Last week I was watching a dog point and I noticed something that I had noticed many times previous with this and several other dogs. The dog was pointing in a training situation on quail. The trainer was flushing and did not know where the quail was or if one was even there. The dog was doing what was often referred to as “chewing the scent,” that is, his mouth exhibited a chewing motion and he was audibly sniffing when his mouth closed. The handler flushed for about sixty seconds and then I saw the dog do something… Just before the bird went out, the dog did something subtle.
Reading dogs is mostly art. There is no way to learn it except to watch quite a few dogs in quite a few differing situations. Sometimes it helps to know what to look for. The subtle action that this dog executed is one that is not all that prevalent. But I have seen enough of it in some dogs to make it worthwhile to look for and I am hoping that others will see the same thing.
The handler had flushed to the front and to the dog’s right, and as he swung to the left, and headed for a small bush, the dog nearly stopped ‘chewing’ and lifted its head up slightly. The quail went out from just beyond that bush just after the dog did this. I have seen enough dogs do this to know that in many cases, a dog will signal in some way where it thinks the bird is by indicating when the handler is close.
Sometimes the gesture is more obvious. My brother had an English Setter that would curl her tail over when she was very close to a bird, hold the tail straight up normally, and if the scent was very faint and she was far away from bird, the tail would crook back away from her head somewhat. You could tell how close she was to the bird by her tail. Other dogs will point close birds low, or even squatted and far away ones on their tippy-toes. A friend of mine who guided hunts on pen-raised pheasant told me of a German Shorthair who, when pointing a ringneck would, 85% to 90% of the time, pull its lips back toward its ears so that almost appeared to be smiling, but would never do that on a hen pheasant. Learning to watch the subtle things a dog is telling can be important.
-Ryan Frame, LCS Elite Crew