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Developing and Refining a Spaniels Hunting Pattern - Part I

by David Krassler

Whether you are an avid upland game shooter or dedicated to the sporting dog game, having a spaniel that can work a proficient-hunting pattern and address the gunner in different wind directions can prove to be as valuable to bird hunting as the two-barrel shotgun!

All flushing dog owners want our gundogs to stay well within gun range while questing for upland game. However, having a dog that will work the proper hunting pattern in all wind directions is just as important. All flushing dogs use their noses as the primary sense for locating game while hunting. Naturally, they must also have a properly developed hunting pattern that will assist them in using the wind to their advantage for locating game scent. Let’s face it; small game hunters know that it is virtually impossible to always work our dogs into the wind while searching for game. Those of us that enjoy the sporting dog games are very well aware of tests being intentionally set up to examine a dog’s bird finding ability in difficult wind direction! A good flushing dog will change his hunting pattern to properly address the wind direction using every possible advantage in locating game with his nose.

Before we get started into training techniques, keep in mind that I am going to discuss the techniques that are most commonly successful for most flushing dogs. However, it may not work for every dog. When we train dogs we often have to try many different approaches before we find one that works with a particular dog. This is where the advice and experience of reputable professional trainers comes into play. By constantly refining their training program, professional trainers can often avoid the inevitable pitfalls the novice often runs into when training a dog. A well thought-out training program, built on experience, can often be the difference that makes or breaks a field trial champion and even a gundog as we move into the advanced levels of training.

Also, prior to beginning the instructional training techniques to teach proper pattern work, we must first touch on a few things that your spaniel should know beforehand. It is crucial that the majority of all retrieving issues be resolved. The dog should be very consistent on his delivery. The spaniel should pick up all retrieves thrown, with enthusiasm and have no refusals. In addition, he should have lots of exposure to handling both dead and live pigeons during retrieving drills out in an open field area.

Another concern is that you should expose your flushing dog to is running a field, into the wind and allowing the dog the opportunity to find some planted clip winged pigeons in the field. This will get him accustomed to finds in the field before going to pattern drills. Additionally, be aware that you should always make sure the dog has a solid hunting pattern established well before you begin shooting game over your dog. The reason for this is simple; pattern work is one of the building blocks we lay for the more advanced level fieldwork, like steadying to wing and shot.

Now let’s look at the training techniques. There are two different options available for us to teach pattern. The first is a one-man drill, should you not have the luxury of getting a couple of assistants to help in this training process, this may be your only option. I will cover this technique in this month’s column. The other is a three-man drill that naturally employs three people to execute. The three-man drill is the preferred choice of most professional trainers and will produce a very nicely polished hunting pattern! Many spaniel enthusiasts will assemble a small training group for the sole reason of developing and maintaining a spaniel’s pattern. Many training groups customarily will get together on weekends to work on this drill as a team.

The first step is to find the proper location to run this drill. Find a field that is as large as possible; this will help in maintaining a consistent wind direction. Small fields that have high brush or are tucked down in a valley tend to cause the wind to swirl in the field, which will make teaching pattern more difficult. A field set high on a plateau is ideal for wind direction. In addition, the field also should be as remote as possible. This will allow you to shoot in summation to using live pigeons when the time is appropriate.
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