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Failing to lock on point

My male Weim was just 4-6 months old for his inauguaral pheasant season last year, so I tried not to be too disappointed when he only locked up on one bird all season, electing to flush the rest of the birds he encountered. (I refrained from shooting any flushed birds, although I did shoot some birds that got up on their own, well away from the dog.) This being my first pointing breed, I consulted a local trainer who did a nice job helping me collar condition the dog, and after we worked him on pigeons a few times he became quite consistent in his pointing. After hundreds of hours of work with the dog, I had high hopes of watching him point during last weekend's hunting excursion.

Unfortunately, I came home disappointed as he failed to lock up even once, in spite of the fact that we came across hundreds of birds. Once again, I had to watch flushed roosters fly away withour shooting. (He handled well, stayed in range, and made some nice retrieves on the birds we did shoot...) I called the breeder when I got home, and he assured me that his dogs are all from field trial and hunting backgrounds, no show dogs anywhere in the mix. He also told me that he doesn't get upset when his dogs flush running birds, and that they generally point those that hold tight. This sounds like a crock to me. How do pointers handle fast-running, wild ringnecks? More often than not, these birds will run first, and fly only when pushed hard or after getting out of range.

Two questions:
1) Did I choose the wrong breed for South Dakota pheasants? Perhaps I would have been better off with a Springer, given the nature of the birds we're hunting. My trainer seems to feel that pointing breeds are a distant second to labs and springers when it comes to pheasants.

2) Why would my Weim point solidly on pigeons, then totally ignore his training when in the field after pheasants. (I have one theory; I put pheasant scent on one of his dummies when working on blind retrieves in heavy cover. Could the dog be associating pheasant scent only with retrieving?)

Sorry for presenting such a long-winded question, but I am discouraged and desperate for help. I don't want to give up on the dog, but I'm wondering how much longer I should work with him before throwing in the towel. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Dear Craig:

First off don't be discouraged. A year and a half old pointing dog is still a puppy and he will have good and bad days.

I assume the "hours of work" were teaching whoa. The dog should stop instantly and stay stopped when you whoa him. Now with that said, DON'T WHOA THE DOG ON PHEASANTS. Pointing dogs have to learn to handle running birds on there own. You can't possibly know how close he is to the bird or if the bird is running. So if you keep stopping the dog he will only be confused because you are making him stop while the bird is leaving the country.

The best way to help him learn pheasants is to hunt him. But don't go with the idea that you will be killing any birds. Work him cross wind as much as possible and when he flushes a bird don't say a word just stand there or even turn your back to him. After the bird is out of sight catch your dog (preferably without command) and take him to the spot where he first winded the bird and COMMAND Whoa. Make him stand for a few minutes then praise him and move on. It may take a lot of contacts but sooner or later he should learn to hold the birds. Some dogs circle, some slam onto point hard enough to hold the bird, and some stalk until the bird stops or flushes. When your sure he is doing his best to keep the bird from flushing you can start killing birds.

It's best if you do this training (and most of his hunting for a few seasons) by yourself or with just one other hunter. Large groups and lots of birds and shooting may rattle even solid bird dogs.

As for your questions:
  1. For putting pheasants in the game bag it's hard to beat a good solid Springer or a well trained lab. But I like to hunt over pointing dogs and with enough contacts they handle runners just fine.

  2. Your pup handles Pigeons because they don't flush! If you really watch him as he hits pigeon scent he probably scents the bird then moves up until he is close if not right on top of the bird. Almost any pheasant would flush. You can help this a little with remote release traps but the best way is wild birds. As to the use of commercial Pheasant scent. I personally think any dog with half a nose can tell the difference between commercial scent and a live bird.

    I hope all this info helps. Keep yours and your dogs spirits up and he will be fine.

    Joe Riches

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