Building a Grouse Dog: From Puppy to Polished Performer by Craig Doherty, is the most comprehensive, how-to manual there is for taking an eight-week-old little squirmer of any pointing breed and turning him or her into that most coveted game bird finder there is: a finished grouse dog.
Unlike many general pointing-dog training books, this one concentrates on one species – the ruffed grouse. Grouse are notorious for their caginess, their wariness, and their difficulty in being pinned down so a hunter can get close enough to flush and shoot. It takes a dog that has been trained nearly from birth to handle that task, and no one knows how to do it better than Craig Doherty.
Craig was the driving force behind Field Trial Magazine, is a columnist for The Pointing Dog Journal, regularly competes in grouse trials throughout the Northeast, professionally trains grouse dogs for clients from all over the country, and – this is important – guides grouse hunters using his own dogs trained in his outstanding methods; important because paying clients need results, and those results can only come by following dogs that know the game.
A number of how-to training books tell you what to do from beginning to end; but if you have started your own training, run into problems, and consult the literature, many times you’ll find that the advice is something along the lines of, “Well, you messed up because you didn’t do X, Y, and Z. Remember that so you won’t ruin your next dog.” Not Craig – if you have run into a snag with your current dog, Craig tells you what to do to get past it and on with the dog’s completed training.
So if your aim, your goal, is to own and hunt behind a finished grouse dog that knows what’s what in the coverts, Building a Grouse Dog is the best guide you’ll ever have.
The definition of a grouse dog can be as wide ranging as bird dogs themselves, but to Craig Doherty, the definition is simple: it is a dog that hunts, handles, finds, points, and holds ruffed grouse. Easier said than done, but his resume as a grouse field trailer and trainer speaks for itself. He has won numerous field trials, including the 2007 National Grouse Championship and recently the 2018 North American Woodcock Championship. For the field trials naysayer that may be reading this column, he not only trials his dogs, but he guides for ruffed grouse and woodcock in his home state of New Hampshire using the same dogs. Published by Wilderness Adventures Press (wildadvpress.com), the author outlines his training regimen from a puppy to a serviceable gun dog. He emphasizes the goal of building a “grouse dog” throughout his writing, discussing the methodical processes he uses to achieve this one focused goal – an example being:
“I guess my point is, when it’s time to get your young dog on wild birds, you have to go where the birds are. A late summer trip to the woods is pretty important as waiting until fall when the long guns come out can be counterproductive to the dog’s development.”
I picked this quote to illustrate that the author’s focus throughout the book is on the dog’s development, not on tailgate photos. Those will come once the dog has been trained. As in many training books, the theme of “slow and ready” wins the race is apparent in this book. The author discusses his strong and clear positions on every aspect of bringing a grouse dog from puppy to maturity. They are insightful and are shared in a beneficial fashion. I found his views regarding transitioning from training birds to wild birds enlightening, as I did his views regarding shooting, training, and encounters with wild birds over young dogs. The author also included a glossary of terms in this book. While this may not be noteworthy to an experienced grouse dog trainer, to a novice trainer it will be appreciated. The author also discusses his views of gear and guns in the books later chapters. These views are sound but do not relate to the main scope of the book.
– Glen Blackwood, Ruffed Grouse Society magazine