As Matt Minich helped newer members and dogs work on basics such as the “heel,” he said, “Don’t be afraid to praise your dog. We’re out here having fun, not just correcting them.”
That set the tone Sunday at the monthly training day for the Illinois chapter of North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association at Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area.
Working dogs is serious but can also can be fun for both dogs and members, some of whom Sean Porter aptly described as characters. I’ve been at some dog events that were as serious as Henry Kissinger at the Geneva peace talks, to date myself.
Porter, a special education teacher, invited me. I met him on opening day at LaSalle Lake 13 years ago when I was fascinated by a 4-wheel bike contraption he used to navigate the cooling lake.
“I used to tournament bass fish,” he said. “This has replaced that.”
The dog training and chapter work became important after he got Bodo, a pudelpointer. He is named for Sigbot “Bodo” Winterhelt, who introduced the pudelpointer to North America in 1956. He was also one of the NAVHDA founders.
“I realize I am able to get a dog huntable,” Porter said. “These guys have dogs with manners.”
I came on a day with one of the biggest gatherings with many newer members, yet things ran smoothly. Longer-time members pitched right in. Minich is the training director, but it takes a club to train a dog.
“We’re trying to emphasize foundations,” said Tim Moore, chapter president. “Training is all built on foundations: basic obedience, hold, [etc.]. Ninety percent of bird dog work can be done at home, the garage or backyard.”
One thing club members do is help each other in the field work and passing on learned knowledge and tips.
Minich and other experienced members did one-on-ones with newer members before field work. While working with a newer member on leash work, Minich said to handle the dogs with opposite hand to the shooting hand, a little thing that matters. (Some members do not hunt their dogs.)
When Porter did field work, very brief in the heat, four members came along. Two released the two pheasants at the right time. Two walked with him. When Bodo busted a quail wild, then chased it, a couple members suggested ways to work on that. On the second bird, Bodo held the point well and was rewarded with retrieving the bird.
Porter used a basketball analogy for Bodo not being allowed to retrieve the first bird, “You don’t run a play correctly, you don’t get the slam dunk.”
Afterward, Porter gave Bodo a good dunking in the water tank.
“He is making progress, that is what I care about,” Porter said.
Gina Jones was the only woman on Sunday and she fit right in. Her dog was a German shorthair, Axel Vom Hundehaus. Even walking around, he carried himself special. They qualified for the NAVHDA Invitational in September.
I counted German shorthairs, a pudelpointer, Brittanys, English setters and a Bracco Italiano.
Part of the training has to do with simply acclimating a dog to being around other dogs and people.
I ended the morning watching a duck search on a backwater. A duck search is basically where a dog searches blind for a released duck. I marveled at a swimming dog able to spot or smell a duck, then enthusiastically go after it. It might have been a dog’s work, but it looked like they were having fun.
For chapter information, go to illinoisnavhda.org.