GUN DOG Q&A: Pointing Dog Issues
April 12, 2016
I have a 16-month-old vizsla that unctions as a family pet and as my first gun dog. One problem I am having is that he is breaking point to come and stand beside me.
This isn't a blinking problem; he hunts very hard and enthusiastic and does not ignore bird scent whatsoever. No issues with birds, properly gun broken, no fear of picking up birds, and we are getting there with retrieves.
The other issue he has is a complete aversion to the check cord. When he sees it in the field, even if it's not on him, he completely shuts down and won't hunt. As soon as it's put away, he runs hard and with confidence.
Is there any advice you can give to help steady him and keep him on point? It really seems that he is showing me the bird then just trying to be overly obedient.
I suspect the fear of the check cord and leaving a point to come stand beside you are related. The vizsla generally is a pretty sensitive dog. This has some good points and some that are not so good.
The good part is that they learn quickly and they are trying hard to please. The bad part is they learn things you don't want them to learn just as quickly, or even more quickly than things you want them to learn. Learning is even faster and more permanent if there is something fearful involved.
I don't know what happened to make your dog fearful of the check cord. It might have gotten tangled around his feet so he couldn't move, or maybe he stepped on a thorn just as it was put on him or any of countless things that he has somehow associated something bad with the long line.
He quickly put two and two together and figures the check cord or any long line means something hurts or otherwise frightens him. Even seeing it lying some place means avoid it or something bad will follow.
He will probably always be frightened of it and leery of it. To illustrate how strong and long-lasting a learned fear can be — a dog of mine got shocked badly by a "hot" fence wire while on a casual walk around a field when he was 12 weeks old.
It took three days to get him to even go into that field again. Then, for the rest of his 13-year-life he never would go through a fence unless I stepped on the bottom wire and pulled up the second one.
He would not even cross a piece of wire lying on the ground until I put my foot on it and proved to him it was OK to step across it. He was a sensitive dog, the easiest to train that I ever had and an outstanding hunter.
The single hurt of a severe shock stayed up front in the memory box for a lifetime. Thousands of exposures to wire when no hurtful shock followed could not unlearn the single hurtful experience.
In a related vein, the misuse of an e-collar as a bird flushes has occasionally resulted in a fear of birds in pointing dogs, an obviously disastrous result.
Similarly, an imprudent or ill-timed shock of high intensity delivered just as a dog's mouth wraps around a shot bird can stop retrieving for all time as the one experience turns the duck into a fearful object that hurts. Yeah, stuff happens.
It is often nearly impossible to cure dogs (or people) of their fear of something or some situation once it is established.
The fear might sound irrational to someone who isn't fearful of the thing or situation — like, for example, the fear many people have of snakes — but when you consider the survival value of fear of something that can hurt or kill you, as dogs and people evolved to what we are today, it isn't irrational.
Fear was and is necessary for survival of dogs or humans or any animal, right up there with food and water. A fearless teenager who tries to take out a tree with his dad's car would have prolonged his lifespan if he'd had any fear.
Though fear is essential for survival, when a training tool like a check cord becomes the fear inducer, it is very counter-productive to dog training.
For solutions to your dog's behavior problem or behavior-related training problem, contact Ed Bailey at: firstname.lastname@example.org