Thursday, October 31, 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Maurice Lindley developed a method using remote launchers and homing pigeons for steadying dogs (see Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs by Martha Greenlee). Launchers work best for training setups such as stop-to-flush and backing where the dog doesn’t have scent of the bird. If you want your dog to point a launcher, you need to be careful. If your dog gets too close, the launcher may scare him when the bird is ejected. Another problem is the dog knows the launcher is unnatural and he quickly figures out the bird isn’t free to move around. If you let your dog point too many launchers, he can turn them into a game filled with bad habits. I had a training buddy whose dog started out pointing launchers, but because she trained on them too long, her dog stopped pointing and started charging as soon as he smelled one. He wanted to make the bird fly.
A Higgin’s remote releaser works best for pointing setups. It is a metal cage with a lid that opens remotely so the bird is free to go when pressured by a dog. Dogs relate to releasers differently than launchers. While a launcher is usually planted in thick cover so the dog can’t see it, a releaser is planted in lighter cover. The bird can see the dog coming and the dog can see the bird, usually when the lid opens, and realizes he can catch it. The bird knows it better fly or else and if the dog makes a dive for the bird, he knows he’s the one putting it in the air.
In Maurice’s method, you use homing pigeons to develop your dog’s point, teach basic commands and introduce the e-collar during the first couple of months of the steadying process. You are building the foundation and all of the hours you spend in the training field will boil down to achieving one major accomplishment—teaching your dog the e-collar. You should be able to stop your dog with the e-collar as he is chasing a bird, and once he stops, you should be able to walk out in front of him while he remains standing. Once this accomplishment is achieved, your dog is ready to advance to loose birds.
The hardest part of training with homing pigeons is giving them up. Maurice puts it this way, “Launchers are great tools for a very short period of time.” Unfortunately, some amateur trainers get so comfortable with the control pigeons offer that they continue to train on them to the detriment of their dogs; or they return to pigeons after their dogs have already advanced to quail. Last month I watched a dog barely indicate a pigeon in a releaser. The dog looked miserable as his tail slowly wagged back and forth, his head turned away. The owner couldn’t understand why the dog looked so bad and described how beautiful he had looked pointing wild quail earlier in the year. I tried to explain that his dog was beyond pigeon work.
Once you move to loose birds, you don’t go back. Loose birds, usually quail, are more challenging to use and the training gets harder. More things have to go right to have success. You need good flying birds, proper cover, fast reflexes and skill with the e-collar. You no longer control the flush—the bird does. And you are going to make mistakes, lots of them, but your dog is going to handle them because you’ve already built a good foundation with homing pigeons. It’s easy to understand why some amateurs hesitate moving their dogs forward or they return to pigeons after their dogs have advanced to quail, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Sometimes you have to think about what is best for your dog and leave your comfort zone and the bad habits that result from training with pigeons too long. When your dog is ready to advance, you need to advance with him. It may be hard to do, no doubt about it, and you’ll miss the control you had with homing pigeons, but loose birds will make you a better trainer and your dog a better bird dog.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Good pointing dog trainers have an overview of the steadying process. They think less about specific training steps and more about training in broader terms. A good example is Bill West. If you ever spent time around Bill, you heard the terms on birds and around birds. When a dog was on birds, the dog had scent of a bird. When a dog was around birds, the dog knew birds were in the area or he saw birds fly, but no scent was involved. The difference between on birds and around birds may seem insignificant, but if you think about it, most training situations take place either on birds or around birds, and you may be surprised at how these two simple terms can help keep your dog happy and manage his level of excitement as you go through formal training.
One of the first rules in the Bill West method is to train a dog in a field where the dog is around birds. The dog thinks he can find birds so he is happy to be out there and in a good frame of mind to learn. When he does a good job, he is rewarded by being worked on birds. This bird contact increases his level of excitement, and he will look for birds in the next workout. Unfortunately, dogs that are worked in the backyard, where they haven’t found birds, rarely enjoy training and some lose interest altogether.
As training progresses, these two terms help you manage your dog’s level of excitement the same way you adjust a thermostat. Not hot enough, you work him on birds. Too hot, you work him around birds. Anytime your dog is around birds, he is calmer and you need less pressure to gain his attention. Here is where the majority of teaching takes place and where your dog learns to be obedient to your commands. Take the stand command. Teaching this command is basic obedience work, which most dogs find boring, but if your dog is worked around birds, he is in a good state of mind to learn and he stays relatively calm. And because he’s not on birds, you can get your hands on him, set him back, spin him or stroke him and you’re not coming between him and the bird.
If you make a mistake or notice your dog is less excited about being out there, you can work him on birds and quickly build back his excitement. Just last week, I was working a young dog and teaching him the e-collar cue for the stand command. About the third time I nicked him with the e-collar, he became concerned. As soon as I saw this change, I took him right to a bird and let him point it, and he became excited again.
Sometimes you have a dog on the end of a check-cord that is dragging you around and too excited to focus on training. You can lower his excitement level by working on obedience around birds, not on birds. It may take a couple of weeks of simply asking him to go with you and come to you on the check-cord, but until you gain his focus, he isn’t ready to work on birds. If you begin bird work before your dog is focused on training, you will have to use more pressure to teach him and this extra pressure often shows up as problems later on.
Bill West had two well-known students, pro trainers Bill Gibbons and Maurice Lindley, that developed their own unique methods for working dogs on birds and around birds. Bill Gibbons worked dogs in a procession where each dog, guided with a check-cord by a handler, followed behind another dog. The dog in front was brought in to point a bird while the other dogs were stopped and allowed to watch from behind. These dogs were around birds and this is where the basic obedience commands were taught. Maurice Lindley brought Bill to South Carolina to teach a seminar, and after watching Bill’s procession, he developed a launcher program to simulate Bill’s method of working around birds. (See Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs by Martha Greenlee).
As you gain a better understanding of the terms on birds and around birds, you’ll see how managing your dog’s energy level gives you a broader view of the steadying process. Whenever your dog seems too excited, you can work him on obedience around birds to regain his focus so you need less pressure to teach him, and if your dog seems bored or isn’t up for training, you can work him on birds to rekindle his excitement. During each workout, you are constantly making adjustments to the thermostat, turning it up or down, as you react to what your dog did or anticipate what he’s about to do. And as you learn to keep him happy and manage his energy level, you will discover that you are leaving far fewer fingerprints on your dog than ever before.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Understanding a dog’s body language separates good trainers from mediocre ones. A dog’s tail is one of the most expressive parts of his body and knowing how to read the tail is like looking through a window into his mind. Recently, I had an opportunity to observe a variety of tails when Maurice Lindley presented a pointing dog seminar at our kennel in Virginia. For three days, I watched Mo work a total of twenty dogs of different breeds, ages, sexes and levels of experience, and while their looks and actions were varied, their body language was the same. It was the universal language of pointing dogs.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
- When I start walking a pup in the field, I set a slow and steady pace. Anytime the pup putters or gets behind, I ignore him and continue walking so he has to run to catch up. I never say a word. As he runs to catch up, his instinct to be forward is awakened, and it isn’t long before he is paying attention to where I am and trying to stay in front of me.
- After a couple of weeks of walking a pup in the field and he is confident on the ground, I am ready to plant quail to develop his instinct to hunt and to point. I continue to walk at a slow and steady pace and try to approach the planted birds from downwind so he can smell them and begin using his nose to find them. Anytime he starts to make game, I stay back. By not being in the picture, I keep it between him and the bird. Each pup is different and some take more time to develop than others. As he learns to use his nose, he becomes skilled at finding birds and when he finds them he begins to stalk them. Eventually, the stalk turns into a point.