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You’re an avid hunter. You love nothing more than being out in God’s backyard with a rifle slung over your shoulder and your canine pal at your side. In fact, you’re a team. Your Labrador Retriever isn’t just there to keep you company. They help you locate and bring down prey. But to do that, your dog needs to be highly trained. In fact, for you to both be able to hunt successfully and safely, they need to be able to point. It is perhaps the most important command a gun dog must learn.
If you can teach them to point, firstly, you will have a good idea of where the prey is. But more than that, they will know to stay still until released. This means you can shoot over your Labrador Retriever’s head without having to worry they may somehow get caught in the crossfire.
Training your Labrador Retriever to point isn’t going to be without its challenges. In fact, this command requires a high level of control, which only comes from rigorous training. Ideally, you will start at a young age. You will then get them used to the hunting environment and gradually introduce obedience commands. You will use positive reinforcements in the form of treats and toys throughout.
If your Lab is just a puppy, they should be a fast learner. This means you could see results in a matter of weeks. However, if your Labrador Retriever is older and stubborn, then you may need several months before training yields consistent results. If you stick to training, you will have a formidable hunting companion and your chances of returning emptyhanded will be much slimmer. Finally, this type of training is simply a fantastic way to spend time with your canine pal.
Before you can start training them to point, you will need to gather a few items. You will need some prey decoy toys, which can be bought from online and local stores. You will also need a generous stockpile of treats. Alternatively, you can break their favorite food into small chunks.
You will need space to train too. A large yard will be a good place to start. However, you will later need local fields and their future hunting arena to train in. A whistle and a launcher will also be required.
Once you have all that, just bring enthusiasm and patience, then work can begin!
The Whistle Method
The first thing to do is to teach your Labrador Retriever to stop with a whistle. You can whistle hands-free or you can use a physical whistle. Place him around 20 yards away and call the dog over to you. Issue a whistle command so he stops. If he does, they’re ready to progress to the next step.
Now you need to test their stopping capabilities in a hunting situation. So use a launcher in order to get a decoy to land around 10 yards in front of you. Call your dog, launch the decoy and issue a 'stop' whistle. Keep practicing this until your Labrador Retriever automatically learns to stop as soon as the decoy pops up.
Once they are into the hang of it, it’s time to up the stakes. Practice exactly the same procedure around real pigeons. Keep practicing until your Labrador Retriever demonstrates they will stop whenever a bird pops up.
Now set up the bird launcher so you approach it from downwind. You’re going to start getting your dog to respond to just the smell. As soon as he detects game, launch the bird. Practice this in numerous locations. Your Labrador Retriever will soon stop whenever he smells the bird.
Take it slow
The mistake many owners make is to rush the above steps. It’s important the dog masters a step before you move onto the next one. Also keep training sessions relatively short, especially if the dog is a puppy. Otherwise they will soon lose focus.
The Natural Method
Let them chase
When your Labrador Retriever is just a puppy, let them chase prey. They will soon learn they can’t catch them and instead will start to creep and become stealthier, like a cat.
Now bring your dog on a check cord crosswind of a launcher. As soon as they smell the bird, release the launcher. This technique uses the bird to teach your Labrador Retriever how to point naturally, without you having to risk confusing them.
Once it has been launched, you should hold the dog back just enough so they cannot actually catch the bird. Then once the bird is in the air, you can drop the check cord and let them chase.
When your puppy grows up or the ground isn’t suitable for free running, keep hold of the check cord and let your Labrador Retriever chase them until the end. Your dog will love watching the birds fly, so that is their reward.
Try not to interfere
Too many owners interfere too much when training their dog to point. Your Labrador Retriever is a natural born hunter. So let them learn from their mistakes. You simply need to make occasional tweaks as listed above, to hep them learn.
The Hold Method
Take your Labrador Retriever up to a flock of birds or around the countryside. Don’t shoot when you see any animals. Instead let them point left and right, getting excited. Eventually they will then stop.
When they have indeed stopped of their own accord, go over and say ‘hold’. Give the command in a stern but playful voice. Your Labrador Retriever will always learn best when they think they’re playing a game. Note you can use any word or phrase you like for the instruction.
Once they are still and you’ve given the command, you can hand over some treats or a toy as a reward. You can also shower them in verbal praise. You should do this every time they stand still around prey.
Now take them to prey. Don’t get over excited when they point. Instead just blow a whistle. This will tell them to wait until you come to them. You can then give the ‘hold’ instruction to keep them steady.
If your dog bolts as soon as they get the chance, try using a long leash or rope to start with. You can then practice using the ‘hold’ instruction and the whistle to keep them focused until they naturally develop the point.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/19/2018, edited: 01/08/2021