Have you noticed how differently pups run? Some pups reach for the horizon and chase anything that flies. Other pups work at a closer range, use the wind, and point when they find birds. These differences have a lot to do with whether they use their eyes or their nose.
Several years ago I was visiting a pro trainer in Maine. He had just gotten in a bunch of pups to evaluate, and asked if I wanted to come along and watch. As he took each pup for a run, I followed behind. One of the first pups he worked ran all over the field, and he asked what I thought. I was pretty impressed and told him so, but it was not the answer he was looking for. He asked if I knew why the pup ran so big, and I honestly didn’t know. He explained that the pup was using his eyes and looking for things to chase. He took out another pup, and this one worked a lot closer. As I watched, I noticed he was using the wind and hunting the cover.
After all the pups had run, the pro trainer sat down and explained why it was important to determine the reason a pup runs. “If a pup uses his eyes, he’s going to run bigger. He’s more likely to sight-point, and he loves to chase. This tells me he needs to find birds. I need to develop his nose by working him on birds. If a pup uses his nose, he already knows how to find birds, so I need to develop his run. If I keep working him on birds, he’ll never learn to run. You have to identify the type of pup you are dealing with in order to develop him the right way.”
I forgot about this lesson until a few years ago when I was working two pups from the same litter. They were six months old and complete opposites. The white pup ran big, carried an edge to the end of the field, and loved to point butterflies. The orange pup worked closer, dug into the cover, and quartered when working into the wind. Now I knew why they were so different: One pup was using his eyes and the other was using his nose.
I needed to come up with a plan to develop these pups. Each pup had a weak link—a shortcoming or hole that needed to be fixed before training could advance. I decided to look at the sense each pup was ignoring as their weak link. This made it easy to come up with a plan.
I planted birds in the training field and ran the white pup first so he got into birds. I ran the orange pup second so he had to work harder to find birds. Over time I watched the white pup’s range shorten as he became more interested in hunting the cover and slowed down so he did not outrun his nose. I noticed a change in the orange pup, too; he was running bigger, and sometimes when he really got going, he looked like he was almost getting high from running. By the time they were ten months old their races were almost identical. They ran some and hunted some, and when I entered them in a couple of puppy stakes, they took turns beating each other.
Most pups seem to favor one sense or the other, and it varies between littermates as well as pups of different breeds. Regardless of which sense your pup favors, you can help him learn to use both sight and smell to find birds. If you watch an experienced bird dog hunt, you will see him shift from one sense to the other, depending on the situation. You may even see him perk up his ears to listen for other clues. By studying your pup and watching why he runs, you will be able to figure out if he uses his eyes or his nose, and once you know his weak link, you will know what you need to do to develop him the right way.