Gather around while I climb up on yet another soap box.
I was lucky enough to be part of an important movement in the horse world. When I was a young cowboy and sure I knew everything my horse training mentor taught me the way to break a horse was to rope it, choke it down, saddle it, climb on and hang on until we “rode the buck right out of them.”
The problem was that this method actually worked so people kept doing it for hundreds of years. The native Americans had a different approach, and I knew there must be a better approach as well. I was tired of getting hurt. Tired of seeing horses get hurt. Tired of the violence of it all. So a very long story short, for my senior project in college I got four wild mustangs freshly gathered, and took them all through a different training method to compare results. Naturally they were all individuals but there was a clear difference in both the process and the outcome with what became termed as “resistance free” methods compared to the force “breaking” of tradition. So I continued the rest of my career using these resistance free methods. I did clinics all over the West teaching this idea to others about the same time other famous people were doing the same and writing books and movies about this new idea of “gentling” these horses instead of “breaking” horses. Heck I even made a few training videos myself back then.
I hope you are already catching on, because the language here is important. People still widely use the term “breaking a dog” “Whoa broke” and “Whoa breaking” and that is exactly what it is. Traditions passed down because they worked to a degree and it’s what people know. Post a question about this in any facebook group or message board and you are going to be taught all kinds of ways to force a dog to stand still, punish them if they don’t and so on. Yet everyone has to clarify it with an explanation of being careful or they will stop wanting to find birds at all… Hmmmm seems suspicious.
If you have gotten this far you must be one of those people who also understands there simply has to be a better way. Or you are one of those who just wants to argue about it in which case enjoy your one sided argument I don’t have time for that anymore. The truth is simple and it is easy for rational people to see. There is a better way with dogs, just as there is with horses. You don’t need fear, pain, compulsion and restraints and fancy contraptions to train a dog to stand still whether it is a pointing dog or not. We can teach dogs differently today and we should train them differently.
In the protection dog sport of Schutzhund we have an exercise where you and your dog are running down the field with the dog off leash and heeling in perfect position as you go down the field. You tell the dog to “Stand” and it stops in it’s tracks and stands steady while you keep running twenty paces. Seems pretty similar huh? Wouldn’t you believe there are all kinds of force methods to teach this exercise as well? But guess what, I know people who teach this to puppies with only pieces of hot dogs or string cheese. No force, no pain, no fear, no punishment, no compulsion. Doesn’t that just sound better all around?
Start by reading this article
Then if you want to become a better trainer, better handler, better advocate for dogs and simply a better human apply these changes to your life and your training. What you will find is it works great with people as well.
We teach a dog to “stand” or whoa in the yard away from birds. After all I don’t care if you are a handler or judge or professional trainer, the whoa command is simply an obedience command used in the field to get a desired behavior from a dog who is naturally predisposed to give it.
A dog doesn’t need whoa “broke” at all. It needs to be taught to stand still on command and we can do that without shock collars on necks and genital’s and ropes tying them up in trees or to posts or any number of stupid ideas. We just teach them to stand still and reward them. If you do this before you introduce predator/prey drive to them away from the field it becomes easy to get them to stand stead under any circumstance and we didn’t have to “break” them to do it.
The days of “breaking animals” down to “build” them back up need to be over. There is a better way and it is time to embrace it. It is better for the dog and for you.
Practice the whoa command just like shown in this lure reward training with a puppy. Do it with an adult dog away from birds and guns and pressure and everything else and watch what happens.
Also one of the best tricks people do talk about for dogs that don’t want to hold still without crossing the line into stupid ideas is pigeon launchers with homing pigeons in them.
We still teach the whoa command as an obedience command first, then in the field we place several birds in launchers and when the dog shows any sign of smelling that bird at all (Work with someone experienced if you haven’t learned to recognize this) if the dog is still moving simply launch the bird and watch it fly away. It doesn’t matter at this point if the dog wants to chase. Let them chase. If its a healthy pigeon and you don’t shoot it, they are simply not going to catch it. A good homing pigeon can fly 60 miles per hour and your dog I don’t care the breed can not run that fast. Pigeons also get up and out of the dogs reach immediately and can fly many more miles that your dog can run. Some pigeon races are 1000 miles!
Obviously you have already taught your dog a recall before this moment, and obviously you have read our articles about tracking devices and you wouldn’t be in the field without a way to know where you dog has run to..
Let the dogs tired muscles and being out of breath with literally zero reward help teach them this lesson. I don’t want to chase something I have no chance of catching, and really your dog doesn’t either.
Use good hard flying homing pigeons. Not sick or injured birds the local guy was willing to let you take from his loft in his culling process. It is important that you use birds your dog can’t catch or it teaches all the wrong things to the dog. Don’t use pen raised gamebirds for this exercise either.
I am a believer that you can’t be a great bird dog trainer without raising pigeons, and that is a whole level of fun and reward of it’s own. I have raised pigeons since I was 8 years old and have had so many varieties over the years. But hard flying racing pigeons is what you want for your dog training. When it comes time to shoot a pigeon in training because there is that aspect of it as well, use culls from your flock or wild caught pigeons or birds bought from the classifieds. Don’t shoot your good birds. Just my two cents.
This method will use natural instincts in the dog, and natural consequences to teach them to hold still when they smell birds because they may scare them away and this isn’t what either of you wants in a pointing dog. This combined with obedience taught in the yard equals a steady dog that you didn’t have to hurt, punish or compel.
I am not a clicker trainer because I don’t want to hold another piece of equipment and my voice can do the exact thing by saying yes or good or something, but check this dog out and tell me we need stupid ideas like “Belly bands” to force dogs to hold still