Bird Dogs Eating Birds

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First bird in the hand of 2016 (Peat was restrained after I shot – at least he seems naturally steady to wing and shot!)

After our opening day hunt, we ran into another more experienced bird hunter who also had a Brittany. He asked how our day went, and we told him it was great except for Peat eating the chukar he stole from Angus. He said, “Well, they all have to eat a bird once in a while!” He suggested that it wasn’t a big deal and we should just let Peat be a puppy until next season.

My friend Sam, also far more experienced than I – I’m sure he’s got at least 60 seasons under his belt – told me that his current dog ate the first three birds he shot over her. She hasn’t eaten another one, and she’s eight or nine and an incredible all-around upland dog. I asked Sam if he did any “corrective” work with Hannah after she ate those birds, and he said no, she just figured it out.

Does anyone have a different take on puppies eating birds shot over them? I’m curious, but inclined to follow my two senior hunters’ advice and just let Peat be for this season while getting him over as many birds as I can. Thoughts?

On top of the world with my two mutts
On top of the world with my two mutts

16 Replies to “Bird Dogs Eating Birds”

  1. First and foremost, I am not a bird hunter. My husband, Greg is. However, we rescued a Brittany last April. Her name is Irish. Her former owner was a huge Notte Dame fan. The previous owner’s son was allergic and he had no choice to give her up. Irish is now 8 years old and still very spunky. However, last fall when my husband took her out bird hunting, she clearly got spooked from the sound of the shotgun. She bolted away and hid under a truck. Supposedly she was fine with the sound of shotguns. Have you or any of your readers encounter this issue? She is really a great dog with lots of personality and loves to travel in the car. She is very needy, probably from being separated from the family for so long. We spoil her to no end because of that. Any tips or tricks are welcome.
    Love your dogs. Little Peat is quite the character. He has a great teacher-Angus.

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for your comment. I’m fortunate I don’t have any experience with gun-shy dogs, but understand it can be quite a vexing problem. While I don’t have any advice, I applaud you for rescuing Irish (what a cool name, despite the Notre Dame connection :). I hope somebody who reads this blog might offer you some helpful advice about her reaction to the gun. Good luck!

  2. my father, who was eccentric to the point of craziness, loved our little chihuahua-pomeranian so much that he decied to “make a gun dog out of him.” I know, I know. The first shot my father took, Butchie hauled ass to the truck. That was the end of my father’s dream.

  3. I believe your two senior partners hit the nail on the head. I’ve even had a couple of my mature dogs eat a bird instead of retrieve it at the end of a hard day. They had retrieved thousands of birds and suddenly ate one. I worried but the next hunt they were back to normal. Guess they were just tired and hungry.

    1. Thanks, Larry. Means a lot coming from you. Angus was beat from his work on those two hot days, and actually bailed on a couple retrieves himself (although he didn’t eat the birds!). He secured them but didn’t bring them to me, and actually left them… This was a first for him.

  4. Hello Bob,

    footnote to the last message;

    One thing that might help is to keep some of the wings from your next birds. Tie the wings to dummies for practice retrieves at home. Too keep a wing from rotting cut the meat out of the wing. Then freeze the wing until you want to use it. The back of the bird will work just as well, but the feathers will come off easier.

    Make the retrieves short and few in number at the beginning. If he will not bring the dummy back to get his cookie reward then tie a thin rope (1/4″ nylon) to the dummy so he cannot runoff with it. With the rope you can force him to bring it back. Keep the dummy in his mouth until you want to take it. If he drops the retrieve put the dummy back in his mouth, and encourage him to hold it before before taking it from him. Then give him a reward and lots praise. Do this work in a small contain space so he can’t run off. The whole game should be repeated often and short rather than for long periods.

    As he gets the idea you can put a 50′ 1/4″ rope on his collar and let Leslie hold the rope. You can throw the dummy further. The dog can run to get the dummy and Leslie can run to the side and be ready to check him if he decides to take off. Unless Pete is dumb as dirt he will finally get the picture and start to do the right thing. Use lots of praise and treats. If there is a loss of interest then the routine is too long. As he gets the picture Leslie can let go of the rope. Then you can begin to reduce the length of the rope (50 to 25 to 10 to none).

    Decide on a pattern you want to follow and then keep it constant until Pete understands. Once he learns to do the constant routine then you can start to introduce variables.

    The sooner you can start to work on hand signals the better. Hide the dummy when he is not looking. Place him next to you and then point to where you want him to run. Once again it will help if Leslie keeps him on a rope during this process. Then allow him to look for it based on you hand signal. Give lots of direction, encouraging commands, as he gets close to the dummy. Start out with very short, simple, retrieves.

    I hope this helps you to get started.

    There is lots of good info to help you work through more advanced processes.

    Good luck this season,

    Dale

  5. Some of my experiences and thoughts:

    My brother had a dog when we were young that loved to hunt, but he never found anything and never retrieved what was shot. He would run through the brush looking like he knew what he was doing and from time to time, just because he covered so much ground, he actually scared some things out of hiding. As the quarry ran or flew away the dog ran on oblivious to anything but the running part of the game. The dog was a useless hunter. My brother liked him anyway so we kept him.

    10 years later my brother got another dog while he was in college. The dog loved to hunt, but chewed up every bird it ever retrieved. After several years of trying to reverse the eating habit I stopped taking the dog with me.

    I was given a half breed on the beach, half short hair and half lab. The silhouette was that of a lab. The color was that of a German short hair. She loved to hunt and retrieve. I can’t remember ever losing a bird with her. I could go to sleep in the blind and she would keep watch. If birds started working the decoys she would whine until I woke up and looked at the birds. Then she would be quiet and wait for the shot before jumping up to make the retrieve.

    Ryan had a lab that was perfect from the get go. She always wanted to retrieve. She never quite got the understanding about bring it to hand, but if a bird went down she found it and brought it back to the shore. She didn’t like hunting with other dogs. One time we had two other dogs along. On one pass we knocked down three geese. Abby went out and got my bird and then saw the other dogs picking up the other birds. She dropped my bird, ran over and growled at the other dogs and took their birds. She then picked up their birds, swan to my bird and brought all three birds back to me.

    My hunting friend from Arizona has had several very good labs. Only one of them was a chewer. If you didn’t watch him he would pick up a goose and pull all the feathers out of the breast. He didn’t chew the meat, but he liked to pull feathers. That was in the days when we skinned all of our birds to make decoys out of them. So I had to be ever watchful. We never broke him of that habit so we did what we could do to prevent a bad habit.

    One of his dogs could not find a goose on a new tennis court. He had no interest in hunting. He liked to go on the trips. He loved being with Loren, but he had no interest in the 11 years we hauled him around to make a single retrieve.

    Loren now has a three year who is a pretty good retriever, but for the first 2 years I was hard pressed to believe that she would ever become a good dog. As a one year old she would sleep through a volley of shots. Four of us would fire twelve shots and she would not even lift her head. Specially if it were below freezing. I have never seen that from any other dog. One of her quirks is that she will not pick up a duck. If we shoot 3 geese and a duck in one volley she will go get each of the geese and make it look like she is absolutely unaware of the duck. She will run right over the top of a duck to go get another goose. She will leave the duck even when everything else has been picked up. Today she is very good on geese. She does not mind if other dogs pick up the ducks. She acts like ducks are below her pay grade. Go figure.

    I have had very valuable experiences dealing with Marla and her dogs. They are all labs. Their personalities vary from being a great retriever to no interest at all. This variation in behavior is not as readily identified as most people think. I think it is hard to tell about a dog until it is nearly 2 years old, certainly not before 2 months. Some of the dogs run so hard that when they hit the water they look like a big plow pushing the water out of the way. Others will wait of the edge of the pond for the first dogs to bring the dummy back to the shore. Then they take the dummy and return it to Marla. One of big males stands up on the hill and watches the others make the retrieves. I can almost hear him say, “Nice jump. A little weak on the return. I give you an 8 on that retrieve.” If it is hot enough he might go for a wade, but running, jumping and retrieve that is for the others to do.

    I would just keep taking Pete on trips. Do not give him praise until he follows through on what you want from him. When he does do the right thing take time to give him lots of praise. Even if the time spent to do that causes you to give up on chasing other birds. He is probably too young to discipline without causing him to be confused. Hunting, searching and looking should be enough for this year. Let the older dog do the work and take all of the praise. By the third year you will know if Pete is going to be a good dog. By then you will probably be so locked in that you will not be able to turn him in for another pup. All of this can be over come by starting with a dog that is more than 9 months old. You will have a much better chance at predicting success at 9 months than at 9 weeks. A good retriever will hunt with whoever is feeding him. It takes much less time for a dog to get used to a new person in his life than it takes for a hunter to be able to determine if the dog he is looking at will actually grow to be a good hunter.

    Do you have a dog story to share? I am still collecting dog stories.

    Here are two retrieves I wrote about several years ago.

    A Memorable Retrieve

    By Dale Ghere
    February 2007

    This is part of a letter written to me by Alden Simmons.

    I have notes of the goose shoot in Nebraska with you several years back. I never sat down and “mused” the notes. I saw one bit: your dog was on a retrieve, wasn’t obeying, you got a little frustrated and shouted “Loren!!!” at it. Gave all a good laugh. Dave Barrett especially when, I am not sure who said it, but, someone said ‘you two had been together on the road way too long’.

    As I remember it this story took place in 2001.

    Hello Alden,

    This was not as it appeared to everyone one else. I was not with the rest of you so I did not hear the remarks, but I do remember the retrieve. I wrote a story about that retrieve when I got home.
    I did call Loren’s name, not by mistake, but because I wanted to stop Loren more than I want to try to stop Abby. Loren had let her out of the dog pit and started running towards the river before I could see what his plans were. I knew as long as Loren was out front and running towards the river Abby would follow. I knew that I could not stop her. She had never been in ice water before and I did not want to put her in the water. She is my son’s dog and I did not want to risk her life over a goose. I suspected that there was a ledge of ice over the water which would keep her from being able to get back out of the water once she got in, which is in fact what happened. She ran up to where Loren was standing near the edge of the river and instead of stopping when she got to where he was she slid across the ice and into the water. As soon as she hit the water she did everything she could to get back up on the bank. She could not get out until I caught up and grabbed her by her collar. Fortunately the ice ledge did not break when I walked out to help her up. I was mentally prepared to go in after her if I had to. I have traveled with Loren a lot and therefore I know him well. I knew he would have no problem sending her after the goose. He would expect her to go after the goose even if she had no experience with either cold water or fast moving rivers. Fortunately there was no bird in sight so she paid attention to me when she was trying to get out of the water. I was more than happy when I got her back up on the bank. I called her and started back towards the blind. Then all of a sudden she started running up the bank and no amount of calling would bring her back. She had spotted the dead goose floating in the river. She ran up the bank for almost a hundred yards and then jumped into the icy water once again. Then, like she had done it a hundred times before, timed her swimming speed and angle with the speed of the floating goose so they intersect with perfect timing. By the time she made the retrieve she wound back up at the same place I was standing. She let me reach down and take the goose and then waited for me to help her out once again. She proved my fears to be were unwarranted. I have no idea how far down river she would have had to go to get out of the water if I had not been there to help.
    Years before all of this happened I was hunting up at Morro Bay, sometime in the mid to late 1960s, with my brother when my dog Squaw went out after a duck that Paul shot. As the dog started to pick the duck up it dove under water and came up outside so we could not shoot again without hitting the dog. I watched as Squaw chased the bird into a fog bank and out of sight. Both the dog and the bird had been swept towards the mouth of the bay with the receding tide. No amount of calling would get her to leave the bird and come back to the shore. Paul took off after her running along the bank and I ran for the car which was about a mile away. I contacted the Coast Guard and they sent out a boat to search for her. After more than an hour of searching they returned to say that they could not find her. With a sore heart I went back to pick up Paul.
    We both decided to make one more search before going home. I took off one way and Paul went the other. We agreed to meet back together if we did not find her in two hours. I had been back for quite a while before I spotted Paul stumbling along the shore with something over his back. It took a moment before I realized that he was carrying Squaw. I thought she must be dead or she would be walking with him. I took off running; I could do that in those days. She was alive, but she was too tired to walk. Paul had found her almost an hour’s walk up the shoreline. She was buried by the surrounding growth of pickle weed. That is probably what had hidden her from the Coast Guard people. We traded carrying her until we got back to the car. When we had loaded her into the car I was surprised to see Paul reach in his jacket and pull out the duck. She had made the retrieve. The combination of hypothermia and fatigue took its toll. She slept for two days.
    When I called Loren’s name and tried to get Abby to stop this story was traveling through my memory bank and I did not like what I was seeing. Even though everything turned out okay in both stories I was more than just a little irritated at Loren. He will work hard and risk more to make a retrieve than I am willing to do. I have pictures of him striped naked in ice water making retrieves of birds that I would have let go.
    One night in New Mexico Loren’s new pup fell in the San Juan River and almost drowned. Loren went crashing along the icy bank to save that dog too. It was two years before that dog would walk through a mud puddle. He never did become a good retriever.

    When I sent this story to Paul he wrote the following correction:
    My first thought at the beginning of your message was our hunt with Squaw. I have a little different recognition of what happened and something to add that’s interesting. You weren’t familiar with the area so you told the Coast Guard to look “off the Golf Course.” They did, but you were unaware of the fact that there were two golf courses near the bay and they were several miles apart. They went to the wrong course although Squaw’s body would have eventually floated to where they were with an outgoing tide. The other thing is, I didn’t find her in the weeds. I heard her whimpering. She was still in the water but out of site. I started calling and the whimpering got louder until I could finally see her. I continued to call and she continued to cry until she made it all the way back to me. She dropped at water’s edge too cold and tired to make another move.

    The footnote to this story is that one of the Coast Guardsmen looking for Squaw was on my high school swim team. I was at the bay a few weeks later and was surprised to run into this guy (can’t remember his name now). We talked briefly and I told him that I had almost lost a dog in the bay and of course I explained some of the details. He told me that he had been assigned with a couple of others to respond to that call. That’s how I learned about the “two golf course” mix up.

    This is from Alden:
    The background you sent is meaningful. Similarly, my springer Beau, ice ledges on a pond and falling in going after him, another time thinking I had lost him for good when he disappeared around a bend in ice-filled North Platte and he comes trotting back up the bank carrying the duck. There are few people who have enjoyed the experience of working with a dedicated dog. Genetics work! Those two experiences made me very careful about his safety around ice. I wouldn’t shoot at any duck anywhere near open ice after those. A friend of mine did the same thing in Oregon and almost lost his dog. Fortunately he had a Jon Boat nearby and managed to rescue the dog by sliding the boat across the ice. The dog would have been lost without the boat.

    1. Thanks so much for the extensive thoughts and stories, Dale. I laughed hard at some of the profiles you wrote about the various dogs you’ve worked with. I’m not giving up on Peat, and believe he’ll be fine. If not, he’ll be a great pet the 8 non-chukar months of the year!

  6. Personally, I wouldn’t hunt a dog until it was reliably pointing pigeons on a check cord, and then you can teach it to retrieve properly on a check cord.
    If your dog gets in the habit of eating birds you’re going to have to have the dog force fetched to stop it. I would hunt over Angus this year, and train the pup this spring and summer so he knows what’s expected of him next fall.

  7. Try a little yard work with retrieving a frozen bird he wont be able to chew on it and this after a while should help stop him from chewing birds. Hunt the puppy but by him self so he feels no competition from the other dog this should also help along with the yard work. After a while he will be happy to bring you HIS bird.

Chirp away