Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Flushing Birds for Your Dog

Last week I was explaining to a training buddy how to flush birds for her dog. As we were talking, I realized that as trainers, we are constantly adapting to each situation—both the dog situation and bird situation—and that makes for a myriad of flushing situations. Flushing in front of young pups is different than flushing in front of older pups. There is flushing for green-broke dogs versus broke dogs, birds in launchers versus planted birds or wild birds. How you flush can help your dog or hurt him, and while an entire book could be written on this topic, for now, here are a few tips:

1) Try not to flush birds for young pups. If your pup points, wait and see if he is bold enough to flush the bird himself. You want to build boldness in your pup around birds, and it begins here. By waiting, you give the bird a chance to move around, thereby allowing the pup to be tempted into getting closer and eventually making it fly. As pups get older and start holding point, do not mess around. Get up there and flush. Also, be careful how you approach the bird. If you walk in alongside your pup, your approach may act as a cue for him to go with you. Instead, make a half-circle around your pup, which encourages him to remain standing. Whenever possible, try to position yourself so you are already in front of him; this way, you can flush toward him. Being in front encourages him to hold point and discourages creeping.
2) During the steadying process, you want to do everything you can to encourage your dog to stand still. If you are working with launchers, you don’t need to walk all the way to the launcher. Once you are in front of your dog, you can launch the bird. Again, try to avoid walking in alongside him. It’s important to act calm whether you feel that way or not. If you are using releasers, you may have to walk farther to make the bird flush. Once your dog becomes steadier, you want to challenge him to remain standing by taking longer to put the bird in the air.
3) Once you move to loose quail, flushing requires more skill. Often you do not know where the bird is located, and you may find yourself longing for the control that the launcher releases gave you. Making the bird fly becomes a challenge, and sometimes you have to calmly walk a running bird away from your dog, and on occasion throw your hat to make it fly. Probably the biggest challenge at this stage is determining when to walk in front of your dog. A lot of dogs point and then begin to creep. Here is where the art of reading your dog’s intentions is so important. If your dog points but starts to creep as you approach, you may want to step back and see if he continues to creep. If he stops once you step back, he may move forward when you step forward again. Tapping him on the head and asking him to relocate may encourage him to remain standing, or, better yet, encourage him to pounce so you can get a good correction once the bird is in the air.
4) Having good flying quail and planting them in loose cover so they can escape if your dog pressures them are both critical ingredients for success. Murphy’s Law is always at work, and the dog with the problem is usually the dog that has the bad-luck bird work. Ideally, birds should flush as you walk in. If you have been stomping around and cannot produce a bird, it may make more sense to gently pick up your dog and carry him back a short distance before taking him on rather than relocating him into a quail that has buried itself in the grass. Picking up your dog may also be called for when the bird allows the dog to get too close. In other words, some situations are better avoided when you know they will likely end in your dog catching the bird.
5) If you have the opportunity to train on wild birds, make a small half-circle in front of your dog and then walk straight forward in the direction he is pointing. You want to be calm but aggressive, because these birds may be running. If nothing gets up, birds may be sitting tight. Walk back to your dog and then walk forward again, but this time walk more slowly and in a zigzag pattern.

Flushing is a difficult skill to learn. It really is more complicated than it appears, and takes a lot of experience on your part. If you pay close attention to each situation and try to learn from it, you will help your dog become steady. Dog training is a two-way street; both you and your dog have to learn so that together, you can help each other.