Basic pointing instinct: an interview with lab man John Greer.
In other words, as with most any breed of gun dog, almost any canine that hunts upland gamebirds can also be "taught" to point them. At Tiger Mountain Pointing Labradors, we deal with this potential issue by testing for the natural and inborn pointing instinct when a puppy is just six weeks old.
GD: Six weeks old? Are you serious?
JG: Yes, indeed. Each pup in all of our pointing Lab litters is presented with a live pigeon with its flight feathers trimmed back. The pigeon is released in short grass where it is clearly visible and the pup is allowed to chase it. When the bird is approached by the pup some pups will attempt to jump on it and grab it. Initially we let the pup catch the bird and retrieve it. Eventually, however, some pups will pause and sight-point it. Next, we will take a pigeon and hide it in some sort of knee-high grass where the pup must smell the bird and scent-point it. Those are the young dogs most likely to be natural, instinctive, life-long pointing Labradors.
GD: Will all the pups in all your litters pass the pointing test? JG: Not always. But the percentage is pretty high. And some pups that don't point at the early age might develop a pointing ability later. But the six- to seven-week-old Labrador pups that both sight-point and scent-point the live pigeon will most likely, with some training and lots of upland bird hunting experience, develop into full-fledged adult pointing Labradors.
GD: This sounds real simple but almost too good to be true.
JG: This testing method is simple and effective and is one we have developed and used with success for more than 30 years to produce pointing Labradors that we guarantee to point all kinds of upland gamebirds as well as retrieve them along with all types of waterfowl.
GD: All of which leads to the question: Why would any hunter want a pointing Labrador? After all, there are already plenty of pointing breeds available, and the Lab is traditionally considered a retrieving breed.
JG: That's a question with an easy answer. The person who hunts both waterfowl and upland gamebirds will have a tough gun dog that can easily "retrieve" ducks and geese on land or in water all morning in all kinds of weather conditions, then in the afternoon, point all species of upland gamebirds anywhere in the world. Lots of versatility, in other words.
GD: Any special process for a customer in picking a pup out of a litter? J G: Yes. Once a litter is seven weeks old we pick a pup for each of the buyers who have made arrangements to get a dog from us.
GD: Why is the choice of a specific pup up to you and not to the buyer?
JG: We feel that we can do the best job of matching a pup with its new family. This approach works because we thoroughly quiz our buyers abottt their lifestyle, their background history with dogs in general, and their plans for hunting with their new canine family member.
GD: How much can you tell about a pup in just the first seven weeks of its life? And how much can you tell about people by asking them questions over the phone or in person?
JG: Quite a bit, actually. We spend several hours each day with our pups so we can get a good sense of their temperaments, their energy levels, and their places in the litter pecking order. After having done this with hundreds of pups for more than 30 years, we feel we can make some 'good educated guesses" on these subjects. The same goes for judging our customers when they answer our questions and provide information about themselves.
GD: What happens to a pointing Lab pup once it has been successfully tested from six to seven weeks then sent home to be with its new owner?
JG: We recommend that the pup be treated like any other young dog by being housebroken and yard trained according to standard methods offered in training books and DVDs. We want to see the pups bonding with their new owners and become good family dogs, learning all facets of basic obedience in the house and in the yard.
GD: In your experience, when does "hunt" training begin?
JG: We say when the pup is five months old. This is the prime time in a young dog's development when there is an introduction to guns, live birds, retrieving, and water and field work.
GD: Isn't five months a little early? And can the average first-time puppy owner handle this kind of intensified training?
JG: After 30 years of training both pointing Labs and flushing Labs, we have concluded that the fifth month is the four weeks when a young dog is ready to learn most of the main lessons in becoming an adult hunting dog. And, yes, with some help from us or from a good professional trainer, most pup owners can do the work on their own. Though a pointing Lab pup at five months is mature enough to get the "idea" of hunting, pointing and retrieving, more time is necessary for a pup to develop the athleticism to be an adult hunting dog.
GD: How much help in training can you give at this time?
JG: We can give advice over the phone or by e-mail in dealing with almost all questions and common problems. For the puppy owner who doesn't have the time, place, or birds necessary to train a young dog at this stage of development, we have a one-month training program here at Tiger Mountain where for a fee of around $800 we will personally take our pointing Lab pups through this initial training course.
GS: How popular is your one-month program?
JG: Very. We usually have up to a dozen or more pups in the program with a waiting list for more.
GD: You have described the Tiger Mountain Pointing Labradors method for testing a puppy's pointing and hunting abilities. So how are your adult breeding dogs tested for degree of pointing instinct and hunting skills?
JG: We test most all our breeding stock adult dogs in the American Pointing Labrador Association testing program and in the process have gotten top scores in the past 20 years. We also regularly run our adtdt Labs in AKC Retriever Trials and AKC Hunt Tests, which have produced lots of ribboris as well as some Field and Amateur Champions.
GD: Do you test your brood stock pointing Labradors for all the common Labrador diseases and disorders?
JG: Yes. We test all our dogs for instances of hip and elbow dysplasia through OFA as well as eye defects through CERF. We also test when necessary for more uncommon health problems such as EIC, CNM, PRA, thyroid, and heart health.
GD: Any other testing methods to show the pointing abilities of your pointing Lab?
JG: Oh, yeah. We regularly hunt our pointing Labs on all kinds of upland gamebirds so we can see how all of our dogs are doing in the field. In a typical year, we might make a half-dozen road trips to as many states. Our main target is wild pheasants, but we have also used our pointing Labs on prairie grouse, ruffed grouse, chukar partridge, Hungarian partridge, bobwhite quail, and desert quail. We aLso get regular reports from satisfied customers who use dogs bought from us to hunt gamebirds all over the country.
GD: How big is your customer base for pointing Labs?
JG: Though we live in the state of Washington, we have sold our pointing Labs to people in all 50 states, in all the provinces of Canada, and to several countries in South America--anywhere there are airlines that will deliver dogs. Lots of our customers will make a road trip to pick up pups, to see the parents of their pups, and to get personally acquainted with us here at Tiger Mountain Pointing Labrador Kennels.
GD: How did you get into pointing Labs?
JG: I've been a professional gun dog trainer since the 1980s specializing in the standard pointing breeds and retrieving breeds. In 1982, I saw my first pointing Labrador and was fascinated with its versatility. Though I acquired a good pointing Lab for myself and for my personal hunting purposes, it was 1985 when I found another pointing Lab good enough for breeding purposes. In our first few litters, only one out of 10 pups would point. But we used those pups to develop a more consistent pointing pattern. By 1996, we acquired proven pointing Labs outside our own line so that the percentage of pointing Labs out of a typical litter was 80 percent.
GD: And you do guarantee all your pointing Labs to point?
JG: Yes. But we can't guarantee that all of our pups' owners are qualified to train these clogs on their own. That's why we like to maintain a long-term close relationship with our customers to be sure they do the right things in training and hunting and realizing the full potential of these versatile Tiger Mountain gun dogs.
GD: Sounds like "service after the sale."
JG: That's the way we see it.
Head trainer and owner of Tiger Mountain Pointing Labradors in Ellensburg, Wash., John Greer started training gun dogs professionally in the early 1980s. In 1988, Greer opened Tiger Mountain, producing multiple Field Champions, as well as a National Field Champion. He continues to supervise the training of each dog that comes from his kennel, and is considered by many to be one of the foremost authorities on pointing Labs. We recently caught up with John to get his take on the evolution of this breed.
For more information on Tiger Mountain Pointing Labradors, go to www.pointinglabs.com
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2014|
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