Backing point

Backing is one of the finer aspects of a bird dog’s performance and can be among the prettiest. When hunting a brace of dogs, it’s pretty cool to find one on point and the other backing.

Backing is a natural quality. A lot of dogs will back properly without any training.
~Er M. Shelley, Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow, 1921

Backing is simply one dog honoring another dog’s point. A true back doesn’t involve scent; rather it’s strictly by sight. Like the ideal point, the ideal back isn’t too far away or too close. A dog should back so it doesn’t inadvertently flush the birds. Finally, the backing dog should to be close enough to the action so it can mark where the birds fly or find dead birds if necessary.

However, it is a fault for a dog to back a long distance away and remain there.
~Er M. Shelley, Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow, 1921

Like pointing, backing is an inherited instinct but it varies quite a bit. Some dogs look for opportunities to back and, the other extreme, a few do everything to avoid backing.

Backing can be refined through exposure and training.

We introduce puppies to backing beginning at about four months of age. We work them in groups where they learn to read each other. They start to understand how other puppies act when they smell birds. In addition, the action attracts other puppies and then everyone gets in on the flush of the bird.

The next phase is when the flush is preceded by a brief point. Puppies recognize that a point means a bird and so naturally start to back on their own.  Of course, they don’t back for a long period of time but they have learned the basic concept.

For older dogs, we use two different methods. The first involves two dogs, one working ahead in the bird field and another on a check cord behind. When the lead dogs goes on point, we stop the second dog, style it up but say nothing. It probably doesn’t understand what’s happening at first, but after it has seen birds flushed in front of the lead dog a few times, most start to back on their own.

Another method is to use a backing dog silhouette, a piece of equipment that’s a life-sized cutout of a dog on point. I have an older one on spikes that needs to be manually raised and lowered and a fancier version that’s remotely controlled.

We use the silhouettes to create an association between a dog on point and birds. We place the silhouette in the field with a pigeon in a bird launcher behind it. We lead the dog into the field and, as soon as it sees the backing dog and doesn’t stop, we flush the pigeon. After several repetitions of this, most dogs stop and back as soon as it sees the silhouette.

Backing drills are often overdone. Even dogs that back well can sour on too much training. My experience is that if the dog backed last time, it’s likely to back the next time, too.

Once a dog has shown it will back, the best way to reinforce the behavior is to work dogs in braces and let backing happen naturally.

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