Establishing a Solid Quartering Pattern - An Interview with David Lauberby Geoffrey English
Last issue we spent time talking with David Lauber, regarding the introduction of young dogs to gunfire during fieldwork. This issue we will continue our talk, but step back a bit and talk about establishing a strong quartering pattern before shooting over the dog and eventually steadying a young spaniel.
Having gunners shake birds is a surefire way to keep a young dog interested in pattern work.
Photo by: Author
"As I seem to mention before we start each issue the answers presented during this interview are only one way to solve a problem. It may not work for every dog. When we train dogs we often have to try many different approaches before we find an approach that works with a particular dog. This is where the advice and experience of reputable professional trainers comes into play. By constantly refining their spaniel training program, professional trainers can often avoid the inevitable pitfalls novice trainers run 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 gun dog as we move into the advanced levels of spaniel training. In fact, I can think of no other point in the training process that the novice has so many opportunities to ruin a good dog than during the process of steadying a dog to wing and shot. With that said, let’s move on."
"David, I know this issue we want to talk about steadying a dog to wing and shot. But I thought it might be useful to step back a moment and talk about developing a young dog’s pattern. I have received lots of emails and phone calls asking that we address this issue and before we start talking about steadying a dog, I figured now would be a good time to talk about establishing a strong pattern in a young spaniel."
"Well, Geoff, we did kind of get ahead of ourselves a little bit in the last issue. In fact, we should always make sure the dog has a solid pattern established before we begin shooting over the 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. So we should step back a moment and talk about pattern work then we can address the steadying process and if time does not permit, we can save it for next month."
"One way to establish a pattern in young spaniels is to employ a method called ’shaking’. This method requires three people, the handler and two gunners. Each gunner takes a live, unbanded pigeon tied to a light string that they can hold onto. The handler starts out by having the dog ’hup’ between the two guns while one of the gunners starts hooting and hollering and letting the bird flop around until you get the dog’s attention. The dog should naturally run over to the gunner who is shaking the bird. As he does that, the gunner should take the pigeon and tuck it under his arm, hidden from the puppy. At this time, the other wing-gunner should begin to start hooting and hollering to draw the puppy back across the field, in front of the handler."
"After you have the dog responding to the hooting and hollering and is moving well between the guns, you’ll want to rolled-in a clip-wing bird in front of the guns. You do this by following the same procedure as I outlined above, expect this time just before tucking the pigeon under your arm, while the puppy is coming across you’ll want to throw the pigeon 5-10 yards out in front of the gun. Starting out, it’s fine if the young dog sees you roll the bird in. At this point he has not figured out how to use his nose and by seeing the bird rolled in he will complete the cast."
"By rolling a bird in for the young dog we are rewarding him for quartering between the guns. If all you do is shake the birds and play "keep-away", he’ll eventually wise-up and say, "If I go over there I am not going to get a bird, so why bother." This is where it becomes important to learn to read your dog and know when to roll-in birds to keep him interested and keep his attitude high. Remember, we are talking about young dogs, 4-6 months old, who are not going to take a lot of running. So you might do a series where they are retrieving 2-3 birds back to you and put them up. A point I should make here is that we should not start this pattern work until the puppy is retrieving reliably in the yard. If you do have a puppy that wants to play around with the bird, you’ll want to put a long check cord on him and gently guide him back to you (as we discussed last issue), so he doesn’t develop a habit of playing with birds in the field. "
"If the puppy starts to hang up at one of the guns, how would you correct this problem?"
"Many times the puppy will hang up at the guns if he sees the bird in the gunner’s hand. That is why we have the gunners tie the pigeon to the string and quickly tuck it under their arm as the puppy approaches. The other thing we try to do is start rolling birds in on the ground sooner so the young spaniel will start looking for the birds on the ground, rather than in the gunner’s hand. It’s best to structure your training so you never get to the point where you have a young dog running around the gunners’ feet and jumping up on them."