What is Flagging in a Dog?

Are you planning on training your dog to hunt? Then flagging should probably be at the top of your list. We have been working on flagging with our dogs, so we can all better understand what their tail movements mean when out in the field.

Flagging Term – Flagging Bird Dog vs Flagging In Season

The term flagging is used to describe a dog’s tail movements when they wag their back end from side to side. Flagging is common in hunting dogs and females when they are in season.

The key differences between flagging in a bird dog and flagging in a female on heat are:

  • Bird dogs, especially young ones that are in the process of training, may start flagging when they detect game nearby.

  • Female dogs often move their tail to the side to tell male dogs they are fertile. Flagging occurs in the first part of the heat cycle (proestrus) and the second part (estrus) to indicate female fertility and interest in reproducing.

  • Flagging is acceptable for females in season, particularly for breeders, but flagging is not ideal in bird dogs, as it causes distraction and tension between dogs.

What Causes Flagging In a Bird Dog

The root cause of flagging in a bird dog is the presence of birds nearby. A well-trained and highly focused hunting dog will lock up and freeze with remarkable rigidness when they detect the bird’s scent. Ideally, only the dog’s eyes will indicate which direction the game is, while the rest of their body is still.

A flagging dog doesn’t have quite the same focus or enough training to completely freeze and wait for direction. When dogs exhibit flagging, they are anticipating future contact with the bird.

Disciplined bird dogs should stop and honor the bird scent without moving any part of their body, including the tail. While it can be tempting to let flagging slide, especially if the bird dog still does a good job of retrieving otherwise, it’s always best to correct this behavior.

Many handlers know all too well that early flagging behavior can lead to other issues down the line, from blinked retrieves to ripped birds, and stealing points, all of which can impact overall productivity.

Handlers who can figure out the mental reasoning behind their dog’s flagging may have better luck correcting this behavior and keeping training on track.

When you want a determined point in a dog that’s as still as a statue, but instead you notice poor posture like flagging, it’s a sign they are distracted, overly excited, or mentally struggling in the situation. The reasons for flagging often fall into two key categories:

  • Immature foundation/deficient training. When a dog is still young and developing in their training, they may need more time to fully grasp what they should and should not do while hunting. This occurs when the bird dog does not yet have the required drive and comprehension to excitedly detect and pursue birds.

  • Over driven and unbalanced. Some dogs appear over-driven and struggle to control their emotions. In this case, the bird dog lacks the mental toughness and training required to perform at the highest level in the field.

How to Stop a Dog From Flagging

Flagging Dog

Flagging can cause problems especially when hunting in groups with multiple dogs. If one bird dog is flagging, it’s almost like they are calling dibs on the game. That’s why it’s important to stick to strict training to teach the dog that they won’t get the bird reward until they stop moving their tail.

Here are a few tried and tested ways to stop a dog from flagging.

  • Introduce the dog to wild birds. Many success stories of flagging fixers involve testing the dog in the field with wild game. The same goes for other unideal pointing behavior such as creeping or cat-walking.

  • Prevent creeping on point. Flagging dogs need a reminder that their tail movement results in fewer birds and rewards. Don’t allow the dog to creep on point, and show them that if they do, the bird is released without shot or retrieval.

  • Monitor for disobedience. It’s best to keep praise to a minimum during training and practice. For example, if a dog is flagging slightly but then corrects itself before hearing the shot and retrieving the bird, they may fall into bad habits. You don’t want to go overboard on the praise and accidentally make the dog more excited and impatient.

Keeping these recommendations in mind, here are a few steps to follow to tie it all together and train a bird dog not to flag in the field.

  1. Start advancing broadside toward the dog like you’re flushing the bird. Make sure the dog can track the movement with their peripheral vision.

  2. When you notice the tail movement as you walk slowly, say “no” right away in a low tone.

  3. Stand still until the tail stops moving, and stay there for at least 30 seconds.

  4. Start advancing again and watch for flagging, which the dog may expect while you walk in to flush the game.

  5. If you notice tail movement, stop and say no before walking back to the previous position.

  6. Repeat the process of stopping and saying no when you see the flagging and returning to your previous point.

  7. Pause for a few seconds after the tail stops moving, but don’t overdo it as it may cause the dog to worry and shut down.

More Tips on Bird Dog Training Without Flagging

A dog that grows up getting rewards after flagging will have a hard time dropping the habit. As soon as we noticed flagging in our dogs, we knew we had to work on the behavior before it was too late.

These are a few more helpful reminders and suggestions on training a well-rounded hunting dog that stays in position without flagging or other unwelcome behaviors.

  • Repeat the flagging correction multiple times. The more you stick to it, the higher the potential for noticeable results.

  • Extend the amount of time between each stop and pause when the dog stops tail movement. Once the bird dog catches on to the slow approach, they will hopefully stop flagging for good.

  • Consider physically steadying the tail before walking up to flush the game. This may help to release the dog’s nervous tension and improve their overall performance.

  • Sometimes flagging in young pups is the result of early exposure to other animals. Other times the dog may be predisposed to discipline issues depending on their personality, money, and how far they’ve come. Working out the root cause of the flagging behavior helps you find them.

Conclusion

Flagging pops up from time to time when training bird dogs, especially when first starting with a youngster who needs to develop more in the field.

One of the important things to remember is that not all bird dogs are created equal. Some dogs have a better disposition for hunting than others.

A dog with an innate discipline and fast learning skills tends to pick up on the handler’s instructions more effectively than an energetic puppy who goes off course with all the distractions in the field. With time, patience, and commitment, it’s possible to train stubborn bird dogs to stop flagging and freeze properly when they smell a bird.