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Blinking the bird

I have an 8-month-old german shorthaired pointer that I have been working with since he was very young. It is the first dog I have trained on my own. I took him on his first hunt the other day, and for the most part it was a positive experience for him. I saw only one thing that I was unsure of. He found the first two birds, and even held his point for a short time before breaking and flushing (it didn't bother me too much, I thought he did well for just a pup). After these, the dog almost seemed afraid of the birds. He did very well using his nose to find the bird, would point in the direction of the bird very briefly, then come back to me or my partner and stand by our side. I don't believe the dog is gunshy because he never cowered or ran from us when we shot. I also did not see him get attacked by either of the first two birds to cause him to fear them. After we flushed and shot the other birds, he did not seem interested in chasing, retrieving, or even approaching the bird until we picked it up. We tried getting his interest up by playing fetch with the dead bird, which he did very well and was excited to have the bird in his mouth. When we got to the next bird in the field though, the same thing happened. Is this a problem, or does he just need to see more birds to build up his confidence? He just seems confused as to what he's supposed to do when he knows where the bird is at.

The problem you describe is called blinking. Now before I say this, please do not think I am directing anything at you. Blinking is usually a man-made problem.

You didn't indicate the presence of a check cord or electronic collar, but misuse of either will result in a blinker. Typically the dog goes in on point then creeps in and flushes the birds out of your range. The disgruntled handler prepares for the next incident and as soon as the dog creeps in, he applies some sort of punishment.

Not that you did this, but it is a major cause. You see, in the dogs mind, he thinks that birds can now hurt him. His instinct drives him to hunt but when the blinker finds a bird, his memory takes over and tells him that birds hurt, hence, the "blink" which is when he shys away. His not wanting anything to do with the bird until it is safely killed and picked up is a sure indicator of the blinking syndrome.

The cure: PATIENCE. There are a number of good books out there that go through multiple different methods too lengthy to discuss here. I personally like the "transference" method with lots of praise and hunting him a lot with experienced dogs. Kill tons of birds over him, even it's just pigeons.

Whatever method you use, DO NOT ever yell, become impatient, get physical or anything else that will cause this dog any further mental problems on birds.

Don't be hard on yourself trying to figure exactly what happened, now you have to find the cure. Fortunately for you, blinking can be cured with enough time and patience. Good luck.

Best regards,

Dave Jones
Chief's Brittanys
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For more information on blinking, try:
Blinking II
Blinking III

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