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Bustin' Birds

I have 2 year old english setter we have had 2 seasons together. I can not get her to hold when hunting. If I am not on top of her she will flush the bird. I didnt get her until she was 6 months old so I can not speak for early training. Should I use a wing or a live bird? What tactic should I use at home when training? Also is it to late for her to learn?

Hi, The problem you describe with your setter is a steadiness problem. Typically the young dog that naturally points will begin creeping in order to 'catch' the bird. The problem is exacerbated by the anxious hunter who goes ahead and kills the bird that the dog crept in on. When this happens, the dog just learned that's the way to hunt. I've seen many good hunting dogs who were only steady until the hunter got into shotgun range. Some hunters find this acceptable, many others do not. What you have to do is back up a step and 'retrain'. Here's some general tips:

How to correct a dog that busts/chases birds

Sometimes, even with the most careful planning and training, your dog will bump birds and chase. Usually this is secondary to having caught a bird such as a pen-raised quail. Other times it's caused by shooting a bird that your dog intentionally busted which in turn teaches him it's o.k. to hunt that way. There are a couple ways to address this.

The low tech way to fix it

The old way that works is to have the dog on a very long check cord. For this scenario, we like a 100 feet long light weight ski cord in a tangle free field. Tie a big knot in the free end. You will need a bird launcher and a quick/nimble partner to help. Here's what to do:

Plant the bird in good grassy cover so that the dog cannot see the launcher. Allow enough time for the scent to build a good scent cone. Have your partner hide near the bird but out of site. If the launcher is remote controlled, let your partner hold the transmitter. If it's a manual launcher, have your partner hold the string that is attached to the launcher release mechanism.

The handler releases the dog several hundred yards away and 'hunts'. This distance allows the dog time to forget that it might be a training situation. Just before the dog reaches the scent cone, the handler hides too. Now your partner takes over. While remaining hid, he waits for the dog to establish point. If the dog does not hold point (takes two steps or more after establishing point), he puts the bird up by pulling the hidden cord. At this point the bad habit will reveal itself. The dog will chase because he thinks he's alone since after he established point, he didn't hear or see the handler anymore. Your partner needs to be quick and nimble because he must allow the dog to start the chase then run out from hiding and grab the 100 feet long check cord. When he grabs the cord, he allows it to run through his gloved hands to the point of the knot then immediately sets the cord firmly thus flipping the chasing dog backwards. The partner who flipped the dog needs to wait (hide) while the handler simultaneously "appears". The startled dog will be looking blankly back in the direction of the handler. The handler goes to the dog, picks him up and puts him back where he was when he broke point. He commands "whoa", walks out front, kicks around and returns to the dog. At this point he releases the dog and they begin hunting again. IT IS BEST if you have enough land to have two birds set up so that you can immediately repeat this training technique in a second location. Your partner will have to have a lot of hustle and be a dedicated friend ;-)

The high tech way

Substitute the check cord with an e-collar. If you choose to use an e-collar be careful! Make sure the dog is in FULL CHASE and has covered a good bit of ground, at least 75 to 100 yards, before employing its use. We STRONGLY recommend using the collar away from your normal training grounds. Also, we only use a momentary burst to get the dogs' attention. There are some very subtle techniques when using an e-collar. Not knowing EXACTLY what to do can ruin your dog!

What birds/tools to use

A remote control bird launcher makes either technique easier for the helper. We use strong flying pigeons that have been used for dog training before. We've seen wild pigeons, trapped in the city, simply land 10 feet away from the launcher only to be caught by the dog. Pigeons that have been used to train dogs know to fly!

When he finally does it right (holding point for you to walk ahead and flush the bird), kill the bird and let him run to it for the reward. Praise excitedly.

Important notes: This training assumes your dog will continue to hold if reminded with a verbal "whoa" command. This command is important once the dog self-initiates the point. A verbal reminder to "whoa" goes a long ways.

I do not recommend 'wing on a string' as I have always felt that it only serves to teach sight pointing. Make your dog use his nose to find his game, especially when training.

Good luck and happy hunting!

Dave Jones
Chief's Brittanys
Guided Upland Bird Hunts, Gundog Training, Started Gundogs, and Brittanypuppies
We GUARANTEE our Brittanys to hunt and be healthy!
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