Recently, I was asked if I would take a look at the bird work of a one-year-old Vizsla. The owner had very good luck force breaking the dog to fetch but was having serious problems with pointing. I’m not a professional trainer, however; I’ve watched many accomplished trainers at work and usually can provide productive suggestions. I’ve also walked (and ran) behind some of the finest pointing dogs in the country.
Let’s begin by defining a point. Most four legged predators pause before they strike their prey…it’s a natural instinct. Many of us have seen predators such as fox or house cats in a field searching for mice. Once located, usually by scent, they pause in an attempt to identify the location of the prey and then they strike. Over a few centuries, mankind has made our pointing dog elongate that pause into what we call a point and has gradually made the point instinctive.
Now the water gets a little muddy. An argument can be made that the elongated point is not instinctive since dogs are predators and predators pounce on their prey. Or, have those two or three centuries of training created a genetic propensity to hold the point? In my opinion, it depends upon the breed. The traditional English setter and pointer (often referred to as an English pointer) are truly natural pointers. The gene is firmly entrenched. For the versatile breeds, and the Vizsla is a versatile breed, pointing was just one of many jobs they were assigned. Tracking was most often given greater importance than pointing. Therefore, developing the point with a versatile breed often takes just a little longer than with an English pointer or setter.
Before we get back to the gentleman who asked me to look at his young Vizsla, it’s important to understand that nothing is guaranteed in a breed. It’s possible to have a Weimaraner (versatile breed) that excels in pointing over every pure pointer it encounters. It’s difficult to predict which trait in a dog is going to rise to the top and make a superior hunting dog. I have a friend, Tom Rideout of Sturtevant Pond Camps in Maine, that always has a world class Vizsla. Tom’s dogs are a treat to hunt over.
Now that we’ve added some breed background, let’s go back to the gentleman who asked me to look at his young Vizsla work in the field. With all dog training, it’s important to go back to very basics. Whether this dog has a great deal of pointing instinct or just a smidgeon, that instinctive seed can be nurtured and developed. If you’re short on time, then take your dog to a professional trainer. If you have time and enjoy watching your dog develop, then here’s a good exercise to begin the process, and this is what I recommended to the Vizsla owner. First, teach your dog the “whoa” command. After your dog demonstrates a full understanding and compliance with the command “whoa”, introduce it to birds in a controlled manner. Here’s an old and tried method that is in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association “little green book”.
Get some penned raised quail or a barn pigeon. Tie about an eight foot string to the bird. Tie the string to an eight foot pole. Plant the bird in some heavy cover with a friend holding the pole and keeping the string fairly straight. Approach the bird with at least a ten-foot check cord attached to the dog. Two important points are to be made here. Don’t let your dog see the bird or catch the bird. As your dog approaches the bird, it will eventually identify the scent and hesitate. When it hesitates, give it a gentle “whoa” command to firm up the dog. Then approach the dog and gently push the dog forward from his behind. He’ll resist and stay staunch. If the dog makes any effort to pounce on the bird, hold the check cord firmly and have your friend quickly pull the bird from its hiding place and thrust it far forward of the dog. Do this exercise several times over a week or two and you’ll make great strides in developing the pointing instinct in your dog.
Paul Fuller is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV program. Paul’s website is www.birddogsafield.com.