"Blinking" When a Dog Makes Game, But Pretends That He Hasn't

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs

What Causes Blinking?

Blinking is a man-made problem. The most common cause of blinking occurs when the dog associates finding birds with being corrected. You can give him the wrong message when you correct him for crowding (roading in, creeping, jumping in, and, in some cases, breaking and chasing). Instead of learning to stand off his game, the dog learns that not going on point will avoid the unpleasantness of being punished. For some dogs, the punishment can be as mild as being "set back" (picking the dog up and putting him back in place) a few times.

What dogs choose to do, or not do, is often based upon their comparison of the events that have led to either pleasure or displeasure. A bird dog hunts and points with intensity because it makes him feel good. It fulfills an instinct in a "birdie" dog.

So, if pointing makes bird dogs feel good, why do they start blinking birds? If they are hunting for birds with a passion, but are "blinking" them when they are found, the answer is obvious. They believe that finding birds leads to displeasure. It doesn't feel good to point them anymore. Hunting birds feels good, but finding them does not.

What "Blinking" Looks Like

If you watch closely, some dogs that blink birds will abruptly turn their head away when they find a bird. They are displaying an avoidance response. (That is what we would like to see if they found a rattlesnake, but not a bird!) Sometimes the avoidance response (blinking) is much more subtle and harder to read. The dog doesn't turn its head away but just acts like his nose isn't working.

But, whatever the response, the problem is the same: he has associated finding birds with something that doesn't make him feel good. He has chained together four events. The chain looks like this:

The correction may be for creeping, but the dog doesn't make that association. Instead, what he learns is to avoid the correction for crowding by remembering what led up to it. He avoids taking the one action (pointing) that (in HIS mind) came just before the correction.

As his trainer, YOU know that the "one action" that came just before the correction wasn't the dog going on point, but rather the dog's act of creeping, jumping-in, etc. Why doesn't the dog see it the same way? Because, without being thoroughly whoa-broke in the yard, he really doesn't KNOW that there was any action OF HIS OWN that directly preceded the correction. He isn't aware that he crowded. All he knows, without whoa training, is the natural part that bird dogs know: how to go on point. So not surprisingly, he thinks "pointing leads to getting corrected." He hasn't been taught to be staunch on point, so he doesn't recognize that he did something wrong by moving.And without a thorough knowledge of being whoa-broke, he DEFINITELY doesn't know that he can avoid the correction by NOT crowding the birds!

Do Training Aids Like Planted Pigeons or Bird Launchers Cause Blinking?

Remember that different dogs view corrections differently. For example, when working with a dog that has a very sensitive nature, blinking can be caused by nothing more than "setting him back" (putting him back in the place where he pointed the birds) a few times too many. That's all it takes for some individuals to start associating displeasure with pointing, even though they are crazy about birds.

If the dog has a lot of pointing instinct, he won't necessarily blink all birds, but will very likely learn to differentiate between situations. In other words, he usually will stop pointing anything that looks like a training set-up or has human scent on it. But he'll still point wild birds. The dog has literally learned to "smell a set-up"!

Usually when a dog differentiates a situation like this, it is blamed on things like using planted birds, using pigeons instead of game birds, or using bird launchers. In actuality, it's not these training aids that cause blinking, it's the fact that all these things are associated with a correction that shouldn't have been made at this stage in the dog's training. For you to correct the dog around birds, he must be "whoa-broke," so that he understands that his own disobedience to the "whoa" command is causing the correction, and not the training aid.

Correcting the Non-Whoa-Broke Dog

Until the dog is FULLY "whoa-broke," DON'T give any immediate corrections for not handling birds properly after pointing. Instead, use an INDIRECT approach to make the needed correction.

One indirect method is to teach the dog to stop at the sight of a bird flushing (see our article in the July/August, '93, PDJ). Then you can turn crowding into a "stop to flush" situation by popping up a bird from a bird launcher.

If the dog hasn't been taught, "stop to flush," use a different INDIRECT correction: a delayed correction for CHASING after the bird. Wait until the dog has chased the bird about 20 yards before you make an e-collar correction. The e-collar correction should be just strong enough to stop the dog.

Before the dog is fully "whoa-broke," use only these two INDIRECT corrections around birds. Other corrections may cause the dog to start blinking.

Correcting the "Whoa-Broke" Dog

The key to preventing blinking is to fully "whoa-break" your dog in the yard. Do the job thoroughly, so that you can "talk" him through the problem area with very few physical corrections needed in the field. Remember, it's not the human scent on the bird that causes blinking. It is the training error of giving the dog too many physical corrections he doesn't understand.

Now let's say that the dog is "whoa-broke" in the yard, but has started creeping in the field. If you have followed our yard procedures, which are described in the video, "Whoa for Pointing Dogs," your dog will be conditioned to respond to your "Whoa" command, even without an e-collar correction. He will also understand a correction for moving when told "Whoa." Now, if he creeps in on the bird, you can correct him immediately. If you occasionally combine the mild "nick" from an e-collar with your "Whoa" command, he will associate the correction with not obeying your command, instead of associating it with birds and pointing. Now he'll understand your message and remain confident around his birds.

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