2016 did not hold any hunt tests in the cards for Sue, but a TON of training and a great season this past fall in the woods. Work on wild birds is the best education you can get for a young bird dog and Sue got to learn a ton from grouse and woodcock, making him more careful and thoughtful on point. He only competed a total of 4 weekends of UKC conformation shows but that still earned him a Best in Show, a Reserve Best in Show, a Grand Champion title, and ranking in the Top Ten GSP’s in the US. Conformation is all well and good and an important part of the Total Dog philosophy but for me personally it’s icing on the cake. Training and working is what both Sue and I truly love. It was still a great year for him but I have high hopes for 2017 through performance sports.
One of my major focuses for this upcoming year for Sue will be Schutzhund training. Schutzhund, for those that don’t know, is the testing system for working German Shepherd Dogs. But for a hunting bird dog—what?? I have many reasons for this. First, we are working towards a BH, which is hard core obedience for a GSP. Lots of very technical heeling, sits, downs, stays, and working through distractions. No matter what kind of working dog you have, this kind of obedience is a fantastic foundation for everything. To me it’s like dressage; no matter what kind of riding you do, basic dressage is a foundation that betters all genres of riding, from western to showjumping and even racing. Fine-tuned and precise obedience work for dogs helps to clarify focus, sharpen the mind, and translates to all other obedience work. While focused heeling and whoa work on birds are not directly correlated, having that focus and willingness to learn in heeling will make the obedience of steadiness on birds easier to teach.
I want nothing less than a Prize I for Sue in NAVHDA Utility, and much of Utility is obedience. I already know he’s got the natural ability on birds; Utility is a matter of shaping and fine tuning that natural ability and drive into a well-polished bird hunting and game conserving machine. Not to mention, Utility DOES involve a heel course. If Sue and I walk into the heel course with a fancy focused Schutzhund heel, the NAVHDA judges will be blown away! (The heeling required is only a loose heel on a loose lead.) Utility is a TON of self control: remain in the blind through shots, working through distraction shots at the line, steadiness in the field, and lots of obedient and solid retrieves. Yet the dog must still demonstrate a great deal of independence through the duck search, field work, and the drag. Doing Schutzhund will certainly only help with Sue’s obedience and self control for Utility.
Another reason I’m getting into it with my GSP is to learn the sport for my up and coming working line German Shepherd puppy, Punk Von Risden Haus. Learning about the sport with a non-traditional breed that is harder to teach this stuff to will only make it easier to train a dog bred for it. I’m learning different training methods, what’s required for titles, what judges will be looking for in competition, and most importantly, what things I am doing wrong. By the time I start working with Punk in earnest, I might actually kind of know what I’m doing! My bird dog can be my guinea pig into this world of elite training.
Which leads to my final reason for doing this: it will just be fun to bring a non traditional breed before judges in this sport and hopefully doing it well! He will not be the first GSP to try Schutzhund but they are pretty far from common. We already enjoy being the oddballs in other venues: GSP’s in disc, black GSP’s in the show ring, and GSP’s playing retriever games in HRC. I have a great trainer and coach to teach us (and Punk’s breeder), Nick Risden, who oddly enough has his foundation in bird dogs so I am sure he will be a great help beyond Schutzhund training into some of the bird dog specific work as well. This will be yet another fun challenge that I am sure Sue is more than able to meet: it’s up to me as a trainer to take him there.