2. Training your dog


09. Wing on a String

posted Aug 31, 2014, 2:06 PM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Aug 31, 2014, 2:11 PM ]


#4M Pointing
When our puppies are around 7 weeks old, we'll often dangle a wing on a string in front of them so we can get pictures of them pointing.  Although it's a useful way of seeing what a dog will look like on point, don't read too much into these type of pointing pictures. The wing only demonstrates sight pointing which is a different instinct from the scent pointing we want from a mature bird dog.  For this reason, I don't recommend using a wing on a string as a training method. Spending significant time with a wing will get your pointing dog in the habit of thinking he has to see what he's pointing; a habit that will not serve him well on wild birds.#6M pointing

02. Teaching your dog to come

posted Aug 16, 2011, 12:02 PM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 3, 2011, 8:12 PM ]

    A pointing dog would rather follow her nose than listen with her ears and teaching a reliable recall to a Brittany can be a challenge.  Remember that you got a pointing dog because they're independent and don't micromanage the dog or call her in to you every 5 minutes.  Overuse of your recall command will either teach your dog to ignore you or will take away some of her independence.  Try to call your dog in only when you have her attention, do it as little as possible when she's hunting and make sure the experience of coming to you is always a positive one.

     Start with your puppy on a leash and with very special treats in your hand.  Hot dogs are always popular.  Say the command once, give a tug on the leash to get the puppy started to you, then use a high excited voice and the treats to get her the rest of the way.  Back away from the pup as she comes to you so that she has to come up to you quickly.  Also, hold the treats against your knees so that she has to come all the way to you.  A few more pointers:
  • The dog should be rewarded with a favorite treat every time she comes to you when called.  Don't call your puppy if you don't have a treat in your hand.
  • Never repeat the command.  If the dog doesn't get it the first time, enforce it with the leash, then praise her when she does it right.
  • Work for several weeks with treats and the dog on a leash until the command is reliable.
  • Use a longer and longer leash until your dog is reliable at a distance.
  • Before you try off-leash, use the e-collar and the leash together. 
  • When you move off-leash, use the e-collar just as you would the leash - to enforce the command.  Remember, the collar is not a replacement for treats and praise.  Even if she only came to you because you touched her with the collar or reeled her in on the leash, she still gets treats and lots of praise when she gets to you.
  • Never let your dog run loose without the e-collar on.
  • Don't discipline a dog who comes to you. Even if that dog has been running all over the county, crossing roads, bumping birds and chasing deer for an hour while you yelled yourself hoarse, if she comes to you it's only praise.  You need to correct her while she's doing those bad things, not when she's done.  Otherwise, all she'll learn is that there are no consequenses as long as I keep being bad but going back to my owner means I'm going to get in trouble.


    Still not working?

  • Your dog may be intimidated coming to you.  If you think that's a problem, the tips below will help (these tips are also great for getting a dog who doesn't know you to come to you.  As they're all submissive gestures, however, only do this if you're confident the dog is not aggressive.)
    • Remove your hat and sunglasses.
    • Get upwind of the dog with a good treat in your hand.
    • Don't make eye contact - keep your head and eyes down at the ground.
    • Don't square your shoulders to the dog, crouch down at an angle.
    • Get down low to the ground - your eyes should be lower than the dog's.
    • Use a high-pitched excited voice or a soft whisper.  Never a low voice.  
    • Don't smile or do anything else that shows your teeth.
    • Let the dog come all the way to you - don't lunge after the dog.

04. Using an E-Collar

posted Aug 16, 2011, 11:42 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:08 AM ]

There are entire books on this subject and I won't try to summarize an entire area of training here.  Just a few rules to live by.
  • Get someone to show you how to use your e-collar before you put it on your dog.
  • Learn to use the remote without looking at it or thinking about it.  Your eyes and focus need to be on the dog.
  • Timing is key - if you're a second late, you may be teaching your dog a completely different lesson than you intended.
  • Use the collar on yourself before you use it on your dog.  You need to know what the different modes feel like.
  • Only use the collar to enforce commands the dog already knows.
  • Use the collar at the lowest setting needed to get the dog's attention.  If the dog yelps, it's too high.
  • Never use the collar to punish the dog. 
  • If you're angry with your dog, turn the collar off.  You aren't going to do any good with it anyway.
  • Never use the collar when you can't see the dog.  He may be doing something bad but he also may have just gone on point. 
  • When in doubt, stay off the collar and save the lesson for next time.

05. Training a dog to quarter

posted Aug 16, 2011, 11:32 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:22 AM ]

This entire area of training can be summarized in 7 words: "Never teach a pointing dog to quarter."

As several of the most popular gun dog training books get this wrong, however, I'll explain.

Only a flushing dog should quarter. You're getting a pointing dog because you want a dog with drive, range and intelligence, not a dumb dog that wanders back and forth in front of you hoping to stumble on a bird. A smart pointing dog will figure out where the birds are most likely to be and run to that spot as fast as he can. If there isn't a bird there, the dog should move on to the next likely spot. If that next spot is a half mile away, that's where the dog should be.  My rule of thumb is this - until I figure out how to smell a 2oz bird from 15 yards away while running 20 miles an hour, I'm going to trust my dog to tell me where the birds are, not the other way around.

In short, there's no advantage to a pointing dog that runs back and forth in front of you.  If there's a bird in front of you, you're likely to spook it yourself anyway.  The goal of a pointing dog is to cover a wide range of territory and pin a wild bird.  It's a lot easier for him to do that without your heavy boots thumping through the brush right behind him. Yes, it's scary letting your prized dog run out of sight but very few Brittanys will actually get lost.  A Brittany will almost always know where you are even if you have no idea where he's gotten off to.  It takes a couple of year of training but, once your dog figures out that he's not going to catch the birds on his own and, if he waits for you to show up, you'll shoot the bird for him, almost all pointing dogs will settle in and hunt with you. Of course hunting "with you" may involve busting cover 400 yards to the front, but the dog still knows where you are. A beeper collar or, even better, a GPS system will make you much more comfortable when your dog gets out of sight.  Just be careful about making sharp turns when your dog can't see you - a big running dog is going to expect you to more or less keep going in the same direction and speed as when he last saw you.  You risk losing your dog if you suddenly turn around without getting his attention and bringing him around.

The one situation where a quartering dog may be useful is at a preserve on pen-raised birds where there are a set number of birds that have been planted in places a wild bird would never hang out. If that's the way you're going to hunt, you don't need a pointing dog.  Get a lab and an e-collar and save yourself a lot of time and money. If you're serious about hunting wild upland birds, though, get a good pointing dog and let him roll. A pointing dog has thousands of years of genetics behind him that give him the intelligence to know where birds are most likely to hide. He instinctively knows the exact spot he needs to be in to get the best chance at smelling a bird without startling it. His body has been bred into a finely-tuned machine that will get him to that spot as quickly as possible and snap to point in a split second if he makes game. His nose can detect less than 10 molecules of scent. He can smell in stereo.  That's right - stereo. Sit back and try to comprehend that for a second. Your dog can sense things about humidity, pollen, wind speed, swirls and directions of smells that scientists have been unable to reproduce. To force that dog to methodically run back and forth hoping to wander across a bird like a simple lab is a sin and the authors of the books that recommend it should be quartered themselves for suggesting it.

03. Housebreaking an Older Dog

posted Aug 16, 2011, 11:27 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:08 AM ]

    An older dog who has not been housebroken can pose quite a challenge.  That said, with diligence on your part, it can be done. 
The challenge comes because an older dog is able to hold it longer than a puppy, making it harder for you to know when it needs to go out.  Also, an older dog is used to going whenever it feels the urge.  Finally, a dog that has been raised in a kennel is more used to the smell and may not be as bothered by a messy crate. 
    Here's how to housebreak an older dog:  For first month the dog is with you, she cannot be loose in your house.  Ever.  She needs to be either in her crate or attached to you by a leash.  Literally attached to you.  Tie the leash to your belt when you're doing chores around the house or even watching TV.  The leash does a lot more than just housebreaking.  When you start with a puppy, the puppy comes at an age where she is pre-programmed to want to bond with you.  This isn't as natural for an older dog so the leash forces her to bond with you and to focus on your body language.  If she's not paying attention, she gets tugged or stepped on.  At the same time, it forces you to learn her body language and behavior so you don't get tripped.
     If she gets in your way, put her in her crate.  Do not let her run loose in the house.  Ever.  An adult dog can hold it for 12 hours and there's no amount of being vigilant that will keep her from peeing in the house if she's not connected to you.
    The first week you'll be tripping all over each other but after that it becomes a very good bonding experience for both of you.  You missed out on the puppy bonding time so it's going to take some extra effort for her to learn to trust you.  Being tied to you for a month will help a lot.  Don't stop after three weeks when you think she's got it or she'll go right back to her old behavior.  One month is the minimum and don't be surprised if it takes two.

07. Finding a Professional Trainer

posted Aug 16, 2011, 11:00 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:24 AM ]

For the new pointing dog owner, working with a professional trainer is well worth the time and money.  The trainer will want you to leave your dog with them from the start - resist this temptation.  When you pick your dog up, the trainer will show you a well trained dog but you'll have no idea how it got to that point so you won't be able to keep the dog trained or fix problems that come up.  Find someone who is willing to train you.  At then end of the day, you need it way more than the dog anyway so the money is better spent on teaching you how to interact with the dog.  Make sure the person works with Brittanys.  They're a unique breed and trainers who work primarily with other breeds can be too harsh for a Brittany.  Once you're comfortable with the trainer and his or her techniques, sending the dog to "boot camp" for a month or two isn't a bad idea.  Your older dog may also need a refresher course before hunting season if you haven't kept up with birdwork during the off season. 

08. How to train in the city

posted Aug 16, 2011, 10:34 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:27 AM ]

 I trained (and even field trialed) my first two dogs living in the city with no birds.  It's much easier for me now that I have facilities but it can be done without them.  You'll need to find a place outside of the city where you can buy birds and a place that will let you train with them.  Many states, including Ohio, have dog training areas set aside for this purpose.  Otherwise, you may consider joining a hunt club.
 
Conditioning a dog in the city is another problem you'll face.  If your dog will make water retrieves, you can't beat swimming for exercise.  When I was in the city, I used a contraption called a Springer to run my dogs from my bike. http://www.springeramerica.com/  Make sure you get a good roading harness for your dog.  If you attach it to his collar he'll do serious damage to his windpipe over time.  The harness the springer comes with is not sufficient for a hard running brittany.  Most roading harnesses you can buy are too big for Brittanys.  I like this one in extra-small http://www.gundogsupply.com/scott-padded-roading-harness.html 

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