Quartering Training for a hunting dog
The purpose of hunting any gun dog is so that it will use its nose in order to locate, point, and subsequently retrieve game that is shot. In doing so it should quarter ahead of and to each side of its handler so as to thoroughly cover the ground within a range compatible with cover conditions. A gun dog not doing this is not working to the best possible advantage.
Keeping close with your dog
Range in relation to hunting cannot be misinterpreted where the flushing breeds are concerned. They must hunt at all times within shooting distance; otherwise birds flushed are going to be unshootable. Therefore there can be no argument about range as it relates to these breeds.
However, the distance at which any individual dog will work can vary greatly. We have to presume therefore that you have chosen a dog which does in fact tend to keep fairly close contact at least so far! This may well change later once he begins to really understand what birds are; but for the moment, he does not.
It may well prove necessary to use the check line with some dogs while teaching this, at least for a while, but if you find your dog reacts well without it, then avoid doing so. Far better that he be taught without its use if at all possible. We must presume though, for the moment, that its use is preferred, so place the choke chain on the dog and clip the line to it.
Take the dog out onto a flat, open field with low cover and cast him off to hunt, using the appropriate command “Get on,” and work him into the wind. This will help with his pattern, and any prospective gun dog from good “working breeding” will hunt without the incentive of birds being there.
In other words, as he is off to your left, you should walk out to your right slightly, at the same time giving the whistle signal (two pips) to turn him. Then, as you gain his attention, give the appropriate arm signal to get him back across the front of you and vice versa. Try to straighten out your own course again though as soon as he begins to get the idea.
Make every effort to keep him within the distance I have recommended and enforce this. If necessary by following him up and stepping on the line at the precise time you give the two pips on the whistle. This will stop him or even bowl him over suddenly. Two or three times of this and he will begin to listen better.
Be sure also to use a verbal command in conjunction with the whistle. I say ”Come ’round.” After using them both together for a while, you can vary things by using one or the other. The reason for this is that one day you may forget to take your whistle along.
Practice this for session after session until your dog will quarter in a nice even pattern from side to side ahead of you, while turning instantly in response to the two whistle pips and your verbal command “Come ’round” when at the furthest limit of each cast. Only by repeatedly stopping him with the check line, and shaking him up too if necessary, will you succeed in correcting disobedience where this exercise is concerned.
You should also take the opportunity while doing this to occasionally “whoa” him. At first you should try it only when he is passing across fairly close to you, then as he gets the idea you can gradually increase the distance at which you give the command. All that’s required is a sudden raising of the right arm, the command “Whoa,” and the single whistle pipall together. If he stops as he should, have him stand there a few seconds, then cast him off to hunt again. This can be done from where you are standing.
If he doesn’t stop as he should, you know the procedure by now: Get right out there, catch hold of him, and take him back to where he was at the time you gave the command. Stand him while repeating the commands, then leave him there and walk back to where you were. Pause a short time, then cast him off again.
Assuming you taught the “whoa” command well originally, he’ll soon get the idea. Just have patience.
Working with the wind
Once he has developed a nice pattern working into the wind you must hunt him downwind too; that is, with the wind on your back. With experience any good dog will make use of wind direction while hunting and you will see this begin to develop as time goes on.
When you feel confident you can remove the check line, do so, but for the moment leave the choke chain on (that psychological link again!). He is less likely to start misbehaving if he can still sense its presence. But as soon as you can dispense with that also, you should.
Keep the eyes on him
I suggested that you teach quartering in fairly open country at first for a very specific reason; i.e.,. Your dog’s pattern will benefit and you will be in a better position to correct misbehavior than you would be in thicker cover.
Only start this though once he has learned to comply instantly with your whistle or verbal command to turn. The reason for this is that once he is doing this reliably, the check line will no longer be required. This will be far better for your own composure because I guarantee that, if used in woodland, it will entangle itself in everything within reach!
Obviously in woodland and thick underbrush, both you and your dog are going to have to make your way through as best you can. You will know when you are in there, in light of the prevailing conditions, how far from you he can be permitted to hunt. If you judge this on the basis of not letting him get out of your sight for more than a few seconds at a time, you won’t go far wrong.
Using bell to locate
Incidentally, now that you are getting him accustomed to hunting in woodland, you can if you wish put a bell on his collar.
The bell tinkles constantly while the dog is on the move and as long as it can be heard by the hunter. He knows his dog is not on point. However, when the sound of the bell suddenly ceases, he has probably located a bird. All that remains then is for the hunter to walk into the area where he last heard the bell and locate his dog.
In theory, of course, if a dog is always hunting within sight of its handler, a bell is unnecessary, But during most woodland hunting this is not the case. Obviously, the dog will at times be out-of-sight and nothing can be done to prevent this from happening even with the closest of workers. So I recommend the use of a bell by grouse and woodcock men. It is extremely useful.
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