2023 Bird Dog Instinct Clinics

MSDA will hold Bird Instinct Clinics on Friday March 3rd, Saturday March 4th, and Sunday March 5th during the MSDA “Spring Event” at the Howard County Fairgrounds (2210 Fairgrounds Rd, West Friendship, MD 21794). For a bird dog with little or no field experience, this is a great way to get started.

This is a fun, relaxed, and encouraging activity. The clinic consists of individual work with each dog and handler. Each dog gets 10-15 minutes in the field, ending with a bird contact (e.g., flush, point, retrieve). Trainers get the dogs excited about the birds, and then the dogs are able to scent and find a bird, triggering their basic hunting instincts. Clinics are run by AKC hunt test judges and experienced handlers for flushing, pointing, and retrieving breeds. There is lots of fun, and great information, too!

Instinct Clinic is a wonderful stepping stone for you and your dog to get involved with training for your parent club’s WD or WC program or for the AKC Hunt Test programs, or to simply see how much fun you can have when your dog gets turned on to birds!!

All potential bird dogs are welcome. Your dog does not have to be entered in the MSDA dog show or obedience/rally trials at Spring Event to participate in the Instinct Clinic.

Trainers will be available to work with dogs from 11 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 4 pm each of the three days. There is no pre-registration for the Instinct Clinics. Just come out to the field and sign up when you’re ready for some fun – it’s first come, first served. The number of dogs we can handle is limited, however. Usually Saturday and Sunday afternoons are the busiest times, so aim for Friday or the mornings if you can.

The clinic fee is $20 per dog – cash or check, payable when you sign in at the field. Payment by credit card is also an option, with an additional $1 fee. Also, Spring Event parking at the Fairgrounds is $5 per vehicle.

For Instinct Clinic, your dog needs a collar and leash (not just a slip lead) . Optionally, spaniels and retrievers may want to bring a favorite retrieving toy to get started. We’ll provide a very long lead and all other supplies. Dogs are never off-leash during these sessions.

Live birds are used. There is no gunfire; flushed birds fly away.

The Instinct Clinics are held outside, so please dress for outdoor fun! They will be in a grassy field less than 500 feet west of the main (conformation) building, near the fairgrounds’ horse ring. A map is below. Once on the fairgrounds property, when you are facing the main hall and annex, turn right (west) and follow the driveway past the line of trees. Then look to the left and you will see a collection of cars, a pop-up tent, tables, etc. in the distance. There will be some parking available up near the horse ring. Please don’t drive or try to park in low-lying areas — cars have gotten stuck in the mud down there.

Note that the ground is covered in grass, dirt and (some) straw, so you may not want to run your dog in an Instinct Clinic and then go directly to the conformation ring.

One or more sessions could be rescheduled or cancelled in case of severe weather. If so, updated information will be posted here on this web page, the home page of the MSDA website, and also will be shared via MSDA’s private Facebook Group.

For more information and lots of photos, see our Instinct Clinic page for 2022. A few very short Instinct Clinic videos are on MSDA’s YouTube channel. MSDA member Deb Kirk also offers a longer introductory training video that includes a lot of photos and extensive video from MSDA Instinct Clinics.

Questions? Please contact Steve Roth at huntingchair@mdsportingdog.org.

And, if you and your dog have fun at the Instinct Clinic, consider attending MSDA’s annual Field Day for an introduction to field training your bird dog. Field Day will most likely be scheduled for a Saturday in April. The exact date and much more information will be provided after the first of the year.

2022 Training Days for Flushing Dogs

MSDA has been holding Training Days for flushing dogs. The objective is to prepare dogs to enter and successfully pass an AKC Spaniel Hunt Test, or for you to just enjoy time in the field with your dog. The plan is to offer fun, constructive upland/flushing training with live birds without a lot of down time, along with an opportunity to continue old friendships, make new friends, and get more involved with MSDA’s activities.

In 2022, there were five sessions, in March, April, May, June and September. The final 2022 Training Day for Flushing Dogs was to have been on November 11, but had to be canceled due to severe weather.

More information about these Training Days is below. We hope to continue flushing training in 2023.

Please direct questions to the Event Chair, Steve Surprenant, via Surprenant@mdsportingdog.org.

The first Training Day of the season was March 18 and some photos, taken by Lori Taylor, are shown below. Click on any photo to enlarge it and move through the gallery.

The second Training Day of 2022 was April 29. More of Lori Taylor’s photos are shown below. Click on any photo to enlarge it and move through the gallery.

The typical day went from 8:30 am to 3:30 or 4 pm. Each Training Day allowed training at four levels (Newbie, Junior, Senior and Master). Exercises available included general advice, land quartering/ flushing/ retrieving, hunt dead, water retrieves and a water blind. Live birds (pigeons, chukar, or pheasant) were available for advance purchase. Each training day accommodated 16-18 dogs, usually divided into two groups, with a mix of dogs and handlers (Newbies, Junior, Senior and Master) in each group.

Training Days for Flushing Dogs in 2022 were held on Fridays. Friday was chosen so we would have less competition for property and birds with other club training days that occur on a weekend and to avoid creating conflicts with AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests that typically occur on weekends. In 2022, Training Days were held at Thornhill Farm in Woodbine, MD and at Mount Ararat Farm in Fort Deposit, MD.

Fall 2022 Hunt Test Weekend

Saturday, September 17th & Sunday September 18th
9 am – 4 pm
Rebel Ridge Farms
295 Woods Road, Elkton, MD 21921

Something for everyone, including:

  • AKC-licensed Spaniel Hunting Tests (two days, two tests) on Saturday and Sunday.
  • WD (Working Dog) hunt tests for selected spaniel breeds on Sunday only.
  • On Saturday only:
    • Mock Junior Pointing Hunt Test
    • Mock Junior Retrieving Hunt Test
    • Open House for all MSDA members and potential members.

The rest of this web page is about the Pointing and Retrieving Mock Hunt Tests and the Open House, all on Saturday. Follow the link for information about the Spaniel Hunting Tests and WD Tests.

MSDA’s Fall Hunt Test Weekend has traditionally been focused on flushing breeds. In 2021, we added an “open house” for members and prospective members. This year, we expanded further to provide Mock Junior AKC Hunt Tests for pointing and retrieving breeds. For those who have done some hunt training, including perhaps at MSDA’s Field Day, and were either curious about pointing or retrieving hunt testing, were getting ready for a first hunt test, or just needed a bit of extra practice (and some feedback), this was a great opportunity. The mock hunt tests were no-pressure, fun and great learning experience.

21 dogs entered the Mock Hunt Tests with another half dozen signed up for Open House. This included one or more of the following breeds: Boykin Spaniel, Brittany, Clumber Spaniel, English Setter, Epagneul Breton, Flat-Coated Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Irish Red and White Setter, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Vizsla, and Weimaraner.

Here are some photos. (Click on any picture to enlarge it and move through the slideshow.)

Of the Pointing Mock Junior Hunt Test:

Of the Retrieving Mock Junior Hunt Test:

And, of course, thanks to all the Pointing, Retrieving, and Open House attendees who contributed… the potluck lunch buffet!

If you’re on Facebook, more photos are posted on MSDA’s private group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/mdsportingdog.

If you have questions about:

Last, but not least, if you are an MSDA member, and you learned something or just had a great day with your dog, please consider sharing your progress via our new “Member Milestones“.

Field Day 2022

Saturday April 9, 2022
8 am – 4 pm
Rebel Ridge Farms in Elkton, MD

MSDA’s Annual Field Day — a FUN day of field work for bird dogs of all experience and skill levels — was Saturday April 9 at Rebel Ridge Farms in Elkton, MD. Field Day started in 2017, and this was our sixth.

Photos are at the bottom of this page. Also, if you’re on Facebook, MSDA’s private group there (https://www.facebook.com/groups/mdsportingdog) is overflowing with pictures and comments about Field Day 2022!

You do not need to be a club member to attend Field Day. Like most other MSDA events, it is open to all dog lovers. Though activities are targeted at Sporting Group dogs who are interested in hunting, hunt tests, and field trials, Field Day welcomes all “birdy” dogs.

Look who attended! Participants included one or more dogs of the following breeds: Airedale Terrier, Boykin Spaniel, Brittany, Clumber Spaniel, Curly-Coated Retriever, English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Epagneul Breton, Flat-Coated Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Irish Red & White Setter, Labrador Retriever, Pointer/Llewellin Setter, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Spinone Italiano, Sussex Spaniel, Vizsla, Weimaraner, Welsh Springer Spaniel, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. Not really “participating”, but in residence, were a pair of nesting Bald Eagles tending to their two eaglets.

To keep all working groups small and busy, Field Day was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. CGC (Canine Good Citizen) testing also was offered midday, and this year participants enjoyed a “decadent desserts buffet” at the clubhouse. Field Day is designed to accommodate everyone from true beginner dogs (who have never met a bird) to experienced master hunters. It is mostly divided into groups according to hunting style: Flushing, Pointing, and Retrieving. Group leaders and volunteers include very experienced handlers, hunters, hunt test judges, trainers and gunners. Group activities and individual attention for handlers and dog(s) are based on your training goals for the day: Field Day is set up to be attentive to each dog’s experience and needs, rather than running all dogs through a standard set of drills.

Click on any photo to enlarge it and move through the gallery.

Photos of the Pointing Group sessions, by Carolina Johnson:

Photos of the Retrieving Group working at the water, by Carolina Johnson:

Photos from Tiffany Pfluger:

Photos of the Flushing Group by Lori Taylor:

Photos of the Pointing Group by Michelle Turton

Even more photos from Field Day!

2022 Bird Dog Instinct Clinics

MSDA held Bird Instinct Clinics on Friday March 4th, Saturday March 5th, and Sunday March 6th during the MSDA Spring Event at the Howard County Fairgrounds (West Friendship). For a bird dog with little or no field experience, this was a great way to get started.

This is a fun, relaxed, and encouraging activity. It’s not a test, nor a training session, but more like ultimate playtime for sporting dogs! The clinic includes a brief introductory discussion followed by individual work with each dog and handler. Trainers get the dogs excited about the birds, and then the dogs are able to scent a bird and find a bird, triggering their basic hunting instincts. Clinics are run by AKC hunt test judges and experienced handlers for flushing, pointing, and retrieving breeds.

Some pictures taken at the Instinct Clinic sessions are displayed at the bottom of this page. Click on any photo to enlarge it and move through the entire gallery.

Bryan Sirotkin of BSPhotography also photographed the dogs in the flushing/ retrieving breeds’ field on Sunday afternoon, March 6th. Literally hundreds of his photos of that session are available via https://bsphotography.net/ or access them directly at https://bsphotography.zenfolio.com/p1433405. You will need to enter an email address to view the gallery. Then, click on “Next” and/or “Slideshow” (in the upper right corner of the screen) to move easily through the photos. All photos are available for purchase.

Feedback is always very welcome. Please send your comments to Steve Roth at HuntingChair@mdsportingdog.org or Pamela DeSmidt via Secretary@mdsportingdog.org .

2022 photos:

2021 Members’ Open Day

Saturday, September 18, 2021
Rebel Ridge Farms
Elkton MD 21921

Current and prospective MSDA members, their family and guests brought their dogs for an informal day at Rebel Ridge. Rebel Ridge Farms provides more than 250 acres of fields, ponds, and woods as well as a heated and air-conditioned clubhouse. They came out to practice their hunting, field obedience, and retrieving skills, see some experienced dogs in action, or just enjoy the day on this beautiful property.

The only price for attending was a generously-sized potluck lunch dish contribution. On the same day at Rebel Ridge, MSDA was holding a Spaniel Hunting Test. Members’ Open Day potluck dishes, supplemented with purchased items, also provided the day’s lunch for the hunt testers.

Members’ Open Day was very informal. There were no structured activities, though Sally Eck, who leads the Pointing Group at MSDA’s annual springtime Field Day, and Gary Seibel, who leads the Retrieving Group at Field Day, were there and were happy to provide demonstrations, encouragement and advice to others. We hope that everyone had a great time, learned something, and made some new friends.

If you have any questions about Members’ Open Day or have any follow-up comments, please contact the Event Chair Pamela DeSmidt (Secretary@mdsportingdog.org).

Upland Dog Fundamentals Workshop June 19-20, 2021

Spaniels were originally bred to hunt, find, and flush upland game out of their hiding places – pointers and setters did the pointing, and retrievers did the retrieving. Today’s upland dogs are expected to hunt, find, point or flush, be steady to wing and shot, and reliably retrieve or respectfully honor another dog’s retrieve.

MSDA was pleased to hold a late-June training workshop led by professional trainer/handler Jordan Horak. Jordan is an accomplished upland dog professional trainer and handler, winner of both the National Open and National Amateur Cocker Championships, and the inventor of the Cato Board placeboard (named after his English Cocker Spaniel).

The workshop was held on Saturday June 19 and Sunday June 20 at Thornhill Farm in Woodbine, MD. A limited number of private lessons were available on Monday, June 21. Eleven working teams (dog + handler), as well as auditors, participated.

Participants and their dogs were at all skill different levels. On Saturday and Sunday, working teams took turns training with Jordan both on the lawn and in the field, while everyone in the group was able to observe. After each exercise, there was a discussion of key points, what went well and how to achieve improvements. Emphasis was placed on developing the bond between dog and handler. Jordan’s deep knowledge of sporting dogs was evident throughout the weekend.

Photos of the weekend are below. Click on any image to enlarge. Thanks, Roseanna Bennett and Steve Roth, for taking pictures!

If you have questions regarding this training weekend, please contact the Event Chair, Steve Surprenant at Surprenant@mdsportingdog.org.

Choosing and Using a Dog Whistle

At MSDA, we often receive inquiries about whether or not a whistle has to be used in training, which whistle is best for training, and do different sporting dog breeds need different whistles?

In answering these questions, this article assumes:

  • That the reader has already decided to use a whistle in field training, hunting, hunt tests and/or field trials, and they need to make a preliminary decision about which whistle to use.
  • That the reader will not use a whistle as a command or while handling until after the dog has already learned that command without a whistle.

A sporting dog’s ability to hear
There is a hearing difference among dog breeds – those with floppy ears covered with hair won’t be able to hear as well as those with erect ears. But there is no material difference in the hearing between any of the sporting dog breeds.

Humans can hear a frequency range between 20 and 20,000 Hz; dogs can hear 40 to 60,000 Hz. The smaller the number the lower the sound; the higher the number the higher the pitch. This explains why a dog can hear a silent whistle, which emits a sound above 20,000 Hz, yet the sound is inaudible to most humans.

People need to train their dogs before incorporating a whistle
There are many dog owners who have exceedingly high expectations of a dog whistle. A toot on a whistle has no inbred meaning for a dog. A dog may be interested the first few times he hears a whistle’s distinct and/or unusual sound. The dog may even approach you to investigate, but the effect is typically temporary. Over time, the dog will lose interest in the whistle unless he begins to associate the sound with something that he has been already taught to do.

Do you need a whistle to train a sporting dog?
Strictly speaking, the answer is “no”. You can teach any dog a command with voice alone. Once a command is learned, you can add hand signals to help a dog understand the command at a distance. But, out in the field, a dog may not be able to hear your voice or see your hand signal. During hunting, a hunt test or a field trail, using a whistle will be appreciated by fellow hunters, handlers and judges, and is much more dignified than yelling at your dog from the top of your lungs.

A whistle for sporting dog training is helpful for three primary reasons.

  • A whistle is easier to hear – the human voice does not carry as effectively as a whistle over distance, especially on a windy day.
  • A whistle is clear and unambiguous – the human voice is variable in pitch and easily distorted by environmental factors. A good quality whistle will not alter in pitch when you are angry or tired.
  • A whistle is less disturbing to most wildlife – the human voice is very disturbing to wild game, and sporting dog work should be carried out with a quiet hunt whenever possible.

A whistle is not always the answer in every situation. Sometimes, you may want to work a dog in almost complete silence; for example, in close quarters a hand signal, or whisper voice, may be more appropriate.

In practice, most sporting dog handlers should first teach voice commands and then add whistles and hand signals as training progresses and the dog has already learned the voice command.

Choosing a whistle
A whistle choice often comes down to the handler’s preference as the specific pitch doesn’t make any difference to the dog. Once you have bought your first whistle, you are likely to use that whistle “type” for the rest of your life. However, no two dogs are exactly alike which can make it more difficult to choose the perfect whistle from the beginning.

Most people have to experiment to see which whistle is just right. Some handlers will buy a half-dozen or more of the same whistles at a time to test each one for the exact sound they want. Other handlers, even if they have been around for a long time may switch whistle preference with some regularity.

Whistles for sporting dogs
The breed of sporting dog and the type of training can impact which whistle you may choose. Spaniels tend to work closely and you may not need to use a whistle with a large sound radius even if cover is thick. A pointer will spend a lot of their time air scenting at a distance, but once on game, they will get into the undergrowth; you may benefit from a whistle which can cut through thick groundcover at a distance. And, retrievers work over long distances so you need a loud whistle for giving instruction and a reliable recall.

Additionally, if you have a retriever that runs in retriever hunt tests as well as spaniel hunt tests, or a spaniel or a pointer that runs in retriever hunt tests as well as spaniel or pointer tests, it’s nearly impossible to pick one whistle that works well in two different test types. Just because a dog has learned to recall on three toots on one type whistle, does not mean they will recall well with three toots on a different whistle type. There are some combination dog whistles (aka dual-tone whistles), but they still yield different tones on different frequencies as if you were using two different whistles.

Many of the dog whistles have a “pea,” a small cork ball inside the whistle shell. A pea allows you to “trill” the whistle and make different combinations of sounds. However, the pea in a whistle can freeze in cold weather from your saliva. For cold weather training and other reasons, many handlers use a pealess whistle which are also better at making quick blasts. And a metal whistle that works well in most seasons, can freeze to your lip in below freezing temperatures.

Making the final decision
Even though some whistles are better suited for different situations, in the end, it’s your choice. No matter what whistle you choose, to get the most out of it you must know how to blow it and be consistent with your tones.

If you’re interested in learning more about choosing and using a whistle, the following links may be of interest to you:

Field Day April 17, 2021

MSDA’s Annual Field Day — a FUN day of field work for bird dogs of all experience and skill levels — was Saturday April 17 at Rebel Ridge Farms in Elkton, MD.

Some photos are posted below. (Click on any photo to enlarge.) People are also sharing comments and photos on MSDA’s private Facebook group.

Flushing Group photos:

Pointing Group photos:

More Pointing Group photos, taken by Field Day participant Carolina Johnson:

Retrieving Group photos:

Field Day is always divided into groups according to hunting style: Flushing, Pointing, and Retrieving. Our hard-working group leaders and volunteers included very experienced handlers, hunters, hunt test judges, trainers and gunners. Group activities and individual attention for handlers and dogs were based on each individuals’ training goals for the day.

To keep all working groups small, Field Day was further split into morning and afternoon sessions, with a midday lunch break for all groups.

Field Day is designed to accommodate everyone from true beginner dogs (who have never met a bird) to experienced master hunters. Though activities are targeted at Sporting Group dogs who are interested in hunting, hunt tests, and field trials, Field Day welcomes all “birdy” dogs. Look who came! We had one or more of the following breeds this year: Barbet, Boykin Spaniel, Brittany, Clumber Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Flat-Coated Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Irish Red and White Setter, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Poodle, Standard Poodle, Sussex Spaniel, Vizsla, Weimaraner, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

Field Day is set up to be attentive to each dog’s experience and needs, rather than running all dogs through a standard set of drills. We keep the groups small so that everyone gets plenty of time and attention. Birds and gunners were provided.

MSDA Field Training Basics, Fall 2020

Offered Two Days
Saturday October 24th and Sunday October 25th, 2020
10 am – 3 pm
Dickerson, MD

These days offered an introduction to field work for all sporting dogs. Handlers and dogs were dispersed among multiple fields and simultaneous activities. There was no live fire and no shot birds. Some people came for both days and some just for one or the other. We had 18 dogs signed up for Saturday and 19 for Sunday, including one or more of the following breeds: Barbet, Clumber Spaniel, English Setter, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Sussex Spaniel, Vizsla, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. Many were beginners.

Photos are below. (Special thanks to Ken Harringer for some really good ones!) Click on any photo to expand and click through the gallery.

The weather cooperated nicely for Saturday, but Sunday was cooler with some light rain. Still, we had two relaxed and fun days to work on some basic training, and we hope that everyone went home with happy and tired dogs, and having a better idea of what they need to focus on over the winter months.

The trainers for the weekend were: Ken Harringer, Betsy Harringer, Steve Roth, Brian Schmidt, and Steve Surprenant. Topics included: introducing dogs to bird scent, basic pointing and flushing techniques, obedience commands essential to field work, e-collar conditioning, and yard work with placeboards.

Since this occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, activities were entirely outdoors and safety protocols including social distancing and masks were required.

For questions about these and other training opportunities, contact Steve Roth (hunting chair@mdsportingdog.org).