This tip is from Jim Zelienka of Badger Kennels, N 707 County Rd. JJ, Coloma, WI 54930; (715) 228-4971; firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim has been training professionally for 33 years. He trains all sporting breeds for hunting, but specializes in training pointing breeds for hunting, hunting tests and field trials. He also offers a variety of seminars and demonstrations. He breeds English setters, English springers, cockers and Labradors.
"The dog that honors, or backs, another dog's point won't interfere with the other dog's work," Jim said. "In other words, he doesn't knock birds, steal points or retrieve birds the pointing dog should be allowed to retrieve."
Jim said that backing has two distinct levels. In the first, the handler simply stops his dog with whoa at the appropriate time. This is adequate for those hunting situations in which the dogs are never out of sight. In the second level, the dog stops automatically when he recognizes that his bracemate is on point.
This is ideal for all hunting situations, whether or not the dogs are in sight. Although the backing dog should stop as soon as he recognizes that the other dog is on point, Jim acknowledges that most bird dogs seldom back from farther away than about 40 yards, no matter how far off they are when they first notice the other dog's point.
"Still, I've often seen a dog come over a rise and immediately stop and back at 75 yards or more," he said. "What a beautiful sight!"
Jim feels that the backing dog's posture, or style, is immaterial. He has seen too many dogs lose their intensity because their handlers fuss too much with them, trying to get them to assume a classical stance that their natures never intended.
"Styling is an art, and to do it right, you have to know what you're doing," he said.
Jim said that the prerequisites for training a bird dog to honor are as follows: He should be yard trained in basic obedience; he should have proven his desire to hunt and find birds; he should be steady to wing, shot and kill; and he should retrieve.
"All these control drills put the handler in charge and set the tone for both handling and further training," he said.
Jim uses silhouettes of dogs on point to teach a youngster to whoa at the sight of another dog on point. Initially he places his silhouettes in several semi-hidden places around the yard and heels the dog on lead from one to another, whoa-ing him as soon as he sees each one.
When the dog begins to stop automatically at the sight of each silhouette on this "milk run" route, Jim discontinues the whoa command and "talks" to the dog through the lead. When he no longer must correct the dog with the lead, he moves out into the field.
In light cover, he sets out a tethered bird and has an assistant handle the silhouette. He turns his dog loose in a place from which he cannot see the assistant or the silhouette.
While the dog hunts, the assistant sets the silhouette up like a dog pointing the tethered bird. As soon as the dog reaches a place from which he can see the silhouette, Jim stops him with whoa. Then he picks the dog up, carries him to a position downwind of the bird and sets him down again. Thus, the dog gets a snootful of bird scent, which tells him what's going on.
Jim stays with the dog and keeps him steady while his assistant walks in, flushes the bird and fires a blank shot. After a few repetitions, Jim starts placing his whoa-ed dog upwind and sidewind of the silhouette, where he can't scent the bird. When the dog is reliable as sight-honoring the silhouette, Jim begins using a variety of silhouettes simulating different breeds of dogs. Finally he has the dog honor other dogs on point.
"As an added incentive, I often carry an extra quail," Jim said. "When my dog backs, I wait a few seconds, then dizzy the quail and let my dog see me toss it into cover where he can't smell it. This really adds to his intensity while honoring."
As a final thought, Jim warned that you shouldn't hunt your trained bird dog with an outlaw dog that bumps birds, steals points, steals retrieves and so forth.
"Even a well-trained and seasoned dog will put up with only so much of that before he starts taking liberties, too."