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Lets get them Hunting

This is a subject in training that can require lots of attention or sometimes not.  It all depends on the dog and how it works and hunts.  Often handlers read the books and see this wonderful drawing of a perfect pattern and think that is how it must be.  The dog must hunt left and right and keep the same distance on each pass.  This would be great, but in the real world this does not happen.  However, we do want our dogs close, and we do want them under control.  We need them to be able to work a reasonable pattern and with style and pace, covering all the ground ensuring that no game is passed giving fruitful flushes in front of the guns.

As always, we need to break everything down so I will presume that you know nothing and start from scratch.

When we look into what is required to get our dog hunting a nice pattern in front of us, we need several things. We need a dog that listens, we need the dog and handler working together.  From a pup we will encourage it to look for things in grass and give encouraging sounds and a low hand to show the dog we want it to come look at the hand.  Encouraging the dog to look at where you are pointing helps when you require the dog to enter an area of cover.  This should be done from an early age, and you will have done it without knowing.  For example, when its missed a bit of dog food you would put your hand near the food and use encouraging noises to bring it in close.  This is the start of the dog paying attention.

We need recall, this is all part of training the hunting pattern.  So, when the dog is working away we will call it towards us and again using that low hand walk in the opposite direction to give guidance into another area to hunt.  The low hand and the walking left to right can soon be reduced when the dog gets the idea, and we can even hunt the dog with our hands in our pockets once confident.

For now, we again, will presume it is the start of the hunting with your dog and you feel you can try and put together a reasonable pattern.  Let us look at the way we cast a dog off from a seated position.  Regardless of how good the dog is I always cast the dog off in the opposite direction it is facing.  Imagine you are ready to cast off after chatting to one of the guns and your dog has spotted a rabbit 20 meters away and you have not seen it.  Your dog is looking at the rabbit and then you cast it off towards what it has seen.  The dog takes it as a go and fetch me that rabbit.  So, if we are thinking of training to win let us always cast the dog off in the opposite direction then we are taking control from the start.

You can use a voice command if you wish but I have found that the click of the fingers is a very good way to cast the dog off.  We have now cast our dog off in the direction we want it to go, and it sets off.  I suggest that the hunting pattern for now is kept very loose and try not to be too much on the dog as we want it to see this exercise as fun. 

There are very few spaniels who will not enjoy this type of work.  When the dog is at your required distance, we can then give two pips on the whistle or however many you prefer but be careful not to sound like a man on a flute.   If the recall has been done correctly the dog will turn to this whistle command and when it does it sees you walking away in the opposite direction, so it comes with you.  Again, when the dog is at your required distance we can then give two pips on the whistle. This distance must be fairly close and close enough for you to get to the dog if it does not turn when requested.  For now, we will say no greater than 10 foot either side of you.  This will give you a 20-foot working area.  This is not far at all and if you feel closer is better then so be it but you may have to let the dog range out at a later date.

We are now getting our dog working left and right but what about forward?  The forward movement should be dictated by your speed of travel.  The faster you walk you will push your dog forward.  There is no need to rush forward.

The most important thing at this stage in training is left and right.  I often see people come for a lesson and say my dog keeps pulling out in front.  I ask them to hunt their dog and I find the handler is moving faster than the dog can cover the ground therefore pushing the dog on. 

We have now got a reasonable pattern but let us throw a spanner in the works and presume the dog is not hunting with much desire.  We can then look at all the other training we talk about and how we get a dog to do some tasks.  Let us get the dog doing the task of hunting for a reason.  Every now and then we can throw a ball or a dummy into an area when it is hunting in the opposite direction and then when we pip the dog to turn, we offer into some cover it then finds the dummy or ball waiting.  I would not over do this but use it to improve the link between dog and handler. 

We also have wind direction to consider.  If we can have the wind blowing into the dogs face to have it hunting forward.  If we had a dog that pulled forward too much, we could reverse this.  Once we get to know the dog and how it performs, we can then decide how we hunt the dog and in what direction.  On a shoot day it may not be possible to use the wind as the beating line is dictated by the direction of the awaiting guns so we could see a totally different hunting pattern as the dog tries to use the wind to its advantage.

If we have trained the stop whistle, I feel it is always good to put in a stop every now and then to keep the young dog on its toes and possibly the odd retrieve.  Again, this is something you do not want to overdo and discourage the dogs drive for the hunting.

Once we have achieved the above, we can try and up the game a little by introducing dropping to shot.  NB, the dog must be carefully trained to the sound of shot before this is considered.  Drop to shot is great when training with others.  I like to pay attention to my dog and have someone else throw the dummies and use the starting pistol it is also how I like to do it on the first day shooting over the dog.  Whilst hunting the dog get your helper to throw the retrieve and then shoot the starting pistol.  The dog will look at the retrieve and you can then cast your dog to it.  Again, like any training we never let your dog have all the retrieves. 

Darren Kirk Kirkbourne Spaniels.

Photos, by Caro dell of working line images.


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