’s doing quite well. Her weekly swimming excursion went just OK. The swims just fine, but she’s a little apprehensive getting in the water no matter the venue. Will likely be incorporating some high-value treats next outing. Whiskey has made some very good progress with retrieving this week. The “in-house” retrieves are going OK, but after a visit from another Picardy owner we decided to try a few off-leash field retrieves with a small dummy that has pheasant wings attached to it. The first day we tossed the dummy on the field road where the grass is quite high on both sides. Whiskey retrieved twice like a champ. The next day she was more about keeping the dummy for herself on the field road tosses. We took a chance and upped the ante even further by chucking the dummy in long grass. Both times Whiskey put her nose down and found the dummy quite easily and retrieved directly to us. Even though she seems to really like the game, we will continue this “fetch” protocol cautiously. Whiskey has taken a strong interest in anything flying, to include butterflies. She’s started to point more frequently as well. The lightbulbs are coming on.
Rough week for Whiskey. What started out as a phenomenal training week ended up with multiple trips to the Emergency Vet Clinic and an overnight stay. Whiskey weighed in at 25 pounds at the beginning of the week. She’s done extremely well with the “Stay” command as well as fetching in the field. A couple of fetches were difficult as we were trying to assess just how good her nose is and how diligent she is with respect to finding/fetching. Whiskey has excellent potential in both regards. We had planned to introduce her to a chukar at the end of the week, but that morning she started bleeding profusely when urinating. There were puddles of blood 6” in diameter, some of which had large clots in them. We had 3 vets comment that they’ve “never seen anything like this before,” and as such we don’t know exactly what’s going on. Whiskey is home now and being treated for a severe UTI/bladder infection. An in-depth ultrasound is scheduled for next week to assess her renal system. Keeping our fingers crossed that this is only a bad infection and not a congenital issue. Week 15 plans for a river/beach day are on hold.
Given the circumstances Whiskey rebounded pretty quickly this week. Antibiotics and pain meds made quite the difference. We were elated to learn that the results of the ultrasound were negative, so there’s no congenital kidney issues. Whiskey did come up with a worms this week, though. Not sure if it’s something she picked up at one of the vet offices/pet hospital or whether she picked them up from eating dirt/worms. Damn puppies. Everything goes in their mouths. We treated her for that as well. By mid-week Whiskey weighed in at 26.6#s, which was great as she had lost ~3#s between the time we first took her to the vet and when she came home from the pet hospital.
Training this week went much better than expected given Whiskey’s health and vet appointment schedule. We didn’t do much other than walk with her off leash until after the ultrasound results were in. After that it was back to our regular conditioning along with a few new “games.” Whiskey was introduced to game birds for the first time and that went well. No point, but she is very interested and used her nose quite well in finding where I had hidden the chukar in the long grass. I dispatched the bird and Whiskey fetched it twice for me. The next day I brought the chukar on our off-leash walk and Whiskey fetched it for me twice again. She wanted more, but was denied. Slow and steady. Always leave them wanting more. We also introduced Whiskey to boating this week. Just a short trip out to a sandbar on the Wisconsin River. She didn’t mind the boat ride at all, but was a little unsure at the beach. She ran around on the sand and in the shallow water, but didn’t do much swimming. She fetched a new bumper 3 times, though. The weather is supposed to stay hot so we’ll likely try and get her out again next week.
Happy to report that Whiskey appears to have recovered completely and is in good health. Her attitude is good, her energy level is back and she’s not exhibiting any issues related to the UTI/bladder infection nor the tapeworm infestation. Like any puppy she continues to eat dirt, sticks, worms, and what have you, so we will be watching her stools closely for any sign of worms. Whiskey weighed in at 27.8 pounds this week. We started the transition to feeding only 2x/day and it’s going well. We’ve kept to the same routine with Whiskey spending the Noon hour in the house with us, even though she’s no longer eating lunch. It’s important for us to have time with her that doesn’t involve any other dogs nor any training/conditioning.
Our current schedule is to get Whiskey out of her crate ~5am. She sleeps through the night and has been since El brought her home from Germany. We get her out for a quick potty break and then it’s breakfast time which now consists of 1.5 cups of dry kibble. Whiskey goes out right after eating for another potty break. Then she and Remi then have inside play time for about 30 minutes before being put up in their outdoor kennels. They spend about an hour in their kennels while we do chores and then we load up Whiskey, Remi and Manny for their daily off-leash run. We run Whiskey alone so that she continues to develop independence while afield and so she doesn’t try and keep up with Remi. It will be another month or so before we run Whiskey and Remi together off-leash. When we get home they head back to their respective kennels for a nap. A potty break around Noon is followed by inside time with us and then it’s back to the kennel for an hour or so. Late afternoon is outdoor play time for Whiskey and Remi followed by supper, which is another 1.5 cups of kibble. Then it’s indoor crate time while we eat dinner. Whiskey’s day wraps up with another outdoor play session with Remi and then it’s off to bed at ~8pm.
Training/conditioning continues to go very well. Whiskey is fetching a bumper with wings taped on it like a champ. She loves the game, which we only play while in the field, and her nose work continues to amaze us. Whiskey is quite a bit more advanced than our other Picardy’s were at the same age, and we’ve adjusted her training/conditioning protocol to better reflect her abilities/skill level. We’ve been working on heel with a treat in hand occasionally and will likely transition to the pinch collar in the near future. Whiskey was introduced to “gun fire” via a starter pistol this week. We’ve fired between 2-3 shots on each off-leash run, usually when she’s off in the distance a bit. Whiskey takes notice and looks to us, but we keep walking as if nothing happened. She then goes back about her business. The noise conditioning we’ve done with her to date appears to have been successful. We’ll continue with the starter pistol for another couple of weeks and then transition to a .410. Water work was a miss this week due to our schedules, but we plan to get Whiskey out swimming again this next week. We also plan some additional bird introductions.
Well, the roller coaster continues as Whiskey developed another UTI late in the week and she’s on antibiotics again. Prior to that the week was pretty damn good though. Whiskey continues to excel in the field. Her recall is great, and she comes to the whistle without hesitation. We’ve increased the cadence of starter pistol shots to 8 per outing and reduced the distance between me and Whiskey when the shots are fired. To date she hasn’t been concerned with the noise at all, although she will briefly look to us occasionally when a shot is fired. Because of her noise tolerance we’ve discontinued playing the noise conditioning CD while she’s eating. Whiskey continues to love playing the “fetch game,” so next week we will start shooting the starter pistol when we throw a bumper for her to retrieve. This will help gradually transition her to the idea that there will be a shot before there’s a bird to retrieve. Assuming this goes well we will upgrade the shooting to a .410.
We did a second dead bird intro with Whiskey this week and it went very well. She found the chukar and retrieved it to hand. Her nosework continues to impress us. Next week we’ll be doing her first live bird intro. I prefer to do these with a quail as there’s not as much wing beat commotion. But, because I haven’t been able to get my hands on any quail we’ll likely be using a chukar. Once we get Whiskey introduced to live, flying birds we will start working her afield with birds in kick cages. If all continues to go well we will start shooting birds over Whiskey in a few weeks.
The transition to feeding 2x/day is pretty much complete. Whiskey weighed 30#s on her 4-month birthday, a full 7 pounds behind where Remi was at the same age. Hopefully she will end up ~52 pounds when full grown. She had a visitor this week as well. Rollo, aka By Matisse, arrived in Chicago from Sweden, and his new owners stopped by so the pups could play and so we could meet him. He’s a great looking boy and we are all so happy that Maria agreed to ship him here. Rollo’s genetics will help broaden and deepen the Picardy gene pool in North America, something we are working very hard to help accomplish. Whiskey and Rollo tore it up in the back yard, as puppies are wont to do.
Lastly, we took Whiskey swimming in a small river. It went pretty well. Whiskey loves to play in the water, but she isn’t really that interested in swimming. She swam enough to retrieve a tennis ball a couple of times, but that was it. Not sure if the water was too cold or the onset of the UTI contributed, but it was a short excursion. If the weather holds we plan to get her out on the beach again this next week. We also plan on introducing her to the pinch collar and initiating more formal “heel” training.
Didn’t get a weight on Whiskey this week, but it’s obvious she is continuing to grow at a nice, slow rate. Her athleticism continues to improve as well as “chase” and “tug-o-war” with Remi are becoming more evenly matched. Whiskey is maturing mentally as well, although not always in a productive manner. She’s pretty much figured out how to open the door from our sun room into the house when she want’s in. She’s clever, which can be a double-edged sword. Quick to learn the things we want her to do as well as things we would prefer she doesn’t do.
We began to transition Whiskey’s noise conditioning from a starter pistol to a .410 and it’s going well. Shooting the starter pistol while a thrown bumper was still airborne didn’t phase her a bit nor break her concentration. The first shot with the .410 got her attention and she looked back, but then kept going. Subsequent randomly fired shots didn’t phase her either, so we advanced to firing when the bumper is airborne. Whiskey continues to retrieve to hand like a champ. We are still doing only 2-3 retrieves a day maximum, and only in the field.
Whiskey’s independence in the field is improving and she’s beginning to range out farther during our walks with her. We’re not encouraging nor discouraging this, but rather letting her find her sweet spot in terms of distance from us. Unless she starts running too big (>50 yards) regularly, we’ll continue to let her advance on her own. To date we have yet to have had to hide on her to get her to check in regularly. Next week we will likely run Whiskey and Cleo together for the first time. Cleo is off of maternity leave and chomping at the bit to get back in the field. Cleo tolerates Whiskey, but doesn’t want to play with her all the time like Remi does. The hope is that Whiskey will follow Cleo, who is always all business in the field, and learn a bit from her.
To date we had only planted and thrown recently dispatched chukars for Whiskey, and it was finally time for the real thing. I would prefer using a quail for the live bird intro, but there were none available. So, we modified the intro to include Cleo and Remi. I brought the chukar into the yard in a bird bag. The 3 dogs where were all running around and Cleo winded the chukar almost immediately and came running to me. Remi and Whiskey followed. They were all very excited. I took the chukar out of the bird bag and held it by its feet so it could flap its wings, which it did. The excitement and interest Cleo and Remi had must’ve convinced Whiskey that all the wing flapping was nothing to be afraid of because she was all about trying to get the chukar. Another milestone passed. Next week we’ll plant a live chukar for her.
The weather continues to be very warm and we took Whiskey swimming again this week. Her entry into the water has been quite tentative so far, and she tends to whine a bit. She needs a good bit of encouragement to start swimming and/or fetch in the water. We brought the chukar (now dead) from the bird intro to help. True to form Whiskey was whiney and didn’t really want to swim/fetch in the water. That changed when I threw the chukar, however. She plowed right into the water and fetched it to hand. We praised Whiskey a lot and then quit for the day. Will likely repeat this protocol again next week. Whiskey will also be introduced to a pinch collar as well next week as we begin focusing more on “Heel.” It didn’t happen this past week as planned.
It was a busy week for us as puppies are starting to go home. The additional time spent with the puppies and their new owners definitely put a dent in Whiskey’s training/conditioning. That said, she did get a lot more socialization, and from a long-term perspective that’s a positive. Whiskey and Cleo have had more interactions as well. Cleo is teaching Whiskey some manners, but she could do a little more in that vein. Remi only wants to play with Whiskey, so Whiskey often assumes a dominant role. That doesn’t work quite so well with Cleo, but frankly Cleo isn’t as forceful as I would like. Whiskey needs to better understand she’s not the alpha female in our pack.
Prior to Whiskey’s next live bird experience we wanted to make sure she was properly noise conditioned. I normally hunt and shoot training birds with a 20 gauge, so we transitioned from the .410 to the 20 gauge early in the week. The additional noise didn’t phase Whiskey a bit. We continue to shoot when a bumper is thrown, trying to time the shot to the apex so it “appears” the shot is what causes the bumper to fall to the ground. Whiskey continued to retrieve to hand, and our plan for the week quickly morphed into “maybe, if things go right, I’ll shoot a bird over her.” Unfortunately the weather put a damper on our plans. It got very hot during the day and there was dense fog in the morning. Visibility was so poor we opted to push our plan back to next week.
The foggy weather did provide another opportunity, however. We decided in lieu of the bird work we would run Whiskey and Cleo together in the field for the first time. It went exceedingly well. Even though Cleo is rebounding from whelping/nursing, she is all business in the field. Initially Whiskey chased and sounded (called “sichlaut” in German), but Cleo ignored her and just stayed in search mode. Eventually Whiskey grew tired of trying to play and settled into following Cleo. We had hoped this would be the case as Cleo’s search is excellent. She covers a good bit of ground and tends to work back-and-forth within gun range. Whiskey has tended to stay close (20-25yds) and needs more confidence to range out to 50 yds. We’ll likely continue to run Cleo with Whiskey once a week for the foreseeable future to help her build that confidence.
Whiskey’s swimming lessons continued this week. Not that she can’t swim, she can and she’s a good swimmer. But, she’s been quite tentative entering the water. It’s odd as she has no hesitation jumping into her kiddie pool nor playing in the spray of the hose. We took her to a different spot this week, one that was more open. And we used an old-school training method. I used a rubber band to attach a small piece of a hot dog to the bumper and let her smell it before I threw it out into the lake. That did the trick. She jumped into the water without any hesitation and retrieved the bumper to me. I was standing in the water at the time to lessen the odds of Whiskey running off with her prize. She ate the hot dog and we repeated the process with the same result. That was enough as we wanted to quit on a good experience.
Ellen added the pinch collar to some of Whiskey’s “Heel” work, and we will continue this next week as well. She has taken over as the lead for Whiskey’s training and will run Whiskey in the NAVHDA NA test next spring. Next week we are planning on shooting a bird over Whiskey provided the stars align and we get a good solid point. Our plan is to plant a bird and see what happens. Fortunately we have access to some very healthy and good-flying chukars, so I don’t think Whiskey will be able to catch a bird. If we don’t get a point on the first bird we will likely use a kick cage and a check cord for the second one. Crossing our fingers that Whiskey’s “vom Wietesch” genes will result in a staunch point like Cleo’s!
Well, we finally saw some nice points from Whiskey this week, but unfortunately not on shootable birds. We stopped to pick up some chukars at the local game farm and the coop was empty so it was on to Plan B…running Cleo and Whiskey together again. Turns out the chukars were used up by the guy who guides for the game farm. He’s got a 2 new puppies he’s working with, and he must’ve been training where we ran Whiskey and Cleo because we got solid points out of both dogs. Neither dog backed the other, but I wouldn’t expect to see that yet from Whiskey and Cleo wasn’t close to where Whiskey pointed. A new shipment of chukars was due in over the weekend so we will try Whiskey on a planted bird(s) this next week. Our plan is to shoot any bird she points as she is not fazed by the 20 gauge being shot during her favorite game…retrieving. Whiskey did 2 “blind” retrieves this week in 5+’ cover. Both were downwind and both were as far as I can throw the bumper. Can’t wait to see what she will do with a bird!
We had to change the venue for Whiskey’s swimming practice this week as the lake we had been going to had a blue-green algae bloom. For those of you who don’t know, dogs drinking water with blue-green algae get very sick and often die. We ended up taking Whiskey to a small river. Because of the current we decided to throw a tennis ball instead of a bumper…just in case she didn’t retrieve. We have lots of tennis balls. Whiskey must’ve remembered last week’s lesson because she hammered into the water to retrieve the ball 3 times. Success.
During Whiskey’s off-leash runs we continue to work on basic obedience. Primarily coming to whistle and/or hand signal and “over here,” with voice command and hand signal. We had one instance where Whiskey was chasing low flying barn swallows and stopped as soon as we whistled and yelled “no bird.” She doesn’t know that command yet, but per Joan Bailey, it’s never too early to start conditioning. Whiskey came directly back to El and was rewarded with several treats. We definitely need to do more work with Whiskey on “heel” with the pinch collar. Not because she isn’t learning, but because with our schedule this week she didn’t get many reps. She also needs more work with “down” with only a whistle command.
Whiskey weighed in at 34 pounds this week, about the same as her littermates. She is a very confident puppy with our dogs, playing regularly with Remi and more with Cleo now that the puppies have all gone to their new homes. She’s been introduced to other dogs at the vet, but not socialized much more than that. Probably a mistake on our part, but we didn’t want to risk Whiskey touching noses with another dog and bringing kennel cough, or something else, back to our house when we still had Cleo’s puppies here. This week we took Whiskey to visit some friends who have an older dog, Kaya, who is about Whiskey’s size. As soon as Whiskey saw Kaya coming toward her she freaked out and ran away screaming. We’ve got some serious work to do with socialization prior to taking her to Montana hunting mid-September as she will be meeting quite a few dogs on that trip. Other than the socialization issue I think Whiskey could pass the NAVHDA NA test with a Prize I.
Whiskey has finally lost all of her baby teeth and her adult teeth are coming in nicely. She weighed in at 35 pounds during her vet visit (Lepto booster). The rest of our dogs got their hunting haircuts this week, and even though Whiskey didn’t need a haircut we put her up on the tailgate, our version of a grooming table, and ran the clippers over her with a guard on. I guess this constitutes “haircut conditioning,” and she didn’t make a fuss at all. We made another visit to see Kaya, and this time Whiskey was just fine with her. She even initiated some play. Not sure what was going on last week as it was so out of character. In any case it’s a win we really needed prior to heading to Montana as there will be at least 4-5 other dogs there. We also took Whiskey swimming again and her entry was just as enthusiastic as it was last week. This may be her last swimming opportunity for the year. Ellen spent a good bit of time working with Whiskey on “heel,” leashed with a pinch collar, leashed without a pinch collar and off-leash. Whiskey is starting to understand what we want her to do, but we still have some work to do.
The live bird training we had planned for the week started pretty poorly. We picked up 2 chukars and I planted one about 100 yards away from the truck. It was just over a slight knoll so I was out of sight when I planted it. We cut Whiskey loose with a 30-foot check cord and instead of her normal start to a run she bolted, following my scent to directly to the bird. Because it was over the knoll we never saw whether she pointed prior to the bird flushing or not. The bird flew poorly and Whiskey chased. We whistled and yelled “no bird,” and she eventually came back. Several rookie mistakes here. We should’ve used a longer check cord and El should’ve managed the cord so Whiskey couldn’t bolt. We walked Whiskey back to the truck and she was birdy and excited. Ellen kept Whiskey on the other side of the truck and I planted the second bird closer. We clipped on a longer check cord and Ellen managed it. Whiskey found her way into the scent cone, got close to the bird and then turned away. She blinked the bird, likely because the flush of the prior bird scared her. We tried to lead her in to the bird and she was excited/birdy, but didn’t want to get too close. I thought maybe a lesson from Cleo might help so I had El hold Whiskey a ways back and after I cut Cleo loose she let Whiskey loose. It took Cleo less than a minute to locate the bird and she pointed staunchly. I walked in to flush the bird and the damn thing wouldn’t fly. I picked it up and threw it upwards and it managed a short, low flight. Too low to take a shot.
For the next several days we went back to square one. We did more conditioning with live, wings-flapping birds. We also did more retrieving work with Ellen throwing a fresh dead chukar and me shooting at the apex of its “flight.” Whiskey was undaunted by the birds flapping their wings and she continued to excel at retrieving. Over the course of those few days El and I talked about whether we were rushing Whiskey with respect to live birds because of our upcoming Montana trip. We decided that we were and we wouldn’t try and shoot a bird over Whiskey before Montana. Instead, we would continue working on retrieving dead birds and if all went well I would shoot a chukar for her (not over her) to retrieve. All continued to go well so we cut Whiskey loose, Ellen armed with a live chukar and me with a shotgun. Of course Whiskey was all about the chukar Ellen was carrying so shortly into the run I had her throw it. Unfortunately it was also a shitty flyer and it flew straight up for about 10 yards and then started falling. I wing shot it so I wouldn’t blow it to bits and it helicoptered to the ground. Whiskey was all over it, although she wasn’t quite sure what to do as it was still flapping about a good bit. With some encouragement Whiskey picked up the chukar and retrieved it to El. A big win for all of us. And a good reminder for El and me not to push too fast no matter how quickly a dog is progressing.
Nothing much to report as El and I spent the week in Wyoming hiking and fishing sans dogs. It was a great trip and Whiskey did just fine hanging out with Cleo, Remi and our farm sitter. They all need some exercise though. We only have ~3-4 days to work with her before we head to Montana to chase sharptails. Our priorities for our short time at home with Whiskey will be obedience during off-leash runs, “heel” and e-collar introduction. The game farm where we run our dogs is now open so I’ll be carrying a shotgun just in case Whiskey finds a scratch bird and points it. We won’t do any additional bird work with her prior to the trip as wild birds are the best for teaching a puppy the rules of the game…find birds, point, wait for the shot and then retrieve.
Well, this week was shorter than anticipated in terms of training opportunities. Immediately upon returning from Wyoming El and I had to make an all-day trip to pick up a puppy from our B-litter that needed to be rehomed. That left only ~2-3 days with our dogs before heading out to chase sharpies and sage grouse in Montana. Given we had been gone the prior week and our dogs all needed exercise we made that the priority. Whiskey was all out on her off-leash runs and fortunately we didn’t run into any scratch birds at the game farm where we run our dogs. After 3 days of exercise we packed up the truck and hit the road with Whiskey, Cleo and Remi. Like most Picardy’s our dogs were awesome travelers. Whiskey never made a peep and just chilled in her travel crate the entire trip. The first night on the road she was introduced to a tie-out for the first time and it didn’t phase her a bit. She’s quickly learning the rules of the road. We made it to Montana the next day, and met up with Angus from Manny and Cleo’s first litter. That went well and afterwards we headed to Lewiston, our final destination. Whiskey was introduced to several dogs upon arrival, including 4 Picardy’s. By our reckoning this was the largest Picardy gathering in North America to date.
We had high expectations for the week as it was our first time hunting in Montana. The scenery was beautiful, but the birds were few and far between. Whiskey worked well afield, but never came up with a productive point. We ran her solo, with our dogs and also in a brace with other Picardy’s. She didn’t try to play with the other dogs too much and seemed to understand that something more serious was going on. Whiskey had good recall and checked in regularly. We did run her with an eCollar for the first time and that also went well. Thankfully there were no opportunities for snake aversion training, and we didn’t run across any skunks, racoons nor porcupines. We did use the vibrate mode on the collar to get Whiskey’s attention when she wasn’t listening…primarily when she was investigating some sort of scat. The trip was great in terms of socializing Whiskey as there were 9 other dogs on the trip. Whiskey started out quite shy/afraid, but quickly warmed up to some of the dogs and even wanted to play with them a bit. The 2-day trip home went smoothly and now it’s time to get Whiskey ready for North Dakota pheasant hunting. We’ll be working on her retrieve, her manners (mostly heel) and incorporating some birds into her training protocol over the next few weeks. Whiskey weighed in at 38 pounds at the end of the week.
In keeping with an unfortunate and recurring theme, the training plan for this week changed drastically. El needed to leave for most of the week leaving me managing all 5 dogs solo. They all got plenty of exercise and the older Picardy’s all got some scratch birds at the game farm, but Whiskey didn’t get any bird work. It’s a little difficult to do properly with young dogs without a second person. She did get more eCollar conditioning however, so the week wasn’t a total wash. I prefer our dogs to hunt fairly close, so I started working with Whiskey on proper range. Once she hit ~50 yards I gave her a “nick” with the eCollar without saying anything. The nick is usually enough to get a pups attention and they typically look back. I either keep walking in the same direction or give a hand signal (think of a ref signaling first down) and start walking at a 90 degree angle from the direction the dog was working/running. The intent is to get the pup to understand that they are hunting with/for me, not for themselves. No one, and I repeat, no one, wants to hunt with a dog that runs out ahead too far, pointing/flushing birds out of gun range. I’ve learned that working on getting a pup to hunt at your preferred range at a young age is much easier than waiting until they’re older. We typically start as soon as they are mature enough to start wearing an eCollar. Varying the direction we’re walking after a nick helps a pup learn to pay attention to us, no matter what they’re doing. I once had a breeder/trainer tell me that it was a bad idea to try and teach a dog to obey a command while they are “birdy.” I disagree wholeheartedly. I want our dogs to key in on us no matter what, and to break off a chase/cast/track if commanded. I’ve seen plenty of dogs dart across roads and cross fences onto private land because that’s where the birds ran. Neither is acceptable behavior. It will take some time, but Whiskey will learn this as we get more reps in. I tried to work on heel with Whiskey while we were about mid-run in the field, but that was a fail. She’s got heel down pretty well in the yard/driveway as well as at the end of an off-leash run when she’s tired. Again, more reps will help her understand that “heel” means heel no matter the circumstance. Another breeder/trainer once told me that “you need to be a benevolent dictator” with your dogs. That’s a pretty accurate statement. We love our dogs and they get plenty of hands-on attention and affection in the house, in the yard and afield. However, they need to listen, to mind their manners and, quite frankly, to do what we ask of them when we ask them to do it. It’s a partnership, but we’re in charge.
With Ellen back home we decided to start out the week with a couple of chukars for Whiskey. She was stellar finding them but continues to get a little freaked out at the flush. She’s all about the chase afterward, which is something I don’t like to encourage, but it’s a necessary evil. The judges at a NAVHDA Natural Ability Test use the chase as a proxy for prey drive. And, in Whiskey’s case, she needs that excitement to overcome her fear of the flush. The next day we got 2 more chukars but we didn’t plant them for Whiskey. Instead I carried them in a bird bag where they made all kinds of noise flapping their wings. Whiskey was excited and all about the bird bag, which is what we had hoped for. When we got to a point in the field where we could see a good 200 yards in each direction I took one of the chukars out of the bag and held it by the feet. It flapped its wings a lot and Whiskey got even more excited. After a minute or so I tossed the chukar up in the air and it took off, flying about 300 yards downwind. Whiskey took chase and after a few minutes located the bird. She caught it and then retrieved it to Ellen. I shake my head even now as I’m writing this as I’m so much against pointing dogs catching pen-raised birds. It can impact the staunchness of their points and it takes them longer figure out that the only way they get to run after and retrieve a wild bird is by pointing for the hunter. Again, a necessary evil in this case. We repeated the process with the second chukar only this time when I threw the chukar in the air I let it fly a little and then I shot it. All the reps with the dummy where I shot at the apex of the throw paid off. Whiskey chased, located and then retrieved perfectly.
Because the game farm where we run the dogs is now open there’s always the possibility of running into a bird(s) that didn’t get shot during a canned hunt. I carry my shotgun at all times now so if we have the opportunity I can shoot a bird over Manny, Cleo or Remi on point. Whenever we are fortunate enough to do this we use the dead bird for additional fetch practice with Whiskey. Just one or maybe 2 reps. It reinforces her finding and bringing a dead bird back to us. On Wednesday I shot a nice big rooster over Manny and we hid it in the bushes for Whiskey. She found it and was very excited, but she wasn’t sure what to do with it. Time to start using a bigger bumper when we do retrieving practice. Thursday was a rain day so we all had a day off. On Friday it was like someone flipped Whiskey’s bird switch. She was more excited than ever to be in the field. Her search was great and productive (songbirds) and she was much more independent in the field. We had brought a single chukar along in a bird bag and when I took it out of the bag and allowed it to flap its wings Whiskey went crazy. I tossed it and she took chase, but given the topography she was unable to see where it landed. We did, however, and it was so great to get to watch Whiskey work trying to locate the bird. She finally found it, but didn’t point and was still a little apprehensive. It flew again and she chased. This time I whistled for her to come back and she reluctantly did. Progress.
Whiskey seems just fine with a bird flapping its wings when she can see it. It’s when she can’t see the bird that the flush startles her. For some reason she doesn’t trust her nose as much as her eyes yet. More time in the field with wild birds, and some time in the field with Cleo should help her get over this. Cleo is all business in the field and her points are a thing of beauty. Whiskey just needs a little of that confidence. We head to NoDak the end of next week to chase pheasants, sharpies and huns. Looking forward to the possibility of shooting a wild bird over a solid Whiskey point.
Whiskey weighed in at 39 pounds this week. She’s growing up at a nice slow pace physically, but mentally she’s still all puppy. At least from a maturation standpoint. All she wants to do is play with Cleo and Remi. That said, Whiskey’s very smart and has basic commands down pretty well at this point. Reluctantly we’ve added “No Bird!” to her training regimen as her prey drive seems has kicked into overdrive. Crows, songbids, pigeons, geese, you name it. If it flies Whiskey wants it and will chase to hell-and-gone. At the outset of this prey drive uptick we were able to call her off with the whistle, a voice command and the vibrate mode on her e-Collar. That only lasted for a day or so. We ended up having to transition to the “nick” function on the e-Collar to get her attention and get her to come. So much for waiting until after the NAVHDA NA test. Puppies chasing birds is good to a point, but this behavior needs to be curbed quickly for both safety and hunting reasons. No one wants to hunt behind a dog that runs off ahead chasing hen pheasant flush and blows up a covey of roosters 200 yards away. And no one wants to lose a dog, literally or permanently, that won’t give up chasing a bird.
In addition to transitioning to the “nick” function on the e-Collar and introducing the “No Bird!” command we spent this week getting Whiskey ready for NoDak. This included working on “Heel” at various places in the field and at various times during her off-leash run. Whiskey has definitely grasped the idea, and does a passable heel, but being a puppy, she still has attention span issues. More reps, more reps, more reps! It was a good reminder that we need to carry a short leash afield as a backup. We also introduced Whiskey to the Remington vest we use on all our dogs when hunting. It’s lightweight, but does provide protection from burrs, weed seeds, sticks and even barb wire fences to some degree. The vest also provides a level of visibility that makes it easier to see a dog in dense cover. Whiskey took to it without a whimper. Another win. We decided not to give her a hunting haircut though as her furnishings haven’t grown out too much. Will see if that proves a mistake next week.
One other thing we tried this week was some pack socialization with Rowan and Manny. Rowan still thinks that Whiskey is some sort of vermin to be exterminated and Manny still has no time for puppies. We put a soft muzzle on Rowan and had socialization sessions she and Whiskey in the living room. Epic fail. Whiskey wants so badly for Rowan to accept her, but Rowan postures up. It seems to be worse when Whiskey lays on her back and goes submissive. With Manny we found that the muzzle was too distracting. He was more interested in getting it off than he was with Whiskey. We decided to go without the muzzle, with El managing Whiskey and me managing Manny. Another fail, although not unexpected. Manny just doesn’t like puppies until such time as a female puppy comes into season once or twice. After that he’s fine. At this point we’re not sure how we’re going to continue pack socialization efforts. Next week in NoDak we’ll only have Cleo, Remi and Whiskey, so further socialization with Rowan and Manny will have to wait a bit.
Whiskey’s first hunting trip to North Dakota was a success. But, as with most things, it didn’t go quite as planned. The extreme drought has forced many farmers to hay PLOTS that would normally be prime public hunting areas. Many of our regular hunting spots didn’t have enough cover to hold any birds. In addition, there’s quite a few crops still in the fields as they’re not even worth harvesting due to the drought. If the winter isn’t too brutal there should be even more pheasants next year. Plenty of food and crops to hide in.
The weather the first 2 days was unseasonably warm (>70 degrees), so we couldn’t hunt much past noon. It was so warm that the waterfowl weren’t even down the flyway as far as McClusky when we got there. On Tuesday a front came through, and the conditions changed for the better. Hurricane winds and cold. Whiskey tolerated the weather just fine. Both the heat and the cold. Because she is still so young we didn’t run her as much as Cleo and Remi. Whiskey hunted ~2 hours each day with either Cleo or Remi.
Hunting was good, but Whiskey never got close enough to a bird to point. She managed to find some birds, but her exuberance and inexperience resulted in some bumped birds. It’s to be expected with a young pup. And we were prepared for it. Whiskey did get some great exposure to birds, cattails, heavy cover, barb wire fences, etc. Fortunately no porcupines, raccoons, skunks nor feral cats. She did see some deer up close, but she didn’t chase. Whew. We did work on “No Bird!” with her some. More out of necessity than anything. There were a couple instances where she took off chasing wild flush birds and was at least a quarter of a mile away before we got her to turn back. Again, to be expected with a young pup. She’s still trying to figure it all out.
The last day afield Ellen picked a new spot to try. We hunted Remi and Whiskey together on a PLOT that was about a full section (640 acres). It looked just so-so from the road, but it was amazing. All types of cover, multiple water holes, and all types of birds. Pheasants, sharpies and huns. The sharpies and huns were uncooperative though. We pushed up coveys >12 birds, and that’s just too many eyes. Tough to get close. Pheasants were more cooperative. Remi went on point in a small cattail patch near a waterhole. We couldn’t see her, but her bell stopped ringing and she was solid. Whiskey was just outside of the cattails when I went in to flush. The first bird went up straightaway (usually my kryptonite) and I dropped it in the water. The second went 180 degrees the other way and I dropped it on land. Remi and Whiskey both charged into the water for the retrieve. Remi won out. Whiskey headed for the second rooster and found it. No retrieve, but she stayed right next to it for the 30 seconds it took Ellen to get over to it.
Lot’s of great dog work on this trip. Cleo was an absolute rockstar the entire trip. She taught herself to head out about 50 yards along the edge of a cattail slough and then she would dive in and hunt back to us. Great technique and one we hope she will teach Remi and Whiskey. Remi was very solid as well. It was her second season and she hunted like a pro. Rock solid points and nice retrieves. She needed a little “No Bird!” reminder, but that’s also to be expected with a young dog. And Whiskey got some great experience. Now all we have to do is put her in a situation where she can find birds and develop her point. It will come.
Apologies for doubling up the blog this week. November is a busy month for us…balancing winter prep with chasing whitetails with bird hunting. Not surprisingly our training season has wound down significantly. This will be the last blog post until spring when we start prepping Whiskey for her NAVHDA NA test.
Whiskey will be 7 months old next week. She weighs 41 pounds and will likely come into season before December. Her build is a bit smaller than our other Picardy’s and her coat is by far the most dense. Whiskey continues to vie for alpha female status in our pack and it will be interesting to see whether Cleo gives it up. Remi seems to have no interest. Manny is finally starting to warm up to Whiskey. Her submissive behavior toward him helps greatly.
Two weeks ago we had a breakthrough with Whiskey. We were running her on a game farm and there happened to be some scratch birds out and about. Whiskey was in search mode in some tall cover and suddenly locked up. We always run our dogs with bells on because it’s easier to keep track of them. In this case it made it very obvious that Whiskey was on point as her bell suddenly stopped ringing. As we walked over to see what she was pointing…at this age it could be anything from a pheasant to a gopher to a songbird…a rooster pheasant flushed and she took chase immediately. There was zero hesitation at the flush so Whiskey is finally understanding that a flushing bird isn’t something to be scared of. She chased for a bit and then broke off when we called “No Bird!”
A few days ago we were running Cleo and Whiskey together in a field that rarely holds any birds. They were working well together with very little overlap. At one point Cleo locked up solid. Her points are a thing of beauty. She’s very staunch so we were taking our time walking over to see what she was pointing. Whiskey beat us there, but pulled up short honoring Cleo’s point. Ellen got a video of the whole episode. Whiskey is definitely maturing into a solid bird dog. We can’t wait to hunt her again next fall.
Today Whiskey will have a new “adventure” as she will spend the night in a boarding kennel. We have a farm sitter who normally comes to care for the dogs when we’re gone, but sometimes the timing doesn’t work out and the dogs need to be boarded. Best to get dogs conditioned to boarding with a few overnight stays so when they need to be boarded for a longer period it’s not so stressful.
This winter we will continue to work on socialization and basic commands. Our goal is for Whiskey to be a bit more obedient come spring. Talk to you all again in April ’22 when we’ll kick off Whiskey’s NA prep. Have a great winter!