Steadying to Wing and Shot

The  Pointing Dog Journal

Steadying to Wing and Shot
by Bob & Jody Iler

Instilling the whoa command.

Drop Cap  W

teadying your dog to wing and shot is truly an art in bird dog training. It takes a lot of time and patience, even though the training methods used today are generally much better and kinder than some of the techniques used in the past. There are many ways to steady your dog to wing and shot – some better than others. This column describes one method that we often use – it’s easy for an amateur trainer to follow and has few training pitfalls. You can follow it exactly or vary it as you like, but the key element to remember is this: Always read your dog’s reactions and adjust your training accordingly as you go along.

First off, make sure that your dog has a good understanding of the whoa exercise before beginning this training. He should respond well to your command to “Whoa.” He should be pointing staunchly in the field and have at least one season of hunting in, with lots of bird work. He should also be enthusiastic, have plenty of drive, and be developed to the gun.

Begin by reviewing your previous whoa work in the yard or driveway. Using a long checkcord, heel your dog along, then stop and give the whoa command with the hand signal as you turn and face him. Gradually back away to about 20 feet in front of the dog, facing him. Return back to him and quietly praise him. Repeat this process and as you face your dog the second time, kick the ground around your feet, as though you are trying to flush a bird, or drop a handkerchief, etc. from your pocket to the ground. Don’t take your eyes off the dog. If he moves at all, return to him immediately and put him back in the whoa position as you repeat the command “Whoa” with quiet authority and give the hand signal simultaneously.

Watch dog, give hand signal, and release bird.

For the next session, put a couple of pigeons in your vest and first repeat the heel and whoa exercise. This time, as you face your dog, reach slowly behind you, grab a pigeon from your vest and release it quietly, letting it go as your arm is hanging by your side. Don’t make a big show of throwing the bird skyward – do this as unobtrusively as possible, and don’t take your eyes off your dog as you watch him for any sign of movement. As the bird flies off, you will caution your dog with the hand signal, using the verbal whoacommand only as a backup if needed. Be quiet and firm at all times. If your dog moves at all, quickly return to him and put him back in position, repeating your command and hand signal. Heel him along, whoa him and step out in front of him again. Then quietly release the second bird, repeating the process. Two birds are enough for one exercise. If he’s done well on the first bird and did not move, don’t even release the second bird in this session. It’s more important to have the lesson end positively. Too many unsuccessful attempts can frustrate both the dog and the trainer.

Having a helper for these yard sessions will make the training much easier. Your helper should take the checkcord from you after you’ve heeled the dog along and put him on a whoa. As you release the bird, give the hand signal and your helper should gently and silently snub the dog with the checkcord if necessary. The checkcord can also be fashioned into a half-hitch for added emphasis when restraining the dog. The half-hitch keeps the dog standing and gives him mild discomfort that can be more effective than just the checkcord around his neck. Familiarize your dog with the half-hitch first, though, in your whoa training. Otherwise he may become distracted and fight it and you won’t accomplish your goals with the gentle finesse that you want. As your dog consistently gets more reliable, you can use a six-foot training lead, testing him. If he does well with this, you can try the exercise with no lead.

Helper restrains dog as bird is flushed and gun is shot.

Though all this may sound simple and easy, it’s not! These short sessions will need to be repeated over the course of many days, usually weeks – before the dog will stand the bird (stay steady to its flight). Once your dog is doing this, you’re well on your way!

Now it’s time to take the lessons to the field. Here again, a helper will simplify things. Plant a bird in the field and take your dog into it on a checkcord. When he points, hand the checkcord to your helper, who will keep gentle pressure on the dog as you circle around and face him. Use the whoa hand signal and watch your dog as you flush the bird, using the verbal “Whoa” only if necessary. If you’ve done your homework well back in the yard, the pup should stand the bird. Keep him steady on the checkcord as the bird flies and then return to him. Heel him away and out of the field. This gives him a chance to think about this whole new business. The next time out, you can try planting two birds and repeat the lesson with your helper. Always return to your dog and heel him away from that area after the flush. Then go on to the second bird and repeat the entire process. Make sure that you use good-flying birds – birds that fly a short distance and go down will prove too much of a temptation for a young dog.

Now that you’ve started this training, you’re not going to let your dog chase birds in the field anymore. You’ve begun a process of teaching gentle but firm control. He needs to be trained with consistency and not allowed to break and chase. This is why it’s so important that your pup has had plenty of time to enjoy, hunt and chase birds before you begin this training. If not, this type of training can take the sparkle out of some young dogs, inhibiting their drive and enthusiasm before it ever fully develops.

Once your dog is reliably steady to the flight of the bird in the field, you can start to add the gun. The scenario remains the same: Plant your birds, enlist your helper and bring your dog in to point. As your helper takes the checkcord and you circle around to flush, this time you will also shoot your starter pistol while simultaneously giving your hand signal to whoajust after you release the bird and it flies up and away. Again, watch your dog intently as you flush and shoot. Make sure your helper is ready to restrain your dog if necessary. Only use your voice command if needed. Once you’ve shot, return to the dog and heel him away as before. You’ll sometimes find that the gunshot will provoke your (now) well-mannered dog into action. Don’t get discouraged – this entire process of steadying your dog to wing and shot generally takes several months of patient repetition.

You might wonder why we heel a dog away after each exercise, instead of finally letting him retrieve or just run around as a “reward” for his hard work. If you allow your dog to do this while steadying him to wing and shot, he will find it too difficult to restrain himself and will soon begin to break. Once he has truly learned to be steady to wing and shot, he must always be kept this way. He must be hunted with other dogs of this same caliber and training level in order to keep his manners and not regress. We’ve seen field champions break on crippled birds, unable to withstand the temptation. As we’ve said, this is “college-level” work and not meant for young dogs. It puts a lot of pressure on them, and they need to be mentally ready for this sort of training. So do you!

A “well-broke” dog that is steady to wing and shot is a joy to compete and hunt with, but never at the expense of damaging his spirit or drive in the field. That’s why this training takes so much time and patience, but the rewards are worth it. Feel free to check with us if you have any questions. We’ll see you next month when we begin the trained retrieve! Ender

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

Pointing Dog Puppy Primer -- Which One is For You?

By Bob & Jody Iler

Choosing a puppy is one of life's very special pleasures. But deciding what pointing dog breed is right for you can be a challenge -- and may make the difference between an experience in frustration and a partnership of contentment. Some questions to ask yourself before you research pointing breeds are:

* What type of birds will you be hunting?
* Where will you hunt and what type of habitat /climate will you be hunting in?
* Do you want your dog to range out or work close?
* How old are you?
* What kind of physical condition are you in?
* How would you describe your personality? Are you easygoing and tolerant? Are you a perfectionist with a short supply of patience?
* Where will your dog live -- in the house with you or outside in a kennel?
* Do you have the patience to clean burrs from a long coat after each hunt?

After years of experience working with different pointing breeds and their owners, we've found that the ideal matches are ones where the owners chose breeds that best fit them. Answer the questions above and you’ll have a checklist to match with the characteristics of your ideal pointing dog....Ender

First Wood Tick Of The Season

Found my first wood tick of the season. Odd thing is that I was in the backyard. No long grass or anything. Have to get the magic juice on the dogs.

The Dog Dilemma

In early February my dog, Tina, started to act very whiney and was limping. A few days later her back left hip was swollen. A visit to the local vet and he thought it was a grass awn that had migrated down to her hip area. Instead of surgery we went for a round of antibiotics. They seemed to work and in a week she was back to normal.

Then about two weeks ago she started to limp but without any swelling. Her respiration was faster and she just never seemed comfortable. A trip to the Univ of MN Vet Hospital and a visit with Doc Anderson and it was pretty clear that something was definitely out of whack. He was pretty confident that it was inflammation caused by a foreign body. It would be a spendy and involved operation. Tina is going to turn eight this summer so I figured that if she did have a full recovery that she would have a few more really good seasons hunting or if she recovered just enough to be house dog that she deserved that also as she is a total sweetheart of a dog and has always put it on the line when we went hunting. It was a lot of money but in the end we decided that she deserved a shot at feeling good.

I dropped her off on Wednesday morning and they operated in the afternoon. They called in the evening to say that it went well and that they removed a fair amount of damaged tissue and were draining an area of infection. On Thursday they kept in the ICU as the anesthesia seemed to have affected her more than they thought. They also had an IV giving her more fluids as she was dehydrated. Another night in ICU and on Friday they moved her to the general care ward. We went to the U to pick her up on Friday evening and she had developed a cough so we had an X-ray done to see if it was pneumonia or not. The results looked like a slight case of pneumonia so we decided to let her stay one more night.

Saturday the U gave us a call and said she was all clear to come home. Yeah! She will be ticked off at us for two weeks while she wears her protective Ecollar and gets to stay in her travel kennel, it is a very large one though. She has had her first meal and meds and seems to be almost back to her cheery self.

The U is more expensive than the local vet but they have actual Radiologists and Anesthetists right there in case they are needed.

This round of care is more then I spent on a few cars back in the day but I plan on her being around longer than any of those cars made it.

The ruffed grouse grapevine has already put out the word on our return to the woods this fall after mostly chasing pheasants the last few years.

New Puppy

My friend Tony O was picking up his new GSP puppy from Sharp Shooter's Kennel so I went along for the ride. The puppy was nice and friendly. He whined for the first 20-30 minutes of the ride home but that is to be expected.

I keep telling him he needs to switch to dogs with full tails but he never will listen...