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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The most important things a trainer can do while disciplining his spaniel on running birds is to learn to read the dog to determine what type of scent his spaniel is working. It is essential to know whether the spaniel is working foot scent, or if he is working body scent. It’s easier to sit a dog down while he is working a foot scent than it is to try to stop him when he has a snout full of body scent. By setting up our training session to teach a dog " track and trail", we can begin to see patterns in our dog’s behavior that should give us insight into whether the dog is on foot scent and when he is working body scent.

An experienced dog will quickly learn to follow the scent trail and quickly locate game.
Photo by: Marcia Krassler
There are many ways to set up a "track and trail" training session. The technique I use is to tie a dead bird to the end of a stout fishing pole with heavy enough line to handle the bird’s weight. I simply cast the bird to the area where I would like to start the trail and slowly drag the bird along the ground, to create a scent trail for the dog to follow. Remember to always move the bird upwind to give the dog the best opportunity to follow the trail. Continue reeling the bird in for about 25 yards and mark the area in the field so you can easily identify where the trail branches off. I prefer to tie a piece of surveyor’s tape on a piece of tall grass. Then drag the pigeon to the right, no longer going into the wind but now moving parallel to the wind. Continue the trail for an additional 25 to 35 yards. Once completed, remove the bird from the line and leave it at the end of the trail for your spaniel to find. It is important to know exactly where our scent trail turns and make the first 25 yards easy for the dog to follow. At the point where the trail turns to the right, an inexperienced spaniel will typically lose the scent trail.

It is important to work your spaniel into the area where you started your scent trail. I want the canine to find the starting point of my trail and not the bird 25 yards down the field at the end. Quarter him into the wind until he finds the beginning of the trail. Then we are off to the races. Be ready to hit the whistle and give the "hup" command when he overruns the trail and heads out of the area of the scent trail. Many dogs will turn and head back towards you. This is the time to reinforce the "hup" command. The dog is no longer on fresh foot scent and should obey your command. Move in the direction of the dog. This will cause him to obey your command as he feels you approaching. Once you get yourself into gun range reward him with plenty of praise. Now that your dog has done right give him the command to continue on hunting. Stand your ground while the dog relocates the line of scent. Be patient, it may take a minute or two for him to figure it out where the scent trail turned. Give him plenty of praise as he makes the find and the retrieve. Once he has been schooled in this form of training, we can advance to clip winged birds that are released to lay a natural scent trail. Do not overdo this training technique. Allow your dog to be an unconstrained tracker on most of the quarry he finds. When the right opportunity arises, take full advantage of it. Remember to only employ this technique when you are close enough to the canine to enforce the "hup" command should he pick up bird scent and decide to ignore you. Once mastered, your spaniel should be easier to stop as he heads out of gun-range. Good luck and have fun!
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