When you think of a bird dog your mind will generally take you on a walk in vast fields of our beloved bread basket or in long leaf pines of Northern Georgia. As well it should as those are the quintessential hunting destinations. Some of the greatest bird dogs a person has ever hunted behind were trained in these environments. But alas, what if you live in South Florida, home to over 6 million people, the only areas not inhabited are swamps and golf courses, and you own a bird dog puppy?
Moreover, take a stroll through the last few pages of any upland or waterfowl hunting magazine and notice where most all the professional trainers are based out of on their ads…not South Florida. Even with all these odds staked against us here I was with my newly acquired Vizsla puppy, a deep desire to train him myself, still employed full-time, and limited amounts of free time. Traveling out of state for lengthy periods of time to the “right” training grounds was a no go. South Florida would be my place to train this versatile hunting dog.
Beau, my beloved Vizsla, was a very energetic puppy and needed to be exercised both physically and mentally on a daily basis…if not shoes beware! My neighborhood was a quiet little suburb of West Palm Beach. Beau and I exercised every morning…well OK maybe not every morning. He ran free and I biked the 5-mile loop around our community in the dark at 5am. Lucky for us I found a Quail Hunting Preserve, Treasure Coast Hunting and Fishing Club, about 90 minutes north of me. Although not the vast fields of Kansas it did give Beau access to quail and as we all know birds make bird dogs. This was the mental exercise he needed. Probably a good time to mention I have been around bird dogs for nearly my whole life, al beit in the big pine forests and soybean fields of Piedmont area of North Carolina.
However, I wasn’t familiar with this versatile hunting dog concept. My desire to learn led me to our beloved North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, NAVHDA, and the various books and articles written on training a NAVHDA dog. And thanks to the 21st century and the internet I also discovered the Palmetto Club of NAVHDA. Beau and I were on our way to becoming a hunting team. Palmetto NAVHDA meets and trains and the GMHT Hunt Club in Lake Wales, Florida. (Lake Wales is about 2 hrs. north of my home.) I have come to understand there couldn’t really be a better place to train versatile dogs. GMHT has four training fields and three pounds for water work training. The ponds are alligator free, which cannot be said about most bodies of water in Florida.
I now have my bird dog, areas to hunt, areas train and other members to bounce ideas off, but those were hours away and once a month would cut it. As Beau and I started our journey in the versatile dog training I quickly realized I couldn’t drive north every day or even every weekend. I was going to need to get creative!
I did the basic yard work, you know whoa training, come training, retrieving, etc., but I needed to work on actual retrieves and tracking with bird/duck scent. I did have several hundred acres in my “backyard.” This backyard was a rather large South Florida canal bank that paralleled the Florida Turnpike. The area we claimed as “our” hunting grounds was over a mile long and at places 100yds wide. And thanks to Ugly Dog Hunting and Gun Dogs Supply, I had all the training aids I needed, specifically DOKKEN scent and dummies.
So we began training each other in our little Suburban Utility Dog. Actually we started out with enhancing the skills we needed for Natural Ability and worked our way to a Prize 1 Utility Test. To avoid having non hunting people confused about what I was doing and the fact it was when I had most of my free time we did most of the training at night. My Prize 1 Viszla cut his teeth training in the suburbs. We did tracks, dead bird finds, whoa to gun fire…whoa to gun fire, in the suburbs??? Fortunately, the Florida turnpike was loud enough and large enough to muffle the pop of .38 special blanks from the several thousand residents within miles of me.
If you really want to do something, even train a bird dog in South Florida, you can find ways. In the next several articles I will “Get to the Point” in more detail in how Beau the Vizsla and the rest of our village (i.e. Palmetto NAVHDA) did to earn him a title of a Prize 1 Viszla. Until then…. Take a Dog Hunting.