I’m thinking not many middle-aged women ask their parents for a whoa post for Christmas. But I did one year.
Mom and Dad asked what I wanted and that was it.
The command “whoa” means stop where you are and don’t move. A whoa post is simply a stake that is driven into the ground. It can be made of metal, wood or composites. It can also be a tree. It just has to be solidly secured.
In classic use of the post, one end of a 20- to 25-foot check cord is attached to the post and the other end is attached to the dog. A second check cord or lead of similar length is attached to the dog. The handler, standing in front of the dog, controls the second cord by pulling it away from the whoa post. The dog is caught in the middle. The post simply limits how far the dog can go while the handler associates the “whoa” command with the stopped action.
It is a lot more complicated than this in regard to how the ropes are attached to the dog and timing for corrections, but some of the books I talked about in an earlier column explain it quite well.
I have plenty of trees on my property and really didn’t need the post for the classic purpose. I wanted it to teach something else.
When the elementary lessons of being a bird dog have been taught and it’s time to put it all together, it can be tricky to teach beyond the basics by yourself. It’s not always possible to find another person to hold a dog for you, and it certainly isn’t possible to be in two places at once.
So I wanted the post to help me teach the dog to be “steady to wing.” That is bird dog jargon for having the dog remain in the whoa position when the bird flies out of its hiding place. Young dogs especially want to chase the bird down, and it’s a habit that can be hard to break.
Using my whoa post in this way involves attaching the dog’s collar to a clasp on the stake while the dog is in whoa position, reminding the dog to remain in that position with a “whoa” command and perhaps a “stop” type of hand signal, walking away and then flushing the bird from its cover.
The post should keep the dog where it is when the bird flies off, reminding the dog that it must not chase the bird.
I learned this method from my male Brittany dogs’ co-owner and breeder, John Short Sr., and it is quite effective most of the time. Although it doesn’t totally replace someone who can correct the dog immediately and reinforce the command, it does provide a method to begin teaching this skill when alone.
Another piece of equipment that makes it easier to train when alone is the bird launcher. This is essentially a small metal basket with a hammock type of apparatus that fits inside to hold a pigeon-sized bird comfortably. The action of putting the bird and hammock into the basket closes the top of the launcher.
The launcher then is placed in cover such as tall grass or the edge of the woods.
The top can be opened from a distance using a string on manual launchers or, in more sophisticated models, a remote control. When the launcher opens, it makes the bird hammock go taut, kind of springing the bird into the air and the bird flies off.
Using a bird launcher gives the handler time to make sure the dog being trained is set up correctly, and allows the handler to attend to the dog instead of the bird when the bird flies off.
It is also useful if the trainer is teaching the dog to retrieve the bird and needs to shoot the bird once it is airborne.
I don’t own a launcher myself, but it’s on my list. I’ve had the opportunity to use one and I liked it. Manual launchers are at least $60 — usually more. The remote control launchers, depending on the sophistication, can cost several hundred dollars, but most start around $200.
But don’t worry Mom and Dad, I am saving up for this one myself.
Note to Readers: The next It’s a Bird Dog’s Life will be published in two weeks, and will continue on an every-other-week schedule.
Julie Murchison Harris is community editor at Bangor Daily News. She is widowed and shares her life with three Brittanys: Sassy, 12, Bullet, 10, and Quincy, 4 — in an old farmhouse in Hermon.