"The next step is to have the gunners start throwing clip wings for us. It’s important that we are in sync with the gunner; otherwise we might start hitting the whistle when the bird is not in the air. Many times our back will be to the gunner, so we can stop the dog if he tries to break. So we might not know exactly when the bird is in the air. This is where communication between the handler and the gunners is important. Ideally, we want to hit the whistle as the bird is thrown into the air. If the gunners give a "hey...hey...hey" as they start to throw the bird, no matter what position we are in, we know that if the gunner gives a "hey...hey...hey" the bird is being thrown. However, I always like to start by first throwing the bird myself so I can be assured of the correct timing and send the message loud and clear to the dog."
By the end of the steadying process, our spaniel should become reliably steady to wing and shot.
Photo by: Author
"Additionally, I like to have the check cord on the dog so that the gunner can step on it if the dog does break, or if the dog gets past us we can step on the rope before he gets to the bird. The primary objective here is not to let him get the bird until he is sent. If he gets the bird when he has not been sent, it will set us back several weeks, in most cases.
"What type of correction should you give the dog if he does not respond to the "hup" command?"
"Well, that depends on where we are in the training process. In the beginning, I might stop him with the check cord and pick the bird up myself. We have to remember we are dealing with a young dog. If we are at a point where the dog knows he is not suppose to go until he is sent, but hesitates and still goes, we would set him back to the place where we hit the whistle and then go pick up the bird ourselves."
"Also, from the beginning I like to have the dog sitting down, not standing to their birds. When they are standing, they are one step closer to breaking on us. So, I prefer to have them sitting. In fact, I have seen some dogs that are allowed to stand their birds and actually have one foot in the air. They are about a half a step from breaking..."
"Knowing when and what type of correction to apply on a dog if he breaks is very important. This is the time when we can make or break the dog, and one area where the assistance of a professional trainer is well worth the money. I have seen more dogs ruined by amateurs who have applied an improper correction to the dog during this phase. We have to check our ego at the door and be patient with the dog. If we feel ourselves losing our temper, we should put the dog up and try again later."
"When do you start giving the dog flyers and start shooting over him or her?"
"We should not be giving the dog any flying birds until the dog is 95-100% steady on hand thrown clip wings. Then and only then, should we work the dog on flying birds."
"At this point we need to really know our team. As a handler we need to communicate with the gunners not to throw the bird until we signal them. For example, while the dog is quartering we might tell the gunner, "Next time, throw it on my signal". It’s all about timing. It’s very critical that everybody knows what he or she is doing. We will start this process by throwing the birds from hand then moving to rolling birds in for the dog. When we first start giving the dog flyers, we don’t want to miss any birds. We want to get all the birds down so that we can reward him for steadying to the bird. This is where a handler needs to know his guns. The number one goal here is to get the bird down so the dog gets the retrieve."
"If the dog is solid on all the steps prior to this step, he should not have much problem with this phase. If he does, simply step back and review the previous step. All these steps build on themselves. If there is a problem, it probably showed itself in some form or another in the previous steps."