Locating your dog afield is critical in bird hunting

January 3, 2014

It's no wonder so many dogs in the west are named "Sage." The shrub is often a mottled gray-brown color, and when motionless on point the dogs resemble the native plant to such a degree that you can't tell Fido from flora.

This is not a new problem. Hunters have crafted and connived ways to track their dogs for centuries. In recent decades, everything from brightly-colored vests to dog-mounted flagpoles have bamboozled buyers. Some survived business trial-by-fire, others were relegated to the scrap heap of history.

These days, you have a cornucopia of choices, some low-tech, others as sophisticated as satellites. I've used them all (except the flag, which is just silly). Each has its proponents and advantages. You might find that an array of choices is best for situational or practical reasons. Here are some you might consider:

You can trust to luck and hope your dog has a white tail. A safer bet is a bright, bold orange collar. Field trailers often use an extra-wide one, the "top" dog in the brace wears blaze orange and the "bottom" dog gets fluorescent chartreuse or yellow. But even a plain old collar in blaze orange pops in the field. Bonus: many electronic training collars have a beeper housing that is also brightly colored.

I like a little more visibility on my guys, so I'll sometimes add a blaze orange bandanna tied around their necks. It's another square foot of safety. They add a bit of dash, too. But they don't offer as much coverage as a full-body cape or vest. I'm not criticizing the vest or cape, but their advantages are often outweighed by the body heat they retain or a propensity to rub a dog raw at critical locations of their anatomy.

On the right day, even a cloud of dust tips you to your dog's location. In my case, a cloud of wildly-flushing birds often reveals my young dog's route. Got two dogs? Watch your close-by dog. He will often hear your far-off dog when you can't, cocking an ear or gazing in his direction.

In this era of smart phones, it shouldn't be surprising that GPS can ensure your dog's "visibility." While he's streaking across that field or pottering around a thicket in search of quail, you can pinpoint his latitude and longitude, distance from you, even tell if he's on point. And if he won't come when you blow your whistle, some collars enhance his hearing with a low-voltage reminder. Some of the snazziest e-collars come with flashing lights (call me when you figure them out), or you can buy the dime store version and duct-tape it to his collar.

Remember that shopworn axiom about a blind person's other senses being heightened? In a way, it's also true when searching for your out-of-sight dog. Listen carefully, and you can hear your dog panting from quite a distance. Jingling collar tags too. A bonafide bell offers a pleasant tinkle or an industrial "bong," depending on size. There is a downside: a dog on point would need to be very well-trained to jiggle his collar bell, which will otherwise be silent just when you need it most. Other times (like when you forget to charge e-collar batteries), simply being stealthy will open the world to such a degree that purely organic sounds emanating from your dog will be plenty of help to find him.

Many e-collars have a beeper, hawk scream or other audible signal to help you monitor his progress and signal when he's locked on point. It's an acquired taste, but there are some environments where you'd never find your dog otherwise.

I know, I know, hearing your dog isn't officially being able to see him. But it's another way to keep track of him. Or you can buy yourself an orange dog.

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