Honoring, also known as backing, simply means that when your dog sees another dog on point, he stops. This is important, because dogs should never interfere with other dogs on point. Having another dog flush a pointed bird or steal the point can cause the first dog to become unsteady and undo his training. So how can you teach your dog to honor?
“The first step for any pointing dog to learn to honor is for him to be ‘whoa’ trained,” says Jerry Havel of Pineridge Grouse Camp. “Whoa is the most important command for a pointing dog to learn, and it’s the foundation of teaching a dog to honor. We take a finished dog and let him out first to establish a point. The ideal situation is that the pointing dog is around the corner and can’t be seen by the bracemate being trained.
“I have a big training field with a strip of trees in the middle. The birds are located behind the trees, so the dog I am teaching won’t see the other dog on point until he gets around the corner. The instant the dog sees the point, you ‘whoa’ him right there,” says Havel.
If everything goes right, and the dog stops, Havel flushes a bird and fires a starter pistol. “That way, the dog doesn’t know which way the bird is coming from,” Havel explains. “If the dog does everything right, he gets the reward of a bird contact and lots of praise. If he doesn’t immediately stop when you ‘whoa’ him, you instantly bring him back to the spot he was in when you said the ‘whoa’ command and start again. The dog has to stop the second he sees the other dog. It doesn’t matter how far away he is. Most dogs put two and two together and learn really quickly. It’s not a difficult process, but it occasionally takes repetition.”
If you don’t have a veteran dog to establish a point, a “dummy dog” will also do the trick. Havel notes that when he first started, he and his wife traced the outline of a dog on a piece of plywood. They painted it white with a couple of orange ears, and that served as his backing dog.
“You set it up exactly the same as the first scenario,” Havel explains. “Just make sure the dummy dog is positioned behind an object that initially blocks it from your dog’s vision. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just make sure it’s visible and life size. I have a very experienced dog named Kit. At the end of my driveway is a metal silhouette of a pointer, and Kit will honor that statue every time she follows me to get the mail. People who hear about training with a dummy dog sometimes think it’s a joke, but it really works.”
Master the ‘whoa’ command first, and you’ll be well on your way to teaching your dog to honor. Then you’ll have a brace that runs well together and makes the hunt even more exciting.