Using the Wind - Dog Trainingby Cheryl Sligar
One of the most important factors in hunting or field competition is the use of the wind. The natural hunting ability of the dog is essential in finding game, and no one set pattern will apply to all conditions. In the early 1980’s, when my husband Jerry and I first started to train our springers for hunting, we were fortunate to train with a group of “old timers” who knew the value of a natural hunting style. They always stressed how important using the wind was and it was drilled into our heads to make sure we were not causing the dogs to deviate from their natural pattern.
As a field trial judge, I want to see an intelligent dog; one that uses the wind to its best advantage for the sole purpose of finding birds. The dog is of more value using its natural abilities to find the bird, rather than bumping it just because it is running in a “windshield wiper pattern”. Of course, this particular pattern is the one of choice in a headwind. As the dog matures, it will learn how to use the other winds by adjusting its pattern accordingly. To help the dog through this learning process, the handler must understand where the dogs need to be to scent the game, and use gentle guidance to accomplish this.
When spaniel training a young dog, working in a headwind is most prudent. This will help instill the flatter pattern and build confidence in the young dog. As the dog matures, introduction to other types of wind conditions with whistle commands at the right moment, will help most dogs learn to make adjustments naturally. Often, I have noticed in a trial that an inexperienced handler may blow the whistle to turn the dog, or to pull the dog in closer, not realizing that the dog is trying to use the wind. This may chop the pattern up, causing the dog to leave an area on the course and pass a bird. In optimal conditions, using the wind properly is the most efficient way to find birds on the course.
The flat pattern of the headwind can work when the field has uniform cover and terrain, but in many hunting or trial situations, the terrain may vary. Sometimes hills and berms will affect the shifting of the winds. In many areas of the country, the wind is always swirling, gently changing directions quite frequently. The experienced dog will learn how to adapt to the conditions and the handler must recognize what is happening.
So as not to be too confusing, let’s talk about basics for optimal conditions. There are three basic winds: headwind, downwind, crosswind; and then there are variations; crossing downwind and crossing headwind. Once again, the headwind pattern is the easiest wind and the best wind to start a young dog, and it should be the choice of any hunter whenever possible.
Remember, the dog must stay within gun range. Quartering 15 to 20 yards to the right or the left of the handler is usually the rule of thumb, ranging slightly less in front of the handler. Of course, scenting conditions can tighten the dog up, but you do not want the dog to “punch up” the center of the field. When the dog turns, it should turn into the wind, not back toward the handler. This puts the dog in the best position to find game in front of the dog and shooter.