column By: Alec Sparks | August, 19
“Unproductive” and “false” points are not uncommon with some dogs, but why was the point unproductive or false in the first place?
If a dog has a habit of unproductive points, you need to figure out the reason and address it through training. Other times a dog just needs more experience learning to sort out what’s a real bird and what’s not.
The unproductive point might not have even been unproductive. Perhaps the dog actually winded the bird in such close proximity it ran out. Stuff happens, and we shouldn’t expect all contacts to be successful. My foundation rule with most training scenarios: Don’t correct (or punish) a dog if you don’t know exactly what happened. In many cases correcting (or punishing) a dog when it’s doing its best is the cause of many undesirable behaviors, such as false pointing.
Another possibility is that point was established at a good distance, but the dog closed (crept) to the point the bird moved off. The bird could have just barely vacated so recently, enough scent remains to fool many dogs. Did your approach move the bird off?
Clearly some dogs have better scenting abilities than others. Watch multiple dogs work the same planted birds during the course of training; that’s very apparent. I’ve been told countless times over the years that “only the dog” can decide when to go on point because we don’t know what it’s actually smelling. The only part of that I actually agree with is, “We don’t know what it’s smelling.”
I totally believe you can train dogs to point when they first encounter solid scent, and I’ve done so with countless dogs. A great many point beautifully, but they want to do it at such a range it’s likely to overpressure the birds into moving off. This can be successfully addressed in thoughtful training, but unfortunately, ill-conceived or improperly implemented training/corrections or punishment ruins many perfectly fine dogs. Unfortunately, poor training can, in fact, lead to false pointing.
My definition of a false point is when the dog is pointing, but no bird is there. Sometimes this can just be a mistake. Other dogs just seem to love to point and will do it, as far as I can tell, randomly. Much of the time, false pointing is a man-made issue.
I generally ignore a dog that wants to false point and offer some words of encouragement to continue to hunt. I don’t stop walking, and I don’t make a flushing effort. If the dog continues to point or quickly reestablishes a false point, I just keep walking. “If you want to stand there, it’s fine by me, but I’m not stopping,” is the message I want to convey. I find the majority of dogs will move on rather than be left standing there alone. I have had to walk as far as a few hundred yards to get one dog to decide she better get going because I wasn’t waiting!
Dogs might be false pointing because there is nothing to point. If that’s the case, get them on more birds.
Man-made false pointing can be inadvertently developed from overpressuring the dog around birds. Just because your last dog, your other dog or your buddy’s dog could handle your pressure or level X of your collar well doesn’t mean another dog can. Some dogs can handle a heavy correction without missing a beat while others might develop unwanted behaviors from hearing a stern voice or being approached in a threatening manner. Don’t blame the sensitive dog; become a better trainer.
The pressure that might create false pointing usually comes from trying to improve the dog’s manners around birds in the form of being staunch or steady to wing/shot/fall. Conceptually simple, addressing those behaviors can take a high level of training skill to accomplish with many dogs. That’s one reason a fair number of people rely on whatever degree of natural bird handling ability the dog has. I hear all the time, “You can’t use a remote collar around birds or you’ll create problems.” More accurate would be, “A lot of people can’t. …”
Frequently, people try to fix problems created by pressure with more pressure. If I have a false pointing dog come in with what I attribute to a man-made issue, the absolute last thing I’m going to do is actively try to “fix it.” My usual Rx is to just let the dog hunt and point, asking nothing other than basic control, and letting them relax and hopefully realize nothing they perceive as bad is going to happen. Let them get some enjoyment out of it. All too often, we’re focused on our enjoyment, not the dog’s.
As with everything, understanding the problem is the first step in overcoming it.