By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
Can you develop birdiness in a pup without indirectly teaching it that it's okay to chase birds? For years we've heard knowledgeable dog trainers and animal behaviorists insist: "Don't allow a pup to do something repeatedly that you don't want to become a habit." We all know that's sound advice.
Allowing a pup to chase birds in order to develop its desire to find birds is a very crude method. We say "crude" because allowing a young dog to chase birds will make it harder to steady that dog to wing and shot.
But sometimes it is necessary. If you are working with a dog that is short on inherent desire to get out and hunt, allowing the thrill of the chase can work wonders in this area. With repetition, the pup's desire to get out and find the birds will develop.
Bad Habits: Easier to Prevent than Cure
The problem with using bird chasing as a technique to increase birdiness is that the pup can become hooked on the "thrill of the chase" instead of on just finding the bird. Then, later on down the road, it will be much harder to teach that dog to be steady to wing and shot, because you have taught it as a pup that the sight of a flying bird means "GO!" instead of "Whoa." Ultimately, you'll have to be tougher on the dog that has had lots of fun chasing birds, because you have to "break a habit."
Lack of Birdiness
The trick is "compromise." If you have to allow chasing in a dog that needs more excitement to develop its interest in birds, then don't let it get out of hand. Have the pup drag a check cord most of the time during this stage of training. The check cord will give you the means to limit the amount of chasing, and communicate to the pup that the thrill can come from finding the birds, not from chasing them all over the field.
Here's a good technique to help accomplish the magic compromise. Place the birds in the open center of doughnut-shaped brush piles. (See Doughnuts for Bird Dogs, Part 18 of this series, in the November/December, 1995, issue of Pointing Dog Journal.) The doughnut shape prevents your youngster from bumping up the bird.
With the pup temporarily stopped by the wall of brush, you have time to get a hold of the of the check cord. When you get to the pup, restrain it with an arm under its flank and your hand on the collar to prevent "jumping in" when the bird is flushed. You can either use a bird launcher or have someone assist you by flushing the bird while you hold the pup.
If the pup you're working is one you allow to chase, then, when the bird flushes, restrain the pup with the check cord, but don't jerk with it. The purpose of the check cord is to prevent a bad habit from developing. The cord isn't there to correct the pup harshly (he hasn't been trained to "Whoa" in this situation, and doesn't know yet not to chase).
Sight-Chasing Tweety Birds
Once your dog has learned "Here" with the e-collar, you can prevent tweety bird chasing from developing into a bad habit. When the dog is running free and begins to chase a tweety bird, give your command to turn. If you have to give a second command, use your e-collar to turn the dog away from the direction it was headed.
If you are consistent in turning the dog away from tweety birds by using this technique, the dog will soon lose interest in chasing them.
Release a Dog from a Flush with the "Here" Command
Here's a final training tip on the topic of chasing. When a bird is flushed for your dog and has flown away, instead of using the command "All right" to release the dog, command "Here." That command will make it very clear to the dog not to chase. After all, "All right" is a release, and can be misinterpreted as permission to go after the bird.
When the dog comes to you, cast it off in a direction away from the flight of the bird. The dog will develop the habit of leaving flushed birds behind, and eventually won't even consider chasing them. If the dog doesn't obey your "Here" command, and chases after the flushed bird, always reinforce your second "Here" command with your e-collar.
Immediately put your dog into another area with planted birds. This will give the dog a chance to make a comparison: chasing leads to a reinforced "Here" command, hunting out in front of you quickly produces another bird.
As the dog's determination to hunt increases, gradually increase the length of time the dog hunts Pointing Dog Journal between finds by placing the birds farther and farther a part.
Dobbs Training Center