A pointing dog not pointing is a big problem. This is the basic behavior that we expect from our dogs. Our dog may find game and may retrieve and handle like a dream in the field. But if he doesn’t point, then the dog is essentially useless. He does not meet the most basic requirement we expected of the dog.
It is an often-asked question. Why is my pointing dog not pointing. The answers given are all over the place…the dog needs more birds, fewer birds. He needs to chase. He needs to stop chasing. He needs less pressure. He needs more pressure. Confusion ensues.
The purpose of this article is to explain why a dog points and why a dog that once pointed, now doesn’t. Understanding the “why” will help us understand the “how”.
A pointing dog points…
Pointing dogs point because they were bred to. It is not a learned behavior. In is an inbred behavior. It is there in the same way retrieving is part of a lab’s psyche. But if it is instinct, why do we ever need to train anything? Because every instinct gets altered and changed by the dog’s experience and learning. No animal is a total slave to his instincts. Deer still will preserve their lives during the rut, even though they are driven to mate by instinct. We have an instinct to breathe, but we can elect to hold our breath while swimming.
Folks in the retriever world fully understand this. They take a lab…one with a great deal of instinct for retrieving and then they will train a retrieve. They realize that instinct alone does not make a quality hunting dog.
A pointing dog not pointing…
A pointing dog stops because he learns to stop pointing. My last pup was pointing solidly at 14 weeks of age. I took him to a fun trial and he stood there like a puppy statue with a quail in front of him. By the time he got to 6 months of age, he was chasing grouse to the horizon. What happened is that he obtained some learning which caused him to override his instinct to point.
There are two things a dog can learn which will override the instinct to point: a) He learns birds can be caught. b) he learns that chasing is fun.
When a dog catches a bird on the ground, or even out of the air, the dog learns a lesson. He learns that birds can be caught. Remember, birds are like crack cocaine for these dogs. It only takes one hit for a pattern to be formed. One caught bird, one trapped bird can indelibly mark a dog. A lot of trainers will say that one caught bird will not matter. I’ve seen one caught bird totally alter a dog’s behavior.
Absolute Rule #1: Do not let your dog catch a bird.
Chasing Is Fun
Here is something that a lot of trainers don’t realize. Dogs chase because it is fun to chase. Many trainers think that the ultimate reward for a dog is to pick up the bird. But there are plenty of dogs who won’t pick up birds but still break point so they can chase.
An old adage is that if you let a dog chase birds, he will eventually learn he cannot catch them and start to point. This is a risky proposition. Certainly, there are dogs who, when first exposed to birds, chased a bit and then started pointing. At the same time, there are even more dogs who once pointed, but the point faded and gave way to more and more chasing.
Absolute Rule #2: Don’t let your dog chase a bird.
The Solution Big Picture
Generally speaking, you want the dog to learn only one lesson: holding point is the only thing that gets me what I want. The way this lesson is taught is to start shooting birds early and often that are handled correctly, not let a dog chase a bird, and not let a dog catch a bird (except for one that was shot). If you hold absolutely to these three ideals, you dog will be steady without needing a shock collar, choke chain, or prong collar. The dog will learn the lesson on his own, with minimal pressure from the handler.
In upcoming days, I hope to put out a part two which will get into some of the details to enact this plan.
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