What Is A Point?

Pointing is the instinctive, prolonged pause before the pounce, and it is triggered by scent.

Problem
I have a six-month-old German shorthaired pointer. She responds to all the basic obedience terms like "sit," "here," "stay," etc. She also responds to most hunting commands we give when we are out in the field.


Overall, she is a very nice dog. But when we are out hunting she never seems to really point the birds. For example, once when we were walking in a cut corn field we saw two roosters and we knew for a fact she saw and smelled them too, but instead of going on point she ran up and started playing with the birds.

It had us kind of confused and upset, and it made us wonder if we spent too much money for a dog that doesn't point because this has happened every time there was a bird. So I was wondering if you could give us some tips on how to train our dog so that she points the birds and doesn't play with the birds.


Solution
Your dog is still a young pup and I am betting she will outgrow the puppy play and will soon be pointing perfectly.


Let's first talk about pointing so we agree what it is. A point is the pause before pouncing on something. All members of the dog family do it--foxes, coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs'┬Ževen the non-hunting breeds do it. All cats (domestic and wild) do it as well.

In the pointing breeds we have selected for holding this pause and we call it pointing. But the point itself is not a visual thing; it is olfactory--not sight, but smell. When hunting, a pointing dog seldom sees the game it is pointing until after it flushes. The dog smells game and stops; this stopping is the point.

Pups will often get into a pointing posture on things they see, such as dickey birds in the yard or butterflies. They also do it with a few feathers, a bird wing or a piece of cloth tied to a string on the end of a fishing rod and flicked around in the grass in front of them. This is really not pointing but stalking, a very slow advance to get close enough to pounce on it.

This spring, when the grass has grown about a foot tall, you can plant birds for her. A pigeon, under a tip-over wire cage, works well and is cheap to use. Bring her up toward a planted bird on a long leash with a light breeze coming from the bird toward your dog.

Bring her across the wind 10 to 15 feet from the bird. She should let you know when she smells it and she should stiffen into a point. Do not say anything loud or sharp; do not tell her "whoa," but just say a long, quiet drawn out "goooood girl" as you go hand over hand up the leash to her.

Put your hand under her tail and push her gently forward. She will push backward and get more intense. Then tip over the cage and let the bird fly away. You can release her so she can chase the first bird or two. After she has lots of enthusiasm for chasing you can hold her when the bird flushes and now is the time to give the command to "whoa," after the bird flushes and she wants to chase it.

At this time it would be good if you had a helper toss a dead bird and shoot a blank pistol so she can get the bird as though you shot it for her. Remember, you can staunch her up and make her more solid on the point, but the point is what the dog does when the smell goes into the nose and up to her brain with the message to stop and not take another step until the bird moves away.

Do not overdo pointing the bird in a cage. Usually two or three that she can chase and the same for the tossed dead bird when she has been stopped to flush is enough. If you overdo it, she will be pointing the cage plus the bird and may not point when there is only a bird with no cage.

As soon as she points on her own in a set-up situation, stop and get her on wild birds if possible. If that's not possible, use cage-reared birds that have been out for awhile, not just released in front of her.

Don't rush her. I think it is remarkable that she will sit and stay and come on command at only six months. You have a fast learner and a very cooperative dog that wants to learn so don't do anything to spoil it by expecting too much from her too soon.

Problem
I just finished reading your "Compulsive Possessiveness" article. I have a couple of questions to ask you regarding dog training and behavior.

First is my two-year-old Lab. He is very sensitive. I sent him to school with a well-known trainer. He came back fully trained but is still not a very aggressive, enthusiastic worker.

He gets bored easily so I vary his workouts and his routine. He's intelligent as Labs go. But how do I get him to be more confident and aggressive in the field?

Second is my seven-month-old springer spaniel. She is a terror. She never stops working.

Her temperament is much stronger than my Lab's but I am reluctant to send her to the trainer because I don't want her coming back timid. What would you suggest?

Solution
First, the Labrador retriever. Many professional trainers have a stock technique they use in training as though every dog is the same. Not all trainers, but many are that way because it is faster and more convenient.

A sensitive dog like your Lab is the hardest for them to train without doing damage. If your dog survived it okay and is still functioning reasonably well, the best thing you can do is get him into a lot of birds, preferably wild birds. Use him as a field dog on pheasants, for example.

Depending on whether you have access to wild birds where you live might make this suggestion impractical for you. If so, you might need to resort to strong flying planted birds like pigeons. But I know his enthusiasm will build as he gets exposure to birds that offer a challenge.

Second, your springer spaniel. I don't think she will be overly intimidated by a professional. But I suggest you go with her and get the pro to involve you with the training so you are the dog's handler.

If you are not her handler--in her mind, the one in control--and you haven't developed the necessary handler/dog rapport, she might be well trained when you get her home but because you will handle her differently than the professional trainer did, she will quickly revert to her old ways and become a terror again.

Problem
I own a two-year-old female black Lab. I got into duck hunting t

hree years ago and soon learned a dog was a must. She is the first dog I have every trained. I obedience trained her myself and have used many different books and DVDs to train her to retrieve and other hunting tricks.

Currently we are working on blinds. My dog is great, smart and fast learning. I spend a lot of time with her and she has also become a good member of my family which includes my wife, six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, plus a six-year-old Boston terrier.

The only real problem I have is she tends to be aggressive toward other dogs. I have a hunting buddy who has an 18-month-old male Lab that we have spent many hours with, training and working with my dog to be less aggressive toward him so that they can hunt together.

This has worked for the most part except when his dog wants to sniff at my dog and wants to play a lot, it seems that my dog gets tired of it and barks and snaps at him. We have been able to hunt them this year with few problems but I have noticed that my dog gets aggressive toward other dogs when she encounters one along the trail, or she will bark and growl from behind our fence at home.

This behavior is not what I want. Is there any training or advice you can give me for the issue with my friend's dog and and then with her aggression in general?

Solution
Sounds to me like you have done a good job training your dog and building a great relationship with her. But I don't interpret your dog as being aggressive.

The thing with your buddy's dog is that she is more mature than he is--females usually mature earlier than males, just like in people. He is like a teenage boy with a big case of raging hormones. He is sniffing at her because his hormones have kicked in and he will sniff every female the same way.

When he matures a bit, hunting will be more important than play and more important than his "oh boy, it's a girl" attitude. What your dog is doing is just trying to keep him in line and telling him to "grow up." It is not aggression.

The business of being defensive along a trail, particularly if she is on leash, is also normal for a dog that has a close relationship with its human. So is the barking from her yard when a dog or a strange person walks by. She is only telling everyone that it is her property. Again, this is not really being aggressive.

Most likely to escalate into aggression is the growling along the trail when meeting another dog on the walk. You can easily get her past this by exposing her to a lot of other dogs and rewarding her when she doesn't growl.

An even more efficient way would be to take her to an obedience class with a good obedience trainer. She would get lots of social interaction with other dogs and you would learn a lot from the hands-on obedience work.

For solutions to your dog's behavioral problem or behaviorally related training problem, you can contact Ed Bailey at edbailey@uoguelph.ca.

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