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SITKA Team | Photos by Matt McCormick | 11.14.2019

A Q&A With Dog Trainer Alex Brittingham

  • Pursuit: Waterfowl
  • Environment: Marsh

Ambassador Alex Brittingham currently resides in Athens, Texas. Hunting has been a part of her life since the age of four, the tradition passed down from her father. Around ten years ago she started training her personal dogs for hunt tests and hunting. Now both her passion and profession lie in training dogs full time and she is quickly becoming recognized for turning her Jack Russell Terrier “Gator,” into an exceptional bird dog.

What is your current profession?

I train dogs full time. I mainly work with retrieving breeds for duck and goose hunting, but I accept all breeds for obedience and boarding as well.

Did you always want to train dogs?

I was training my personal dogs for hunt tests and hunting, but I started getting a lot of requests from others to help with training. At the time, I was an oil and gas landman and work had started to slow down a bit, so I started training dogs part-time for friends and then slowly grew my kennels. I knew I wanted to train dogs professionally one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did. It has honestly changed my life and now I can’t imagine any other job.

What’s your favorite part about the work?

Running marks and blinds are my favorite things to do. Obedience and basics training can get redundant at times, but each marking/blind setup brings new challenges. I enjoy working the dogs through them and seeing them put it all together. ABCD marking drills are a favorite of mine. I also run a lot of 9 point blind drills, which I feel really helps my dogs cast off of suction.

For those that don’t know, can you explain what Marking, Blind, ABCD Marking Drills, and 9 point marking drills are?

Sure thing!

Mark- A bird or bumper that the dog sees fall. They are meant to “mark” the bird and find it on their own.

Blind- A bird or bumper that the dog does not see fall. They are meant to handle all the way to the bird with hand signals that the handler gives them.

ABCD Marking drills- 4 or more single marks that teach a specific concept and interact with each other. An example would be running a short mark and then running a long mark through the fall area of the short bird.

9 Point Blind Drill- A version of pattern blinds that involves 9 short and long blinds run fairly tight to each other. The short blinds are white bumpers and the long blinds are orange bumpers. This drill helps teach lining and casting off of suction from the short blinds. It also helps teach the dog to change direction when given a left or right back cast instead of driving straight back.

What drills would you recommend most to people looking to sharpen their dog's skills?

That varies based on the level of the dog.

If you have a dog that only runs marks I recommend the following: Y Drill, Standalone singles, Traffic cop. If you have a dog that handles and runs blinds: Wagon Wheel, T Pattern, 9 Point Drill.

How long have you been waterfowl hunting?

I have been hunting with my Dad and brothers since I was 4 years old, but I got serious about hunting waterfowl 10 years ago when I got my first duck dog. I used to be more into deer hunting, but now I would rather be shooting birds if I have the option.

What does a typical day look like for you during the season?

It totally depends on where I am hunting and whether I have to work afterward or not. I don’t drink coffee, but I am addicted to kolaches and milk, so I typically shoot for getting up in time to grab something to eat. If you catch me on a day where I skipped breakfast, you better watch out! After that, I typically air my client dogs, load the dog and decoys, then go hunt. When I get back, I usually have to train dogs. If I am out in West Texas goose hunting, I will usually try to catch a nap mid-day and then go scout that afternoon.

Tell us about Gator?

Gator is a Jack Russell Terrier. His particular style is referred to as a “Shorty” JRT. They are bred with shorter legs and are supposed to be less hyper, but I think that last part is a myth.

He’s my best friend and has truly been such a blessing in my life. He is so full of personality and has more drive than any dog I have ever worked with, but I may be a little biased because I am his Mom. He is also incredibly stubborn, which makes training him hard at times. He tests my patience on a daily basis!

I got Gator about 3 months after I lost my last JRT, Moose. Moose was diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 12 and passed away a few months later, something I was definitely not ready for. I was devastated and wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to own another JRT. The breeder who sold me Moose had a litter of pups that were related to him and sent me an email one day with a picture of Gator. He was the last pup available in the litter and it seemed like it was meant to be. He came home 3 days later. I remember crying the entire first night he was home. It was the start of a new chapter in my life and I was unsure about it. Now, I can’t imagine a day without him.

What makes Gator unique?

Gator is one of very few Jack Russells that retrieves birds but, in my opinion, the thing that makes him truly unique is that he runs blinds and does advanced work. To be completely honest, he wigs out a little when we are hunting and goes into “hunt mode,” so he doesn’t always mark great in that environment. In training, he is a completely different dog. He marks as well or better than a lot of the labs I work with, even in taller cover. He also runs pretty impressive blinds for a dog that isn’t bred for it.

How did Gator become a bird dog?

Moose was also a retrieving JRT, but he was not formally trained. I loved hunting with Moose, he brought so much joy and laughter to our hunts. People always wanted to see him fetch birds because he absolutely loved hunting and it would always put a smile on your face. Before he passed away, I always said that I would formally train my next JRT just to see how it would do through force fetch and all of the advanced work. I certainly didn’t think the next dog would go as far as Gator has gone in his training.

I planned on making Gator into a retriever before I ever got him, so I started working with him when he was about 8 weeks old. He loved it from the beginning.

What was it like to train Gator?

Gator started learning when he was 8 weeks old, so it was actually pretty easy getting him through all of the basics. He’s a ton of fun to work within a training environment because he loves to work. However, I think I made the mistake of not steadying him early enough and throwing too many exciting retrieves when he was young. I was so unsure how to handle training a JRT to retrieve, so I wanted to make sure he loved it at an early age. I think I will pay the price for that the rest of his hunting career. Things he struggles with are whining, creeping and breaking. I have it under control for the most part in training, but hunting is a different story, so he gets staked while we are hunting. Despite those issues, he is still my favorite hunting partner.

How often do you hunt with Gator?

I hunt him any chance I get. When I got him, I assumed he would mainly be a dove dog, but he’s actually about as fast as a lab on dry land and doesn’t really struggle with big ducks and geese like you would expect. Cranes are a little too big for him, so I typically take a lab for those. I also leave him at home if the water is really deep or has a lot of vegetation in it. Otherwise, Gator is always invited!