Friday, April 1, 2011

Stay Out of the Way

You will often experience times in training when you don’t have a clue what to do. A Brittany pro trainer who has trained dogs to National Championship wins told me once that dog training involves a lot of guesswork. The trainer guesses, and the dog’s reactions tell him if he is right. Undoubtedly, the more dogs you have had on the end of a check-cord, the better your guesswork.
When I go to the training field, I carry a short list of rules in my head to guide me in making better guesses:

  • Don’t say anything.
·         Let the bird teach the dog.
These simple rules are part of the Bill West method. A few years ago I added another one to the list:

·         Stay out of the way.

Too often as trainers we think we know more than our dogs. For example, I see trainers using the whoa command to tell their dogs when to point. They tell them when to be cautious, where to hunt, and a hundred other things their dogs already know how to do, rather than simply letting their dogs learn on their own.
Last week I was working a two-year-old Brittany on quail in releasers. I had opened the releaser early and was letting him drag the check-cord as he hunted down the feed strip. When he got about halfway down, he pointed, and then he began to creep. Instead of yelling “Whoa” or nicking him with the e-collar, I stayed back and out of the way. Sure enough, he crept closer to the bird and then pounced big-time, putting the bird in the air and chasing it. Only after the bird flushed did I take charge and nick him with the e-collar as he chased. Once he stopped, I went to him and gently but firmly stood him up and walked in front to let him know that flushing the bird was my job.
The concept of staying out of a dog’s way is appropriate throughout all stages of training. Maurice Lindley recently posted his thoughts on a pointing dog message board regarding the concept of staying out of a dog’s way to help the dog learn to not blink (avoid game):

I have a dog right now for training that was made bird-shy with the gun. She thought if she found birds, the gun was coming too. The first couple of days of running this dog were very interesting. If a bird flushed close to her, she spun around and hightailed it out of the area. I just kept running her on birds and stayed out of the picture.
She started pointing some birds, but would leave the bird after a few seconds. I still stayed out of it. She returned to that bird after a few minutes and pointed it. I could see her getting her nerve up, and she started to creep real slow toward the bird, and finally, she flushed it and ran away. She did this about ten times, and I watched her getting a little bolder on each bird. Before long she was pointing and not blinking; she still hesitated when the bird flushed, but she was chasing it.
These last ten days, she has really come along, and is showing no fear; she’s very bold around game, and really hunting hard. With dogs like this, I find it best not to try and help them in any way. Allow them the time to figure it out and get over their fears on their own. Stay out of the way and let the dog learn.

A famous cutting-horse trainer said that the secret to training horses is knowing what the horse is going to do anyway. The same holds true for training dogs. If you get to know your bird dog—the intelligence, superior nose, and genes behind him—you will develop the confidence to stay out of the way and let him learn on his own so he can become the bird dog he was born to be.