September 23, 2010
Try this alternative and own the best dog you've ever had.
I figured by now I would have life mostly figured out and would have nearly as much free time playing outdoors as I wanted. Not!
I am not complaining, and I know I am not the only one living this rushed existence we call life. I am just stating the facts.
Today's busy life makes me wonder, why not buy a spaniel field trial washout to be your gun dog rather than training a puppy from scratch?
Strangely, it often seems that it is easier to come by money than time. That is especially true when the time has to be in consistent, regular increments spread over a year-and-a-half, as is required for training a gun dog.
First, let us consider what is expected from a spaniel during a field trial.
A spaniel should be mannerly and under control at all times, and should not show excitement by barking or making loud yipping noises. He should respond promptly to whistle and/or voice commands; these should not be loud.
Loud noises disturb game; regulations direct all dogs and participants to remain relatively quiet, as if they were enjoying a day of hunting.
Spaniels should cover their entire beat, or ground, with good speed, covering adequately to both sides and front so they can scent and find all game on their beat. Spaniels should use the wind to their advantage when coursing the field. They should not range too far to the sides, nor should they range too far down field--they must always remain within shotgun range.
The dog should show courage in facing cover, as birds will take refuge in the harshest cover.
Once a spaniel scents a bird he should track it, find it and flush it for the "gun" (in range). In a perfect world, or to win a ribbon for 1st, 2nd or 3rd, the dog would sit at the flush and/or shot and retrieve only when commanded to do so. When sent, the spaniel should retrieve the bird to the handler in a direct manner. Spaniels should mark fallen game well.
A field trial should be like a normal day's hunt, only more nearly perfect.
Okay, you are wondering, what is the big deal? That does not sound like too much for a gun dog to do.
You are correct.
Fact is, though, to have pup perform that way he needs to be trained four to five times a week doing yard work/training (obedience), quartering and control for a year to a year and a half. For three months, 15--20 minutes (especially if you could do it twice a day) would work. The next four months, 20--35 minutes would work (especially if you could do another five to 10 minutes separately).
The next five months, 30--40 minutes would work (especially with 10 minutes separately), with birds a couple of times a week. The last six months would work with 25--40 minutes, including field/bird work three, maybe four times a week.
That is realistically doable...if you are dedicated. But it is very easy to say, "Oh, I'll do a bit more tomorrow instead of doing it today." Gun dog training schedules quickly fall apart for all but the highly motivated.
Here is something else to consider--every spaniel entered in a field trial can properly do all that is laid out above.
The only question remaining is, how well can he do it?
What It Takes To Win
Speed is one of the biggest factors in winning and placing in field trials today.
All the competing spaniels can quarter, cover their ground, find and flush birds, remain steady and retrieve them. How fast they can do those things is critically important.
If a dog is too fast for his nose he'll be in trouble because he will miss or bump birds before he knows it--but the judge will know it.
Judges also want to place stylish dogs, dogs that, in addition to being fast, snap their foreshortened tail rapidly, turn on a dime, run confidently, snap their head around at the least scent of a bird and leap skywards after flushing birds.
Judges also want dogs that hup (sit down) on the flush without direction (whistle or voice), that race to the fallen bird when sent as if guided by smart-bomb technology and return at speed with high heads and proud demeanor.
The overwhelming majority of spaniels entered into field trials do all the basics, but they lack the great speed and/or style needed to win. Many of these dogs become field trial washouts, yet are excellent dogs.
Many trial dog owners will stick with their also-ran dogs for some time. Others who are either more competitive or have deeper pockets will cut their losses and start over with a new dog.
All the dogs in that last category are field trail washouts, and some of the ones held on to by owners eventually become field trial washouts.
Many good spaniels can run field trials well but will never win ribbons.
You see, often a field trial washout is not a washout at all. It is often a fine dog with talent that is just unable to break into the first three placements--ever.
There are plenty of field trialers who will get rid of such dogs regularly; they want to win. Some rid themselves of their dog(s) early, and some wait a couple of years.
Finally, when winning becomes the sole goal, when that dog that is a bit slow, when that dog has little flash, when that dog mouths the bird before picking it up and returning to the handler, when that dog lacks pride in his own abilities€¦finally, that dog is looking for a new home.
You, reader, can buy that dog and likely have the best gun dog you ever owned.
I talked to two active, involved amateurs; a good, successful professional spaniel trainer; and used my own experience with field trial spaniels and field trials to come up with the dollar figures that follow. They are not set in concrete, but they do represent sound ballpark figures. They were not just picked out of the sky.
A field trial spaniel washout (using my description above) could/would cost from $3,000--$5,500--perhaps more for something really special.
Am I crazy? How much?
Considering $3,000--$5,500 in a vacuum is difficult. But when considering some of the other trappings of the game the value of that
figure moderates. Considering that one will have at least six good years and two or three quite decent years of hunting from your washout, that dollar figure starts looking reasonable--because it is. The dog you start with will likely be two to three years old.
Ask yourself: What is my over- under or side-by-side worth? What is the annual fee for the hunting club? What will it cost to go west to hunt wild birds? What is the cost of the pick-up or SUV? How about the ATV? How many shotguns do I have?
If you buy and train pup yourself you'll spend several thousand dollars on vet care, food and birds his first two to three years.
A field-bred spaniel pup from good breeding is going to cost $750--$1,200.
A pro charges $600-$1,000 a month; the lower figure probably does not include birds.
If this sounds reasonable to you, start your search by contacting the AKC and asking for field trial club contacts in your region.
Contact several field trialers and get the names of several professional spaniel trainers who train dogs for field trials--not just for gun dogs and not just for AKC hunt tests; they're different.
Tell the pro what you want, call others and do the same and definitely get to a field trial or two to see what these dogs, even the "washouts," can do.
You could be pleasantly surprised, and you are likely to wind up with the best hunting dog you've ever had.