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
September is the month for a pointing dog tune-up. My German shorthair has run freely this summer without discipline or correction. A well-trained dog, however, doesn’t forget his training. It’s not like beginning with a young, raw pupil. You do, however, start from the beginning…it simply takes less time.
A good training system follows a well-defined plan. Even with a trained dog, a tune-up must follow a plan. Here’s how to do it.
With a pointing dog, most of what we want happens when the dog stands still. So, even though my shorthair has had free run of our yard this summer, he’s been made to stand still at certain times. He must stand still (actually sit) just prior to receiving his food bowl. He must stand still when I put a collar on. He must stand still before entering the house and he must stand still before jumping out of the truck. A dog that stands still is prepared to learn.
Also, we practice the “whoa” command at least once or twice each week during off-season. “Whoa”, in my mind, is the most important command your pointing dog will learn.
For most pre-season field exercises, you’ll need live birds. Find a local source for quail and you’ll be all set. Unless you have a very large penned area, only get as many as you can use over a one-week period. Check the laws in your state for both keeping and training with pen-raised game birds.
A pre-season tune-up begins with “stopping to flush.” Stopping means standing still and, if he’s been made to stand still on a daily basis through out the year, stopping is an easy tune-up. You’ll need a partner for the first part of “stopping to flush.” Have your partner put two or three birds in a bird bag. You (with your dog on a lead or check cord) face your partner…about 20 to 30 feet apart. Have your partner simply take a bird and throw it in the air. Check your dog and make him stand still. Use “whoa” if necessary. This is “stopping to flush.” Repeat two or three more times until he reacts to the flush properly.
Within the next two or three days, plant two or three birds in a field. I strongly suggest you consider electronic launchers for this exercise. You want to duplicate a wild flush and that’s hard to do when planting a quail by hand. I use the DT Systems BL509 launcher (www.dtsystems.com). It’s the best launcher on the market. Also, with an electronic launcher, you can put your dog through many exercises on your own.
Run your dog on a long check-cord and up-wind from the planted birds. When about 50 feet from a bird, execute the launcher. If you did the first exercise correctly, your dog should stop to flush. If not, use the check cord and “whoa” command. Go back to exercise one if necessary. If you have more than one launcher, proceed to the next bird and repeat the exercise. When your dog stops to flush it’s time to move on to the next pre-season tune-up exercise.
The next exercise is steady to wing and shot. For a tune-up of an already trained dog, both steady to wing and steady to shot can be done at the same time. Again, if you have launchers, you can do this exercise with your dog without a helper. Plant two or three quail. Approach each bird, with your dog on a check cord, from down-wind. Natural instinct and previous work should produce a point. Flush the bird. If the “stopping to flush” exercise was successful, then stopping for flush in front of a point should be a snap. If your dog breaks, then go back to the “stopping to flush” exercise. When your dog stays steady to the flush in front of a point, then reward the dog with a “shot”. Either use a blank pistol, or, if working on the retrieve, actually shoot the bird. For the shot, you should have a partner. You can’t shoot and properly handle the dog during a training exercise. Remember, only shoot if the dog has remained steady for the flush.
If your dog was steady to the flush but breaks on the shot, then correct with the check-cord and “whoa” command. Do not permit the dog to retrieve the bird unless he’s been steady throughout the exercise. The retrieve is a reward for good dog work.
If you run more than one dog, the next exercise you need to work with is honoring point. Nothing is so frustrating to both a dog on point, or the dog’s owner/handler, than a poorly mannered dog that runs into a point and busts the bird. For a pre-season tune-up of an already trained dog, this exercise should be easy. This is yet another exercise where the electronic launcher is of great benefit. Plant your birds either by hand or with an electronic launcher. Allow the dog (a dog that is steady to wing and shot) that has been selected to point, to run freely, and point the bird. While the pointing dog remains staunch, bring the honoring dog (on a check-cord) around a corner of brush. For training, you want the honoring dog to suddenly see the pointing dog. Make sure there is a clear sight line. When the honoring dog sees the pointing dog, immediately command “whoa”. Alternate the dogs between pointing and honoring. Also, it’s important that the honoring dog remains steady throughout the flush and the shot. The bird belongs to the pointing dog.
Although the above exercises may appear to take a great deal of time, if properly prepared, you can accomplish this pre-season tune-up in one week. You need birds, a helper, a check-cord and a couple of dogs. Optional, but extremely helpful, are electronic launchers.
One item I have not listed is an e-collar. You must consult a professional trainer before using an e-collar with birds still on the ground. You could easily develop a bird-shy dog if you use an e-collar improperly.
The count down to the season opener is now upon us. Enjoy the season to the fullest with a well-trained dog. Begin your pre-season tune-up today!