Confessions of a Novice Dog Handler on Bird Dog Commands
When I was preparing to get my first puppy, I didn’t think much about the words associated with bird dog commands. Looking back, I realize that there were a lot of lessons and subtle comments I missed while afield with other upland hunter’s dogs, which exposed just how important words can be. I first started to think about it the day we put six puppies through a vigorous test of nonsense—that resulted in owning one unsuspecting new household member.
Our breeder Ray Wolfram of Wildrums Kennels looked at me as I called “come” to the chaotic tangles of puppies.
“Use the word here,” he said, “it’s louder coming out of the lungs and will carry further in the woods.” It was amazing how such a basic thought seemed so revolutionary to me. It was logical and practical and began the wheels turning in my head about where else this could matter in bird dog commands.
The next time it dawned on me that a word choice could have a huge impact on my dogs performance was during filming with another dog for a 2017 Project Upland Film. As a filmmaker, I can sometimes talk a lot in the heat of the moment trying to guide a perfect angle for a harvest shot. These situations exposed the curse of the word “okay” as I would casually say things like, “Okay, let’s move in,” or, “Okay, let me get ahead of you guys”.
The poor dog would break repeatedly at my arrogance to the use of the word “okay.” It confused the dog and frustrated the owner. And let’s face it: we can sometimes be a lot harder to train than a dog. I proved that by accidentally dropping the magic “okay” without fail at the most inappropriate times. This situation made me start to think of how common words are important ones within bird dog commands.
It made me think of a television show I watched not too long ago that had hypnotized a group of people. The key word for the hypnosis state was an obscure word that would assure no one would accidentally say it and break the hypnosis. In this cause the hypnosis of the sacred “Whoa” bird dog command matters almost as much as the command to release a dog.
So, like some dog handlers I know, I chose the word “release.” I know it is not a word common to our daily conversations. For now, my pup only knows a few commands—but I will be mindful in the future to pick these words carefully. My dog needs the opportunity to perform at his highest level without confusion in a talking group of upland hunters.
Last modified: April 19, 2018