column By: Alec Sparks | July, 20
As we head into the field this fall, here are some training questions you might also have.
Q. What about picking up dogs and carrying them back if they are not staunch/steady?
Back in my early days, I carried dogs all over Vermont. I now haven’t moved a dog back in 25 years. Dogs have short-term memories of about 10 seconds, so unless you’re getting your dog back to where it was, it’s unlikely it even knows what you’re doing.
While I’m sure some dogs have figured out you don’t want them to move, that technique uses a very human thought process and expects them to reason as we do. (They don’t.) I believe it “works” because rarely does someone gently lift and reposition the dog while whispering sweet nothings in its ear without it devolving into roughly picking the dog up slamming it back down while screaming, “WHOA! You #!*&Q!”
Don’t tell me that doesn’t happen; I’ve seen it. A lot. So it’s not the careful relocation of the dog but intimidation that might get the desired result.
From a trained behavior perspective, I want to leave as little room as I can for the dog “to figure out” on its own. When you do that, you’re just rolling the dice and hoping for the best. I’d rather teach a behavior to the point where there is no chance the dog doesn’t understand and then enforce it from there in an appropriate fashion.
Q. I’ve been told I should let my dog chase birds for the first season to “build desire.” Should I?
Yeah, me too, and it’s also something I did for a brief period of time many years ago. I would say it depends on a few things. Do you hope to have that dog steady to wing and shot in the future? Does your dog seemingly have very modest interest in birds? How skilled a trainer are you when it comes to teaching a dog that what was permissible and even encouraged is no longer allowed? If you don’t care about steady to wing shot but you’d like your dog to be at least staunch enough so you didn’t have to hunt it like a flushing dog, a high-drive dog chasing for some time can be VERY difficult to get staunch.
Personally, I train dogs to be staunch and steady simultaneously in formal training before they turn into raging, chasing lunatics. I’ve had a number of dogs come in for training over the years that were allowed to chase after being told it would somehow inhibit their development. Some of these dogs hadn’t ever “learned” to be staunch when they found they “couldn’t catch the bird” as the owners had been told. Others were incredibly difficult to ever get steady to wing and shot because of their chasing history.
Q. My dog points very well, but when I get there, the bird is usually gone. Should I hunt him in gun range?
Yeah, if you want to shoot birds, you’ll have to.
Every year I hear that same tale: My dog’s a great pointer, but the birds are gone. Can you train it to stay close?
How about we train your dog not to crowd the birds, which produces pretty points but long-gone birds? Many times trainers use some type of planted bird where the bird isn’t either wary or able to fly (harness/release/dizzied/etc.) and allow the dog to approach as closely as it desires before establishing point. How can this not teach the dog it’s OK to approach as close as it would like?
“They figure it out,” I’m told — yet another example of rolling the dice.
In training, to the degree I can control things, I always try to encounter the scent cone perpendicular to its direction. When dogs hit that scent cone and snap 90 degrees, I either stop forward progress silently with a check cord or a Whoa! enforced with a remote collar if necessary.
It goes against what many have been told for decades, that only the dog can decide when it should establish point. Perhaps it can for those dogs training exclusively on wild birds or with great noses and a lot of point. Not so much with all the others.
Case in point: Clients and friends who horseback trial hunt wild quail in Oklahoma with some field trial friends. Their dogs stand off wild birds very well while their friends’ trial dogs crowd birds and bust coveys. But those crowding dogs do very well at trials on planted or released birds. Coincidence? Probably not.
Short videos of my training methods are available on the Snowbound Kennels Facebook page.