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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Now pointing breed owners may ask, "Why should I teach my dog to stop on runners? My dog is going to relocate a running bird and hold point." Take the following scenario: You and your dog are hunting from east to west, heading into the wind. Your dog goes on point, and you move up, but there is no flush. The bird has run off. Your dog releases to relocate, but the bird has hooked back toward the east and the dog is now taking foot scent and has reversed direction. Now the wind is blowing the bird’s body scent away from the dog. If the dog is moving more quickly than the bird, it will bump the bird, likely leaving you without a good shot. Now say you could have commanded "Whoa," either by voice or whistle, to make the dog stop. You could have moved up and released the dog, and when the bird finally did flush you would have been in a much better position for a shot. The key is understanding that a dog cannot body scent a bird from upwind and thus has little chance of pointing a bird that is running downwind.

As for the "how to’s" of teaching a dog to stop on runners, it really is not complicated. First, the dog must respond to the command "Whoa" (for pointing breeds), "Sit" or "Hup" (for flushers and retrievers), or the whistle. This means that when you command the dog to stop, it stops regardless of whether any birds are involved. If you cannot "Whoa" or "Sit" your dog at 30 yards without game being present, it is folly to expect the dog to stop when its adrenaline is pumping and it is pursuing a moving bird. So first teach the dog to stop with no birds.

I use a board (2 feet x 3 feet) to teach "Sit" or "Whoa." I place the board on the ground, then put the dog on the board and give the command. (Obviously, a pointing dog is simply going to stand still, not sit down.) If the dog moves off the board, I pick it up and put it back on the board. The reason I employ a board is that a dog must be corrected at the place of noncompliance. The board makes it easier for the dog to grasp the concept of place and that it is to remain stationary at the spot where I gave the command.

Once the dog will remain on the board until given a release command, I am ready to move it off the board. I then give the command one time, and if the dog complies at the spot where it was given the command, I praise it. If the dog fails, I pick it up and carry it back to that spot (the imaginary board). I gradually increase the distance between myself and the dog, always employing the concept of the imaginary board. Once I can stop the dog from any distance, I am ready to graduate to using birds.

I put the dog back on the board and give the command. I then toss a lock or Velcro wing pigeon (a bird that can’t fly) roughly 10 yards from the dog. If the dog moves, I return it to the board. I continue with this until I am confident the dog will perform with excellence.

I then move the dog off the board and repeat the exercise. I use a low cut field so the dog can see the bird. I command "Whoa" or "Sit" and then toss out the pheasant. The dog should remain stationary. It should know this game. I then hobble a pheasant so it can’t run as far as quickly. After the pheasant takes off running I release the dog. When the dog is away from me, I give the command to stop. If the dog stops, I walk to it, praise it and release it. If it does not stop, I do not give the command again. Instead I catch the dog (which will be dragging a check cord in the beginning) and return it to the imaginary board. With enough repetitions, I have a dog that I can stop on a running bird.

Teaching a dog to stop on runners is worth the investment of time and energy. It will give you a dog that’s in control, and you will have more success in the field. And who knows? You may even find those improved Cylinder chokes work better than they did this past season.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of Shooting Sportsman, "The Magazine of Wingshooting and Fine Guns." Be sure to visit

About the Author: Following a successful field trial career, George has focused his energies on the George Hickox School of Dog Training. This widely acclaimed, five-day program is limited to 12 students and their dogs per session at host facilities across the U.S. This program has developed a world-class reputation for bringing out the best in young dogs while providing a wealth of dog training knowledge to novice and seasoned handlers alike. George is also the Hunting Dogs Editor for Shooting Sportsman magazine and the host/producer of several award-winning videos. He recently co-authored a book for training flushing dogs: Hunt ’em Up! For more information on training products, books, videos or Grouse Wing services, visit

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