Steady to Wing and Shoot an Interview with David Lauber - Part Iby Geoffrey English
Last issue we spent time talking with David Lauber in regards to establishing a solid quartering pattern. This issue we will continue our talk and move on to steadying a young spaniel.
The end product of the steadying process is a spaniel that reliably sits and waits to be sent for the retrieve.
Photo by: Nick Decondi
"As with every article I would like to offer a bit of reality to the training process and make one comment."
"The steadying process is not black and white. It’s filled with many gray areas that require a person with knowledge and experience. I have seen many dogs ruined by novice trainers because they lack the experience required to read the dog properly and apply the techniques outlined here. The steadying process, which I explain here, is only one approach. An entire book could be written to address all the issues you could run into during the steadying process and how to combat the "steadying blues". When professionals train dogs they try many different approaches before they find an approach that works with a particular dog. A reputable professional can read a dog and avoid problems long before they actually occur. This is where the experience of professional trainers comes into play. By constantly refining their training program, professional trainers can often avoid the inevitable pitfalls novice 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 training. With that said, let’s move on."
"Last month we talked at length about developing a solid quartering pattern in the field with a spaniel. How long would you continue this pattern work before thinking about starting to steady the young spaniel?"
"It depends on the dog. We typically look at the individual dog. If he has a bold, strong flush, chases and retrieves birds without any issues and he is doing everything we are asking him to do, we would consider steadying him. We place a high importance on a bold flush when making this decision to steady the dog. I would hold off on beginning the steadying process until the flush is as strong as it could be. It’s during this phase we can run into problems known as the "steadying blues", where the dog’s flush will become weaker or slower. So, if he is not up to par with his flush I would hold off. In fact, I would much rather have a weak retrieve than a weak flush going into the steadying process."
"What would you do to enhance the dog’s flush? Are there any concepts you might try to really ’jazz’ him up prior to entering the steadying process?"
"Well Geoff, there are two ways to strength a dog’s flush. The first, as I alluded to last month, is to maintain a proper balance between clip wing birds and flyaway birds. Often, too many flyaway birds for a young dog will soften it’s flush. However, we can’t stay on clip wing birds for the dog’s entire career. So being able to read your dog and know what the proper balance is for that individual dog is the name of the game when it comes to developing a strong flush."
"If the clip wing birds don’t do it, I like to use guinea hens to enhance the drive on birds. The nice thing about guinea hens, as opposed to pheasants, is that guinea hens will typically stay on the nest until the dog arrives, whereas a pheasant will typically run off, causing a young, inexperienced dog to ponder a bit when locating game. That’s not to say that pheasants aren’t important in the grand scheme of things, they’re just not as effective as guinea hens when you’re trying to develop a strong flush. The other added benefit of guinea hens is that they will typically run and flap their wings and make a god-awful cackle while being chased by a spaniel. This animation and noise works wonders with a young dog that may have a weak flush."
"How would you begin the steadying process?"
"Well the first step is to put away the shotguns and head back to the yard. You can continue fieldwork (quartering / pattern work), however it is critical that your spaniel gets nothing but clip wing birds on the ground until you’re done with your yard work necessary for steadying. You do not want them seeing any birds being rolled in or in the air for that matter."
"The approach I use for yard work when steadying a spaniel is a combination of two methods I learned from two different gentlemen. In the yard we have two poles anchored securely into the ground, approximately 20 yards apart ("hup poles"). I get myself a single piece of rope that can be wrapped completely around these two "hup poles" to rig-up a pulley system (see Diagram A). The rope should be wrapped completely around the two "hup poles" and secured to the puppy’s collar."
"The first step is to review "hup" with the young spaniel. You would place the dog in between the two poles while you stand about 3-5 yards away from him. Then hit the "hup" whistle, if he does not respond to the whistle immediately, give him a verbal reminder and a quick tug on the rope to force him backwards and into the sit position. The converse holds true as well, if I hit the recall whistle and he does not come to me, I can gently pull him towards me by using this pulley system. The reason I begin with simple commands like "hup" and "here" is so that the dog gets accustomed to this new apparatus."