Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. Today we are talking to Dr. Ray Calkins, Ray is a breeder of German Wirehair Pointers. He is an American Kennel Club lifetime achievement award winner in 2014, he is also one of my mentors, so on Mentor Monday, we’re gonna talk to someone who has mentored me for, oh my gosh, maybe 30 years! Welcome Ray.
RC: Thank you
And Ray, we’re gonna talk a little bit today about mentorship in the terms of you have a new litter of German Wirehair Pointer puppies, and people buy these puppies, and how do you work with them? And get the dogs started as pointing dogs, started with birds get them interested, get them involved in working with their bird dog?
RC: Well, since this is Mentor Monday, I’ll make a couple of quick comments. That when I first wanted to get a bird dog, I started talking to a lot of people, and I was lucky enough to meet a gentleman by the name of Jay Collins, who kinda took me under his wing and helped me a lot. We got together frequently on weekends, and trained together for the very beginning of my first young pup. Jay was one of the first ones, then a few other people along the way have been very, very helpful to me, and I think it’s important to have somebody you can go to, and talk to, and look at what you’re doing. And make suggestions both about the things you’re doing right, and the things you’re not doing right, no mentorship is very important. But, your puppies also need a mentor, and they need guidance from a very, very early age. I start my puppies basically at about 7 weeks of age, starting to work with them and train them. My wife does a lot of socialization with them early, so they’re handled a lot, talked a lot to, hear various noises. But, what I do when I start a puppy on birds, is I start with the entire litter. They have a pack mentality, and so when I introduce them to a bird, a usually get a pigeon that’s kind of calm. I hold it, let them smell it, and move it around and when they’re paying attention, I’ll go and let it fly out so they kind of hear, and see the wings flutter. I’ll do that a few times, and then I go to what’s commonly referred to is a winged clipped pigeon, I take the flight feathers out of the guy, and I’ll let them smell it and get them interested, then I’ll just toss it out in front of them a little bit. And he’ll start walking away from them, and they’ll look at it and say, what the heck is that? The bold ones will all the sudden decide they’re gonna investigate this further, and they’re off after him. The kind of more reserved puppies will sit back and watch this, and say I’m gonna see what happens to them before I get into this activity. And they soon shortly realized that the bold guys have gotten a hold of him, and they’re holding him down, so I’m gonna join in as well too. And after a few feathers are plucked, I step in and rescue the poor guy, because he’s looking back at me like, what the heck just happened to me? So, the pigeon does need some rescuing, and I’ll do that several times with the whole littler. Because the bold ones are after him, and the reserved ones finally decide that this is ok, it’s a safe game, and we’re gonna join in. When they’re doing well, then I’ll drop down to 2 puppies at a time, let them kinda chase him around. Some of them will point, some will stalk. The bold ones don’t even slow down, they’re not pointing. The more reserved ones point and say, look at that! And on some occasions, you’ll get one that says, I’m scared to death of that thing, and run away for a minute or two. But, before long, he joins in too, so I think them pack mentality brings them all into the game. Once they get to where that’s doing pretty good, I will take them out into the field and slightly dizzy a pigeon, and put him in a clump of grass, and usually I get one dog at a time at this time, and wait til I get decent wind conditions. I don’t want to do it when it’s raining and nasty, a nice day and not when it’s hot. He’ll walk around following me many times, and all the sudden his head will turn-up and he’ll pick up scent of that bird and either jump in, or point. To me, it makes no difference if he does or not, but you do get a chance to see if he points, what he looks like on point. So, we kind of evaluate the whole litter.
And so, how old are they at this age Ray, when you’re seeing these instincts that you want to see?
RC: 8 to 9 weeks, and like I say, I start them at 7 to 8, and a lot of it depends on the weather. If it’s crummy weather, there’s no point in taking them out there, they’re not going to enjoy it, so. And you don’t want to do it when it’s hot. But I start doing it at a very young age. I think early exposure to birds is critical. If somebody takes their new puppy home and they’ve never seen a bird, and they don’t have an opportunity to work them, expose them to things, they become dis-interested in things pretty quick. So, I think it’s important that early exposure allows them to develop, and develop an interest in birds at a very young age. To me, it’s critical, the basis of the whole thing starts with early exposure.
Right. So, you’re talking about, these are puppies that have been bred for generation, after generation, after generation, to be bird dogs, and we need to flip that switch.
RC: Some might end up immediately. Others, even dogs that are bred out of very good dogs are gonna be puppies that are gonna be hesitant. But it doesn’t take them long to think that this is a great game.
Mm. Hhm. And as you’re going along with your puppy, and you’re working with your new puppy buyer, and you’re mentoring them, and they’re mentoring the puppy, what’s kinda the next step in the process?
RC: Well, once they’ve decided to pick this puppy up and they’re gonna take him home, if they live locally, I invite them to come back as often as they can. It’s easy for me to help people out because I have a good supply of birds, and not everybody wants to have their garage full of somebody else’s, or a bunch of pigeons.
Here’s a good question for people that don’t understand, for people who don’t know the answer to this, why do we use pigeons to train pointing dogs?
RC: First of all, they’re cheaper and plentiful.
RC: And they come back. But you can get barn pigeons that you can train with them, they’ll quickly learn to come back to you if you have a little bit of loft, and give them some time. They’ll establish as home; a loft is place where pigeons are kept. When I was High School, I actually raised racing homers for a little bit, and on the back of the garage I had a pen that was like 8-foot-long, and 4-foot-wide, and 2 feet off the ground, and I kept about 6 pair of birds in there. And I actually won a 100-mile race with one of my birds, so I’ve had pigeons most of my life. But you can have them in a very small area. I am fortunate enough that I have no neighbors who are going to complain about pigeons landing on their house. If you’re in a sub-division, you can still keep a few. My very first dog, Drifter, when I got him he was about 8 weeks of age, but the apartment there, you couldn’t keep pigeons. But where I worked, I had the advantage of it, and I had one homing pigeon which I pulled his flight feathers so he couldn’t fly, and I had a back-yard area that had some brush and cover. And I’d go out and plant him, and my dog would point him, and before long, the pigeon and Drifter knew each other very well, and he spent probably 4 months being my one bird, and my one bird dog.
And can I mention that Drifter became a field champion in field trials?
Correct. Well before that, he became a NAVHDA dog, and a nova utility price dog. And then we branched out. He was a dog that would adjust very well, so instead of going to the NAVHDA program, and being a close working dog, then I says ok, now it’s time to run, he says’ ok, I can do this. He had the ability and desire to do what I wanted him to do, and so he became a field champ, and a nova dog price utility dog.
Yup. Ok, so next up. You’ve introduced your puppy to birds, you’ve sent them off to owners, and they’re just getting started with then pigeons. And then, how are we going to take them to the next step from there?
RC: Ok, couple of pieces of advice that I give them. Read everything you can, talk to everybody you can, then evaluate your temperament and your puppy’s temperament. And what you’re gonna do in training and how fast you’re gonna proceed, depends on the pup’s ability to absorb things and learn, and you don’t want to rush things. The first things I tell them is don’t try to introduce them to gun fire at an early age. These guys need to grow up and mature a little bit, have lots of exposure to lots of things, and they need to be crazy about birds. If they’re crazy about birds, they’re not gonna hear the gun, so it’s easier to introduce them to them. The next thing I tell them, is do not take your young dog to the fire range where everybody is sighting in their high-powered rifles during the fall getting ready for hunting season, and you’re walk the around behind while all this noise is going on. There are dogs that you cannot make gun shy. There are dogs that if you make one wrong step, you’ve him forever. It’s very, very difficult to correct gun shyness. Gun shyness is felt to be a man-made problem, but the temperament in the dogs make them either more resistant or less resistant to new things like gun fire. So, it’s an area that I think to be careful. And they’ve got to be crazy about birds, they have to be old enough to absorb what’s going on, and take it in a positive manner. So, don’t be in an overly big hurry to introduce them to the gun. The next thing, when you do introduce them to the gun with 3 of your buddies, with auto-loaders where they can get off 3 rounds of 12 gauge on a qual. When you introduce them to the gun, it’s one shot. And don’t make a second one on that particular bird.
Do you suggest started them with a cap pistol? That’s what I tell my people. Is that something you use, or no?
RC: I do not use a cap pistol, I use a blank pistol. But, I do it carefully. I have a pigeon planted, and these are puppies that are already crazy about birds. And I point it hopefully, it flies off, and my wife is probably 50 yards behind me, and uses a 22-blank pistol, or you can actual start them off with a little acorn Crimson if you have them, it’s much quieter. And I point the gun away from them so the noise is not directed at them, and I like to do it when they’re chasing. If they don’t chase the bird that goes up, and they look a little apprehensive, she doesn’t shoot. My puppies however, have a little introduction to gun fire at a very young age, cuz I train a 5-acre field just off from where my kennel is. But, I’m 50 to 100 yards away when I’m initially working on them. If they’re young puppies and I’m gonna shoot a shot gun, I put them away, we put them back in the whelping room, and we have a radio in there. And the radio is on so there’s some background noise. In fact, when the puppies are born and they get to be about 4 weeks old, the radio is on the NPR, they hear music, they’re very well-rounded individuals! They’re very used to background noises.
That’s good. Well educated!
RC: But, then I’m still cautious, but they’ve heard gun fire at a distance. And you go out to train a dog, and they see all the excitement, you’ve taken a dog and everybody’s barking, and they’re out there watching, like what’s going on? And as I take an adult dog out to train, the puppies are in a little exercise pen right next to it there, I let them see it, I let them smell it as I walk by. They’re behind the fence, and they think, oh neat, look what’s going on. They grow up being around training. If you’re an owner living in a housing development and you’ve got one dog, they don’t have that exposure, so you have to be a little bit cautious. And that’s how I introduce them to gun fire.
And that’s great. Yes, definitely slowly. And then so, your puppy buyer’s gonna take what, probably 6-month-old, 7-month-old puppy out, it’s the opening day of pheasant season, and they’re gonna run this puppy. What’s your recommendation for them in terms of how they handle that. Do they run her with another dog? Do they not run her with another dog? How do you talk about that?
RC: I will let them run, if they got an older dog and stuff, I’ll let them go out a little bit. But, don’t over-do that. It doesn’t take long for a pup to follow mom around and see what she’s doing, but they don’t develop the independence if you’re always running with another dog. And if it’s the same dog, they’ll spend a lot of time backing it, they don’t get really bold. So, run them some with another dog, I run them some by themselves. When I take my young 6-month-old puppy on a hunting trip, I will take him to a place where I think he’s gonna find some wild birds. And if you have access to wild birds, there’s nothing better to teach a dog about bird lure. Maybe then don’t get a chance to point them because they’re pretty wiley animals, but the first time or two out, I do not carry a shot gun. We go for a walk. And if they come in contact with a rooster that flies away, that’s great. Then I may fire a blank a couple of times. I do not take a puppy and a shot gun the first time a rooster gets up, & I drop that little rascal, because the puppy may say, that’s the scariest thing on earth, I’m going to hide under the truck.
Roosters can be pretty scary!
RC: Well they’ve scared me a couple times when they get up in my face!
Yep, exactly! Ok, so moving on, we’ve got a young dog, it’s coming along now. A lot of guys want a hunting dog, that’s the extend of what they want to do with their dog, they want a weekend buddy. But, some folks want to go on, and they want to do hunt tests, or NAVHDA or field trials. So, can you give us a little bit of a breakdown, just really generic for the pointing breeds. The difference between those three venues?
RC: Alright, you’re gonna start off with your buddy taking him places. So, he’s gonna be like a sponge, you’re gonna solo cup everything. NAVHDA is The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, has a whole variety of different things they want them to learn. And they do water work, they do hunting, field type work, they want a lot of behavior. Behavior to duck blind, and there’s a lot of different things that they do. The like a dog staying very close and not ranging out real far, cuz they feel it’s counter-productive sometimes. Field trialing is a competitive thing. They have both walking field trials and horse back field trials. And the walking field trials are a lot more casual. The horse back field trials seem to be a little intimidating to folks, because you look at these people with great big field trial rigs and horses, but you can walk in a horse back trial. But, those two are competitive, where NAVHDA is a non-competitive event. Every dog can pass, and every dog can fail. Where field trialing, it’s competitive. Four dogs are usually placed, and a lot of dogs don’t get a place even if it’s a great performance. I’ve judged stakes, I’ve been in stakes where there’s 10 dogs that could have won the thing, and they’re all very equal. But, the judges have to pick 1 through 4.
Right, so closer for folks who are more familiar with confirmation, closer to a dog show?
RC: Little bit, ya. They’re competitive, there’s only one big winner.
Right. And then compare that to the AKC hunt test program.
RC: Now, the hunt test program is relatively new compared to field trialing. The first field trial in this country where I believe, was something 1770, somewhere in that nature. Very, very early. And it’s an old sport, a gentleman’s sport. Hunt test came about in the mid 80’s, don’t remember exactly the time, about ’85, ’86 if I’m not mistaken. Hunt test is a non-competitive event, again, where every dog can pass, and every dog can fail. It’ basically for the pointing breeds, it’s strictly an up and bird situation. They have three different levels. They have a junior honor which can be of any age. We’ll compare that quickly to field trialing, field trailing you are a puppy up til 15 months of age. In the Junior hunter, it’s at any age but it’s based on his skill level, which is very minimal, it’s for an introduction for people to field events.
Right, more of a basic instinct test as much as anything.
RC: Correct. Then they go into the Senior hunter which is a dog that’s pretty well along, is training, he points his birds, he holds his point. But he doesn’t have to be broke to wing his shot. When the bird goes, a shots fired, he can go place Willie Mays out and try to catch it before it hits the ground. But, in field trailing when you get into the adult stakes dogs over 2, they have to be in broke dog stakes, meaning that they cannot bust the bird, they cannot go and retrieve until they’re sent. And so, it’s a finish performance.
Closer to like a master hunter.
RC: Very much like the master hunter. But, you can be a master hunter at any age, where the field trialing is, when you turn 2, you’re automatically running in the big-boy stakes. Many dogs are not ready til about 3 or 4, but once they’re 2, they can no longer run the juvenile stakes. Where, you can run as a Junior hunter in a hunting test contest all your life, there’s no age limit. It’s a skill level, it’s where you are in your skills.
And I compare that closer, because it’s non-competitive, I compare that close to say, for example, the AKC, the obedience, or something along those lines.
RC: Could be, ya.
Ok, and so going forward, talking just a little bit. We’re kinda towards the end of our time, talking a little bit about you’ve bred a number of dual champions. Some top winning dogs. What are the types of things that you’re looking at to make a dog that both looks and performs the way it was designed to do?
RC: Well, first of all they have to be built correctly to successfully field trial for a length of time, so confirmation is very important. There are some differences in confirmation for competitive events than there are as for show. You know, it’s not necessarily the same dog. But, I’ve been fortunate enough to have about 4 duals, and I’ve bred several others, and a dual champion is something to be highly prized. But, many times the dual dog is sort of a combination of both. He may not be the biggest winning show dog, he may not be the biggest running puppy, but he’s got everything. He’s correctly conformed and got a lot of ambition. To be successful in field trials, you need a dog who’s bold, he points with a lot of style. And style is interpreted by a lot of people differently, but they have to look good on their birds, they have to be mannerly, they have to have a lot of spark in what they’re doing. Just like in a show dog, if they don’t like being there, they’re not going to an acceptable, competitive dog. Your best hunting dogs have many of the same traits. In a pointing dog, they still need to be bold, they need to be independent. I do a lot of chucker hunting, and a dog that’s always in gun-range, is not gonna find very many birds, especially when you have lean bird ears. So, pointing dogs are designed to reach out and find birds that you’re not gonna walk up on, it’s not within a quick radius to him. It’s not uncommon for a good chucker dog to be a couple of hundred yards away at times, all is dependent on the cover. And the same thing as field trialing. Their range depends a lot on the cover, but they need to reach out to where birds are likely be. And a good hunting dog, and a good field trial dog will quickly learn what’s a good objective. And they will kind not spend time just looking in front of bushes in front of them. They’re going to reach out and find birds wherever they are, and the quality of nose is really important in a bird dog. I’ve heard people say, well they all have great noses. Well to you and I, they do have great noses, but between each other, there’s a vast difference in the quality of nose.
Is that something that you’ve been able to pin-point in a breeding program?
RC: Oh ya. You can very quickly determine if a dogs got a good nose. And that’s one of the things that you use in your evaluation of a dog, is this going to be a breeding quality animal? The whole picture is dependent on how things fit. Does he have a good nose? Does he have a good mind? Can he take correction with a good attitude, or is he gonna sulk? And those things all develop in how you’re gonna choose.
And it makes a difference in what you breed. So, what you breed going forward needs to have those same attributes as well.
RC: And not every dog in a littler is going to be a breeding quality. Even if it’s on paper one of the best breeding’s, some breeding’s work out, some do not. And there will be dogs that are better potential breeding animals in the litter than others, and you have to pay attention, and you have to figure out the good points of your breeding dogs. And, where they’re weaker, and you look for dogs that have strength in their weaknesses.
Yep, exactly right. Ray, thank you so much, I really, really appreciate your time today, and taking a minute to talk to us. And, I appreciate so many years of mentorship from you, and from Lynn. So, thank you very much for joining us on Pure Dog Talk
RC: Anytime, I enjoyed it.
Alright, thanks a lot Ray.
As always, if you have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you. The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at puredogtalk.com. Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com. Remember guys, this podcast if for you so if you want to know something, give me a holler, we’ll do podcast for you. If you wouldn’t mind, you could help me out here, take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport. This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host, Laura Reeves. We hope you can join us next time as we continue the journey to success with your purebred dog.