It’s been coming for a while now and I’ve just been biding my time giving LJ enough rope to hang himself. LJ was born May 4, 2011 which makes him just a little over 15 months old. We shot a bunch of birds for him last fall and he has literally pointed more than 100 wild birds this past spring and this summer, and he was getting close to being broke with very little pressure. You have to think of a 15 month old puppy/derby like a teenager. They’re going to follow the rules for a while and then they’re going to rebel. Unfortunately our society frowns on knocking a little sense into our kids but there comes a time in most young dog’s training when you have to be willing to lower the boom. For the last week or two LJ has been getting cute with the woodcock he’s pointed, often moving up when I am going to him but not flushing the bird. Tony is a big proponent of the bellyband and would most likely have already started using it on LJ, I think it is a great tool but has the potential to make a dog too cautious or increase un-productives. So, I don’t like to use it until a dog is well on the way to being broke and knows that it’s not the only solution.
So, today LJ pointed a couple of birds and then moved up and bumped them right in front of me, I also caught him a couple of times moving after he established point. When you work in a bird field this is a relatively easy problem to work on but when you train on wild birds you have to catch the dog in the right situation. Each of the times I caught LJ today the punishment got a little more serious. Starting with picking him up by the collar and flank and setting him back and ending with some pretty serious whacks with a lead. If you’d seen him after these corrections you’d know that I didn’t even hurt his feelings as he went on after each incident with the same boldness he usually has. When I run him Friday, I’ll take a flushing whip with me.
It’s not that I’m opposed to using an e-collar on the dog’s neck and/or belly, it’s just that they know when they have it on and when they don’t. If you want to field trial a young dog it has to realize that corrections are possible whether there’s an e-collar or not. Over the years I’ve seen too many trial-wise dogs that have taken advantage of the opportunity to screw their handlers, I’ve had some myself. I especially remember a setter I had that got me good at the New York Grouse one year. She’d already had 3 or 4 perfect finds and we were just deadheading to burn up the last couple of minutes of the hour when she ran into a swale full of ferns and busted a brood of grouse. Had she stopped to flush, she might have still been in the money. Instead, she chased the birds barking like a puppy. She was a bit of a black-hearted bitch anyways and my last setter. The pointers I’ve raised since all know that I will get physical with them when I need to.
The one thing that all of them needed was to understand what was expected of them and then they would stand and take whatever correction I had for them. But you should never do it arbitrarily, or with real anger. It should always be controlled and as soon as possible after the infraction so they know what they’re being punished for. That’s why today was good for LJ. He screwed up right in front of me and stoically took what I had to dish out then went on about his work. When I got home today, I dug the flushing whip out of the garage and put in the truck. The one I have has a second thick strap on it that makes a good popping noise when you use it. An old trainer once wrote or told me — always whip them up not down. I usually lift the dog up by the collar and give him a few whacks on the chest and then style him up. A couple times today the bird sat through the correction and I was able to flush it and fire with LJ standing tall. There are always things that you have to work on with a young dog, that’s why we call it training. You also have to expect them to screw up and be ready to correct them when you catch them. You never gain by letting a dog get away with something, even if you’re in a trial and you know the judge didn’t see it.