Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
Training Tips for the Weekend Warrior by Jim Keller
Would like to see an article about teaching quartering with no assistants? Also, maybe incorporate how to get a dog to turn "down the course" when quartering and not backwards towards the handler. Also, maybe on how to get a dog that is a little sticky to range out a little farther. My young little ball of fire sometimes goes behind me in our quartering training. I am having trouble with a young pup that is doing some of these things.
There is an old saying that birds develop the bird dog. Use positive reinforcement through birds and repetition. Whether you train by yourself or with partner(s) remember this as a cornerstone to your training philosophy and regimen. Earlier articles discussed taking young dogs out for a romp and they generally will start to quarter on their own, especially after they have found some birds during those walks. Nothing brings out the natural quartering instincts of a dog like finding game.
When we start young pups with more formal quartering we like to run them into the wind in light cover where they can smell from a good distance. Take them out on a slip-lead and let them watch you plant a couple of nice and lively clip wing pigeons at the depth that you would like. By knowing there are birds to be found usually they will open up a bit and cast up into the wind more. Quickly getting into birds is the key and I like to get them onto a bird on their first cast. It kind of sets the tone of the pattern and pace.
Keep the sessions short and your birds nice and lively by reusing fresh birds as much as possible. It really keeps them motivated and excited. If they still are a bit flat we will sometimes even put a nice flyer to get them excited and running a bit bigger. They key is getting them moving and opening up. Once they have the basic idea of hunting for birds I don't let them watch me plant birds. We simply open the dog crate and start working birds.
As the pattern becomes more defined and they are getting confident in their abilities we add the leash work, healing waiting to be cast etc. again quickly getting into birds. As the confidence grows you can increase your distance between birds getting them to run longer and longer adding control.
You don't need any assistants for this drill and you would be surprised how much more effective it is in developing a nice natural hunting pattern in a spaniel.
The other part of your question deals with a dog that is coming back towards the handler and not going down the course. A term called backcasting. A dog is backcasting when they are turning down wind instead of turning into the wind while questing for game. Turning backwards into the wind. Turning the dog upwind is best accomplished by using birds as the reinforcement. They can't smell with their tail! Sometimes a dog may be backcasting only on one side. If this is the case, try running them into a slight quartering wind from the offending side. Plant the majority of birds your birds on the upwind side. This will usually draw them up into the scent pocket and into the bird. The principle thought being the more birds they find through proper pattern the less they will want to backcast.
Either way you look at it the more birds they find correctly it will help to minimize the habit. Keeping a bird in your vest to roll in if they backcast also helps. The more confident they are in their abilities and nose the more you will get the natural wind pattern we all like in a spaniel and hence the hunting pattern.
These dogs are amazing. If OSHA ever wanted to regulate their working conditions we would be in trouble! Think of the noise downfield of a shotgun. Ported barrels and magnum shells magnify it even further. Every dog is different. Some are more sensitive to noise others could care less. The introduction of gunfire is very critical and can cause a nice bold pup to shy away from birds or hunting altogether. We like to introduce dogs to gunfire in a manner that reflects what we have developed by getting birds to retrieve.
We have a drill I like to do with the young pups to see if they might be a little sensitive to gunfire. This allows us to shift directions if need be and progress the more sensitive pups with slower steps. For this drill you will need a couple of clip wings pigeons, a starter pistol and a partner.
Go to a large mowed field with no cover and a good view for retrieving. Have your partner go about 40-50 yards away with the clip wing pigeons and the starter pistol. Kneel down with pup and gently restrain them while allowing them to see your assistant. Have them make some noise to get pups attention and then verbally saying bang throw a one of the clip wings towards you cutting the distance down to get the retrieve. Let them go immediately to get the clip wing pigeon and retrieve it as normal. The lively pigeon in an open field should be enough to get pup going quite briskly to the retrieve.
After a couple of retrieves allowing them to get excited and comfortable have your assistant fire the starter pistol behind their back to muffle the noise in place of yelling bang prior to throwing the pigeon out. If pup shows any hesitation still you can try moving your assistant further back or even better is to have a third person fire the starter pistol further back deadening the noise even further. Do only a four or five retrieves ensuring boldness and enthusiasm.
Over time you can progress to the starter pistol to the front of the body holding the pistol into the air. I like to progress through small-bore shotgun before working them with a 12 gauge watching the dog's reaction as we progress. Some dogs require a lot of steps in between each progression others require minimal.
We like this approach, as it seems more natural as the retrieving is something we build with a spaniel from day one. Pretty soon they associate the shot with the retrieve.
Jim Keller and his wife, Denise, own and operate Wildwind Kennels located in the heart of grouse and woodcock country in mid-coastal Maine. They work with all bird dog breeds specializing in flushing spaniels. Jim is a full time dog trainer with over 17 years of experience working with bird dogs for hunting and performance events. He campaigns a limited group of spaniels in the U.S. and Canada in Field Trials having trained several field champions, and actively participating in the Hunt Test program. Jim is also a registered Maine guide, working for some of the finest sporting camps in Maine's northwoods for grouse and woodcock. Jim can be reached at:
Wildwind Kennels and Guide Service
1368 Webb Road
Knox, Maine 04986
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