Deer Dog Training – It had been a dull, overcast morning sneaking around in the Kaimais. A deer had criss crossed it’s way along the same path, but not recently enough to inspire any serous action. I kept an eye on Fly as she silently slinked down the track 5 or 10 meters ahead. She moved slowly and often stopped to look and listen, and give the breeze another once over before moving on. We made our way right up around the top of the watershed like this, without contacting a single animal. So I stepped down into the Kaimai jungle to take a better look.
I wormed my way through the supple jack and Kie Kie, slid down a steep bank and sidled around the bottom of some bluffs. Fly kept looking back to see where I wanted to go next, as she struggled to choose from the wide array of average looking options.
After 40 minutes of sidling, we climbed up out of a steep, rocky creek and Fly’s nose lifted into the air as she got the new wind coming around the face. The scent seemed to be towing her forward by the nose and she sped up to keep in contact with it. I gave her a low whistle to slow her down, and she started slowly working off the nice breeze. She had something to work off now, and only looked back to make sure I was still following. The bush became more open as we worked our way into a series of gently sloping guts, and Fly naturally followed the existing game trails, making our progress easy and quiet.
20 minutes later, we paused as we crested another rise. Fly gave a light wind and stood looking down into the valley. Her profile had completely changed, her ears were now up and keen, and she stood slightly taller. I knew we were getting closer. She paused for a good while, looking, listening and winding, then started making her way, down hill. Now she was more carful where she placed her feet, and took her time negotiating any obstacle that might make noise if she slipped or fumbled. As we were approached a small creek the young dog slowed down even more and started making more stops to look and listen. Then finally she froze, staring down into the gully. Her head popped up about an inch as she spotted something, and she locked up, dead still. The white tip on her tail now pointed strait up in the air, she had the slightest quiver running through her whole body and her ears were at full attention. She was on full point. Finally I heard something moving down bellow us. I crouched down to follow her line of sight, and it took a moment before I saw the movement down through a long, gloomy corridor between the trees and ferns. It was a young red hind, quietly feeding next to a small creek. I sat down to get comfortable and took my time with the shot. The hind dropped on the spot. I made the young dog wait for a while before we slowly approached the downed deer together. Finally, Fly cautiously sniffed her first red skin before quietly sitting back to watch the butchery. I gave her a pat on the head and fed her a few off cuts. I was wrapped with my little Heading Dog. She was barely 10 months old and an absolute pleasure to hunt over.
Fly with her first deer on a perfect hunt.
Early last year I started to get keen on getting another dog and training it specifically for indicating big game. I already have my Labrador, Tessa, who has got me a lot of animals over the years, but I have always wanted something better. Around April I got my opportunity. I had the time and lifestyle to look for a pup and work with it everyday until it was ready to go hunting.
The first thing I had to do was decide what breed I wanted. I have been lucky enough to work with most breeds that have taken my interest over the years. I have owned and worked with German Shorthaired Pointers, Vizslas and labs, and quite a few other breeds. More recently a breed that has really got my attention has been the Heading Dog. I had never owned or hunted over one at that stage, and I knew I had to give it a go.
New Zealand Heading Dogs are our own breed. They were bred here from the Border Collie by early sheep farmers to be more ideally suited to New Zealand conditions and farming practices. Since then they have been selectively bred by farmers judged purely on their level of usefulness and ease of that use. Because of this, the Heading Dog has developed very well over the years with only the best dogs being bred from. They have only been bred as working dogs and there is no show lines to worry about.
All of the heading dogs natural traits and abilities carry over to stalking and indicating very well. They have that slow, light footed approach and eye which has them stalking and indicating animals in a very similar way
to versatile hunting breeds like Vizslas, and German Pointers. Heading dogs have very strong instinctive skill and balance when working with animals. This is a result of their long history as sheep dogs. Above all else though, Heading Dogs are very biddable and easy to train. They also tend to learn and start to work well from a relatively young age. It is also worth mentioning that heading dogs tend to be a very healthy and durable breed, with no prevalent, hereditary health problems. So with all this in mind, I started to look for a pup.
An older pup.
I knew it would only be a mater of a few months before my pup would be coming into the hills for extended periods of time and hunting almost everyday. So I was looking for an older pup, around 6 months of age. This comes with some pros and cons. The pros are, I get a better look at the pups real personality at that age than I do when looking at a 6 or 8 week old pup. I also get to save a lot of time as I can take an older pup hunting sooner. The cons are, people don’t tend to get rid of a nice pup once it gets a bit of age on it, but they do tend to get rid of one that they are having problems with, so the older puppy/dog market can be a bit of a mine field when your talking about something that hasn’t been trained and can’t be seen working. Having said all of that, there are some very nice older pups out there, you just have to know what your looking for and be prepared to wait.
What am I looking for in a pup ?
Choosing dogs is an interesting topic and everyone has their own theories about it. I think it all depends what you want the dog for. I know pig hunters that choose pups that are dominant in the litter and very forward, because they want a dog that is independent, confident and hard enough to go out on it’s own, and put it’s self on the line tackling angry boars.
For indicating, I was looking for something very different. I was looking for the pup that stayed sitting in the corner because it was sensible and calm. I didn’t want the pup that come running up to me because it is over confident and excitable.
There are different ways of looking at this, and it takes a good amount of experience to really be able to read a dog before you have spent a good
amount of time with it, but you can do it. Experienced dog people know the right dog when they see it. Perhaps the best advice I can give here is to get someone who knows dogs, and knows indicating to help you find a dog. It is a very important part of the process, and a lot of the problems I see people having with indicating dogs is due to having the wrong type of dog in the first place. I can’t stress this enough.
I had been looking for a pup for three months when I went to look at Fly. She turned up at a privately run dog rescue facility in Tokoroa. I wasn’t all that confident as I made the half hour drive from my place. I had looked at so many dogs over the last few weeks. I had missed out on a couple that I had wanted and had seen a lot more that weren’t quite right. The add hadn’t said much about these pups, and there wasn’t even a picture.
When I got there I found 3 grubby little pups sitting in their kennels. They had just came in and they hadn’t had the best start to life at their previous homes. They had been confiscated from their original owner by dog control because they had been repeatedly roaming. 2 of the pups jumped around at the front of the cage, and another one sat back. She was small for her age and had nice even tri coloured markings. I had seen several subtle things in her in the short time I had been there that that I really liked. I climbed into the run with her and jumped up into the little box right at the end. She was very cautious, but her little tail was wagging and I could tell she wanted to come, but just wasn’t quite sure. I gently reached in and scooped her up. I had a good feeling about her right from the start, so I put her in the truck and took her home.
The first thing I done when I got her home was put her in the shower and give her a good shampoo. I don’t know how she had been living before the rescue place got hold of her but it must have been pretty rough. She was covered in dirt and had a couple of bumps and grazes. After a good dry off, I set her free in the lounge, as it was about the right sized space for what I wanted to do next. I sat on the floor in the middle of the room and tried some calling and whistling. Nothing had any response at all and the pup just kept wandering around exploring the new space. This was perfect. She was a clean slate, and I started training her strait away, but thats a story for next time.
For a full step by step video series with everything you need to train your own deer dog from start to finish, check out The Deer Dog Training Blue Print.
And for loads of updates on Paul’s latest hunting and training follow Big Game Indicating Dogs On FaceBook
AND! for loads of free deer dog training info and awesome hunting videos, subscribe to Big Game Indicating Dogs on YouTube!