Have a Frosty Rainier!

We try to get out every morning for a walk.  It was a little chilly yesterday.  That doesn’t bother us at all.


Sometimes I hunt with a shotgun and sometimes I hunt with a camera, but we’re always hunting as far as Kaia and Peck are concerned.  I enjoy the scenery and they enjoy the “smellery”.



When the temperature gets this low there is always ice to contend with.  Ice can be a very dangerous element for retrievers.  There’s really no way to teach them how to handle ice other than to expose them carefully and allow them to figure it out.  There are many different kinds of ice that a retriever needs to be able to navigate.  There’s solid ice, wet slippery ice,  thin cracking ice, cutting ice, slushy ice, ice breaking at the edge, and on and on.  If a dog’s first encounter with ice occurs while he is running a retrieve, the odds of injury increase exponentially.  It’s far better to allow a dog to learn about ice while he can approach it with some caution.


In the photo above you can see Peck’s trail through the ice near the top of the photo.  He charged through a thin layer and I think he was surprised to find it rather uncomfortable.  After charging through the thin layer he turned around to go back and check it out.  I could almost hear the wheels turning in his doggy brain as he stored the data for future encounters with the cold, hard stuff.

This is how dogs learn to deal with a lot of things they encounter.  All we have to do as trainers is get them out into the wilds where they can gather these experiences.  No amount of classes or training programs, books or DVDs can ever replace the simple act of getting out there and doing it.

The dogs and I were walking through a field of mowed Scotch Broom the other day.  I was thinking about a friend who was deathly afraid of allowing his dog to run through the stubble.  It seems his dog had sustained a foot injury on a previous jaunt through the field of sticks.  He didn’t want to let his dog run there, ever again.  My dogs have been running through stubble since they were puppies.  We’ve never seen a foot injury resulting from this. (Knock on wood!)  I believe they have a way of paying attention to their feet that allows them to trot right through this stuff without a problem.  They only learned it by doing it.

Obviously you have to pick your poison carefully.  I would not have chosen to let the dogs learn about porcupines by attacking one.  Unfortunately they made that decision on their own.  But, other things like ice, streams, stubble fields, and numerous other hazards can be learned by the  dogs through repeated exposure.  You don’t want your dog to learn about moving water by having him swim for a 40 yards retrieve across a raging river.  The hazards need to be introduced gradually, beginning with the easy stuff, so the dog avoids injury and fear.

Labrador Retrievers aren’t the only dogs that conquer hazards in this fashion.  They’re just the first breed that comes to my mind because I work with them every day.  Please help me broaden my horizons by sharing how your dogs learn to navigate hazards through repeated exposure.

Slack Leads to you all!


Another Sunday in the Church of Dog


We decided to take the shotgun for a walk so the dogs and I headed toward Mt Rainier.


..and we drove up in the boonies near Morton.


Peck is pretty sure there’s a grouse up here somewhere:


C’mon, we’re almost to the top!


Hmmm. No bird on that hill either!


There was lots of time to take pictures and I could have left the shotgun at home.  We didn’t see a single grouse.  None of God’s innocent little creatures were harmed in the making of this blog post, but I must confess that we had mayhem in our hearts and minds!  We just couldn’t find any birds that wanted to cooperate.  It was a beautiful day and everybody agreed that the air was fresh and the sun was bright. We were thankful for that!

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

What a Bunch of Sit!


Diesel’s training is progressing nicely.  We have a Front-Sit that’s working well.  In the coming days we’ll try to build a Heel-Sit too.  First I think we need to work on steadying his Front Sit so that I can walk away and trust him to hold Sit reliably.  I begin this phase by stepping carefully to the right or left while he is in Sit, then returning to my position and reinforcing his steady Sit with a click and treat.  As he becomes more reliable I will stretch my movement until I can walk completely around him while he holds the Sit position without moving his furry little bottom.

I don’t normally train a “Stay”.  I think Stay is a goofy command because its meaning is so arbitrary.  Want the dog to stay in the car while you run in the store for a minute?  You tell him Stay, right?  Want him to keep sitting next to you while you fumble with your house keys? Tell him Stay!  And what do you tell him as you walk out the door and want him to remain in the house?  Stay, right?  Each one of those Stays means something different to the dog.  In many cases he can be expected to break the command because you really can’t expect him to remain on Stay for 4 hours until you get back, so he breaks stay the minute you’re out of sight.  If you’ve used Sit and Stay, he now gets to blow off 2 of your commands in one fell swoop!

What does Stay mean?  And, since your Stay command is arbitrary to the point of being almost meaningless, why should he listen with rapt attention to your other cues/commands?

So, Sit is a big deal in my program because it’s the cue/command that replaces Stay. 


That was FUN, but it’s time to get back to work.


The kennel re-opens today after being closed for 2 months.  The first dogs show up this evening and more are coming throughout the week. 

It’s been a glorious sabbatical! I’ve had plenty of time to work with my own dogs.  We’ve been hunting in Eastern Washington, the Olympic National Forest and some local areas that must remain secret!  Kaia is hunting better than ever and Peck, who was just a bumbling puppy last season, has become a hard charging little bird maniac. 

The re-opening of the kennel doesn’t end our hunting season, but it reduces it to a series of short, local hunts rather than the 3 week epic bird-a-thons we’ve been enjoying on the other side of the Cascades.


I’m glad to be getting back to work.  All this time off is great, but I miss having all the dogs around.  I’ve had a chance to recharge and I’m ready to take on the wild beasts again! 

I have a class starting at Sprinker Center called “Click It, Don’t Kick It!”  This is a positive reinforcement training class that runs for 6 weeks.  We start up on Tuesday 11/5.  You can get details and sign up info HERE.  

Or just call Sprinker Recreation Center at 253 798 4000

Next, on Saturday Nov. 9 we begin our next series of Beginning Obedience for Sporting Dogs.  This is a traditional training class primarily for young sporting breeds, Labs, Pointers, Setters, Goldens, Chessies, etc.  This class runs every Saturday for 6 weeks, from 10 to 11:30 AM here at Muck Creek Kennels.  To sign up for this class, just call Muck Creek Kennels at 253 442 9625

See you in class! 

Oh…. I almost forgot…  Don’t forget to bring your human!



We walked across the south side of the ridge, the road angling down the mountain between a series of switchbacks. This was the uppermost leg of the trail. We had just hunted the ridge top and were now returning the mile or so to the truck.  Peck was working fairly close to me on my right.  He had the habit of staying close and checking in with me frequently as young dogs often do.  Kaia was working farther up the same slope to my right, making large loops uphill into the snowberry bushes and jack pines, sometimes wandering slightly beyond gun-range as she chased down an interesting scent.  One of the bittersweet changes in our hunting this year has been watching Kaia evolve without Vee there hunting beside her. 

I’ve heard and read other hunter’s claims that it takes 3 seasons to make a good grouse dog.  Three years sounds about right to me.   Great grouse dogs keep learning after that too.  Sometimes when a good campfire is burning and an uncertain amount of adult beverages have been imbibed, you can hear about the dog that went straight from the whelping box to the grouse woods and laid straight into the game.  I’ve heard about this amazing dog several times but alas, have never actually met him or hunted over him.

Watching Kaia and Peck work the hillside above me made readily apparent the very different stages of my dogs’ development.  Peck is in the first stage.  This is his first real season. He tagged along with us last year on a hunt and it was plain that he was not ready to hunt at 5 months, nor was he expected to be. 

This year is different.  He’s ready to hunt.  He’s a solid retriever, he searches diligently for birds and he has great energy and excitement.  Kaia is far more composed in her expenditure of energy.  She seems to cover more ground without running herself ragged.  She doesn’t show much excitement until she smells a bird, then it’s like a big switch turns on inside her.  There’s no question that she is working a bird.  Peck maintains a higher excitement level all the time and it’s not as easy to tell when he’s getting ready to flush a bird. 

Kaia finds more birds than Peck.  She seems to know where to look for the birds and how to find the bird when she first gets a whiff of that delightful grouse scent. Now in her 4th hunting season, Kaia has learned how to find the birds, how to conserve her energy by not chasing down rabbit and squirrel scent, and this year she has begun to finesse the manner in which she flushes the bird. 

I noticed early in the season that an unusual number of birds were flushing toward me.  When I first noticed this I chalked it up to dumb luck.  After hunting with the dogs for 6 weeks I am ready to embrace the theory that Kaia is figuring out how to push birds towards me.  This is why I’ve been so careful about limiting her hunting range.  Of course I want her to work in range but I don’t spend a lot of time or energy forcing the issue.  I’ve always believed that every brain cell that a bird dog uses to think about me is a brain cell that is not looking for birds.  As much as I like a well-trained and well behaved dog, I give my dogs a lot of latitude in the field.

Back on the hillside, I see Kaia’s tail start to revolve as she charges uphill and disappears behind a clump of stunted mountain pines.  About 3 seconds later I hear the bird flush nearly 50 yards above me on the rocky hillside.  When I catch sight of the grouse he is rocketing almost directly downhill at me.  He seems to catch sight of me at the same time and makes a sharp right turn placing him on a course directly down the trail away from me.  At this point he is about 30 yards in front of me.  Peck throws himself into a SIT at the sound of my shot.  Kaia is still out of sight but is presumably sitting as well.  I blow 2 sharp blasts on the whistle and both dogs come running toward me.  Peck is first to arrive at my side where I tell him to sit as we wait for Kaia to come bounding down the hillside. 

From the HEEL position I show Kaia the line to the bird with my left arm and send her for the retrieve.  After a brief search, she picks up the bird and returns to the HEEL position, holding the bird gently until I take it from her.

Doesn’t that sound just about perfect?  It was one of the hunts where everything just came together.  These are the ones we remember.  Little snapshots like this fasten themselves to the inside of my brain and help me forget all the little screw-ups that can happen over the course of a season. 

Maybe I should tell you about some of the less successful, wacky, goofball things that happened before I forget them all?   Perhaps it’s easier to enshrine the perfect hunts in my memory if I conveniently forget my many errors?