Mark Fulmer of Sarahsetter Kennels travels from his South Carolina home to hunt in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Texas. "Dogs that have been in kennels or trailers for long road trips can be jumpy when they are cut loose," Fulmer said. "You can get them refocused by running them prior to your first days' hunt. Burning off some of the stress associated with long travel calms them down and helps resolve issues before they start.
"I train my dogs to be bold and to stop at first scent. They don't hesitate. Some client dogs are outstanding in quail fields, but when they encounter running pheasant they break point. Take a few moments after their break to refocus them. Staunch them up, get them to stand correctly, and give them a woah command. Stroke them and praise them. That extra attention serves as a reminder of what they’re supposed to do and typically gets them back in the groove.
"Frequently I see handlers over correct their dogs. Handlers are excited, they want their dogs to do well if not be perfect. But those frequent and repetitive commands can shut down a dog. Use just enough direction to correct the unwanted behavior but not so much that the dog becomes either dominantly headstrong or passive. If a dog shuts down I'll leash him, walk him back to the truck and stake him out. Those 15 or 30 minutes calms them and they're usually ready to go back to work. It also helps them to watch other dogs work. Watching other dogs run rekindles their desire to want to go. When the excited dog is calm I’ll release him in an area where I know he can get some contacts. Those contacts reaffirm his instincts and training. Most of the time the problems are resolved.
“But if they’re not then I’ll run him with experienced dogs. I've typically got four dogs on the ground at one time with two seasoned dogs and two younger dogs. I'll focus my attention on the excited dog. Honoring a veteran dog on point is a great way to regain control. If you only own one dog, try running yours with your buddy’s seasoned dog. Keep commands focused and to a minimum. Make sure he correctly follows through with one command before you give him another one. Over the years I've found those approaches to work the best, particularly if they're combined with positive reinforcement. Tell the dog what you want him to do and avoid yelling at him for what he did wrong. Odds are that he already knows his mistake and you don't want to encourage him to do more of it."
Jared Moss of Best Gun Dogs in Utah believes in using a progressive training method so that handlers always have fallback positions. "Dogs know when they can get away with things," he said. "They're smart enough to know the difference between a training and a hunting session. When my dogs are staked out, 100% of my attention is on the working dog. But when I uncase a shotgun, my attention is spread across the dog work, safety with other hunters, and many other things. The dogs get excited and when they're excited, they're emotional. That emotion results in pointing dogs breaking point, hunting for themselves, and not paying attention to commands. Engage their brain by calming them down. Use commands identical to ones from training sessions. Your pup is familiar with them and will equate that hunt to a working session. Be careful of introducing new commands offered by your well-intentioned buddy. His tips are probably correct, but since he is new to your dog your pup may get confused. Confused dogs get emotional and continue to make mistakes.
"Handlers also need to get themselves on track. Screaming and yelling can cause an average dog to fold up. It also can make a headstrong dog more bullish. Use fewer, firm commands and reward-based praise. Give them a task, help them achieve that task, and praise them when they’ve worked correctly. It’s easy to build from there."
All dogs have their day, and if yours is giving you fits take a break. Improvise and adapt, and you’ll both be back on track in no time.