Sometime, 20 plus years ago, I wrote an article for Pointing Dog Journal, that described how to use an e-collar on a dogs flank to reinforce the “whoa” command. To the best of my knowledge that was the first time that topic had been addressed in the sporting dog media. Since that time the use of a BellyBand has become ubiquitous. You often see it on the internet when people post pictures of their training sessions with their pointing dogs. Last year I even saw a post where someone bragged they had shocked a young dog 19 times in a row for busting woodcock before the dog finally stood and pointed one. It was just as possible that the dog would have developed a serious problem from this sort of over use of the BellyBand. That said, the BellyBand can be a very effective tool in the dog trainer’s toolbox, but knowing what to use it for and when is much more important then being able to push the button.
Most well bred pointing dogs today will point on their own and very young. My current puppies, Jonathan and Pippin, pointed the first quail they smelled when they were 12 weeks old. They will no doubt be pointing birds this fall when the shotguns come out but I would never consider strapping a BellyBand on them to force them to do it right until they have had a solid hunting season behind them. I want them to develop their natural ability as much as possible in the first year and then I have a solid foundation to build on the following year. Molly (pictured below) is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. She was born in January (really) of last year and we shot both pointed grouse and woodcock over her last fall before she went south for the winter with her owner. She didn’t get a lot of opportunities on Southern Appalachian grouse last winter and is back here for training this summer. She points on her own and is very staunch until you get to her and start to go in front of her. I can steady her up with the check cord but it’s time for her four feet to stay put without me there to hold her. Steady to wing and shot is the final finish on a pointing dog around birds and although a lot of hunters don’t require it of their dogs, every dog that comes through the program here has that as a final goal. Some will get there completely and reliably other will be less then 100% dependable depending on their age and ability to take training.
I have been strapping the collar on Molly’s flank for about a week with out even turning it on. When doing yard work or in the bird field, any time I needed to correct her on whoa I used the e-collar as a handle and moved her back. Once she was used to receiving a correction in this way I began adding low level stimulation. Turning the collar up a notch each time until I could see her flank twitch and she stopped with out me grabbing a hold of her. then we were ready to use it around birds because she understood the command whoa would be followed by stimulation if she didn’t obey.
Another dog who is being conditioned to the BellyBand is Dillie (pictured in the banner for this post). She and Molly are very close in age and Dillie may even have been ahead of Molly on her bird work, but is often the case with smart dogs, there comes a point in time when they decide they want to do things there own way. In the past the solution to that was often quite physical, but Dillie is relatively soft and very dependent on me for attention. So the BellyBand is the perfect way to correct her at this time. Right now these are the only two dogs in the program that are going to get the BellyBand. It is not a panacea just a really good tool for specific situations and dogs.