Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

Grading Our Dogs

As we come to the end of upland hunting season in New England, your author thinks back about the quality of dog work his shorthairs provided during our hunts. Was it acceptable? Are there specific areas that need improvement before next season? Keeping in mind that we have a versatile breed, the German shorthaired pointer, there are several areas of performance to evaluate. Those include the hunt (search pattern primarily), the point, tracking and the retrieve. Let’s evaluate each dog for each area of performance.

An important comment first, however. Our dogs typically have a solid week of work in Montana before we start our New England grouse and woodcock hunts. With plentiful bird numbers, the prairies offer an outstanding opportunity to steady-up our dogs. Due to the Covid-19 virus, we did not make our annual trip to Montana in 2020. That meant the dogs were a little rusty for New England hunting.

Currently, we hunt with three dogs: a nine-year-old female (Dena), a four-year-old female (Cordie) and a three year old male (Blaze). Let’s begin with Dena. Dena is pretty steady. She has hunted in eight states and three Canadian provinces. Her points were solid and as always, her retrieves were perfect. She had mostly grouse encounters…only one woodcock. Overall, I would give her an A-.

Now, let’s take a look at four-year-old Cordie. The pros will tell you it takes three to five years to make a good grouse dog. That means Cordie should be entering her prime. The rust, however, did show a bit on Cordie. Her search (or hunt) was excellent and deserves an A grade. She reaches out but is always within bell distance. If the bird is close, she holds her point very well. Due to her dark coloring, on opening day, I twice searched over ten minutes for her while she was on point. We quickly corrected that with a neon vest. I’ll give hear an A for her point, however, it’s a qualified A. There were a few times when she was on a solid point that the bird moved on her and she could see it. She broke and busted the bird. That’s a no-no and needs to be corrected. It brings her pointing grade from an A down to a C. One habit Cordie has is if she has the bird pinned and I go in for the flush, she’ll move from two to five feet to mark the flight of the bird. This would fail her in a field trial, however, I don’t mind since it helps with the retrieve of a downed bird. Speaking of the retrieve, she’s not as good as her mother (Dena) but usually gets the job done.

There is one area where I’ll give Cordie an A+. That’s tracking a running bird. The versatile dogs typically excel at tracking and Cordie is very good. As I think back, I believe every running grouse that Cordie tracked was eventually pinned. That’s pretty amazing. Most birds flush far in front of a tracking dog. I love this little girl but her busting a couple of birds prevents me giving her an overall A. She gets a B.

Now we have three-year-old Blaze. He’s a big, powerful dog. Blaze has a beautiful stride and an excellent hunt (search pattern). He’s steady to the flush and shot and retrieves very nicely. Last year in Montana, at two years of age, he was outstanding on his search, point and retrieve. We thought we had the complete bird dog. However, thinking Blaze had arrived, we got lazy and did not follow-up with bird work this past summer. That was a mistake. Blaze simply ran over several grouse this past fall. He runs very hard and simply over ran the scent. That creates a wild flush. A grouse shot on the wing is a trophy so there were some shots taken at those wild flushes. Blaze was always steady to the flush and shot. I think he should naturally develop a more reliable point; however, we’ll help him along this summer. For this season, though, Blaze gets a C-.

That’s a short recap on our dog work this past season. Even as long-time bird dog owners, we can still learn more about our dogs. And, we learned that we must never take our dogs for granted…always keep training.

Copyright 2021 Paul Fuller

Paul and his wife Susan are co-hosts of Bird Dogs Afield TV ( Paul can be contacted at