Superior Pointers - Fine Bird Dogs - Elhew Pointers


There is a fairly widely held misconception that puppies are “trained” to point birds by being encouraged to sight point a game bird wing on a string, manipulated with a stick or fishing pole. This belief is categorically false. Dogs point birds because they are genetically programmed to do so. Geneticists are, in fact, currently analyzing the canine genome in an attempt to identify the major effect gene responsible for pointing. If they are successful, there would seem to be important implications for pointing dog breeders. Superior Pointers has submitted blood samples from our kennel to support this important research.

Encouraging puppies to sight point a game bird wing is a “parlor trick” used by some breeders to sell puppies, and by owners to entertain themselves and friends. It in no way contributes positively to the puppy’s development, and can be very detrimental. There is no correlation between sight pointing, and scent pointing game birds. Of greater concern is that puppies encouraged to sight point by regular wing-on-a-string exercise, may develop a perceived need for visual contact with game birds before pointing them. The result is a young dog who crowds and bumps birds, much to his owner’s consternation and bewilderment.

Sight pointing is especially detrimental to a pup's development when practiced with scented objects - birds, fresh wings, or cloth with bird scent applied. This teaches the pup not to point scent, but to close the distance to the bird until making visual contact. Pups so conditioned will, likely, bump all but the tamest of pen raised birds. It often takes many unsuccessful wild bird contacts to correct this man-made fault which is, therefore, best avoided.

Canine behavior expert and regular Gun Dog Magazine contributor Dr. Ed Bailey cautions: "I think both playing with a live bird and the flipping-the-wing thing at seven weeks - or any puppy age - are mythical nonsense. They both have the potential for setting a pup up for a bunch of future problems. At seven weeks, or even at four or five months old, a pup's orientation is play. Tossing a live bird to a pup is teaching that the bird is a play toy, out of the same box as a squeaky toy. The wing-on-a-string thing is as bad for different reasons. Pointing is a response to an olfactory cue that a bird is right here, while the pause to pose in response to detected motion is strictly visual. Encouraging the pose shows the dog it has to see the object, pause, and then pounce. It nicely teaches a pup to creep in on scent points in order to see the bird."  [For the full text of Dr. Bailey's insightful observations, read "Winging It" in the vol. 30, no. 5 issue of Gun Dog Magazine.]

A puppy’s attitude when sight pointing is frequently not a reliable indicator of his eventual style on game when mature. Pups, lacking the coordination and muscle control of a mature dog, often tend to crank their tail over their back in sickle fashion when sight pointing. These same pups will usually scent point game with a relatively straight tail a few months later. Even adult dogs who find themselves in visual contact with, or in close proximity to, birds, will tends to “pull” their tail forward in a more pronounced arc than usual.

The only legitimate use of the wing-on-a-string is for a breeder to get an active, energetic puppy to stand still long enough to take a clear photograph to provide a prospective buyer. Puppy owners are, therefore, strongly cautioned to refrain from engaging in this potentially detrimental exercise of no redeeming developmental value.