Q&A: Losing Point
October 12, 2016
My Drahthaar pup was about 9 months old when hunting season started. I had done some training, including working on her point. She worked great during the season. She would hold point till I flushed the bird and she even backed my 4-year-old Drahthaar.
This spring I have a puppy test (JGHV) and so when I got a deal on planted pheasants I thought I could work on steadying her up. This is where the problem began.
She only pointed two of the 10 birds, and on those two I had to hold her back from busting in. I have been working her on some private land and all she does, once she catches wind, is bust in and flush the birds. I don't know where her point went and I am wondering if she will get it back...or how do I get her point back? Any ideas will help.
after exchanging several emails to gather more information, I think your pup learned to go in and flush a moving bird she could see, not smell. And letting her chase running quail at three months old probably contributed to this.
I know you said she did point after three birds, but these were sight points. What she was really doing was not pointing but stalking like a cat and pausing to pounce on the bird at the right moment. She hadn't learned to stop on smelling a bird, but on seeing one.
The next thing she did was always run with the older dog so she was imitating and competing with the older one, but she still hadn't completely caught on to scent pointing.
When you hunted her on pen-raised pheasants, that was like chasing the quail when she was 12 weeks old. So now she knows that birds she can see and that smell a certain way, pen-reared and fed commercial food and birds in some degree of shock like the birds she learned to go in on when they were shot, either dead or crippled, all are signals to her to charge right in.
She also learned to charge in fast because by hunting her with the older dog she had to compete to get the birds that were down. She goes fast and flat out because she wants to get there first. She doesn't know quite how to hunt because she depended on your older dog. All she knows is to run fast, get there first, charge in on what she can see or what smells like a crippled bird.
I don't think you would have any problems had you trained her alone and first taught her the basics of obedience and handling and, after she was under control, exposed to birds she could smell but not see after she had some self-control. She is a cooperative dog or she wouldn't be retrieving for you with no training. However, because the wrong things were learned, and it's not an inborn problem, they can be unlearned and turned around.
The first thing is she must learn to handle and to be in control of her own temperament. She will need that. You will need to teach her this in an area with no game. Do this by setting an example of the pattern you want, walk to the left so she goes out in front of you, then signal her and turn to the right until she gets the desired distance in front, then back left again.
She is cooperative enough that she will quickly learn to keep an eye on you and anticipate you. Gradually you will be able to cut down on your swings and handle her without correcting her. This will slow her down, make her pay closer attention and get some self-control into her search.
"However, because the wrong things were learned, and it's not an inborn problem, they can be unlearned and turned around."
The pointing will come next. She will need to learn to stop instantly and under all sorts of distractions before you go to birds. When she is fail-safe on whoa — I prefer the 'down' as it is more effective and once it is known, can be used to get the dog steady to wing, shot and fall — and she is handling well, run her on your friend's ground where the birds are wild but not hunted. Run her on a long check cord so when she starts to scent birds you can grab up the end of the line and control her.
You might need to stop her with a "whoa" (down) if she starts to bore in on the bird, but if she can't see it I think she will point or at the least, be very cautious. If she points, do not say whoa or any command or anything in a command-like voice. Croon to her, like "goooood girl" but keep it soft. Go hand over hand up the cord to right beside her if the bird holds and gently push her forward by pushing with one hand under her tail, pushing on her rump to staunch her up.
When she's solid, you can keep one hand on the check cord and go forward to flush the bird. If she tries to move, then you can whoa her. Flush the bird, keep her steady and give her lots of praise. Then wave her off into a direction different from where the bird flew. When she has that down pat, try her on planted birds in a tip-over cage or release trap doing it in the same way as above.
Maybe use chukar partridge as I expect that is what might be used in the HZP tests. If not, use whatever is used in your tests and in the way the birds are used. Be sure she cannot see the bird walking around, and be sure you work her alone, not with the older dog leading the way. After the test is over, these lessons will serve her well in hunting next fall too.
If you have more questions or run into problems, e-mail me and I will get right back to you. For solutions to your dog's training and behavior problems, contact Ed Bailey at: edbailey@uoguelph,ca