"In some regards can the steadying blues be attributed to how the handler behaves and how the dog interprets his/her actions?"
"Absolutely! Being in control of your emotions is very important. As a professional, we focus on building a relationship with the dog based on trust. Throughout the whole steadying process, we are correcting the dog for what he was bred to do and what we have encouraged him to do up until this point, chase birds. We are just asking for trouble if we start down this road without solid training techniques and trust. This is why you need to be conscience of your body language and check your ego at the door."
"Yard work is where we teach the dog what we expect and it’s through repetition that habits are formed, good, bad or indifferent. In order to properly prepare a dog for the fieldwork that will ensue, you need to get it right in the yard first. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition - that is the key to preparing for fieldwork. Of course, you should always notice if the technique is working or not and make adjustments accordingly."
When steadying a spaniel you should start with pigeons and finish up with pheasants.
Photo by: Author
"What is the most common way that the steadying blues manifests itself?"
"The steadying process that I laid out in the last two articles is designed to clearly communicate with the dog what we expect. You have to remember, the steadying blues start because one day we were allowing a young dog to find, flush and chase birds, and then all of a sudden we ask the dog to keep everything else the same and stop chasing the birds - they can become confused easily."
"Steadying blues can manifest itself in many ways, but the most common is in developing a slow flush. In extreme cases I have heard of young dogs that will walk their flushes and never get their bold flush back. This is a prime example of a dog that had a bad case of the steadying blues and never came out of it, for whatever reason. A good professional can identify these symptoms early and take corrective actions to restore the enthusiasm on birds and rebuild a bold flush before it becomes ingrained in the dog."
"Proper timing of applying a correction on a failure to sit to a flush is one of the most important factors in avoiding a slow flush. The check cord is a training tool that, if used correctly, can work wonders, and if used improperly, can cause major problems. Communication between members of the team is important also. As the handler you need to control exactly when the gunners roll birds in, so that you can get that check cord in your hand as the dog begins to work the bird. The last thing you want to do is have that check cord go tight before the dog flushes the bird. If you consistently mistime corrections you will wind up with a pointing dog. A dog can quickly associate working game with the improper corrections and begin to slow up on his flush. If I had to choose, I would rather be late on a correction than too early in this case."
"If you do see the dog starts to slow up on his flush, that is a sure sign that you want to bring clip wing pigeons back into the picture to strength the flush once again."
"Does the dog’s quartering pattern change during the steadying process?"
"You will see a noticeable difference in the way a dog runs when he begins the steadying process. Some spaniels will idle in the field, because the steadying process is a confusing time for them. As I alluded to before, we are training against their nature to chase birds. Other spaniels will shorten up their pattern and not run as wide during the steadying process. Remember, when we first start the steadying process in the field we are rolling birds in closer to the handler than we normally would so that the handler is always in a position to grab the check cord and make a correction. Many people will get caught up in steadying the dog and forget all the fundamentals. It doesn’t take long for the dog to shorten up on its own. The obvious way to correct this problem is to start rolling in clip-wings at the guns as soon as possible. This does two things. First, it keeps the flush strong and secondly, it keeps the dog running to the guns."
"If all else fails and the dog is not running with the enthusiasm you would like and you’re worried about losing him, roll a bigger bird in to him like a guinea hen or pheasant. There is nothing that will fire him up like either of those two birds. However, I would only do this if the dog was doing everything else properly and the only thing that was wrong was his pace. Obviously, by working with guinea hens or pheasants you are creating a much greater temptation for the dog than the pigeons you have him steady on. This is a whole new ball game. I would recommend putting the check cord back on the dog and starting out like you did with the pigeons. Soon they will figure out that they can’t chase the pheasant either and hopefully their excitement about fieldwork will return."
"Do you change your standard for compliance on steadying throughout the process?"
"No, the standard that we require from a dog to comply with steadying to wing and shot remains the same throughout the entire process. However, I will change the training situations as we go and introduce a higher level of temptation for the dog during the process. But the standard remains the same. We need to be very clear to the dog that there is only one correct response. We will challenge the dog by increasing the temptation. For example, once I feel the dog is reliably steady in the yard, I throw a clip wing a couple feet over his head and hit the whistle as I call him in. As you can well imagine, the temptation level is extremely high at this point but my standard for steadying has not changed. He must remain steady until I give him the retrieve."
"Well David, that about wraps it up for this month. Do you have any parting advice for the novice who wants to have a spaniel that is steady to wing and shot?"
"For the first time person, the steadying process can be very overwhelming and with all that is running through the dog’s head, the handler needs to be able to communicate clearly to the dog. I would recommend that a novice seek the help of a training partner, club, or professional to help them get started and learn the ropes. I can explain all day long to someone how to ride a bike but that is does not mean they are going to be able to go out and ride a bike first time out. Dog training is the same."