Our bird dogs are smarter than we think
By Keng Yang
A solid point, a great retrieve. Hunting behind a well-trained dog makes all the difference when chasing pheasants.
But there are certain skills and traits that a human cannot teach a dog. Some lessons can only be learned after many years afield with the dog having exposure and experience on wild birds: wild birds on public land to be even more specific.
These are the roosters that are pressured under constant human threat. These birds have learned many ways to escape. Only these birds can teach your dog to be smarter. As you begin or continue your hunting journey with your four-legged friend, see if you have noticed any of these skills and traits that make for a smart dog.
A smart hunting dog will know the cover they are hunting and change the way they work to fit accordingly with you.
If the cover becomes dense and thick, the dog will work closer and slower. If the cover this thin and open, the dog will range out further.
On public land you may go from a wooded forest to an open prairie right into dense cattails … all in the same field. A smart dog adapts quickly to these changes.
I have noticed that my dog Kaiya will run over to random patches of thicket or dense cover in an open field. After many years of hunting, she has learned that birds like to hold in these places.
Roosters are notorious for running around both hunter and dog. These birds were built to run, only flushing and flying away as a last-ditch effort to escape.
A smart dog puts just enough pressure on the bird to prevent it from running and flushing. When hot on the trail of a running rooster, the dog will work slower and even quieter as it nears the bird. The dog will even pace itself to make sure that you are walking right behind. The dog knows that the bird is running … and that you need to keep up.
The dog’s reward is to finally get the point, and the retrieve. To be rewarded, the dog must give you the opportunity of a close shot. Smart dogs learn this.
Releases its Point
Many trainers of pointing dogs may disagree with this, but if we are hunting wild birds with any hope for success, a smart dog will release its point by itself. Many dogs are trained to hold a point till released by the owner. Wild roosters do not cooperate. At all. They would have already run away to the next town while your dog waits for you to arrive.
Holding until released just doesn’t work on truly wild, educated birds. A smart dog will move when the bird moves, following and pressuring the bird just a little bit for it to find cover and hold tight. Once the bird truly stops, the dog will then point again, hold, and wait for you.
With long hours of hunting, a smart dog will know how to pace itself. A dog that zips around back and forth can only do so for so long. Yes, some breeds are meant to be big runners, but even they have their own way of conserving energy. To the untrained eye, it may seem like the dog is just running. But compare it to an inexperienced dog and the difference is astounding.
To be clear: I am not here to say your dog can’t hunt or is inferior if it doesn’t possess these traits and skills. Everyone wishes their dog was smarter in certain situations. That is certainly the case with me and my pup Kaiya.
Our dogs are unique to each of us, and learn at different paces depending on how many hunting opportunities we provide them. Many dogs can point and retrieve. But often our dogs do something extraordinary and leave us pondering how that was possible.
Your dog is smarter than you think.
Keng Yang is an adult-onset hunter, mentor, Pheasants Forever member, and diehard upland bird hunter. Follow him on TikTok @minnesotahunter and on Instagram @kengyang1.