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Reinforcing steadiness: tips to prevent your dog from chasing birds.

(Problem) I have a seven-year-old Llewellin setter and he has turned out to be a great dog, both hunting and as a companion. When I first got him at seven weeks I fooled around with the "wing on a string" technique. I did it only a few rimes and then stopped. I was told not to do it at all with a puppy because I would be teaching him to point by sight rather than by using his nose.

After reading several articles regarding introducing pups to birds I noticed some "experts" say that you should use the "wing on a string" technique and that it will not change the outcome of your dog's pointing ability. My question is, should I or should I not use this technique? I am confused on what to believe. I ask this because there will be another setter in my life soon and I don't want to be paranoid about introducing him to birds.

I also have another question. When my Llewellin was a puppy I made it a practice never to shoot birds that he bumped rather than pointed. Is there a disadvantage to this practice? Supposedly, some hunters of the pointing breeds strictly look down on this practice of shooting birds that the dog has "bumped" rather than pointed. What are your feelings?

(Solution) I read the "expert" stuff too. They don't tell you what it is good for, only that it is good and won't hurt the dog's pointing. First of all, a dog "locking up" on the wing on a string is not really pointing. It is the dog stopping and holding steady in the presence of a moving object. It is really more closely associated with steadiness to flush and fall than to pointing.

What it does for a puppy's pointing is teach him to creep. This is especially serious if the wing is scented with pheasant or quail scent because the pup associates the smell with having to see the wing. Later, on a bird, the pup has to see what he smells so he creeps.

You did the right thing in letting your present dog see the wing only a very few times. You would be smart not to let a new pup see it more often. Notice how often you see a handler yell "Whoa!" just as the dog is showing signs of pointing. The reason is, the handier doesn't trust the dog. The handler expects him to creep in and mostly it is because he used the wing on a string.

Remember, a wing has nothing to do With introducing the dog to birds. It is only a tool to try to induce chasing so you can stop him. It has nothing to do with pointing, which is really a scent thing.

Your question on shooting "bumped" birds needs more than a yes or no answer. I think that as a rule for pointing dogs, don't shoot the first five or six birds the dog points, and of course, don't shoot flushed birds over a dog that is not staunch on point. Your dog should be pointing well and in control of himself, which means not chasing birds for half a mile after the flush, even assuming the dog did point well. To allow the dog to run a few steps is okay but a wild, out-of-control chase is not. Then start shooting pointed birds when the dog is doing everything right. After a few well handled birds, the dog will know what is wanted.

We also have to get straight what we mean when we say bumped. To me, a bumped bird is deliberately flushed: the dog smells it, knows it is there and leaps in trying to catch the bird, then chases it. But lots of birds are a surprise to the dog and handler. Standing five and a half or six feet above the dog and with a relatively poor sense of smell, we have no real clue about the vagaries of air movement down below our knees in the grass or weeds, or how many molecules of bird scent were left on the grass or the ground.

On a day when the wind is blowing 20 to 30 miles an hour and the birds are very skittish, any dog might accidentally flush a bird he never smelled because scent never reached the dog's olfactory epithelium--through no fault of the dog, I don't consider this a bumped bird. If the dog stops to flush I consider it as good as a point and have no qualms about shooting it.

To those who hunt only wild birds (as opposed to game farm birds) and that includes pheasant, quail and grouse, both woods and prairie grouse, but especially pheasant where only roosters may be taken, solid points are not your standard every bird occurrence. A stop to flush is an accidental flush in my mind. So I limit "bumped" to a deliberate flush when the dog knows the bird is there and flushes rather than points.

This is a reason for not shooting because it reinforces a behavior you don't want. Similarly, chased birds, whether pointed or not, should not be shot because it reinforces out of control chasing and this is also something you don't want. Shooting a stop-to-flush bird will reinforce behavior you do want so the bird should be shot.

Because the decision to shoot or not depends on the boundaries of the definition, the dog must be prepared before the situation arises. And that is what "whoa" is for and why it is one of the things taught early, along with walking at heel and "sit" and "stay."

"Whoa" can be a voice command or it can be a single blast on a whistle, or both. The dog should obey both equally. To teach this easily, start with the word and when the dog has learned it, use a whistle blast followed immediately by the word. Pair the two a few times and then try just the whistle. The dog will obey it just like the voice if you have paired them enough for the dog to chain the two together.

(Problem) I had my Lab steady when a bird got up, but I hunted with some friends whose dogs were NOT steady. So the first time I shot a grouse, my dog sat and watched the other dogs retrieve the bird. On the second bird shot, she broke and ran to beat the other dogs to it. Now she breaks, especially if there is a shot associated with the bird.

If it is a hen pheasant and no one shoots, she will chase it some but I can stop her and bring her back. But if someone shoots, she is gone after the bird to retrieve even if it isn't hit. How can I get her to stop chasing the birds?

I have not yelled at the dog when she takes off because I didn't want to be in the situation where I could not follow through on my discipline. I just let her go and went out and met her then heeled her back to the spot we were hunting and continued on our way--no reprimand, etc.

I felt I would re-teach her my expectations during the summer training session so that this autumn she would be steady again. I did not want her to learn to disobey me when in the field. Therefore I let her go and avoided all the ranting and whistle blowing. I was pretty sure it would not have been beneficial anyway

Please give me a course of action for getting her to stop chasing birds. Of course, all my training buddies use shock collars and I could resort to that if I can't accomplish it in other ways. This is important enough to me that I will use a collar if I can't do it otherwise.

(Solution) I think you can fix your training problem so you can have all you want. If I read you right, you want her steady to wing and shot but don't mind or maybe even want her to break on the fall of a shot bird.

To get the steady to wing, you need first to get her back to the point that when you tell her "whoa" or give her a single blast on the whistle to stop her, she stops every time even with distractions. That is, you must first get her back to where she was before the grouse hunting with other guys got her unhinged.

When you have accomplished that, the next step is to shoot a .22 blank and stop her with voice or whistle, whichever you are using. It must be in that sequence, shot followed within a few tenths of a second by "whoa." Pair the shot and the command a few times (six or eight, plus or minus). Then fire a shot when she is running around and she should stop dead.

Do it first in a confined area and then go to the field and do the same thing over again. After she hears the shot and "whoa" a few times in close succession, the shot will mean whoa. From then on the shot will stop her and you will only need to say "whoa, now and then to reinforce the meaning of the shot. That will be for her to stop dead like she hit a wall. So, the sequence is "whoa" followed by stop, then shot followed by "whoa" followed by stop, then shot followed by stop.

The next step will be to teach her to break to retrieve only on the fall of a bird. It is done the same way. I assume you tell her "fetch" as the command to retrieve so the word "fetch" means to break and run out to retrieve.

Start with a dummy or a dead bird. Launch it so it is going through the air when you shoot a blank shot. The shot stops her. At the instant the bird falls to the ground, tell her "fetch." Never say "fetch" until it is certain the bird has fallen. The fall must precede the command by the same few tenths of a second, just after the dummy or bird falls.

Here the sequence is "fetch" followed by run to retrieve; then, fall followed by "fetch" followed by run to retrieve; then fall followed by run to retrieve.

The timing on this will be harder to get than on the shot for whoa part. It will take a lot of lessons for her to get the whole picture to stop on shot and go only on fall, but she will then be a really finished gun dog.


For solutions to your dog's behavioral problems or behavior related training problems, you can contact Ed Bailey at
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Title Annotation:Fixing Behavior Problems
Author:Bailey, Ed
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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