The latest training techniques for pointing breeds retrievers and spaniels.
Don't Untrain Your Spaniel While Hunting
"Many of the training problems that pop up while hunting," Shelley said, "stem from the change in the owner's attitude. While training, he focuses on his dog, has a game plan, and specific goals. While hunting, he focuses on finding and shooting birds, and may let his dog get away with behaviors he wouldn't tolerate while training."
Shelley said that the most damaging mistake she sees is hunting a young dog with an older dog and expecting the older dog to train the youngster. The experienced dog finds all the birds, so the pup gives up and hangs around the owner instead of getting out and hunting.
Inexperienced dogs should be hunted alone so they can be successful. She said that it's most important that a young dog find birds fairly frequently, lest he become discouraged and stop hunting.
"Dry hunting, that is, without finding birds," she said, "will kill a youngster's drive. To avoid this, you should consider going to a shooting preserve, where he will definitely find birds."
Another serious problem Shelley has encountered is with hunters who get excited and shoot flushed birds too quickly, or "right off the dog's nose," as she describes it. In sensitive dogs, this can cause gunshyness, even refusal to hunt. In bold dogs it can lead to hardmouth because such birds are usually shot up badly.
If you hunt with buddies, use only a well-trained and experienced spaniel. Even then, you should coach your buddies carefully before starting. Tell them to be quiet so your dog can pay attention to you. Tell them that only one person should shoot at each bird, and only after it has flown some distance from your dog. Tell them not to fret if your dog retrieves all birds to you, as he's been trained to do. Ideally, your buddies should come to your training sessions during the off-season, so you can train them as well as your dog.
"The worst hunting situation for your dog," Shelley said, " is with multiple hunters and multiple dogs. Pack hunting teaches pack behavior and can lead to dog fights, hardmouth, ranging out too far, a total loss of control, and so on. Do this for a weekend and I guarantee you will ruin your dog."
She said that a well-trained spaniel can quarter a "beat" about 40 yards wide, which is enough ground for three hunters in a line with about 20 yards between them. If more than one hunter owns a spaniel, usually the best plan is to rotate them rather than hunt them together.
She said that you can hunt two very well trained spaniels together, provided they hunt parallel "beats," not the same ground. This necessitates the following prerequisites: Each dog must quarter properly and turn reliably on the whistle so he won't encroach on the other dog's beat; and each dog must be rock-steady and honor the other dog's retrieves. Such spaniels are rare, but a pair of them will allow five hunters to hunt in a line.
Shelley cautioned against hunting your spaniel with a pointing dog, unless you use your spaniel as a non-slip retriever. If hunted together, a pointing dog and a spaniel will untrain one another in no time at all. The pointing dog will induce the spaniel to range out too far and the spaniel will teach the pointing dog to flush birds.
Shelley's final words: "If your dog is professionally trained, follow the advice of your pro trainer, who knows your dog's capabilities better than you do."
(She was too kind to add that your pro also knows you as a handler better than you know yourself.)
This tip is from Shelley Barlow, DVM, of Whitewater Kennel & Hunt Club, 16595 Beck Road, Dallas, OR 97338; (503) 831-0582; website www.whitewaterhunt.com; e-mail WWKNL@aol.com. Shelley has been training professionally for over 25 years. She trains spaniels, retrievers, and pointing breeds. She competed in English springer field trials for ten years and still judges them. She participates in hunt tests for spaniels, retrievers, and pointing breeds, as well as NSTRA trials and NUCS and NBDCA tournaments. She and her husband operate an upland hunting preserve. They breed English springer spaniels and English pointers.