Mount Pleasant - Hunting with a dog is like dancing, Hal Chaney said.
And the key to any dance is anticipating what your partner is going to do next.
“Dog language is body language,” Chaney said. “It’s 90 percent body language and 10 percent verbal language. Most of that is just barking.”
Chaney does not claim fluency in dog-speak, but he knows more than most. He has spent the last 17 years training dogs full time. Spaniels raised at his Linden Kennels routinely perform well in statewide field trials, and the best sell for several thousand dollars.
Many of the hunters out searching for pheasants on Saturday had Chaney-trained dogs in their trucks.
Dogs fill Chaney’s life. His wife, Michelle “Muffin” Chaney runs The Grooming Room and breeds and shows Yorkshire terriers. Their house is like a canine kingdom.
“Suppose you’ve got one dog. That’s your study group.” Chaney said. “Maybe I’ve got a dozen and a half. My study group is huge. But I’ll never live long enough to learn it.”
Dogs and people must reach mutual understanding. Chaney believes. Therefore, training a hunting dog also means training the hunter.
“Some guys thing if I have the right whistle, everything is going to be OK,” he said. “It’s not the whistle, it’s whose blowing it.”
A former carpenter, Chaney said people that work with their hands are often better dog handlers.
“The toughest ones to work with are the doctors, the lawyers and the bankers. In their jobs they’re used to 2+2=4. With dogs, it’s not that way. What worked for you Tuesday might not work Friday.”
Chaney prefers the persuasion method of training. He is intolerant of people who treat animals roughly.
“You can’t beat something into a dog, you can only beat it out of him,” Chaney said.
So what makes a great bird dog?
Chaney isn’t saying. He won’t even pick one breed over the other.
“It’s like, do you want a Chevy, Ford or a Mercury? If you want to hunt quail on the edges, you need a pointer. For ducks, it’s a lab. To me, pheasants and springer spaniels are like mom and apple pie.”
Chaney does recommend male dogs for hunters not interested in breeding. He keeps females because, in his words, “You’ve got to have a oven to cook the cake.”
It is vital for hunters to maintain their dog’s training during the off-season, he said.
Beyond that, just stay calm. “Dogs will teach you about people because one thing you will develop is patience.” Chaney said.