As an avid hunter, having a well-trained hunting dog by your side can make all the difference in a successful hunt. While there are many crucial skills to teach your four-legged companion, one of the most important is quartering.
Quartering training enables your dog to systematically and thoroughly search an area for game. Instead of aimlessly running around, quartering teaches your dog to crisscross in front of you, working the land in a zig-zag pattern. With proper quartering skills, your dog will be able to cover more ground, increasing your chances of flushing out birds or other prey.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know as a beginner about quartering training for hunting dogs. From understanding your dog’s role to step-by-step training instructions, you will have all the information necessary to get started teaching this vital skill.
Key Points on Quartering Training:
- Quartering enables hunting dogs to systematically cover terrain and locate game.
- Basic obedience provides the foundation for introducing quartering commands.
- Whistles, hand signals and positive reinforcement are used to shape direction and pattern.
- Gradually increasing real-world practice and complexity solidifies the skill.
- Keeping sessions fun, short and engaging maintains a dog’s enthusiasm.
- With patience and consistency, quartering skills will improve over several months.
Understanding Your Dog’s Role in Quartering
Before we dive into the quartering training process, it’s important to understand why this skill matters so much for hunting dogs.
The main role of a hunting dog is to locate and flush out birds and other small game. However, most times the prey won’t just be waiting out in the open. Game often hides in tall grass, bushes, thickets and other cover.
This is where quartering comes in. The zig-zag sweeping pattern allows your dog to thoroughly work the area in front of you. Angling back and forth, they can penetrate thick brush and investigate high grass and other hiding spots. Rather than just running straight ahead, quartering enables your dog to cover the maximum amount of ground and sniff out birds and animals that might otherwise go undetected.
In addition, quartering keeps your dog within shotgun range, usually about 30-40 yards in front. This allows you to be ready when they flush a bird instead of having your dog range too far out. Proper quartering maximizes your shooting opportunities.
Having a dog that quarters effectively is one of the best ways to improve your hunting success. With their superior sense of smell combined with an efficient search pattern, quartering dogs can make the most out of a day in the field.
While a puppy or untrained dog can certainly be taught to quarter, having some basic obedience will make the process significantly easier for both you and your dog. Taking the time to reinforce commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come” will give you better control during quartering training sessions.
Here are some of the key things your dog should understand before beginning quartering work:
- Responding to their name – This allows you to get your dog’s attention focused back on you when needed.
- The “sit” and “stay” commands – This teaches your dog to remain in place and wait for your next cue. Useful for when you want them to pause and restart quartering.
- The “here” or “come” command – Crucial for calling your dog back to you instead of ranging too far out.
- Leash walking – While quartering training is done off-leash, having control on a leash builds a foundation.
- Stop or whoa – The ability to stop your dog on command avoids flushing game at the wrong time.
Spending a few weeks on general obedience, or enrolling your dog in a beginner training course, will give you the basic tools needed to move forward with quartering. While not strictly necessary, this prep work will allow you to refine more advanced skills down the road.
One of the keys to quartering is utilizing your dog’s exceptional sense of smell. In order for your dog to detect game, you’ll need to build up their scenting abilities.
Start by setting up simple scent drills around your home. You can use toys, towels or other familiar items. Have your dog sit and wait in one room while you go hide something with your scent on it in another room or part of the yard. Give the command “find it” and encourage your dog to sniff out the item.
You can increase the difficulty by adding multiple scent items, hiding them outdoors, and ultimately using actual birds or training bumpers. Allow your dog to investigate the source when they locate it and offer enthusiastic praise.
Repeating these games builds confidence in air scenting and tracking. When combined with obedience, you now have a dog ready for formal quartering instruction. The same principles apply, only now with birds as the target instead of household items.
Once your dog understands the basics, you can start working on quartering commands. This gives your dog direction on what you want them to do when hunting.
Some common verbal cues handlers use are:
- “Hunt ‘em up”
- “Find ‘em”
- “Get busy”
Choose whichever fits your preferences, as long as you are consistent. Short 1-2 word commands tend to work best.
When first teaching quartering, say the command once your dog is out in front of you, off-leash and focused forward. This signals them to start the sweeping zig-zag pattern back and forth in front.
Timing is important—issue the command when your dog is aligned properly, not veering to one side. Be prepared to stop them periodically and redirect their line. We’ll cover how to do this next.
With repetition, your dog will associate that command with moving in a systematic quartering route, learning to turn and switch directions at angles in order to thoroughly cover the terrain.
While verbal commands get quartering started, whistles and arm signals are invaluable training tools to help guide your dog during the hunt. They allow you to communicate over greater distances while keeping your hands free.
Here are some common whistle and hand signals for quartering:
One whistle blast – Pause and look back for direction
Two whistles – Turn and come back
Three whistles – Emergency recall
Arm extended forward – Go straight ahead
Arm swung out to side – Turn in that direction
Hand overhead waving – Come back
Use whistles and hand signals the moment you want your dog to change direction or check-in. For example, if they are angling too far to the left, give a quick blast on your whistle. When they stop and look back, swing your arm to the right to redirect them wider in that direction.
Early on, pair the physical signals with your verbal quartering command so your dog connects the two. For instance, two whistle blasts followed by “Molly, come!”
Be liberal with praise whenever your dog responds correctly. Proper timing of the cues, consistency, and positive reinforcement will produce better quartering habits.
Now we’re ready to go through the full process of training quartering from beginning to end:
Keep in mind quartering takes regular practice over several weeks or months, depending on your dog. Be patient and break exercises into short, frequent sessions to set them up for success. Don’t expect flawless field quartering right way.
Begin quartering sessions in a large open field or park, free of activity and other dogs. This allows your dog to focus solely on your commands without outside interference.
Quickly review basic obedience cues like sit, stay, and here before each session. This engages their mind and establishes you are in control.
Have a stash of enticing rewards like freeze-dried liver treats or a favorite toy to offer as positive reinforcement throughout the session. Food or play drive motivate most dogs to work harder.
Give the verbal “hunt ‘em up” or other command you’ve chosen when your dog is positioned in front and centered, not veering sideways. Proper timing helps them associate the command with going forward in that desired direct line.
Utilize your whistle and arms to keep your dog on track. A blast to pause, arm swing to turn, waving overhead to come back. Pair with verbal cues at first before phasing to mainly signals.
Have your dog quarter closer in and wider out, changing up the distances. Alternate straight lines across with wider zig zags. This prevents predictability and improves their working radius.
As your dog masters quartering in a quiet setting, slowly add distraction like other people, dogs at a distance, or toys on the ground. Keep sessions short if your dog loses focus.
When consistent on open ground, transition to tall grass, light brush or woods. Hide training bumpers to discover. Eventually work up to real birds once they have experience ignoring sights and smells.
Always finish sessions with lots of praise and reward before your dog gets tired or frustrated. This leaves them eager to train again next time.
Follow this system while being flexible based on your specific dog’s abilities. Some may progress rapidly while others need more time. Keep it fun rather than forcing too much too soon.
With consistency across many short sessions, your dog will master quartering in step with your guidance. Their environmental awareness, stamina and confidence will also improve in the process.
As your dog’s skills progress, you can expand the quartering training program with the following advanced drills and tools:
Marking Pins – Place brightly colored flags or posts in the field for your dog to use as visual markers for tighter turns or specific lines. Add guided direction to the quartering pattern.
Electronic Collars – Collars with tone, vibration or stimulation can reinforce commands at a distance. Helpful for maintaining control with highly driven dogs. Introduce under the guidance of a professional trainer.
GPS Trackers – Attachable collars with GPS allow you to monitor your dog’s movements and range from your phone. Useful data for analyzing quartering effectiveness.
Dummies and Dead Birds – Integrate bird wings or training dummies into sessions to encourage game finding motivation. Dogs quarter with more enthusiasm when scent and “prey” are involved.
Blinds – Have your dog quarter to specific in-field blinds where training bumpers or birds are hidden. Adds direction and mimic hunting scenarios.
Partner Work – Team up with another trained quartering dog. This forces your dog to pattern wider and leverage play energy.
Shooting Simulations – For gun dog training, add starter pistols or shotguns with blanks to acclimate your dog to gunfire during quartering. Check for sound sensitivity first.
Varying the location, incorporating new tools, and increasing the complexity keeps your dog’s quartering skills sharp. Tailor these techniques based on what your specific hunting needs are.
Teaching quartering has its fair share of challenges. Try the following solutions to common issues that may come up:
Wandering focus – Keep sessions short and rewarding. End on a good note before your dog loses interest.
Range too tight – Use blinds, bird wings and marking pins to encourage wider sweeping.
Lacking enthusiasm – Incorporate high-value treats, favorite toys or another motivated dog.
Not taking direction – Ensure you have solid basic obedience foundation before quartering. Go back to basics like sit, here, stay if needed.
Distracted by sights and smells – Gradually add environmental factors so these don’t overpower your direction.
Roaming too far – Use a check cord to reinforce staying in range. Issue the “here” command when they go too wide.
Poor scenting skills – Spend more time on developing nose work before quartering. Hide treats and toys to awaken their scent drive.
Breaking pattern to chase – Keep a lead on for correcting unwanted chasing. Practice ignoring sights, sounds and smells that may trigger impulsive reactions. Stay interesting yourself with rewards and direction changes.
Lagging behind – Keep the session moving forward. Prevent pausing by putting steady pressure on your dog to quarter out in front of your path.
Be patient and consistent applying corrections. Rule out health issues if challenges persist. Seek professional training guidance when needed – an expert can pinpoint areas for improvement.
While open fields are great for initial sessions, it’s also important to practice quartering in actual hunting conditions. Here are some scenarios to recreate:
Brush and Briar Thickets – Find areas with dense brush and sets of planted quail. Have your dog methodically work the cover while avoiding flush points. Praise for investigating likely hideouts.
Overgrown Grassy Fields – Choose fields with tall weeds and grasses. Throw dead birds into various spots and command your dog to quarter until they locate the hidden training scent.
Upland Tree Lines – Work forest edges and treelines where birds congregate. Plant training birds and watch your dog quarter the width of the tree line.
Ditch Banks and Fencerows – Have your dog practice quartering back and forth over ditches and along fence edges. These are common upland hunting grounds.
Marshes and Wetlands – When hunting waterfowl, practice quartering along shorelines, around brush, and over inland wetland areas.
Hunting Preserves – Many preserves offer trained bird dogs and fields with pheasant, quail or chukar to practice realistic quartering scenarios.
The more situations your dog experiences in training, the better they will perform in real-world hunting conditions when it matters most.
The key to successful quartering training is graduated progression. Avoid pushing advanced skills until your dog has mastered the basics. Proper foundations make for lasting skills.
Here is an example progression schedule:
Weeks 1-2 – Introduction to commands. Quartering on lead in low distraction area. Short, frequent sessions with rewards.
Weeks 3-4 – Adding whistle and arm signals. Practice off leash in enclosed space. Work on wider ranges.
Weeks 5-6 – Introduce quartering along terrain breaks like ditch banks or fence lines.
Weeks 7-8 – Start sessions in light cover fields. Begin incorporating dummies.
Weeks 9-12 – Advance to fields with thicker, variable cover. Use dead bird scent. Introduce gunfire as appropriate.
Beyond 3 Months – Apply skills in hunting scenarios. Use real birds once steady and focused. Maintain with regular quartering practice.
This is just a guide – speed of progression will vary based on your specific dog and their abilities. The important thing is allowing skills to build on top of one another over a long enough period that they fully imprint. Proper quartering takes dedicated time and effort.
Above all, keep quartering training fun and rewarding for both you and your dog. It should feel like an engaging game, not repetitive drudgery. Frequent positive reinforcement maintains your dog’s enthusiasm for learning.
Celebrate all successes, big and small. End each session on a high note. Mix up locations and incorporate play breaks to keep things exciting. Training time spent together builds an even stronger bond with your dog.
Be your dog’s biggest cheerleader as their quartering skills improve with time and practice. With the right methods and realistic expectations, you’ll have an accomplished quartering companion by your side in no time!
After reading this guide, you should have a solid understanding of quartering and how to train your hunting dog in this crucial skill. While it does take time and practice, the investment is well worth it for an obedient, effective hunter.
Some final parting tips: Always set your dog up for success in training by starting small and building on foundations. End each session on a positive note. Be creative in keeping your dog engaged in the process. And remember—developing solid quartering abilities greatly improves your chances for hunting success and an enjoyable experience for both you and your four-legged companion.
Now get out there, put these quartering training tips into action, and enjoy watching your hunting dog master this game-changing skill! When properly taught, quartering is a beautiful thing to watch in action. So grab your whistle and treats bag, and let the lessons begin! Here’s to many exciting hunts to come with your trusted quartering dog by your side.
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.