Correcting Points & Creeping

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal

August 2011

This month’s column is about correcting two common faults with pointing dogs.

The first fault is a dog that has too many unproductive points. An unproductive is simply a good solid point but there is no bird. The most common cause of the unproductive point is that a bird has just left the area…either by flushing or running. A strong scent cone is still in the air, which causes the dog to point. An experienced dog recognizes the fading scent cone and will relocate. No harm here since, for a hunting dog, this is very important. A dog, however, holding point several times a day over stale scent will cause much frustration for the hunter. Here’s a good training tool too correct excessive unproductive points.

My good friend Calvin Robinson recently took me to meet the dean of New England pointing dog training…Bob Paucek. Bob has been training pointing dogs for almost 60 years (he’s 83). He’s seen it all. Bob’s technique for correcting excessive unproductive points is fairly simple. For this method to work, however, your dog must have a release queue such as a whistle to move forward or a verbal release command. Bob takes a large bird such as a pheasant and will rub the bird on the ground in two or three places and then actually plant the bird. When the dog points the scent from the first rub, Bob will whistle the dog forward. The same drill is repeated when the second and third rub are pointed. When the dog points the actual bird, Bob praises the dog while coming forward for the flush. The dog soon learns the difference between stale scent and fresh scent from a pinned bird. Give Bob’s technique a try.

The next fault is that the dog creeps or what many of the old-time trainers call cat-walking. Some folks confuse creeping with relocating. They’re two completely different actions. Creeping is when a dog establishes point, has the bird pinned, and then attempts to stalk the bird rather than stay staunch and wait for his hunter to come up and flush the bird. Creeping is absolutely forbidden and must be corrected immediately. Creeping will result in flushes long before the hunter has had an opportunity to locate their dog on point. This will cause much frustration for the hunter and his guests.

For many dogs, creeping will naturally go away once the dog realizes he can’t catch the bird. Er Shelley, the original Godfather (1920s) of all pointing dog training, said that if a pointing dog were allowed to run freely on a farm (with plenty of wild birds) during its first year, it would be 90% trained without ever encountering any formal training. Shelley’s application to the creeping issue is that if the dog is exposed to enough wild birds, he’ll quickly learn that there is no value in stalking a bird.

Very few of us have access to a large farm, with an abundance of wild birds. So, how do we correct creeping in today’s world? There are two training drills that must be completed prior to correcting creeping. You must have a dog obedient to the “whoa” command, and you must have a dog that has been carefully introduced to the e-collar. If your dog meets those criteria, then here’s how to correct creeping. Put a modern e-collar around the belly…with prongs touching the belly. We use the belly rather than the neck because we’re working around birds. It’s worth interjecting here that many pro-trainers still feel that an e-collar should never be used when a bird is on the ground. However, many other pro-trainers have developed an all-around application for the e-collar if used with care and thought. The care part being the use of low stimulation and the thought part being that we simply move the collar away from the bird…from the neck to the belly. If you stimulate from the neck with a bird on the ground, the dog may associate the stimulation with the bird and then become bird-shy. By placing the collar on the belly, the dog will associate the stimulation with a briar scratch or biting fly…but not the bird.

When the dog begins to creep, apply a low stimulation and then quickly give the “whoa” command. As soon as the dog stops, release the stimulation button. Then go to the dog, pick it up and return it to the original point location, set it down and then say “whoa”. This process may take a few repetitions but it will work.

Folks, this is August. Depending upon whether your hunting season begins in September or October, it means you’re getting short on training time. Make sure you’re on a schedule to assure that your dog is both physically and bird ready for opening day. The investment in time will provide much more enjoyable hours afield this fall.

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