Pointing Dogs That Don't Point

By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs

What do you do with your dog if he lacks the instinct to point? Let's say that this dog is a family dog and will never be entered in any sort of competitive event. However, you do intend to hunt with him.

If he will use his nose to find birds, you consider pointing them a plus. After all, this dog only has to please one man and that is you, not a judge. And, as a family dog, getting rid of him isn't an option! Let's face it, you are going to be feeding this guy for a long time.

Inherent Traits and Acquired Traits

Can a dog be taught to point? Sure he can, but don't expect him to have the intensity of a pointing dog that possesses a strong inherent pointing instinct. But, if you want him to acquire these traits you can train your dog using the following method. The method will teach him to stop when he smells bird scent and may bring out latent pointing tendencies.

Make Him Birdie

The approach you use when teaching a dog to point is first determined by how birdie the dog is. In other words, is he interested in birds? If he is birdie, we teach him that the sight of a bird taking wing is a visual cue that means "Whoa"! (See our video "Whoa for Pointing Dogs")

If the dog you are working isn't all that crazy about birds, or if he is an ultra sensitive individual, you will need to develop his enthusiasm for finding birds. In order to encourage his desire to find birds, let him chase them! Once you observe that he is hooked on birds, go ahead and teach him to "point" them.

A prerequisite to teaching this kind of dog to point is to have him solid on the command "Whoa". Test his understanding by calling him from about 20 yards away. Command "Whoa" before he gets half way to you. If he will not stop, he is not ready to proceed to the next step. He must be very responsive to your whoa command for this training technique to work well.

Chaining Bird Scent and "Whoa"

Plant a bird in the field. Approach the bird so that the dog will make a crosswind find. When he smells the bird he will turn toward it. A crosswind find makes it very easy to see when the dog first smells the bird.

The moment the dog turns into the scent cone, give him the command "Whoa". If you consistently stop the dog when he first smells a bird, he will learn that the scent of a bird is always followed by the command "Whoa". He will chain the two events together and "Whoa" at the scent of a bird.

You may have noticed that we didn't use an e-collar to reinforce the whoa command with this type of dog. We also didn't use the technique of "setting him back" (putting him back where he first turned into the scent cone) if he didn't stop immediately. We talked him through it.

Teaching a pointing dog that lacks adequate pointing instinct to stop when he smells a bird is a delicate situation. If the dog associates being corrected when he smells a bird and told to stop he will chain it all together. To avoid the correction, he may begin "blinking" the bird, which is pretending he doesn't smell the bird (Pointing Dog Journal, "Blinking" May/June 1998).

Remember, the key to successfully training your dog to stop and "point" when he smells a bird is having him so well schooled that he will instantly yield to your whoa command. If needed, guide him into stopping when he smells a bird by "talking him through it" rather than by making corrections that a dog with lots of pointing instinct could take.

After you have taught your dog to "point", you can teach him to remain stationary during the flush and shot. But, do not attempt to steady him until he has more experience at pointing.

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