Guidelines For Training A Pointing Dog

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.

April 2009

Over the past couple of months, we’ve discussed picking a breed, picking a breeder and then picking a puppy. Now that you have your puppy, what comes next?

The first thing you do is take the puppy to your veterinarian for a puppy check-up. This should include an x-ray for hip dysplasia. The next step I would recommend is enrolling in a local puppy obedience class. A puppy obedience class will introduce you as leader of the pack, provide an excellent socialization experience for your pup and provide introductory commands such as stay and come. It won’t be a complete obedience training experience but will provide a nice head start.

Before we get into more specific training for bird dogs, there are rules and guidelines for training and that’s what I’m covering this month. Clip and save these rules and guidelines and review them frequently throughout the entire life of your bird dog.

General Rules & Guidelines for Training A Pointing Dog:

All dogs are different. What might work for one dog, might not work for another. Get to know and understand your dog. Is it a little on the timid side? Is it strong willed…afraid of nothing? You need to know the personality of your dog.

Dogs are not machines. They may complete a training exercise perfectly and you say: “Wow, he’s got it now.” The next time out it’s like starting all over again. This leads to…

Patience, Persistent and Consistency. Yes, those are three golden words when it comes to pointing dog training. Don’t lose your cool; don’t become angry. Your dog will recognize and appreciate your patience. Training is a series of building blocks. You start with one very small success and build from there. But don’t be a wimp either…be persistent. And, be consistent. Don’t keep changing your training technique or your expectations. Practicing these three golden words will lead to mutual trust between you and your dog.

All obedience training begins in your yard, (or at obedience school) not in the field. If mistakes are made early in the training schedule either by you or your dog, they should be made in the yard, not in the field. Early experiences in the field should be positive and not contain a lot of correction. Early correction is done in the yard.

As a pup, praise for a job well done will go much farther than punishing failure.

The most important command, without any reservation, for a pointing dog is “whoa”. This command, if learned properly, will save your dog’s life, will be used for teaching a steady point, will be used for teaching steady to wing and shot and will be used when teaching honoring point. Teach it at six months and do it well.

For the first year, don’t be overly concerned if your dog chases birds. What you don’t want is the dog catching birds. This is typically not a problem with wild birds so let the dog chase

Professional trainers always say they would rather get a dog at one year old that has had no training than a dog that has been pressured to learn too early. A good timeline is two to three years to completely finish a dog. So, there is no rush.

E-collar training is used to correct non-compliance for a command already learned and understood; it is never used for teaching a command. If you don’t understand how to use an e-collar, seek professional advice. Used incorrectly, it can set back the training process and even ruin a good dog.

In the December 2007 edition of Shooting Sportsman, columnist Tom Davis interviewed the famous pointing dog trainer Gary Christensen. Gary trained one of the greatest bird dogs of all time…Elhew Snakefoot. Tom quoted Gary as follows: “The most important thing in dog training is what you don’t do.” In other words, don’t pressure your dog to develop too early. If you’ve done your homework and bought a pup from parents with a good performance and hunting background, the natural abilities will develop without a great deal of help from you. It’s the learned abilities such as steady to wing and shot that take a little more work.

Those are my 10 general rules and guidelines for training a pointing dog. In future columns, we’ll explore the actual training process in more depth.