The Most Important Command: Pointing Breeds
September 23, 2010
Robert J. Ecker
"Whoa is the most important command for pointing dogs," Robert said. "Preventing the dog from flushing birds prematurely is absolutely essential for a successful and enjoyable hunt in the uplands, and you can't prevent that reliably unless your dog is thoroughly broke on Whoa. But with proper Whoa training, he'll be very easy to handle on birds."
Robert pointed out that the Whoa command has many other uses, both in the field and around home. Examples of its other uses in the field are preventing a dog from running into an unsafe area, like onto a road, and stopping a dog that is chasing a wild-flushed or missed bird. Around home, it comes in handy when visitors arrive, or when your dog starts chasing a stray cat toward the street.
Robert recommends that you start teaching your pup Whoa almost as soon as you bring him home, but he insists that you should do it very gently. Start out by having him stand still while you pet and praise him as you whisper "Whoa" several times. The pleasant associations he will make between that command word and all that attention you're giving him as you say it will help him form a very positive attitude toward Whoa.
"Serious Whoa training," Robert said, "should begin at between six and 10 months. Here at Midnight Kennel we start this by walking the dog on lead in the yard, stopping him with the lead each time we say Whoa. We gradually switch from the lead to the e-collar.
When he is quite reliable at this basic yard drill, we introduce various distractions to tempt him to move after he stops. If he moves, we correct him. If he remains standing still, we praise him."
After the dog consistently stands firm and remains standing on Whoa in these yard drills, Robert takes him out into the field, where he starts tossing fly-away birds in front of the whoa-ed dog. This really tempts the youngster to break and chase. With enough appropriate corrections and praise, the dog learns to stand still as birds fly away in front of him. At that point, Robert feels the dog is ready to be steadied to wing and shot on pointed birds.
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Robert recommends that, throughout the dog's active life, you work him on the Whoa command in various ways. For example, before letting a dog out of his dog box in the field, Robert says Whoa and insists that the dog remain inside the box with the door open until he's released. He also says Whoa before putting a collar, bell, or tracking device on his dog. At a field trial or while hunting, he says Whoa before releasing the dog to hunt.
And so on.
Robert has observed that many inexperienced trainers make a couple of serious mistakes.
First, some don't teach Whoa thoroughly enough. They don't go through all the distractions that Robert uses, like fly-away birds. Their dogs obey only under ideal circumstances and therefore ignore the command quite often while hunting, until the Whoa command becomes just an option, not a command. Second, on the other extreme, some over-train, especially with improper use of the e-collar, and take too much out of their dogs. This can, and often does, adversely affect the dog's style on point.
Robert's final thought: "Pointing dogs are supposed to find, point, and hold birds, not chase them. If you train your dog properly in Whoa, you'll be able to control him so that he not only find and points birds, but holds them for you."
This tip is from Robert J. Ecker, Jr., of Midnight Kennel, P.O. Box 84, Quakake, PA 18245; (570) 778-3009; website www.midnightkennel.com; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Robert has been training pointing breeds professionally for 23 years, specializing in training for hunting and American Field field trials. He participates in and judges American Field field trials. He breeds English setters and pointers.