We’ve bragged for years about our dogs. It’s part of the game, I think. Part of the culture. Everybody does it, or badly wants to. The dog work this season, though, has not begun as expected. The theme so far has been The False Point. Maybe the chickens are coming home to roost from the two years the dogs spent pointing ghostbirds in the timber farms on the Olympic Peninsula. There were birds there, both ruffed and sooty grouse, and the daily walks sometimes witnessed actual birds, sometimes by sight but more often by wing sounds when they busted. Most often, though, probably by a real-to-fake ratio of 1:100, it was Bloom pointing scent, backed spectacularly by Peat. This pattern grew increasingly boring for us, especially because the “forest” was so dense that you or the dogs literally could not penetrate into it at all off of the logging roads to try to relocate the birds. We did not, though, suspect that this daily routine might be damaging our dogs for chukar hunting.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe the preponderance of false pointing so far this season is just a phase and evidence of their incredible noses working to “recalibrate the stations of the [living].” “Never doubt your dog” has always been our mantra, but it’s being tested, and frequently conflicts with another mantra: “Never lose altitude.” I’ve lost track of the times this season that Leslie or I have descended far down a slope to reach a pointing Bloom, only to learn it was fake. This is a new one on us. Even Peat, whose batting average isn’t quite as high as Angus’s (I don’t recall Angus ever false pointing) but is still stellar, has begun fooling himself and, thus, us.

We don’t want to lose faith. Losing faith in your dog is like wondering if the sun will rise tomorrow, and really not knowing. You don’t want to go there. One hunt last week, Bloom false pointed at least 20 times, and never pointed actual birds. Leslie and I were nearly despondent, and afterward pored over the Internet searching for answers. There were as many differing opinions on the matter as there were people giving them. We decided that the most sensible thing to try was to speedily walk past Bloom when he pointed, letting him know we didn’t acknowledge his fake, and hope that eventually he’d find and hold real birds, whereupon we’d fire, hopefully hit one, and get him a full cycle out of the deal, re-cementing what’s supposed to happen: point – hold – bust – shot – retrieve. But the very next hunt, he nailed five straight real points, so that plan went out the window, thankfully. We thought, “Oh, we’ve been too neurotic about this whole thing; it was just a phase.” But on the next hunt, he only false pointed. Numerous times. And Peat did, too. Arg.

So we’re back to scratching our heads. I considered keeping this quiet because it probably makes us look like idiots (nothing new), and because I didn’t want to malign in any way these incredible dogs from a fantastic breeder, but I’m wondering if the smart people I’m used to hearing from here might have something helpful to say about it.

Classic Bloom false point on a logging road near Neah Bay, WA on a bizarrely sunny day.
This one, yesterday, was real. Of course it’s the one I shot with my camera and not the gun.
The classic double false point, or “Point-off.” The upside is that we have two dogs that love to honor.

12 Replies to “Fake”

  1. Bob, I’ve seen my share of false pointing. It can come from boredom (lack of productivity), young dogs with a strong nose and control issues (look at me, I can make my people and dog pals pay attention to me). I bet that Pete knows when this is happening more than you, because of how my dogs have reacted to false pointing.

    When I’m having an issue of false points I send the perpetrator on by a “look on” command and then ignore the dog. The perp generally checks out the situation and leaves his post if in fact no birds are present.

    Lots of bird contacts usually cures the problem. I would find a big covey of quail that you can scatter and see how things go.

    Good luck, I know this will pass.

  2. What do the dogs do after you walk in on the point? Are they working to find scent? If they are not doing this then they may be sight pointing movement which many times is a mouse or something else they are not sure of. If they are scouring the ground for scent, maybe there were birds at the site earlier. I’ve seen really good dogs point the same pheasant roost an hour later because the odor is still there.

    1. Good question, Cliff. I’m pretty sure they’re earnestly searching for galliformes. Everything about the false points has looked and felt real. I truly think there’s just a lot more scent than they’re used to: a combination of having been gone for a couple years and there being more birds than they’ve ever been around. Conditions have been much moister than I ever remember in the early season, with far more greenup than I’ve seen in early October, so I think the birds are moving around a lot more and leaving more scent than usual, confusing the dogs. At least that’s my theory at this point.

  3. By way of fellow feeling, this season, my eight-year-old female griff and four-year-old pointer have both decided to point tweety birds. The female, has done this a few times over the years, but only when by herself, and only when bored. (I honestly think she thinks it’s hilarious.)
    Oh yeah, and the pointer is decided to “point” cattle. Once I see him, I can tell it’s not a bird, but the Garmin doesn’t recognize that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ben. If the details of it weren’t so upsetting together they’d be truly funny. I did like imagining your dog considering herself a comedian. I suppose I should be grateful ours haven’t resorted to cows and warblers.

  4. My hypothesis is that the high humidity of the Olympic Peninsula creates scent cones that are relatively easy for a dog to slam into and hold–like buttered popcorn in a circus tent. The arid conditions of early season chukar habitat create scent cones that are far more ephemeral, wispy even. When I checked in with my two Brittanys, dead on the couch after pointing four chukar coveys and one Hungarian covey yesterday (and a couple of false points) confirm the brilliance of my scientific insight–or, at least, say nary a word in contradiction. Bob, when you were in exile, did you train the pups to regard spruce grouse by their proper name: “fool hens?” If not, they may have regarded pointing fool hens as serious dog work and now may think chukar have similar bird brains. They false point without proper judgment. Just saying . . . .

    1. Great to hear from you, Mark! Thanks for the entertaining and thoughtful comments. Like buttered popcorn in a circus tent! Your hypothesis makes sense, but it’s really the anomaly that’s puzzling. I wish we’d had the chance to find spruce grouse where we were self-exiled, but we failed in that, too. Strangely, the best dog work Bloom’s done so far has been on dusky grouse, which I’m not used to seeing dogs hold. So maybe you’re right… Glad you found lots of birds yesterday! Sounds like a great day.

  5. Who can understand the mysteries of scent? Personally, I would take 10 false points rather than busted birds. FWIW, my youngest dog,2 years old, has more false points than the other 2. But, she will learn. That is no good answer to you, but I would just wait it out, praise when there is a bird and a scowl when there isn’t.

  6. Bob,
    One other thought. When my five-year-old Brittany, Grace, false points, I am convinced she is trying to please me. Her left eye subtly rotates to look at me even as she remains staunch on point–she looks at me more than when on a real point with actual birds. She’s such a people pleaser that I am convinced inside her canine brain that she’s looking for affirmation from me for how wonderful it is she has pointed again. Here-to-fore, she’s seen, heard and smelt my excitement dozens of times when real birds were involved. She knows my armpits stink more, my heartbeat races and my muscle intensity vibrates more whenever she points. She senses my excitement and because she is a real con, (a manipulative bitch). she false points. I’m not saying there is no odor of chukar in the atmosphere. I just know she wants me to gush at how adept and brilliant she is. My other Brit, Kate eleven years old, is less a con, more independent and false points rarely. She’ll back a false point, but rarely initiates one. I am so amazed at how attuned they are to us. I think they have two brain cells, one for their humans, and one for Galliformes.

    As far as the anomaly you mention, two years of Leslie and you affirming your Brits for pointing grouse (a relatively rare occurrence) by gushing at every point, conditions the mutts to false point to seek your affirmation. However, the conditions are more difficult in chukar hunting due to the aridity of the atmosphere in early season chukar season. Bottom line, some Brits (and maybe some Setters, agnostic on GSPs) are cons, manipulative, scheming, cunning, calculating people pleasers.

  7. I would consider hunting only 1 dog at a time, as well as trying to hunt only on days with reasonably steady winds.
    Maybe consider running them wide open in hun country on the right day..
    IMO , they(your dogs) just need to get back into the swing of things, which you can help by putting them on plenty of birds at the right time/condition and in the right cover.
    I break my dogs of chasing/hunting rabbits and use the command “leave it” if they are just screwing around…..and yes, when they get bored they do screw around a bit with non target smells..

    I suspect you will see better performance once some good snow cover is on the ground….but I wouldn’t wait for that.

    It’s obvious you are frustrated with this turn of events, but I think it’s pretty fixable …just keep at it and good luck

  8. Alas my 3yo pigheaded setter is driving me crazy this year with false points too. Between the meadowlarks and the complete ghost points we’re talking 90% of them.

    She’s always been an “optimistic” pointer and hunted for herself, but if she doesn’t quit it she’ll be driving for herself to get to the hill.

Chirp away

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