Cutting The Chase
For the pointing dog, chasing flushing birds is a natural and instinctive reaction. To the dog, their prey is trying to escape. However, for many reasons, hunters should not want their pointing dog to chase.
Those reasons include safety of the dog, the chance of mistakenly flushing other birds and simply having an out-of-control situation with your dog. Let’s address each situation. There are hundreds of dogs that take lead, and many are fatal, each hunting season. A chasing dog runs under the bird(s) and is in the direct line of fire from the hunter. Another negative reason for your dog chasing is that he may accidentally flush other birds while pursuing his original prey. These accidentally flushed birds are now out of the picture for a point and a possible shot from the hunter. And, just as important, chasing dogs simply create mayhem in the field. Hunters are yelling and screaming, dogs are chasing and no one but the dogs are having fun.
To correct this disruptive situation, we do what is called “breaking” our dogs. We break them of their natural instinct to chase. This is most often done with check cords, e-collars, the “whoa” command, etc. We restrain them in some manner from chasing. Through repetitive training, we hope to correct the chasing.
However, there is another method that is easier and more lasting. I believe it was Hall of Fame trainer Delmar Smith that said the following. This is not an exact quote…I’m paraphrasing. If you force a dog to stop chasing, he’ll go to his grave wanting to chase one more time.
This past February, your author visited with Hall of Fame trainer Ferrell Miller at his farm in Kentucky. He invited me to ride along, on horseback, and watch a litter of puppies run in his fields. Having not been on horseback for many years, I was grateful that he provided a pretty sweet riding horse. I learned a critical lesson from Ferrell. Once a pup’s nose has developed, all well-bred pointing dogs will give you flash points in the two to three month age bracket. Some dog owners get very excited and think they have a phenom on their hands. They begin trying to steady up the dog by breaking it from chasing. This is wrong.
The young prospect needs to chase, chase and chase more. Don’t restrain the pup from chasing. Er Shelley, in his book Twentieth Century Bird Dog Training, tells how he’ll drop off a pup at a farm and pick it up one year later. It will be completely broke with absolutely no training. The pup learned that it could not catch the birds and finally just pointed. This book was written in 1921 so the “dropping off a a farm” may not be practical today, however, the concept is still solid. Let the dog self-train.
How do we do that today? Your author has a very nice German shorthaired pointer prospect. At two to four months, she was allowed to chase chukar around our back yard. Chukar will not be caught by a puppy. Early on, she would flash point and then chase. After two months, her points became longer and her chase became less. On her first hunting trip, the defining moment, at 5 ½ months, she gave us a solid point on a sharptail grouse in Montana. That wasn’t the end of her chasing, she alternated between pointing and chasing the remainder of the trip. But it was the beginning of her emergence as a pointing dog…not a chaser. At seven months, she now stays steady and holds her birds very nicely.
There is an old saying amongst pointing dog folks: brag about your dog and he will surely embarrass you. With that in mind, I’m not saying my young prospect is perfectly broke…she’ll have some hiccups. However, letting her train herself to stop chasing will be more permanent in the long run.
Paul Fuller has been an outdoor communicator since 1971. In addition to writing this column, Paul is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV show. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org