01. Breaking a Pointing Dog

There's no one way to break a pointing dog and no way I could lay out an entire method of training here. If this is your first time, start by reading several books on the subject. Next, find a professional trainer and make yourself their new best friend. I would, however, like to lay out a couple of basic tips.

Chasing Birds

Every bird dog starts their career chasing birds. It's an essential part of their learning process and they learn something every time they make a bird fly. At different stages in their development, the lesson can be good or bad. Young pups need to learn what a bird smells like, what it sounds like when it flushes, and how close they can get before it will flush. Older dogs need to learn that, if they flush the bird, they get it trouble and don't get to bring it home. I try to make that transition around 2 years old but every dog is different. Some will be stone broke at 18 months, others not until 3 or 4. Most really good trainers prefer to wait rather than rush a dog who may not be ready. If you transition too early, you risk souring the dog from too much pressure, too late and the dog will be set in his chasing ways and difficult to break. This is one of many reasons it's smart to find a professional trainer who will teach you how to train your dog.

Catching Birds

Catching birds that you didn't shoot is always bad, but it happens with every dog at some point during the breaking process. It's one of the reasons that there's no better way to break a dog than on wild birds. Wild birds won't handle a creeping dog and the dog can't catch them. If you're not among the lucky few who has wild birds nearby, you can simulate wild birds with remote launchers. You can also stop the creeping and chasing with a check cord and/or an e-collar, but you have to be very good with the timing. I use the remote launchers to stop the creeping (launch the bird when the dog takes a step) and use the e-collar to stop the chasing (apply stimulation while the dog is chasing, let off as soon as the dog stops). There will be good training days and bad ones. Just try to take two steps forward for every step back and you'll get there.

Voice Commands

If you've spent any time in the field, you've undoubtedly come across dozens of dog owners yelling at their dog. I can't count the number of owners I've watched chasing after their dog, yelling "WHOA! WHOA! I SAID WHOA!!!" as his dog streaks across a field chasing a bird. We've all been there. This is a prime example of how a bird dog shuts his ears off when he has prey on the brain. Unlike most training books you'll read, I'm not in favor of starting the breaking process with voice commands. You need to train your dog to basic obedience, but understand that those ears who listen so well when begging for treats in your kitchen are as useless as wings on a pig when your dog has a bird in his eyes or under his nose. Sounds take much longer to reach a dog's brain than smells, physical sensations or even visual cues. My experience tells me that, no matter how well trained the dog, he will completely turn off his ears if he can see or smell a bird. Getting through that mental fog with a voice command is simply too much effort for me. Because of that, I use my hands and body to block and control the dog until he understands the need to stand still. When a young dog is on point, I move slowly and predictably around the dog and use a soft, soothing voice.

Barrel Technique

I like to start the breaking process by placing my dog on a barrel. All that's needed is a 50-gallon drum and a frame to hold the barrel. One of my puppy buyers created the frame in the picture below and used straps to support the barrel. I like this design and may copy it for my next frame because it allows him to adjust the height and stability of the barrel. The barrel puts your dog at a comfortable height for you. The instability of the barrel encourages your dog to keep all four feet planted and not move a muscle. Once your dog is comfortable on the barrel, you can begin flying birds near him. This gets your dog used to standing still while birds fly and guns are fired. So long as my dog stays on the barrel, I use a gentle, consistent hand and a soft voice. If he jumps off, he is scolded and placed back on the barrel.