September 23, 2010
It's the single most important command for every pointing dog.
Editor's note: In this issue Dave departs from his usual question-and-answer format to provide a detailed discussion on how to teach pointing dogs this most essential command...and he also includes a few "tricks of the trade" to expedite the process.
No matter how carefully the high road to dog training is mapped, most who undertake the education of their bird dogs will seek shortcuts. A few will even demand a magical solution to the task of training a good gun dog. Unfortunately, occult charms and magic wands are in short supply when it comes to training dogs.
If they exist, they go under the names of exposure to game and hard work. In fact, it is questionable whether there are any shortcuts, artificial means or techniques to develop a good hunting dog that points game. One does not teach a dog to hunt. That instinct is inborn in a good dog. It is nurtured by exposure to hunting cover and game and burnished through training procedures that ensure the response desired by the trainer.
To my notion, if given a proper start, most well bred pointing dogs will take it from there.
Following enough actual hunting, they will satisfy all but the discriminating hunter who prizes canine performance above all else. So let's concentrate on giving your pointer, setter or versatile (Brittany, German shorthair, German wirehair, et al.) a proper start in life. This "training" will revolve largely around the dog's learning one command, "Whoa!" The end of a good hunting season should find you gunning over at least a fair-to-middlin' country-broke shootin' dog.
Teach a pointing dog all the obedience commands you want; commands necessary at an early age for spaniels and retrievers. There is no harm in this when fooling with your pup in the house and yard. But I wouldn't put much emphasis on obedience training until your pup has had a lot of freedom afield, demonstrated some interest in game and boldness in cover.
Recognize that dogs of the pointing breeds take you hunting. The name of the game is searching for, finding and pointing birds, not instantaneous response to a command. Until a dog demonstrates an instinct and ability for this, there is little point in trying to instill some mechanical responses. It will also help if you will go along with the premise that the first season is for your pointing dog's education and development. Bagging birds is of secondary importance.
So get your pup afield as much as possible and hope he bangs into some wild birds. Birds are vital. As a hunter, you should know of some covers that hold game or belong to a hunting club that features artificially reared game released in natural cover. You may have to resort to "hand-planting" your own birds. But this is better done in preseason or post-season training to reinforce and refine the things your pointing dog should do while searching for and contacting wild game.
Yard training and formal routines may give you the best-trained dog in the country. But only exposure to and experience in handling birds will produce a good hunting dog. So, if you cannot steer your protégé into native birds, by all means pay your fee at some commercial hunting club or buy some game-farm propagated birds. Put them out for your dog to work.