GUN DOG Training: The Problem With Sit
August 19, 2014
Virtually all experienced pointing dog trainers will tell you training the command "sit" is a mistake. They're mostly right on this, for good reason.
But the problem with any mandate from on high is it rarely leaves wiggle room for real world situations. Many assume the warning against teaching the command means it should never be taught to any pointing dog for any reason. I don't buy that.
My four dogs all live in the house. I'll assume yours do too. Let's say one of your friends shows up with a six-pack. He knocks on your door, and in the space of a nanosecond, your dogs go absolutely bonkers. Is all this canine bouncing-off-the-walls really necessary? Couldn't your dogs just, like, chill out a little?
This is where sit is not only handy, it's almost required. In a perfect world, you'd bark out the command
"Sit!" and your perfectly trained dogs would immediately plant their hyperactive butts on the carpet. I've seen it happen.
One of my buddies had his spaniels trained to stay in the kitchen. The border between the linoleum kitchen floor and the carpeted living room was their personal boundary. On command, his dogs would sit on that line and crane their necks into the living room, not taking another step.
You may have noticed I didn't say my dogs are trained this well. The mandates from on high only go so far in the Carty household, and getting a dog to obey under that kind of distraction takes more time and effort than I've been willing to put in (so far). My guests are on their own.
In most other situations I'd give myself a B-plus. At the beginning and end of a hunt, I can command my dogs to sit on the tailgate for inspection and they'll do it (although not without occasional correction). In the field, I can command my dogs to sit to rearrange their collars or pull a thorn from their pads. And I've found that since there seems to be an endless supply of distractions that dogs use to avoid sitting, the "sit" command can serve as one way of building up their reservoir of self control when issued other commands as well.
There's one very good reason you don't teach sit right away — if taught too soon, it can complicate your training of the whoa command later on.
Maybe you've decided to teach your young dog the sit command up front. Or perhaps you're a recent convert from the Lab and spaniel ranks, whose members teach "sit" first as a matter of policy. Now you want to teach "whoa," the foundational command for pointing dogs. You've introduced the command, run your pup through several drills, and now you're ready for a trial run. You turn him loose, holler "whoa!" and...he sits.
This isn't an insurmountable problem, but it is a problem, and one you can easily avoid by teaching "sit" last, after your dog has mastered all his other commands. For the record, I've yet to see a single dog sit when given the whoa command on wild birds. But since you'll almost certainly be training your dog on planted (not wild) birds in the early stages of his development, sitting on the whoa command can get in the way.
Luckily, it's an easy fix. When your dog sits on the whoa command, simply walk out and lift him back up again. Don't give him a collar correction, which I've found almost always confuses the dog further. Hoist his back end off the ground and make him stand, then repeat whoa again.
Most dogs get the idea pretty quickly, although some can take several weeks. A very few will lapse into sitting on planted birds even months later, but if it's only an occasional lapse, I rarely worry about it, since, as I mentioned earlier, I've never found it to be a problem on wild birds.
In A Pinch
I train the sit command the same way I train everything else. First, by teaching the dog what the command means, then reinforcing it with a physical correction and ultimately with a collar correction. I do this the old fashioned way, by giving the command, then pulling up on the dog's collar (or lead), at the same time I gently but firmly push his back end to the ground.
This command, like all commands, is taught without a collar correction at first, although the dog can and probably should be wearing his e- collar if you plan to use it later on. All dogs will fight this initially, and big, strong dogs — English pointers, shorthairs, wirehairs, and the like — can make for tough sledding. Persevere. Once they figure out you're not going to hurt them they'll come around.
There are a couple training aids that can speed your progress. The first is a pinch collar. These collars, which look like something that was slapped on heretical party poopers during The Inquisition, aren't nearly as bad as they look, but will definitely get a stubborn dog's attention.
The second is a piggin' string, which you can buy in most feed and ranch supply stores. Or, for a bit more money, you can buy a "Wonder Lead," which is essentially the same thing. Both are nothing more than simple rope loops placed around a dog's neck that tighten up when the slack is pulled out of them.
Whatever you decide to use, most dogs grasp the concept of "sit," if not its perfect execution, in a few days to a week. Once they're obeying the command, I put them at heel (whether or not they've been trained to heel doesn't matter), and teach the dog to sit on command while he's walking beside me.
The process goes like this: attach a lead, pull the dog to your side, begin walking, and then give the sit command while simultaneously pulling up on the lead (or piggin' string). If necessary, give your pup some help by pushing his butt to the ground.
When he's up to speed on that concept — he doesn't have to be doing it perfectly — reinforce the command with light stimulation from his e-collar. Your dog is now trained to sit on command. How reliably he obeys will be determined in large part by how much you're willing to reinforce the command down the road.
You can make your dog sit at the beginning of a hunt while you fit him with his collars; at the end of a hunt while you give him an inspection before putting him back in his kennel; in the field for any reason you can think of, and last but not least, when friends with free spirits pay you a visit.
Who knew dogs could get that excited about beer?
From down under, John Hoy (Lower Southgate, NSW Australia) submitted this photo of Gerty at nine weeks. John notes that Gerty's tail is not docked as it is against Australian law.
Birds! Bugs! Bananas! These are a few of eight-month-old Tully's favorite things, according to Greg and Annette Snow of Vancouver, WA.
Casey Jones is a two-month-old black Lab who enjoys watching the Red Sox and taking naps. He is owned by Edward Bilsky, Ph.D.
I didn't do it, honest! This Brittany, named Abbey Road, certainly LOOKS guilty!
Kevin Richardson, of Roscoe, Illinois, says that Bullet, his 10-month-old Brittany, loves the water almost as much as he loves pheasants...'almost!'
POINT taken! Valentine, at 10 weeks, pointing a pen-raised quail. The Brittany is owned by the Harrison family of Jonesville, LA.
Four-month-old Midge, an English cocker, may look sweet here, but she will be terror on pheasants, predicts owner Dick Greene, of West Yellowstone, MT.
Now what? Field-bred English cocker Rowdy is looking back at his hunting companion (a yellow lab named Doc) asking, 'œNow that I've retrieved it, what do I do with it?'
Bath time for eight-week-old English setter Cody. Jack York of Colorado Springs, CO, says although Cody is not fond of baths, he is on track to becoming an excellent hunter.
Twelve-week-old English setter Yuma takes a break for lunch during a grouse hunt in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Yuma is owned by Tom Milakovic of Michigan City, IN.
Resting up for hunting season is Angelette Mon Diamant. 'œAngel' is a 12-week-old French Brittany spaniel.
Minnesota's FS Dakota after her first hunt at 7 1/2-months. This lovely French spaniel is owned by Karla and Paul Fischenich.
Four-month-old Fred has a taste for trailer wiring harnesses, huntng gloves...and anything green! Nevertheless, Derek Wenzel, of Livonia, MI, says he could not have asked for a better German shorthair.
Three-month-old Gauge, a German shorthair, loves to play with his DeadFowl pheasant and jump off the dock into the pond, according to owner Nathan Sherwin, of Blackstone, VA.
Worth every mile! Steve and Cindy Hutson traveled from North Carolina to Jasper, MO, to pick up Karli, their three-month-old German shorthaired pointer.
'œBEE CAREFUL!' Grant Stencil of Bonita, California, says his German shorthaired pointer, Rosie, loves pointing bees in the backyard. Amazingly, to date she has not been stung.
Matt Davis submitted this photo of his first bird dog, Sawyer, a six-week-old German shorthaired pointer.
Life is good! Ten-month-old German shorthaired pointer River enjoys a pheasant wing in the afternoon sun. Ed Eick, of Rochester, MN, is River's owner and hunting companion.
Jeremy and Kasey Anthon, of Morrison, TN, submitted this photo of Sawyer Anthony, a 10-week-old German shorthaired pointer who LOVES ducks!
Ruger never fails to find and retrieve birds regardless of where they fall...water, blackberries, ANYWHERE! The 5-month-old German wirehair is owned by Kenneth Larson of Monroe, WA.
Picture Perfect! Coop is an 8-week-old German wirehaired pointer owned by William Swinarski, Jr., of Omaha, NE, and photographed by Adam Swinarski of Swinarski Photography.
Lucky number nine! Norah Bones, a 10-month-old golden retriever, flushed and picked up nine birds while quail hunting in East Tennessee.
Wrap them up'¦I'll take them! These 8-week old Labrador retriever pups will soon be retrieving machines. Jasper, Calypso and Ragen are owned by TJ and Mercedes Jones of Laurel Hill, FL.
Simply a GREAT litter! 'œEvery one of these pups is being hunted,' says Ike English of Jackson, GA.
Dreaming of future days afield, Leo is a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Leo is owned by Dan and Pam Giberson of Okotoks, Alberta.
Life is a field of clover for this 3-month-old fox red Labrador retriever, Dawkins, owned by Hunter Moyer of Mifflinburg, PA.
You've got to start somewhere! Pointing low hanging fruit is Shiawassee's Smoking Joe (Joey) at 7 months. 'œHe is my best buddy for sure!' says Bob Versica of Manton, MI.
Life is just a breeze! Twelve-week-old springer Breeze is owned by Tony Del Giorgio of Eagle, ID.
Allie will retrieve anything, including blowing leaves. The 10-week old springer is owned by Gary Bondy of Brooklyn, MI.
Why can't I go? Three-month-old springer spaniel Murray was feeling a bit down after being told he was too young to go pheasant hunting. Brian Maher of West Chicago, IL, is Murray's owner.
CHEERS! Tommy is an 11-month-old springer spaniel from Vermont (where Switchback Ale is brewed). He belongs to Karen Cartier of Rutland, VT.
SURVIVOR! Maggie, now 10 years old, was photographed here at 8 weeks. An Epagneul Breton, Maggie has hunted all over the U.S. and survived a mountain lion attack two years ago while hunting in Arizona.
Dean Stainberg, of Redding, CA, submitted this photo of Cooper, his 7-month-old vizsla. Cooper earned his AKC Senior Hunter title at 11 months.
Liebchen, shown here holding a pheasant wing, is no doubt daydreaming of whole birds. Gregg Shunkwiler of Berrien Springs, MI, owns this 4-month-old vizsla pup.
Vacation can be exhausting! Four-month-old Weimaraner Nala is resting at her family's Northern Michigan cabin after a long walk through the woods.
Wirehaired pointing griffon Magnum at four months loves to hunt and enjoys boating and long walks through the forest.