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Refining the Art of Track and Trail

by David Krassler

In my opinion, the most important instincts that we as trainers should concentrate on with any young flushing dog, other than maintaining their natural retrieving instinct, is developing their ability to track and then trail game to the point of forcing the game into flight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have seen upland birds scurry off while a young spaniel attempts to figure out which direction the bird headed, while attempting to decipher its scent trail. Woodcock, ruffled grouse and the allusive cock pheasant, who is the master of running off into the brush undetected, all will employ this strategy as part of their natural instinct of survival. They will make every attempt to escape the area of threat through the concealment of dense cover, without having to risk the point of venerability by taking flight!

In most of the situations that we send our gun dogs to retrieve, the task is completed relatively quickly and with little fuss. The majority of the falls will be properly "marked" and should the game be dead, our pups find will be relatively easy. However, at times we get into a predicament where that allusive Rooster was just peppered and has glided in for a "cripple" landing. Although the dog may have marked the fall area well, chances are the bird will have taken off on foot before the dog is able to get to the find area. Thus, making it imperative that we start our spaniels on developing their instinct to track and trail early in life.

Unfortunately, none of us owners have the ability to track and trail cripple game. Some youngsters have the natural tracking ability and desire that shows it self early in life. Others pick it up later as they start to mature. Some must be encouraged through subconscious training and exposure. It is so nice to have a puppy pick it up on his own in the woods as he runs about in search of interesting scents. You can see the dog hit the trail and begin to search a trail to find where it leads.

The good natural ones have no trouble at all. They put their noses right down on the ground cover and go just as far as it leads. You will see quite quickly how they love this game of hide and seek. Not knowing why or for what reason, but they find it such an interesting and compelling game.

Flushing dogs can begin to learn tracking at a young age. Once they are handling live and dead pigeons, we can begin training. Teaching trailing at a young age educates the dog to trust and depend on its nose for the success in producing game.

To begin, we always work the spaniel into the wind, giving them every opportunity to be successful during this stage of schooling. The first dozen or so trailing attempts should be short and sweet. Remember the golden rule, "keep it simple". Choose a day when the grass is damp from the morning dew or has been lightly moistened by an overnight shower. This will help hold the sent on the trail you set down, making things easier for your young spaniel. The cover in the field should only be high enough to conceal the bird out of sight.

Keep your spaniel in a confined area where they will not see you set up the training situation. Put a pair of rubber boots on to keep the spaniel from tracking your own foot scent. Walk down the outer edge of a field. Make a sharp turn in an upside down "J" pattern towards the center of the field.

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