Fixing Behavior Problems: Flushing on Command
September 18, 2012
I have a 1-year-old female yellow Lab. She retrieves well, has good distance control and knows commands. When hunting the first time at 8 months she was working with some pointers. When she got bird scent she would point. I liked that aspect of her breeding although it wasn't mentioned by the breeder.
Her release command is OK, which works with all her commands. However, when she was pointing she wouldn't release and flush the birds.
I called the breeder when I got home and talked to him about this situation and he said there was pointing in the parents. As I said, I like this aspect.
This last weekend we were shooting and working just her without the pointers and the same situation occurred. It seems if the bird started to move she would flush it, but if it didn't move she wouldn't go on command. I tried the two-blast on the whistle, which is her distant control command, and that didn't work, either.
I brought home some wings and was thinking of putting them on bumpers along with a long string and hiding them, then when she points (I hope) pulling the string and commanding OK to see if she would go for the bird.
Any thoughts? I don't really have access to live birds.
The OK release command isn't working because she wasn't commanded to point; she is pointing naturally. Chances are she would have pointed the first time she hit bird scent had the pointers not been there, just as she did on the most recent time out.
Most people would be happy to have your problem. They prefer to do their own flushing. A dog that points as staunchly as yours needs to be taught to flush on command if you want her to do the flushing. The important words here are "on command."
For this, you will need live birds. A bumper with wings tied to it is not going to work because she is pointing scent, not a visual thing going through the grass. Even if doused with all sorts of synthetic or real scent, a bumper is not the same as a live bird with its own scent, not by a long shot.
I assume the birds you shot were on a shooting preserve as it is May and open seasons are usually well over by now. However, that might be a source of birds for you in that there might be spent breeders or extra, left-over breeder birds. Regardless, you will definitely need to use live birds.
If there are no bird breeders in your area, perhaps the next best bet is a dog club such as a chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). I don't know where you live, but chances are there is a chapter not too far from you that you can join and then take advantage of their training help. They will have live birds for you to use to train your dog to flush on command.
The way to train your dog to flush on command is set out in NAVHDA's training book, The Training and Care of the Versatile Hunting Dog, by S. Winterhelt and myself. The following is a brief description of how to teach your dog to flush on command without harming the dog's natural pointing ability. It will take some time with a lot of hands-on work because you are going against what she is genetically programmed to doâ€”pointâ€“yet you want it totally under your control.
To teach your dog to flush, you will need to plant birds, or better, put birds in a launcher that you can spring remotely. Lead her on a long leash (30 feet) in the direction of the planted bird and when close, five to 10 yards maximum, bring her across the wind so she suddenly hits the scent of the bird. She will most likely point.
Tell her how great she is for pointing so nicely and then, excitedly, urge her forward, telling her to "flush it" or "get it up" or whatever command you want to use. Make the command something more specific than just an OK.
When she moves forward, even if it's only a step or two, flush the bird. Let her chase the first bird or two to build her excitement with lots of excited praise. Then you will need to stop her as soon as the planted bird is flushed.
It is essential that she stops to flush every time. Also, be careful at this point that she doesn't start anticipating the command and flush the bird before you tell her to. The object is to flush only on command, not before. Later, when hunting over her, you will want to be able to get up to her and into the best position to shoot before the bird is flushed.
When she is consistently flushing on command and stopping to flush, you should continue to handle the dog and have a helper shoot the flushed bird, then send her to retrieve it. But again, don't let her retrieve the bird until commanded to do so.
Typical barn pigeons are great birds for use in a remote flush bird launcher. They fly very well and are inexpensive compared to live pheasants or quail or chukar partridge. Plus, there usually are no game laws to worry about when shooting pigeons.
Let me know where you live, town and state, and I will check to see if there is a NAVHDA chapter nearby where you might be able to get help. In the meantime, be happy that you have the best of both worlds in your dog. She is a good retriever who points.
If you see she is getting confused to where she refuses to do the things she has been doing satisfactorily until now, remember the old expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." In other words, be happy with her pointing and retrieving and do the flushing yourself.
For solutions to your dog's behavior problems or behavior-based training problems, you can contact Ed Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org