September 23, 2010
Plus, Thoughts On Whistle Response
Problem: I have a wonderful German shorthaired pointer, approximately 21 months old. I would not trade her for the world, but when we go into the field for pheasant hunting she will not leave my side. My son-in-law refers to her as a "sticky dog."
Last season she would run with no problem. Other than having her spayed I have no idea why she will not leave my side. What is the reason for this behavior and how do I correct it?
Solution: Before I can tell you how to encourage her to search, we have to figure out what started the problem. As you know, when a dog goes out in the field, there are millions of things that can happen and any of them alone or in some combination could influence the dog's behavior or changes in it. How much influence any one thing can have also depends on the temperament of the dog.
Spaying alone would not change the dog's enthusiasm for hunting, but the reason she was spayed might. And the spay itself is a pretty invasive procedure so the dog could still be in pain and not want to run. Has your vet given her a clean health record and told you she is ready to run? These are the first questions that need to be answered.
Now for the dog herself. Describe her temperament--is she a very sensitive dog or is she a hard, stubborn dog? Did she run at all after her surgical procedure or has she been reticent and subdued from the moment she was healed up? What is her attitude when walking at your side? Is her tail up, head up and alert, or is she subdued, tail down, head down and dragging, or is she fearful, tail down, looking around with sort of a freaked out expression?
Are her eyes wide, large pupils, nervous looking, are they droopy, staring at the ground, or are they clear, alert looking?
Has she had a shock collar on as a means of training her or trying to push her out? How does she act when getting into bird scent? Has she been on planted birds, pigeons or other birds that can fly? If allowed to chase a flushed bird, how does she respond? Does she have the same lack of enthusiasm for birds as for searching? Has she been punished in any way for catching a bird?
What was her retrieve training like? Does she do it willingly or was she forced by ear pinching, shocking, etc.? How does she respond to shooting? What things have you done to try to get her to reach out farther? Have you done all the training or has someone or several people been working with her? Have you seen her parents or any of her littermates? If so, how are they?
I am not trying to lay blame; I am trying to determine a cause so we can fix it. Therefore, try to answer any of the questions above that you think could have something to do with her change, or that describes it. And if you can think of anything else dealing with her personality, her training, her breeding, her home environment, no matter how farfetched it might seem, let me know about it so I can try to get a handle on what is going through her head and why it's there so we can get a start on fixing her up to be the dog you had last year.
Answers To Questions:Emi was spayed because her brother also lived with us at the time and since I refused to inbreed her and he became such a problem when she was in heat, I made the decision to have her spayed. I did not take her into the field after her surgery until she was able to run my large back yard (at her own pace) and the vet gave her a clean bill of health.
Her temperament is very "loving." I do not consider her stubborn at all.
Her running after surgery was very gradual and as I said, it occurred at her own pace. I did not attempt to make her run or do any other physical activity. She basically did what she felt she could do.
Her attitude when walking at my side is rather nondescript. Her tail is not down as if she were scared but neither is it up as if she is on point. It is like she is just out for a Sunday walk. Being a shorthair she always seems to be droopy but her eyes seem to be alert. She does not seem to be nervous. She does "perk up" at the sound of a gunshot but she does not freak out and run for the truck.
I do use a shock collar but only to rein her in if she gets too far afield. I use more praise than anything else but occasionally use treats.
Now comes what might be part of the problem. I am trying to train her on my own (can't afford to send her to school) and probably have no idea what I am doing. Last year she was allowed to mostly run with my son-in-law's dogs. She did show interest in the birds and did make some nice points. This year she seems to have no interest at all. I will admit that we did not do very much during the summer. She has not worked with pigeons.
I have not tried to get her to reach out mainly because I didn't know what to do.
Now for some new information: I have changed hunting areas the last couple of weekends from a brushy area with goldenrod, etc., that was at least five feet tall to a more open, grassy field environment.
She hit the field and took off. Is it possible that she just didn't like the original area that we were hunting in?
Possible Causes And Solutions: Thank you for answering the questions I posed. I was trying to get a picture of what has and/or is going on with Emi in order to get a handle on what the problem(s) might be so we can get some ways to fix things.
I think Emi is a very cooperative dog, on the sensitive side, meaning she is tuned into you, wants to please by trying to do what she thinks you want. I think she is a dog who will need very little correction. A harsh word is all that is needed to correct a mistake she might make.
Two things you told me could have had an influence on her desire to stay too close in heavy cover. I think running her with your son-in-law's dogs got her to depend on them to lead her. It is her temperament to follow and not to lead. The more you work her alone, the better she will become. She will get more self-confidence.
This brings me to what you said about the height and density of the cover. A good cooperative versatile gun dog will close in when the cover is dense and will reach out farther when the cover is low and sparse. Emi is doing this. But she carried it a little too far by staying too close to you.
Partly this is lack of self-confidence so she wants to maintain contact with you. She needs to know exactly where you are to bolster her confidence.
When she has another dog to follow it is not so important to her to know where you are, but without another dog she needs you to depend on. This too will change as she gets more self-confidence.
Another thing that could have
influenced her is being hacked in. You said you shock her when she gets out too far. She is a sensitive dog so she will quickly pick up on the fact that if she loses contact with you she will get a shock.
In the heavy cover she can't be far from you or she will lose visual contact so she stays very close. By going to an open area you allowed her to go out farther because you could see her and she could see you so she did go out.
I think you have an exceptional dog. She will gain self-confidence as she is allowed to run alone without another dog to follow. So my advice is to just keep working her in the open areas for a bit and then gradually get into increasingly heavier cover. She will make the transition and hopefully will keep closing in as the cover gets heavier, but not be walking by your knee.
Final Response: I would like to clarify the shocking part of Emi's training. I have trained her to the whistle, to which she responds extremely well. The only time that she gets a shock is when she ranges to the point that it is difficult to hear her beeper and she is not responding to the whistle or when it appears she is running into danger such as running onto a road. I am a big believer in praise versus other training techniques.
I ran her this past Sunday (last day of pheasant season here in Ohio) in a tall grassy area (just a little over ankle high) and I didn't think she would ever stop working. She was ranging far and wide with no apprehension at all. She would even move into some of the taller grass without coaxing. All in all, it seems that in the long run I was worried about nothing--she has made the transition you predicted.
Problem: I have hunted bird dogs for over 50 years and am baffled by the behavior of my seven- year-old English setter. She is a good bird dog that in all other ways can do it all. She honors, points, backs, retrieves. The problem I have with her is she seems to be directional in hearing when I blow my whistle.
I work her with a whistle and a beeper collar. If she cannot see me she acts confused and will lie down or just stand in place. I have to go to get her.
As soon as she sees me she will usually come to me but I have had to actually walk right to her. Continuing to just blow the whistle does not work. At other times she will come to me on command immediately from 100 yards. I would appreciate your input on this behavior.
Solution: One or more things could be bothering your dog. There could be a loss of hearing, more in one ear than the other so there is no longer binaural balance in hearing. This would give her problems in directional discrimination.
Usually this will occur in older dogs but for several reasons could happen in dogs as young as seven. One shot too close to the dog's ear could cause inner ear damage and loss of hearing in some frequency ranges. This could result in hearing your voice well but not being able to hear your whistle.
Long use of a beeper collar could result in neural accommodation to the frequency of the beeping. If your whistle was the in same frequency range she wouldn't be able to hear it.
These are nerve damage types of deafness.
There could be an obstruction in one ear or a yeast infection or infection from foxtail grass, where the awns have migrated deep into the ear canal and become infected. Even a wax blockage could cause it. Your veterinarian can help you if there is a blockage or infection.
Another thing that could cause the apparent loss of hearing would be if your beeper and the whistle were very similar in frequency so she cannot tell them apart. If the whistle sounds similar to the beep it would come to have no meaning to her because she has generalized all sounds similar to the beep.
A similar thing happened to a dog of mine at one time. I use a German double whistle with one side a trill and the other side a higher frequency beep sound. Two beeps was my signal to him to come in. I was hunting with a friend whose dog was wearing a beeper collar that gave two beeps very similar to my whistle.
My dog kept stopping and looking at me, then in the direction of the other dog and back again, very confused. After an hour or so I asked my friend if he could shut it off and he did. Then my dog behaved more normally but it took him several refresher lessons on coming to the whistle to get him back to a fail-safe response.
First have your vet check for an obstruction or an infection in the ear canal. If none, check how the dog reacts to the whistle when the beeper is off. If neither has any effect, have her hearing checked to see if there is a hearing loss. I am sure it will be one of these things, but if none of these things is occurring, she might just be yanking your chain, playing fun and games and needing a refresher course in coming on the whistle signal. But give her the benefit of the doubt first and check all the possibilities carefully before blaming her sense of humor.
For solutions to your dog's behavior problems or behavior related training problems, you can contact Ed Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org