Preventing Problems on the Flush
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
At a pointing dog training clinic that we attended many years ago, someone asked the prominent instructor, "What is the most common training error?" Without any hesitation he answered, "Flushing birds for the dog before he is ready." He then added, "After you think the dog is 'Whoa broke,' wait another month before you go to the front of the dog to flush birds."
In other words, prepare your dog thoroughly before confronting him with the excitement of a flush. In our video, "Whoa" for Pointing Dogs, we show the steps required to successfully develop steadiness. Even after you have taken the time to thoroughly break a dog to "whoa" in the yard, there is still a transitional stage when you begin working in the field.
During this transition, it is essential that the dog be successful on his birds. Too much excitement on the flush will cause the dog to break, leading to some type of correction. The dog will chain the events together -- birds equal corrections -- and will become less confident when pointing.
Keep it Calm
When we are working a dog through this transitional stage, we try to limit excitement. The first few times he points, don't flush the bird. Instead, start by using a bird restraint that allows you to pick up the bird the dog has pointed.
If the dog is within six feet of the bird, step between the bird and the dog before you pick up the bird. Put it in your bird bag, and release the dog to move on.
Next, repeat the previous scenario. This time, however, after you pick up the bird, tell the dog, "Whoa," and walk out in front of the dog about 20 feet. Now flight the bird, being sure to toss it away from the dog.
Increase Excitement Gradually
At first, do not stomp around kicking the brush, tossing your hat, or making sounds like the wing beats of a game bird. Excitement added to the flush can wait until the dog is steady. Once you become more confident about the dog's steadiness, you can gradually increase the excitement level during the flush.
With the beginning dog, if you are having trouble finding the bird even after relocating the dog, it is best to leave the bird there. Carry a spare bird with you for such occasions so that you will be able to produce a bird without causing too much commotion.
When you add gunfire to the flush, begin by shooting a blank gun before you flight the bird. Once the dog demonstrates that he will remain steady with this scenario, change the sequence and fire the gun while the bird is flying away.
Adding the Retrieve
After your dog has demonstrated that he is steady to wing and shot, start giving him a retrieve once in awhile. Begin by flushing the bird and allowing it to fly away. Then tell the dog "Whoa," move 20 feet out in front, and toss a dead bird for the dog to retrieve.
If all goes well, the next time you move out 20 feet from the dog, you can shoot a flighted bird for him to retrieve. Gradually move in closer to the dog until you can finally flush and shoot the birds he has pointed. You want to make sure that the dog has many repetitions of remaining steady.
Give the Dog a Comparison
However, at some point your dog will break on a flush. When he does, allow him to chase for about 10 yards, then give a reinforced "here" command using your e-collar. Now the most important part: Be sure to make the next bird flushed less exciting for the dog so that he will be successful at remaining steady.
The dog will learn quickly if you cause him to remain steady on the next bird pointed rather than setting up a situation that causes him to break repeatedly. By giving him this comparison, he will quickly learn that there is more pleasure derived from pointing birds and remaining steady than there is from breaking and chasing.
Dobbs Training Center