I used to believe forward-running dogs were bred—as simple as breeding a forward-running male to a forward-running female—but over time I learned it was more than just breeding. It was a combination of breeding and training. If you think about it, forward is by definition “in front,” but in front of what? The answer is, in front of you. You determine the front, and it changes every time you change direction. A dog that runs all over the place is running for himself and does not care where you are. A forward-running dog stays in front and is running for you.
Good bird dogs are bred with the instinct to hunt in front of you. Without it, you would flush birds before your dog found them. Like most pointing dog instincts, this instinct needs to be developed. Taking your pup afield when he is young and following behind him is a great way to encourage him to be in front. Once he is staying in front, you begin to change direction and ask him to go with you. He should bend and go to the front. As he becomes older and more independent, you introduce the e-collar to ask him to go with you. You are teaching him that his place is in front of you, and he learns to pay attention to you so he knows where to go. If you develop this instinct at a young age, your dog will be forward-running because he never learned any other way to run.
About ten years ago I purchased a six-month-old started female from out west. She was bred right, and I could hardly wait to see what she would do. I tacked up my horse and turned her loose. She took off running like a crazy dog, and I remember thinking I might never see her again. When I finally rounded her up, I knew I had to introduce the e-collar before letting her go again. It took about a month to teach her to go with me using the pinch-collar, check-cord, and e-collar, and when I eventually felt confident about using the e-collar to make her go with me, I turned her loose again.
Her first cast was to the side, and I knew she was already in her own world. I continued in the direction I was heading, called her a couple of times, and tapped her with the e-collar. It took a little convincing, but she came around. It was not long before she headed off to the side again, and once again I used the e-collar to ask her to bend and go with me. It took a couple more weeks, but soon I had a pup that was running and hunting in front of me. The transformation was incredible. While her range shortened, she went from running reckless to staying forward and paying attention.
I forgot about this experience until a few years later when I turned a pup loose and he did the same thing. It was then I realized that a forward-running dog had to pay attention; he had to know where I was. I could not have one without the other. So I stopped running him and introduced him to the e-collar. Before long he was a forward-running pup.
A lot of field trialers argue that using an e-collar this way shortens a dog’s range, but if the dog is bred to run, he will run, and if he is not forward, who cares what his range is. If you teach your dog to pay attention when he is young, your dog will be forward-running and will want to stay in contact with you. Some of these dogs learn to show to the front. Showing is a field trial term for a dog that intentionally shows himself to let his handler know where he is. He does not come in to the handler, but rather, he stays out front, giving the handler an occasional glimpse of where he is. A good hunting dog does the same thing, letting the hunter know he is hunting and not standing on point.
While genetics plays an important role, a forward-running dog knows he is part of a team. It’s really simple: Your job is to determine the front, and your dog’s job is to hunt in front of you.