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Stop Your Dog from Chasing “Off-Game”

Discourage your dog from “off-game” by focusing their attention on birds.

Stop Your Dog from Chasing “Off-Game”

Developing an even stronger love for game birds is a great way to discourage off-game pursuits from your gun dog. (GUN DOG photo)

The brisk fall afternoon was a great reprieve from the heat of summer. The moisture that had come with the morning frost would aid in the scenting conditions. Sitting on top of my horse gave me a great view of the young pointer I had just turned loose. I watched with admiration as he made his way up the hill ahead of me. He had the right gait, and his athleticism was awe inspiring. His owner had told me that he was an extremely big running dog. This morning he was wasting no time in putting distance between us.

As he reached the top of the hill, I was glad to see him pause and look back at me. As an all-age horseback field trial enthusiast, I have really grown to appreciate a dog that keeps track of me. This pup’s first ten minutes on the ground, however, were a bit alarming. It is common for young dogs to run without much direction, haphazard in their ground pattern as they explore the countryside. There is so much for them to learn; how to stay to the front, where the birds hang out, how to use the wind. However, this pup was running with a lot of purpose. He had something on his mind. The way he raced right past the areas he may have found birds caught my attention. Now on the top of the hill, he paused and looked back to get my location, then promptly turned and faded over the top.


Watching my GPS, I could see that he was no longer heading the same direction I was, so I turned my horse and headed for the top of the hill. Cresting the ridge, I glanced back down at the transmitter to get a distance and direction: 600 yards to the south.

I saw the running deer first. Then, just as I suspected, I saw the pointer in hot pursuit. This pup was not hunting birds at all. He was hunting deer.

black and white french pointer standing in a field wearing an e-collar
A reliable GPS tracking device and collar are essential for big-running dogs. (Photo By: Jelena Safronova/Shutterstock.com)

Prime Rib to Pot Roast

The canyon the deer were dropping into was far too rugged and steep to ride a horse through. So, I rode along the ridgeline, hoping he would give up the chase and come back and join me. I remained on the ridgeline until the GPS showed the dog was four miles away. Having spent many years riding this country, I knew that I could not ride to him. The best way to get to where he was included a 30-mile drive around the mountain range. I turned my horse and headed back to the truck.

After a brief stop at the ranch to drop off my trailer and horse, I made the 30-mile drive. The drive was followed by a mile hike to gain the ridgeline where I was able to see into the country where my dog was, as indicated by the GPS. Before long I spotted him far below in a draw. Fortunately, the draw led to the ridge I was on. I knew he could hear my calls by his increase in speed. Soon he was standing by my side. He seemed as happy to find me as I was to find him.

Safely back at the truck, I suddenly became keenly aware of my intense hunger. The afternoon had gone much differently than planned. What I thought would be a short outing had turned into a bit of a marathon. If I hustled, I could get back to town before the local cafe closed for the night.

I had eaten at the local cafe on a few different occasions. Each time I had been there, I had eaten their prime rib. It was extremely good in my mind. As luck would have it, the sign in the entry way showed it was their special of the day.

The waiter was quick to come to my table once I was seated. I smiled as he walked up and I wasted no time ordering, “A large glass of water, no ice, a dinner salad warmed in the microwave for ten seconds (everyone knows salad is much more flavorful at room temperature than chilled), and your prime rib dinner, please.”

He smiled back apologetically and said, “Unfortunately, we are fresh out of prime rib.”

“Oh. Well, you’d better give me a minute to look at the menu.” What a disappointment! I couldn’t imagine that they would have anything else on the menu that would rival their prime rib. I might as well head for home and find some leftovers.

He must have seen the disappointment in my face. “I highly recommend our pot roast. It’s the chef’s specialty. People come from far and wide to eat it.” After a brief pause, just long enough to discern whether or not he was being honest with me, I responded, “I’ll take it.”

As I sat, enjoying the best pot roast I had ever eaten, I couldn’t help but smile. I love to observe the similarities in thinking patterns between humans and animals. In this case, I recognized that the process that moved me happily from prime rib to pot roast was the same process that I intended to use to move the pup from deer to game birds. The process includes three steps: Identify desires, replace, redirect.


Identify, Replace, Redirect

First, identify the desires being presented to me by the current action. In my case, I chose prime rib because it relieved my hunger and delighted my taste buds. For the pup, deer were exciting and satisfied his desire to hunt.

Second, create a replacement for the action. This is a critical step that I often see skipped. I’ve noticed, however, that crushing a dream without having an alternative to replace it with, usually results in a crushed individual. In my case, I was bothered by the loss of the prime rib until I found the pot roast satisfied my desires.

dog trainer with a young pointer puppy and a pigeon
Building a dog's love for game birds will aid greatly in bringing a stop to chasing deer. (GUN DOG photo)

Third, redirect from the original behavior to the new behavior. Hypothetically speaking, if I had both the prime rib and the pot roast in front of me, I may have tasted both and selected the pot roast without any persuasion at all. This would have been the smoothest transition. For the pup, it is possible that if his love for game birds is strong enough, he would just stop chasing deer altogether. If this is not the case, he will need to be redirected from the deer to the birds. In either case, a strong love for game birds will make the transition much easier for the dog.

When I got back out to the truck, I peeked in on the pup. “Hey bud, how’s it going in there?” Sometimes I find it nice to talk to someone other than myself, even if that someone is a dog. “I went into this place thinking that prime rib was the best dinner they had to offer. Who knew that the pot roast was the best in the land? I hope you are as easy to sell on game birds as I was on pot roast.”

I laughed at my own humor as I climbed back in the truck. Many people would be discouraged by a day like that. Not me. I was excited. It takes a very gifted athlete to do what that dog did that day. I knew it was just a matter of shaping his mind; to awaken his love for game birds and convert him to my ability to make his dreams come true. I believed we would become a formidable pair.

You might say this was based on a true story. Actually, I would have to say it was based on many true stories. The experiences I wrote about all happened in real life. The thirty-mile drive around the mountain range, the amazing canine athlete, the unwanted deer chases. I’ve personally seen them all.

There is a saying that I’ve heard passed around both in the dog training and horse training worlds. “To change behavior, you have to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.” Many people focus on “making the wrong thing hard” and forget to “make the right thing easy.” Yet that is where the real magic happens. Most often lasting change occurs, not because of punishment, but because an individual realizes that there is a more fulfilling way.

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