Steadying and Honoring – The Finishing Touchesby James B. Spencer
What Is It?
This article covers the finishing touches in bird handling, namely steadying to wing and shot and honoring (or backing). Although treated separately throughout the article, the two are closely related, as you will see.
Steadying: The steady birddog, often called "steady to wing and shot," not only holds point until his handler flushes the bird(s), but also remains in place through all the ensuing excitement, namely, the flush, the shot(s), and the fall(s). He remains in place until either sent to retrieve or sent on to hunt again. What's more, the steady dog does not perpetrate a delayed chase. When sent on to continue hunting, he does not take off after the birds that flushed. Instead, he hunts in the direction indicated by his handler.
Honoring: A birddog honors (or backs) the point of another dog by stopping and assuming a pointing pose when he sees the other dog on point. The honoring dog does not move forward to pick up the scent of the birds himself-that is a fault called "stealing a point"-but stops wherever he happens to be when he first sees the other dog on point.
The honoring dog remains in place until sent on to hunt again. He does not break at the flush or when the pointing dog is sent to retrieve.
Why Do It?
Steadying: Many experienced pointing dog trained birddog owners say that steadying to wing and shot is unnecessary, which is true; that, in fact, most birddogs hunt a lifetime without being steadied, which is also true. They also claim that an unsteady dog retrieves more reliably because he gets to the downed bird more quickly-a claim that is open to debate.
However, anyone who has ever owned or even shot over a steady birddog will tell you it is very handy, even if it's not an absolute necessity. How so? In the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Let me count the ways."
First, the steady dog offers a safety advantage afield. When you flush birds in front of him, he won't-in his mad rush to chase them-take your legs out from under you as you mount your gun. Granted, an unsteady dog doesn't do that often because the hunter is seldom directly in its path, and even when he is, the dog often darts around him. However, it can happen, it does happen, and when it does, it causes gun accidents.
Second, the steady dog doesn't flush birds out of gun range while chasing fly-aways. This is a common problem with unsteady dogs. Every hen pheasant, every missed shot initiates a long chase. A dog chasing full-tilt through the cover is not hunting, so may well charge through other birds, thereby flushing them out of range. What's worse, he will probably then chase those birds in a new direction, perhaps flushing even more birds, and so on.
Third, the steady dog doesn't keep you from shooting at low-flying birds. Quail especially tend to skim the top of the cover. A chasing dog may be too close to such a bird to allow you to shoot safely. Some hunters don't hold their fire due to imperfect vision, excessive excitement, or poor judgment, so veterinarians around the country treat canine birdshot wounds every fall. Many of these dogs do not survive, and some of those that do never regain their full capabilities.
Fourth, contrary to the claims of many, the steady dog marks falls better than the chasing dog. Absolutely! Standing still, he can see where the bird comes down much better than he could if he were bouncing up and down while chasing. Granted, the chasing dog gets to the easy retrieves-the ones that any dog will get anyhow-more quickly, but he frequently mismarks the difficult falls. The steady dog drops many more of those birds into his boss's outstretched mitt than does the freewheeling chaser.
Want more reasons to steady your pointing dog trained birddog? Okay, here are three more quickies: The steady dog is easier to handle afield, the steady dog is easier to cure of chasing deer and livestock, and the steady dog retains his staunchness on point more reliably.
Had enough yet? Well, just in case you haven't, here's another: Steadiness is required in the higher levels of most dog games-field trials, hunting tests, and so forth. If you plan to do anything with your dog during the eight or nine months when you can't hunt, you must steady the beast.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention that steadying is so easy that anyone who enjoys messing with birddogs will enjoy doing it. Although it takes a lot of repetitions of a few drills, it is conceptually no more difficult than, say, teaching a dog to heel.
Honoring: When two or more dogs hunt together, they can untrain each other quickly unless each dog will honor the points of the other dog(s). The non-honoring dog steals points, frequently crowding and flushing birds in the process. It doesn't take much of that to induce the pointing dog to crowd and flush his own birds before his bracemate beats him to it. Before long, they are just wide-running flushing dogs out of pointing breed stock.
Of course, if you never hunt your dog with another dog, you needn't teach him to honor-unless you want to participate in off-season dog games (which you should).
Steadying: Before you can steady your birddog to wing and shot, he must be staunch on point, and he must stop to flush reliably.
Honoring: Before you can teach your pointing dog trained birddog to honor, he must be staunch on point and must stop to flush reliably. Although not absolutely necessary, you should consider delaying this training until you complete steadying your dog to wing and shot.