|When the dog shows that he understands the "here" command but may not be so quick to carry it out, I begin using the E-collar to deliver correction. I use the lowest stimulation level necessary to make the dog turn his head when I hold down the correction button. If the dog gives any vocal indication of pain, I know I’m using too high a stimulation level and move to a lower level. Having established the proper correction level, I repeat the "here" command and hold down the correction button. If the dog responds immediately, I release the correction button when the action is completed. If the dog hesitates, I reel him in with the check-cord while holding down the correction button, again releasing the button when the dog completes the action. |
After a two or three days of training with both check-cord and E-collar, most dogs learn to respond to the "here" command without any prompting from the check-cord. I then use the E-collar by itself to reinforce the command. After the dog successfully completes this phase of training, I use the E-collar only if the dog fails to respond promptly. The final phase of training is to remove the check-cord entirely and practice the command in the field, calling the dog from increasingly farther distances.
As you do this, keep some basic training tips in mind. Work on only one command at a time. Keep lessons short, about 10 minutes each. Practice every day if possible. Make sure to end each session on a positive, successful note even if you have to go back to a previously mastered step.
Of course, the E-collar isn’t the only modern aid that can simplify the training job. Perhaps the next most valuable is the electronic bird launcher. These ingenious devices hold a bird in place and then launch it into the air by remote control. Using a remote-controlled bird launcher, or a set of them, the trainer can determine the location of the bird and the timing of the flush. Nothing is left to chance.
I personally knew Jack Stuart, the Michigan trainer who invented the Stuart Game Bird Releaser, and admired him immensely. That being said, I never favored those early launchers; they were too loud when the mechanism was sprung, and many of my dogs were flinching and blinking them. I got so frustrated with them that I vowed never to use one again. Years later, I tried a different model that proved to be much quieter, but it was so small that a large pigeon couldn’t be used. Nothing happened to change my low opinion of launchers until Ed Rader showed me the Innotek Remote Bird Launcher. From that day on, I’ve never been without at least three of them. They are relatively quiet and roomy, and to top it off, I can operate them with the same remote transmitter that I use to control my dogs’ E-collars. Now I don’t have to fumble around with different remotes. (As I used to do with our TV and VCR remotes before I got a universal controller. Seems like I was never holding the right one when I needed it.)
Remote launchers are a wonderful adjunct to training, but I never work a puppy on one for his first bird. Instead, I throw pigeons or harnessed pigeons or let the dog frolic among raised quail until he gets bird crazy. Only when the pup becomes bold and chasing and needs to be staunched into a point do I use the launchers and check-cord. I work the dog in relatively open fields, being careful to hide the launcher in the clump and throw some grass on top of it so the dog can’t see it. If there isn’t a nice, steady breeze blowing across the ground to move the scent, I wait for another day when there is.
I’m always careful to maximize the dog’s success on his first day with the launcher. I work the dog downwind at right angles to the breeze, keeping a taut check-cord. When the dog first catches wind of the bird, he usually points or turns his head and body into the breeze. I stop the dog with the check-cord—I don’t jerk him but just hold the cord taut so the dog can’t move any further. If the dog lunges, I flush the bird and stop the dog gently after a short chase, letting the check-cord ease through my gloved hands. The dog will be able to see the bird at a distance, but I don’t allow an all-out chase. (Incidentally, I remain silent throughout all of this.) When the bird is long gone, I call the pup to me and work over to the next launcher. I don’t overdo it; two or three launches a day is enough.
When working with a launcher, a dog often flash points and lunges toward the scent in an effort to capture the prey. The moment the dog begins his pounce, the trainer should flush the bird. This teaches the dog that his pouncing only results in the bird’s escape. Meanwhile, the trainer gradually decreases the length of check-cord so that the dog’s chases get shorter and shorter. Chasing is fun to the pup. By convincing him that his movements cause the bird to escape and by removing the pleasure of the chase, the trainer forces the dog to point more and more as tries to figure out how to catch that bird. In this manner, the trainer in due time brings the dog’s pointing instinct to the surface.
The key for the trainer here is patience. Progress will be slow and uneven, and care must be taken not to rush things along. These are critical moments, and harshness will only cause harm. The trainer must have faith and not get frustrated. His or her efforts will be rewarded in time.
Naturally, there is a lot more to training a pointing dog than these brief paragraphs can possibly reveal. I can say, however, that it is easier to train a dog today than it has ever been. Electronic training aids in particular are tremendous shortcuts. The trainers of yesteryear were masters of their craft, but they could not bring near the number of dogs to perfection as can the trainers of today. Moreover, dogs that once would have been considered untrainable "outlaws" can be brought back within the fold by many of these new aids.
Finally, each year more and more hobbyists and amateurs than ever before are able to train dogs. I know because they’ve beaten me at field trials! Just goes to show that when technique meets technology, any dog can be a winner.