By Rhett Kermicle
A dog that searches for birds in a consistent pattern covers ground efficiently and hunts with confidence. Whether you’re hunting quail, grouse or pheasants, the result is the same: more shooting opportunities.
We train our pointing dogs to run patterns by using what are known in pointing dog terms as “bending” drills. Upland flushing dogs should search with the same kind of consistency but usually at closer range than what is expected of pointing dogs. This is more often referred to as “quartering.” No matter what breed of dog, however, the concept is the same.
You can start bending drills after your dog has been introduced to birds and shooting. At this stage in your young dog’s life, he should have logged many hours running, chasing, flash-pointing and learning that birds are fun. Now you’re going to mold him into an efficient bird-finder.
First, go to an area with low cover and no distractions. Hook a 25- to 30-foot check cord to your dog’s collar, which should have an external D-ring that will allow you to guide the dog from either side. Now, pretending that you’re standing in the middle of a football field end zone, walk diagonally toward the area where the right hash marks would be found, allowing the dog to run in front of you. As the dog nears the end of the check cord, turn diagonally toward the other imaginary set of hash marks and give the dog a tug to guide him in that direction.
(Important: The dog should turn left when you go left and right when you go right; the collar’s D-ring makes it easier for you to guide him with the check cord. He must learn to always run to your front, not make a circle to change directions.)
After a few days of doing this drill twice a day, the dog will begin to anticipate when you’re going to turn. When you see that your dog has made this connection, you can phase in electronic collar stimulation and a voice or whistle command to reinforce this consistent pattern. Repeat the drill, but now when the dog is nearing the area where you want him to turn, deliver the lightest necessary e-collar stimulation and whistle or give a command. If the dog doesn’t respond, give a tug on the check cord. It won’t take long for him to figure out that the stimulation stops when he makes the turn.
Keep a few things in mind to help your dog learn and make him into the kind of hunter you want. One, after introducing the e-collar, don’t use stimulation every time you make the dog turn. You want to give the dog the chance to make the turn himself. Second, if you want to condition your dog to hunt farther out, don’t turn as often. The dog will soon be checking back to make sure he’s in front of you. If you aren’t turning, he should keep heading in the same direction, which translates into working farther in front of you, until you turn or tell him to change directions. Lastly, if you’re going to use your dog for hunting in heavier cover, grouse hunting for example, transition into such cover while repeating these drills.
When your dog is looking back often to check your direction and is responding well to your commands to change direction, drop the check cord but have the dog continue running with it attached to his collar. You can always pick it up for reinforcement if necessary. After five or six good sessions, you should be able to get rid of the check cord altogether.
As the final test, repeat these drills with distractions such as other people or dogs in your training field. Your dog should ignore these distractions and continue responding to you.
Note: As with all dog-training programs, bending is a step that builds upon previous exercises. Please refer to the articles in this section for information on properly introducing your dog to an e-collar before working on this drill.