Handling a Point to Avoid a Bust
Regardless of the stake you have entered, All-Age, Gun Dog, and even Puppy/Derby, you are always better off if your dog does not move in and cause the bird to flush. Obviously in the adult stakes, if your dog busts the birds you are out of the placements. Even in Puppy/Derby, where a bust will not hurt your dog for placements, the habit of busting birds is very easily developed and much, much, much harder to counteract later for the adult stakes. (One of my soapboxes is the wonderful Puppy/Derby dogs who chase like crazy, and are never broken out sufficiently to become consistent for running in the adult stakes; what a waste.)
The keys in why a dog will bust birds, presuming that the habit has not been established yet, lie in the hunting nature of good bird dogs. The point itself is an exaggeration of a stalk on game. The dog reaches an equilibrium point where if it pushes any closer will lose the bird, yet if it holds where it is, the bird will not get away. If the dog on point senses some other entity, e.g. another dog or human, coming in which will cause this equilibrium to be lost, the dog may as well try for the bird (bust in), for the bird is surely lost if the dog remains on point.
Tip #1: If handling on horseback, get off your horse at least 30 yards away from the point.
You do not need your dog to decide to bust the bird because it thinks a horse and rider are going to cause the bird to flush. Your dog, being much closer to the ground (and in actual contact with it), can detect a thundering gallop up behind it, and is sure to interpret it an eminent bird flushing activity.
Tip #2: Always approach the dog from the side where the dog can see you.
Here, if your dog recognizes you as a partner on his hunting team (dogs are pack animals and by nature hunt in teams) before you are too close and sure to bust the bird, your dog will be much less prone to bust the bird itself.
Tip #3: Caution your dog with a quiet "whoa" when you reach your dog's peripheral view.
Presumably, if you are entering Field Trials, you have had some work on "whoa" training (see Field Training Tips articles for late 1996 if not). As part of a hunting team with your dog, and if your training has been done right, you are the "alpha" member of the team and your dog should respect you, especially if in training the team has been successful in shooting the flushed bird. A reinforcing "whoa" as a caution lets your dog know that you are now helping and what your dog's role should be.
Tip #4: Try to get between your dog and the bird to start the flush.
If you are successful at this, your dog's role then becomes one of holding the bird while on point. Repeated reinforcement with quiet "whoa" commands helps as well.
Tip #5: Flush the bird as quickly as possible without putting too much pressure on your dog.
This is tricky. The equilibrium point of a dog on point on game is what a physicist would call very unstable. And, as in physics, it takes a lot of effort to maintain an unstable equilibrium point. The point on game is very stressful on a dog, and difficult to maintain. The more quickly you flush the bird, the less stress on your dog. The longer it takes, the more stress on your dog which makes it all the more likely your dog will bust the bird itself. Also, you cannot be too vigorous and wild in your flushing attempt, since this puts even more pressure on your dog on point. You have to be very attentive and smart in your flushing effort, to minimize both the physical activity and time to flush the bird for your dog.
Tip #6: Always be sure your dog gets some reward for holding point until flush.
The ultimate reward is to kill the bird for your dog. This is, after all, the whole reason for pointing the bird in the first place. If the bird is not to be killed, be sure to praise your dog for its point and hold. Never hesitate to praise your dog in a Field Trial, it is legal.
Have fun and good luck at your next trial!
Reprinted with permission from the Pointing Breed Sports in the Field Internet World Wide Web pages (http://members.aol.com/Attwater/pbsports/index.htm), sponsored by Attwater Publishing. Attwater Publishing is the proud publisher of QUALIFY! A Guide to Successful Handling in AKC Pointing Breed Hunting Tests by Mark Powell, available for $21.90 including first class shipping and handling (Texas orders must include $1.70 state sales tax), 1-800-513-3772.
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