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Building a bird dog develops deep bonds

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Bird hunting dog demonstration at the Texas Farm Ranch Wildlife Expo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.

The excitement of a child on Christmas morning pales in comparison to the palpable anticipation of a sporting dog during a field trial, even if it’s only for practice.

The English setter, Montana’s Majestic Skye, simply called Skye by her owner Larry Barghultz of Great Falls, was one of the eager participants during her first fun hunt in late August hosted by the Golden Triangle Sporting Dog Club. It’s all part of the gratifying process of teaching her to do what she does best, finding and pointing upland game birds.

During this first outing, Skye practically vibrated with excitement, every fiber in her being focused on finding the birds hiding in the grass. As soon as Larry Barghultz let her go, she flew through the tall grass, zig-zagging as she looked for the chukars placed by the organizers.

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On her first bird, she chased it instead of standing at point, much to Barghultz’s chagrin. Chalk it up to first-hunt excitement. Even though it’s not what Barghultz wanted to see, he’ll adjust her training so she understands chasing the birds is counterproductive.

Even with the initial slip, it didn’t take her long to figure out what they needed to do, and she pointed beautifully on her second bird. The third one was a little tougher with the bird moving without her noticing, but when she found it, she pointed, and would have retrieved it if Barghultz could have shot the bird as it flew away. (This writer ducked when the bird flew her direction, but Barghultz wasn’t going to shoot over her head.) Skye is well on her way on becoming another exceptional partner in the field.

Although the fun hunt was Skye’s first outing, field trials are old hat for Barghultz. The sport caught his eye nearly three decades ago after watching one on television. But he didn’t pick up a puppy that weekend. It took Barghultz two years of research, including talking with many experts in the field, before deciding to raise English setters.

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“There are a lot of different pointing dogs. It’s what a guy likes,” he said. “I got a little female I named Sage.”

He was hooked from the get-go. “The dogs want to learn. They want to please. Sage sure proved that way. She was unreal.”

Barghultz said she was so focused, a rabbit could jump out in front of her, and she wouldn’t twitch to step after it when she was on point. She was an excellent example of what outstanding genetics and training can do.

Although he stepped away from the sport for a decade, he jokingly said he made the mistake of attending a field trial and was bitten by the bug once again. Skye is his fifth English setter, and he enjoys having a young one in training again. It’s not a quick process to teach her to properly hunt and point, but it’s a journey he loves.

“The first year I let them be a puppy,” he said. “I take them out and turn them loose. I get them on as many wild birds as I can find (since they’ll never catch them), and let them have fun, have a ball.”

“When they’re a year old, I start training them,” he said.

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During this early training, he keeps them off the birds as they learn basic commands such as “whoa” and how to respond to the whistle, checking in to the handler’s location and direction.

“I’ll teach them to stay until I release them (by touching them),” he said. “When they’re fully trained, they won’t break point.”

Part of the reason they’re taught to hold it for so long is because of the distances, particularly in this region, where a bird may be 300 to 400 yards from the hunter. The dog may relocate the bird if it moves, but it will remain absolutely focused, not flushing the bird, only indicating where it sits.

When a dog sets point, Barghultz said you can whistle all you want, but the dogs will not release its position until it is touched. While this is a highly desirable trait, it’s difficult when the dogs aren’t easily spotted.

Years ago, Quill, one of Barghultz’s previous setters, was so intent on her task, he said they had to search the field to find her in order to release her from point. This was before GPS collars, and since the grass was so tall, they couldn’t see her. After a half-hour of searching his wife, Linda, found her and released her from her steadfast position.

Skye is quickly stepping into her predecessors’ footsteps, taking to this training as if it’s her favorite activity in the world, which in reality, it is.

“She loves to train. When I take the check cord (the long lead-like rope) with her collar, she goes crazy,” he said.

Linda Barghultz said, “Sometimes it takes two of us to put it on her.”

With the check cord, Barghultz works her in the backyard to teach her to “whoa,” to stop when he wants her to, as well as paying attention to his commands. Another tool to help her learn the whoa command is by setting her on top of a barrel. This also helps him position her to have the proper form, which is an important function in the field.

Retrieving is another one of her favorite routines, as it’s all one big game for her. She dashes out to snatch up the dummy, receiving ample praise upon its quick return.

Barghultz keeps the training sessions short, and immediately corrects behavior to remain consistent. He said it’s all about repetition, but not to the point where the dog tires of the practice.

“I don’t train for very long so they don’t get bored,” he said. It’s better to be out for 15 minutes, than try to cram an entire week’s worth of training into a single session.

Setters are renowned for their speed and stamina, which is needed in big country like Montana. It’s why Barghultz focuses on training her in a harness.

“One hour of the road harness is worth three hours of running,” he said. With the harness, she pulls against resistance (him) building her muscles and lung capacity.

“She just flies,” he said. “She’s got a lot of stamina.”

It is an obvious joy bringing up another bird dog for Barghultz. With daily walks and practice sessions in the backyard, Skye is developing a solid foundation when it all just seems like fun to her. And with that start of the upland game bird season, the memories are just starting to be made.

For more information on upcoming field trials and training seminars, visit the Golden Triangle Sporting Dog Club’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/134379359916985/.

Read or Share this story: https://gftrib.com/2Nd0Afm

Source: https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2018/09/13/building-bird-dog-develops-deep-bonds-english-setter-barghultz/1215607002/

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