Enhancing Intensity in the Backing Dog

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Can you get an honoring dog to stop abruptly as if "slamming on point?" Can he look just as stylish on a back as he does when pointing? He can, if you teach him to associate the excitement of pointing birds with the picture of another dog standing still. We'll explain how below.

How Much of It's the Breeder's Job?

But before talking about training techniques that will create a stylish backing dog, be aware that you can only teach a dog to back as intensely as that particular dog points. If your dog isn't as intense on point as you'd like, remember that providing a strong pointing instinct is really the breeder's job, not the trainer's job. A strong inborn desire to point bird scent is essential for a stylish point, and therefore it's also essential for a stylish honor.

Understand the Dog's Point of View

Let's look at the difference between pointing and honoring from the dog's point of view. Quite simply, pointing comes from excitement, honoring comes from control. Who wouldn't have a different look about them in these two different situations?

The bird dog's natural instinct causes him to become excited when he makes game. So he's automatically more intense when he goes on point.

However, honoring is another matter. It's a "control situation," where the trained dog has simply learned that the sight of another dog on point means the same thing as his handler's command to "Whoa."

A "Natural Back"

Sometimes a pup will acquire a "natural back." These pups have learned to associate the sight of another dog on point with the presence of birds. For that reason, they'll "back" when they see their bracemate on point.

But for most dogs, a reliable honor requires careful training. This training is based on the control that comes from an enforceable "Whoa" command. How do you accomplish this and still develop style and intensity in the backing dog?

Cover the Basics First

First, teach the dog to stop to flush, using our "chaining" technique. The dog must, of course, already thoroughly understand "Whoa."

Then teach the dog to honor a pop-up silhouette dog by associating the sight of the popping-up silhouette with a flushing bird (which he already knows means "Whoa").

The "Whoa" command is covered in our article in the May/June, 1993, Pointing Dog Journal. The procedure for stop-to-flush and honoring is addressed in the July/August, 1993, issue.

Don't forget to make it a regular practice to flush more than one bird. The expectation of more birds to come adds excitement and prevents "letting down."

Create Excitement in the Honor

As the next step, place some birds and a standing silhouette dog around the corner of some cover. Position them so that when you bring your dog around the corner he will hit the scent of the birds and see the standing silhouette at the same time.

Repeat this sequence in several different locations. Repetition will soon cause the dog to associate the picture of the standing dog with the very thing that makes him excited----bird scent. The surprise element of the sudden appearance of a silhouette dog, together with bird scent and the flushing of more than one bird (a simulated covey rise), will all help the dog associate backing with the excitement of pointing.

Now you can set up the same scenario, but use a dog that is steady to wing and shot instead of a silhouette dog. Bring your dog around the corner from the downwind side, so that he comes upon the pointing dog and, at the same time, makes game. To the trained dog the picture of another dog on point is a command to "Whoa," and the bird scent triggers his own instinct to point.

Keep the Dog in Balance -- Upwind and Downwind Practice

Now that your dog has begun to associate bird scent with the "picture" of a dog on point, make sure you keep him in balance. Sometimes bring your dog around the corner from the upwind side instead of the downwind side. As he comes from the upwind side, he'll round the corner, see a pointing dog and not smell any bird scent -- it's simply a traditional backing situation.

A Brace in the Field

Finally you can put it all together and have some fun. Cast off a dog that is steady to wing and shot. Send him off toward the downwind side of some planted birds.

Wait a moment, and then release the second dog, the dog that's being given the honoring lesson.

This procedure is a challenge to coordinate, and won't always work out the way you intend, since the second dog may beat the first dog to the point. But if he does, no harm is done, just laugh it off, set up in another place, and try again. When the dog being given the honoring lesson sees the other dog go on point, you have created a realistic backing situation.

Now training has taken your honoring dog beyond just stopping at the sight of a stationary dog. You'll see him slam into a "back" as though it were his own point, and stand there with the same style he has on point.

First Appeared in:
Pointing Dog Journal
, January/February 1996

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