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For the Birds, Showing Dogs Who's Boss

Mango, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, delivers a downed pheasant to dog trainer Dan Rice at a farm near White's Ferry as shotgunner Mike Bailey looks on.
Mango, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, delivers a downed pheasant to dog trainer Dan Rice at a farm near White's Ferry as shotgunner Mike Bailey looks on. (By Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)

Of course, finding pen-raised birds where you put them down in a shooting preserve is not like nosing out wild birds in the wild. Rice conceded the experience and the challenge are not the same, but defended it on grounds that wild quail and pheasant have all but vanished from these parts, and you can't train bird dogs without birds.

After Shelby did his thing, Rice brought out Mango, whose upland obligations are quite different. Retrievers are mostly used to find and retrieve downed waterfowl, but some upland gunners also use them as "flushing dogs," to rout out pheasants and the like from deep cover. The idea is to turn the dog loose, then whistle it to a stop when it "gets birdy," meaning it grows agitated and excited as it gets close to a bird.

Rice put out a half-dozen cackling pheasants, then turned Mango loose to find them. Once again the process worked as advertised, though a flushing dog proved harder to read than a pointing dog. You have to know the dog well enough to tell when it's getting birdy as opposed to just running around for the sheer joy of it.

In the end, only one pheasant managed to get away, and good luck to him with the red-tailed hawks hovering nearby.

Rice and I repaired to his kennel at Point of Rocks to sip iced lemonade and discuss the wonderful world of dogs. He trains all types, he said, and reckons the biggest problems he encounters with house dogs and hunting dogs alike are lack of exercise and overfeeding.

"Bad behavior is largely due to lack of exercise," he said. Dogs that do nothing but sit around all day, then go for a 15-minute walk on a leash are bound to flip out and start gnawing shoes and peeing on the carpet.

As for obedience training, he said it's more about training the master than the pooch. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's the owner that needs the training, not the dog," said Rice.

Right. Nellie -- get over here!

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Braveheart Kennels has a Web site, http://www.braveheart-kennels.com , or can be reached by phone at 301-874-1785.


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