Many owners, in their enthusiasm, handle their dogs with so much vigor that they damage the animal's training attitude. Rough-housing, excited praise and so forth may satisfy a human need, but it does nothing positive for the dog. At best, it excites him, releases him from control and makes him wonder who's in charge. At worst, it either so intimidates him that he can't respond to proper handling or so toughens him that he won't.

Dogs are canines, not humans. Thus, the trainer must apply the principles of canine, not human, psychology. Being a pack animal, each dog wants to understand his place in the pecking order. In every successful dog-training "pack," the dog recognizes the trainer is the dominant one--the pack leader. This may be old stuff, but no matter how often it has been repeated, many people still "don't get it."

"Touch" is critical. Whether training, hunting or relaxing around home, the way you touch your dog physically can either convey to him your position of dominance or confuse him about who's in charge. Perhaps the best one-word description for proper touch is "deliberate," that is, an expression of thought, not emotion. If you stroke your dog's shoulder firmly but calmly and gently, you reassure him and put yourself at the helm. If you rough him up excitedly, you lower yourself to his level and invite him to assert his dominance. Most dogs of the sporting breeds, especially the pointing breeds, are so tightly wired by nature that they seldom need to be pumped up by the boss. Mostly, they need to be settled down. Look at it this way: You should train your bird dog to have the nerves of a fighter pilot, not Bobo the Clown.

For example, when he's on point, approach him slowly, stroke his shoulder calmly, and say "Good dog" softly. That'll reassure him that you're pleased without breaking his concentration on the enchanting scent in his nostrils. If, on the other hand, you charge at him like a wild bull, slap him excitedly here and there, and bellow "Attaboy! Attaboy!" you'll probably panic him into break-and-chase mode. (You may also frighten the bird into flying.)

Touch is the essence of proper handling. If you touch your dog correctly, you'll also approach him and speak to him correctly. Proper touch seems to "steady" both the dog and the trainer. Thus, you should use it whenever you have occasion to praise your dog, whether pointing, retrieving, obeying some obedience command or whatever. He'll probably indicate when you are touching him correctly by what I call a "pleasure lick." As you stroke him, his mouth will open a little, the tip of his tongue will come out ever so slightly, then go back as his mouth closes.

To maintain a proper trainer/dog relationship, you should even make your bird dog's "off-hours recreation" job-related. Instead of playing with him as you would with a child, give him a few retrieves or run him through some obedience commands. This allows him to earn and experience your approval. Rough-housing? That satisfies a human, not a canine, need. Keep your dog razor-sharp by treating him according to the needs of his nature, not human nature.

A pro for 25 years, Jim trains all sporting breeds, but mostly pointing dogs. He occasionally competes in grouse trials and has judged American Field trials, but he concentrates on training gundogs for hunters. He breeds pointers and German shorthairs.

Contact: James S. Rypkema, Pine Hill Kennels & Sportsman's Club, 8347 10 Mile Road, Rockford, MI 49341; 616/874-8459.

Recommended for You


Grooming Tips for Gun Dogs

Dave Carty

A few common tools will keep your pup clean and comfortable in the field.

On Point

How Important Is a Gun Dog's Nose?

Dave Carty

You might be surprised to learn the impact of your pup's sense of smell.

The Retrieve

Keep Your Flushing Dog within Shotgun Range

Tom Dokken

Here's how to keep your hunting partner from slipping out of range.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 6

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 6

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Your Pup's First Year

Bob West - September 23, 2010

A step-by-step analysis on what to expect from your dog By Bob West The...


How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel

Jerry Thoms

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will...


Gun Dog Breeds: Standard Poodle

James Spencer

"Poodles hunt? You gotta be kiddin' me!"

See More Stories

More Training


Train Your Puppy to Maximize Hunting Potential

Tony J. Peterson

If you ask the right questions of your young bird dog, you'll be surprised at how many answers...


Choosing A Trainer For Your Gun Dog

Jerry Cacchio

No dog owner sets out to train a dog with high hopes of a mediocre companion. Learn how to...


How to Teach Your Dog the "Whoa" Command

Dave Carty

Follow these four methodical steps to to get your gun dog following this important command.

See More Training

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.