Developing a Work Ethic
Each pointing dog is an individual and goes through formal training differently. Some are always ready to work, while others aren’t able to handle the pressure and occasionally need time off. Some may even lose interest altogether. Amateur trainers often feel responsible when their dogs have problems in the field, but they may have nothing to do with it. Simply put, their dogs may lack a good work ethic.
The first time I heard this phrase in relation to pointing dogs was during an interview I did with a horseback pro trainer. I asked him what he looked for in a field trial dog, and he said he looked for a good work ethic. It took me a while to understand what he meant, and eventually to see it for myself: Dogs that can handle the pressures of training generally have a good work ethic, while those that quit often lack it.
Generally speaking, work ethic is inherited from the breed and, more specifically, from the pup’s parents. In order to understand this concept, you have to look at the type of work your dog was bred to do. Pointing breeds are bred to hunt birds, so the more desire they have to hunt, the better their work ethic. Some breeds, such as pointers, have been specifically bred to hunt birds, and thus have a superior work ethic. Versatile breeds may excel in other qualities—such as retrieving, swimming, or hunting other types of game—but may lack some of the pointer’s desire to hunt birds.
While your dog’s work ethic is inherited, there are some important things you can do to develop it, beginning when he is a pup. Expose your dog to birds and build his prey drive by taking him for runs in the field and letting him find birds. Don’t rush him or have lofty expectations. Each breed is different, so be patient and give your pup time to become totally focused on finding birds before you begin any kind of formal training. Remember: He isn’t on your timetable—you’re on his.
Maurice Lindley believes that the more desire a dog has to hunt birds, the easier he will go through formal training. “Dogs without a good work ethic are fine until you start asking more of them,” Maurice notes, “and then they decide training isn’t fun anymore and quit.”
I have owned both kinds of dogs. Some were always up for training; it didn’t matter what happened yesterday, or last week—they were ready to go at all times. I could make training mistakes, even put too much pressure on them, and they would still be ready to give me 100 percent. Sometimes these dogs were more challenging to work, but they always ended up going through the program faster. Their desire to hunt birds was so strong, they didn’t need any time off. On the other hand, I have also owned dogs that lacked a strong work ethic. They couldn’t take any pressure and were difficult to train. They frequently needed time off, and as a result, the training program took longer.
Bottom line: Not every dog is going to make a finished dog, and unfortunately, the issue isn’t always training; sometimes you just need a better dog.
Pointing dog breeders and owners often overlook this component, but a good work ethic can make a huge difference in how a dog goes through training. When purchasing a pup, look closely at the breed and the parents. Each parent should have one or more champions in a four-generation pedigree. Qualities such as a strong pointing instinct and natural ability are important, but if a dog don’t have a good work ethic, he will be more difficult to train in the long run. If you do your research and invest time developing your pup’s desire to hunt, you should have a dog that wants to give 100 percent in the field. Once you train a dog with a good work ethic, you will never want to go back.