Al About Bird Dogs: Part 2

Some Pointers for More Bird Hunting Success

In Part 2, we will address some training issues. Training should begin immediately after getting your puppy or young dog. There are many different approaches to training a pointer, but there are some constants that all professional trainers recognize. The training must be regular, consistent, and progress in a logical manner at the rate the dog is capable of learning.

Very important in developing good teamwork with your dog is your daily contact. I’m a firm believer that the dog can be treated as part of the family, living in the house much of the time. A dog kept in a kennel learns only when he is taken out for training sessions or hunting. A dog that is always around people is always learning. You can give a dog dozens of commands in a routine evening at home, all of which help to reinforce its training. Willie actually learned how to sit, stay, retrieve, and follow hand signals in our living room.

Instill Obedience
Job No.1 in dog training is instilling obedience. After the dog has learned what to do, it must do so on the first command, or else face punishment. The amount of discipline necessary depends on the dog. Some require only leash pressure or an ear pinch; hard-heads must be spanked. All pointers must be taught the basic commands, which include “sit,” “come,” and “heel.” I do not include "stay" in my training because a dog properly taught to sit should remain seated until released.

Ideally, pointing is instinctive in your dog and will not need to be taught. Some dogs have inherent pointing ability almost at birth; others have a latent talent that develops naturally; others do need to be taught. Teaching a dog to point involves long leashes, live birds, and a studied knowledge of pointer training. It is best left up to experts.

Whatever type of bird hunting you do, your days afield will be more enjoyable and productive with a good pointing dog.

Training for the retrieve is fairly simple in comparison. Keep the dog seated while you toss the dummy, preferably a dummy with bird wings attached. Send the dog, making sure it makes a beeline to and from the dummy. Make the dog hold the dummy until you grasp it and say "give." It helps if you make this a game, and quit when the dog seems to be losing interest.

The dog should also learn to respond to hand signals to aid in finding dead birds and to go where you want him to go. An integral part of this is an attention-getting signal, such as a whistle, so the dog looks where you are pointing. There are various ways of teaching this. I taught Willie this by hiding pieces of popcorn, making him sit, then pointing in the direction of a hidden kernel. It may be an unconventional method, but it was very easy and effective.

Training To Quarter Difficult
Training a dog to quarter, or work cover, often causes the most difficulty for dogs and their owners; a wild-running dog or one that won’t follow directions is a severe liability on a hunt.

In most cases, the dog should routinely quarter just ahead and maybe 20 yards to one side or the other, depending on the type of hunting and your personal preferences. The dog must also respond to your commands and hand signals to work the cover you point out.

To teach quartering, make sure the dog responds well to the "come" command (or a whistle) and to hand signals. Don’t allow the dog to get so far away that you cannot control him. Use a series of commands to get the dog in the right position and keep him there. It will take some time, but the dog will learn where he should be working in relation to your position as you walk through the woods.

You can’t train a dog running wild through the woods. If you spank him when he returns, he may associate the spanking with returning rather than running. It usually helps to get control of the dog, then get his undivided attention by putting him through a series of strict exercises in close proximity. A long leash in an open field, or a remote-control shock collar, are some common approaches to getting a handle on this problem.

Refining Commands: Honoring Point
There are some more refined commands for pointers. Remaining steady to wing and shot means the dog holds his ground even after the birds flush and the hunters shoot. Honoring point means the dog bows out rather than nosing in when he spots another dog on point. This behavior is not natural in dogs and takes considerable work to instill. I used to think these commands were strictly for form rather than function, until I had to pass up some low-flying pheasants because the dog bolted and was hot on their trail. I’m now using pen-raised birds and a long leash to hold Willie still when the birds flush, trying to teach him to keep steady.

Training should continue throughout your days of hunting. Like people, dogs learn the most from on-the-job experience.

The method of hunting a pointer depends largely on the birds you’re after. Quail and woodcock hunting are among the easiest for pointers, as the birds hold well.

Ringnecks are evolving into runners more than fliers, and can play havoc with a pointer. They can even ruin the pointing tendency of unstable dogs.

Grouse may sometimes hold well for pointers, but in most areas today they flush wild and are not ideal for hunting with pointers. With these birds, you have to decide whether you want to shoot flushed birds or let the flushers go and take only those that are pointed.

Whatever type of bird hunting you do, your days afield will be more enjoyable and productive with a good pointing dog.

And along the way, you’ll probably develop a new best friend.

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