Backing - The Finishing Touch on your Finished Dog
Begin your training with the silhouette.
acking, or honoring, is the icing on the cake for the finished dog. The sight of one dog backing another in the field is right up there on the list of images that will take your breath away.
Backing happens when hunting two or more well-trained dogs together. When one of the dogs gets a bird scent and points, the backing dog—as he comes toward the dog that is pointing—stops immediately and points the other dog. When the second dog sees the first dog on point, he should stop and “honor” the other dog’s point, whether or not he himself has made scent.
Teaching your (almost) finished dog to back can be a fun exercise. Many dogs are natural backers, while some will have to be taught. But even a natural backer will need extra training to remain steady throughout the scenario of watching the flush, shot, and retrieve handled by another dog. This is a lot to ask of him. We are aiming to make the dog a “gentleman” hunter—instilling manners and reliability in all situations.
To begin, you’ll need birds, a field to work in, your blank gun, and a helper. Initially, we use a plywood pointing dog silhouette for this training. You can get the less-expensive “manual” kind (with a metal stake attached to it that you push into the ground), or you can purchase one that operates remotely. Remote bird launchers can also be used (eliminating the need for a helper in the early stages of training). Using either the manual or remote silhouette, stake or set it out in an area that is concealed – behind a pile of brush or stand of trees – from the main part of your training field. Plant a bird about 15 feet from the silhouette, which should be facing in the direction of the bird, just as a dog would normally be if pointing it.
Your helper should already be out in the field, also out of immediate sight. Work your dog into the field on a checkcord. As you come into view of the silhouette, watch your dog closely for the first moment that he sees the “other dog” on point. When he does, he’ll probably hesitate. Even if it’s only a split second,that’s the moment when you gently stop and whoa him. The helper should flush the planted bird as you keep your dog on a whoa, and as the bird flies, fire your blank gun. (Make sure your dog is well-developed to the gun before doing this training!)
Heel your dog away from this area and have the helper lay the silhouette on the ground out of sight. Never let your dog run over to or sniff the silhouette. Always keep him at a distance during these exercises. Take him out of the field for the day and let him think about this new phase of training. Repeat this exercise several times a week, varying the locations a bit, until he stops on his own when he sees the silhouette and remains calm and reliably steady while the bird is flushed and you shoot. You can also intersperse this training with regular training sessions where you don’t have the silhouette in the field. We don’t want to pattern-train him; we want to keep him on his toes.
Only work with another well-trained finished dog.
Next, you can move on to using a live dog for this exercise. Plant a bird in the field and have your helper work the first dog into the bird before you come into the field. Give the first dog time to go on point and then bring your dog into the area. If all goes well, your dog should back the other dog and remain steady through the flush and shot. The helper should keep the other dog steady during this time as well. Remember that your goal is a mannerly finished dog.
Don’t be surprised if your dog fails to back the live dog at first. Just because he’s honored the silhouette is no guarantee he’ll honor the live dog. Keep at the exercises until he backs at first sight of the other dog. Some dogs seem to have innate backing instinct and some will take longer to catch on, so be patient, persistent and firm. You’re also working to instill control quietly—as time goes on, you want your dog to back on sight without you using your voice or giving a signal.
When working on backing exercises, you’ll always want to work with another well-trained finished dog. All of us have hunted in situations where dogs have failed to back and have charged in to either steal another dog’s point or even flush the bird out from under the other dog. We don’t want these types of scenarios in college-level work. We use skilled dogs with superb manners as we develop our student. There should be no aggression or free-for-alls with the honoring exercises.
A great job of honoring by the dog on the far left.
Once your dog is backing consistently and remaining steady to shot, it’s time to introduce the final element: keeping him steady and honoring while the other dog makes the retrieve. Next time you take your dog to the field for the backing exercise, have your helper/handler shoot the flushed bird and then send his dog for the retrieve on command. Up until now, you’ve been working with flyaway birds. Your dog will be sorely tested to remain steady while the other dog heads out for a retrieve. But if you’ve laid your groundwork well on the “Steady to Wing and Shot” phase of training, this shouldn’t be too difficult. After the other dog has retrieved, you can release both dogs and let them have a little fun run to ease any tensions.
When your dog understands and performs the backing exercise well, you can change up the scenario and occasionally let your dog be the “first dog.” This way he’ll have the reward of a retrieve for all his hard work.
Developing a dog that can truly be called a finished dog takes a lot of time, patience, and effort but the rewards are unmatched. Whether you go on to compete in field events to show off his skills, or simply enjoy the pleasure of hunting with a well-trained, mannerly dog, you can be proud of your accomplishment!
Next month, we leave the canine college campus and return to preschool, where we’ll feature “A Pointing Dog Primer—which one is for you?”
Pointing Dog Pointers features monthly training tips by Bob and Jody Iler, who own Green Valley Kennels in Dubuque, Iowa. Bob and Jody have trained pointing dogs for over 35 years and have written many articles for Pointing Dog Journal. You can look up their website at www.greenvalleykennels.com.