The pointing dog’s stare
A well-trained, well-bred dog of pointing stock will stand holding the game, totally motionless for very long periods
When first seeing a pointer working at speed suddenly freeze on point, a newcomer to the spectacle may often unconsciously emulate it, standing rigidly in almost the same catatonic state as the dog and the game it is pointing. The sight of a dog, or dogs, quartering the ground then stopping abruptly as if turned to stone with the classic pointing dog’s stare is an electrifying spectacle to the uninitiated and can still thrill even the experienced handler. The transition from moving fluidly at speed to a rigid stance is dramatic, impressive and arresting.
A good dog will hold a point indefinitely
Once on point, a well-trained, well-bred dog of pointing stock will stand holding the game, totally motionless for very long periods, until the handler gives the command to flush, or some outside influence breaks the spell. There’s the apocryphal story of the American hunter who lost his pointing dog while out shooting during a sudden autumn snowstorm, and found the skeletal remains still on point the following spring, with the remains of a covey in front of it.
A shooting partner of mine, however, swore that on one occasion, just as they were about to adjourn for lunch, it was brought to his attention that his dog had come on point some 70 or 80 yards in front of them.
“It will still be there after we’ve eaten,” he replied nonchalantly.
“I’ll lay a fiver it won’t,” said a fellow Gun and was promptly taken up on the wager.
Some three-quarters of an hour later, after their lunch break, they approached the dog still on point, shot a brace of birds and my friend claimed his five pounds. It’s a story I have no reason to doubt, since a good dog will hold its point indefinitely. I have certainly had dogs holding a point for more than a quarter of an hour and occasionally a good deal longer. It is not something I have ever tried to time, as it is probably not very good for the dog and proves very little.
The pointing dog’s stare
The dictionary definition of catatonic is “in an immobile or unresponsive stupor”. A dog is in a catatonic state on point and so a young dog especially may not readily respond to commands. It can sometimes be very irritating when a young dog is in position and won’t move in when urged to do so, remaining rigid and refusing all commands to flush the game, seemingly oblivious to anything other than the contact between itself and its quarry.
This is a situation which many owners of pointing dogs must have encountered and can be frustrating. The snag is that, in training a dog too young to flush on command, it’s possible to overdo it and even spoil its decisiveness on point.
Probably better, then, during the early stages to have a youngster staying firmly on point and resisting commands to flush, rather than one too eager to get in and losing intensity on point, eventually failing to hold at all and simply flushing game at once, which is useless.
The opposite, on the other hand a sticky pointer which remains firmly on point, or points the scent of moving game at intervals but will not get in and flush on command is almost worse. It’s a question of training each individual dog at the right time and not allowing either of these tiresome vices to develop.
Points are different
Of course, two points are seldom the same. A dog may overshoot a scent which is suddenly wafted up unexpectedly by a flukey side wind. They may then be caught in an awkward, rigid pose, pointing backwards over their shoulder. Alternatively, a scent may pass over a wall or similar obstacle and the dog may come on point with its hindlegs on the ground and its forelegs on the wall, or possibly even standing firmly on the wall with its companion ‘backing’ alongside it.
On the other hand, the working companion, if there is one, may be backing in an opposing direction in a very different way or even in a similar pose side-by-side. While always an arresting spectacle, points can be very different. There is no doubt that the catatonic state also extends to the animals or birds being pointed. Out on horseback once, I saw my dog pointing a hare to one side. I walked the mare forward and halted so that the hare was immediately between the horse’s legs. It remained in the same catatonic state as the dog, several yards away downwind. Curious, I dangled the whip I was carrying and flicked the hare’s backside.
I got the reaction I deserved for this ill-considered move. The hare, suddenly released from its catatonic state, leaped upwards, electrified by the touch of the whip on its back, and hit the horses belly with a resounding thud, then went off across the field like a rocket. The mare, naturally enough, bucked spectacularly and I, leaning casually forward, deservedly went over her shoulder to land on my back in the field, with the reins in one hand and whip in the other, winded but unhurt. My dog obviously thought I deserved all I got for spoiling the point and quite right too. Clearly, however, until I broke the spell, that hare was locked in mesmerised contact with the dog, as might a single bird or a covey following the example of the dominant older birds.
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Using pointing dogs
Though it is most common to use a pair of pointing dogs together, there’s no reason why three or more shouldn’t be worked at the same time. I like using one dog, but get more pleasure in working two and seeing them backing each other. Even better, I find, is working three as a team or, sometimes with another handler, two pairs together and seeing them all freeze as one. When sometimes as much as a quarter of a mile apart on an undulating moor, it is very desirable to know which dog came on point first, or much effort may be wasted in walking from one dog to another. Usually the handler with the dog on point will raise his hand to bring it to the nearest Gun’s attention. It all makes for interesting sport and keeps the handlers and Guns alert.
At the end of a successful day on a hilly moor, especially where much of the heather is long, the dogs will be tired and deserve a well-earned drink and a rest from their labours. By this time burdened with heavy game bags and guns the handlers and Guns may also be close to a catatonic state.