Working Gordon Setters

Why Do We Train Our Gundogs

Why Do We Train Our Gundogs

This article was first published in 1988 and was given to attendees at the Pointer and Setter Training Days held on Dartmoor. This training information is as useful and relevant today as it was then!

Firstly to have them under control, so we can enjoy working them in company and have every chance of shooting the game they find. The work of Setters and Pointers is to systematically quarter a greater area of ground than other hunting gundogs. The handler is like a huntsman casting his hounds; we use the same word "To Cast" or start working our beat. The beat is the area of ground given the handler to work by the gamekeeper or the owner of the shoot. The wind direction is most important especially when working a young dog. Pointers and setters work with their heads high so as to pick up the scent of game at a distance, it is well to remember that the wind has to pass over the game onto the dog's nose to get a point. The experienced dog will work his beat with great cunning, adjusting his pace and cast to overcome the variations of the wind direction, but young and inexperienced must work into a true wind. The training must make a dog handy so we can cast to a likely place that might hold game not included in the given beat (moist patch in dry weather, a sheltered place in windy weather). Having explored the area, the dog returns to the given beat.

Systematic quartering is most important, it is the way a dog passes backwards and forwards on the beat leaving no place unchecked. When the beat is completed, and you look back over the ground, you will see the areas you have missed and those you have covered well. Quartering is the work that proves how good your dog is, the pace and style should fill your eye with pleasure. You often hear handlers say that their dog will not work a beat because he knows there is no game.

THE GOOD DOG WORKS A BEAT BECAUSE THERE MIGHT BE GAME PRESENT. I always suggest that handlers should study the ways of the game they are going to hunt, and know a bit about their life style. For instance pheasants prefer to run and will not take to their wings unless hard pressed. Grouse and partridge will very often sit tight at the beginning of the season, but must be worked very carefully, woe betide the handler or dog that get their heads up before the guns are in position. Grouse and partridge will run hard at times.

The whistle is a very important part of a handler's equipment. When blown it should be tongued so the blast is sharp and decisive, and leaves the dog in no doubt that you mean it. Blowing the whistle a lot without results means your dog is disregarding commands: "The Boss often makes those noises but they don't mean anything". A lot of noise disturbs game so it packs its bag and goes to distant parts. Your guns will not be too happy seeing their game disappearing to the next hill. Most books and professional trainers recommend starting training at six or seven months. For the keen beginner it is best to start as soon as the puppy arrives, while you have a lost puppy, looking for someone to latch onto. What do we mean by training at this tender age? Not the higher mathematics of quartering, retrieving or pointing. Just simple good manners, to come when called and sit when told, so you are able to take the pup around in comfort to get it worldly wise and confident. If these manners are left till six months, the pup is much faster than you are and will have learned a few bad tricks of his or her own! When we consider the various points of training there are always two parts. The "trick" which on the whole is fairly easy. The second part is difficult, turning the trick into a command that must be obeyed at all times, even if there is a tempting hare running in front.

The most important command in training is the “sit”, “hup”, “down”. The word doesn’t matter, but your determination does. It is the drop that will get you out of trouble; chasing sheep, rabbit or another dog, a sharp blast on your whistle or a definite command. Down goes your dog, trouble passed. By the time your dog is adult the drop should be a conditioned reflex. You start this training at your feet, on the lead. As soon as the pup knows the order remove the lead and start dropping your pup a foot in front of you, increasing the distance gradually until in the far future you can drop the dog at any distance; 150 to 250 yards will hold no difficulties for you. The drop is not a party trick, to the trained dog it means; Stop what you are doing! Face me, I want to tell you something! Don't move till I tell you! (There is no need for the command “stay”) When you are having a chat with friends, put the dog on the lead. I often see a group of people chatting at a class, having told their dogs to sit. The conversation gets interesting and attention is off the dog. Up gets the dog and wanders off on its own business. Bang goes a fraction of your training. Try to listen to yourself handling. This is difficult, as in our anxiety for the pup to complete the lesson correctly; we repeat orders over and over again without the pup obeying. Each time this occurs the pup thinks it doesn't matter. I repeat the remark I made earlier: "The Boss is having a funny turn; he/she often makes that noise it doesn't mean anything".

The point of obedience is the point at which you take action. I allow 2 or 3 repeats of an order (whistle or voice) then I draw the pup's attention to the fact that am speaking! Returning to the pup we have just brought home. He has lost his/her litter mates and dam, though by now she has gone off the pups and has started to discipline her litter. You must carry on where she left off. You do not let the pup chew your fingers or heels. A rough growl and a gentle shake points out to the pup you are not to be trifled with, later a bit of fuss returns everyone to favour. It is well to remember that a pup has a limited concentration time often to fifteen minutes at the most, though this alters with breeds and individuals in a litter. If the lesson you want to teach can be made into a game, time is not so important. The recall starts right here: you call the pup, it needs its dam, up it comes, bags of praise and fuss. The time comes when the pup gets a bit cocky and his reply to the recall is, "not now I’m busy”. You nip in very smartly with a little shake and a rumble, put him down, another recall and plenty of praise when he comes in. This process will fix the pup on to the handler. He will soon learn if the boss speaks it is well to keep an eye on her/him, after all the handler is pack leader and protector.

FROM THE FIRST DAY ONWARDS DO NOT PUT HUMAN THOUGHTS INTO YOUR DOGS ACTIONS - if you do, you are doing your dog a disservice, and your expectations will be too high and disappointment would follow. One or two points worth remembering with regards to training periods. If you wish to continue training beyond the pup's concentration time, handler and pup should relax and after a while have another short training session. Your dog, be it adult or puppy, has not been disobedient until you have given an order and it has been ignored. If you have not the time to see an order through put the dog on the lead, once an order has been given it must be seen through. No dog is born trained, is trained tomorrow, or remains trained. Your approach to training must be definite and constant, if you don’t make sure every order is obeyed your pup will think it doesn't matter and so you are training your dog to be disobedient! You never ask a dog or pup to do anything, a crisp command strong and confident so there is no doubt in the dog's mind that you mean it. As soon as the dog obeys, plenty of praise and fuss. The approach to dog training is to expect the dog to do things correctly and a bit put out when things go wrong. It takes two years to make a fully trained and experienced dog. Accepting this time scale removes a lot of pressure from the student trainers and allows him or her to enjoy small regular progress The ambitious future vision of that well trained dog must never be dimmed. That dog, when the time comes, should fill you with pride as the ground is quartered with fine style and pace, casting some 100-200 yards to right and left, searching for that elusive game. You, the handler, confident in the knowledge that a quick blast of the whistle will bring that galloping dog to a dramatic halt. The first time your galloping dog stops, a little uncertain at first, his flews quivering as he savours that scent, his body will stiffen into his first real point. You, the handler, will hurry to his side controlling your excitement, making sure you do not cross between the dog and quarry, talking and reassuring him all is well. This first point slip the lead over his head and quietly order him forward (Roading In) and flush your bird, a sharp drop as the bird takes to wing. Then plenty of praise as you sit quietly in the heather or field and realise that all those hours you have put in to training your flyer has been worthwhile.

What are the virtues needed to make a good trainer?

l. Concentration. There is no time when training or working any dog to let your mind wander, the pup or adult dog will know immediately and take advantage of your lapse, Watch the top flight handlers, their concentration is complete all the time their dog is in action.

2. Patience is so important, keeping a firm control on your own emotions; take care of your voice levels. Be prepared at all times to go back and start again, as often you have not made an earlier lesson clear. If the day at your occupation has been upsetting, or you feel unwell, leave the training for that day, just a little exercise will do. There should be no rush, take time, many dogs of all breeds are spoilt by lack of PATIENCE and handler getting bored with the basic training.

3. Determination. When the pup or adult dog starts asking too many questions, it is this virtue he bumps against. This is when it is necessary to show who is pack leader. All worthwhile dogs or bitches will at some time wish to be pack leader and will throw down the gauntlet, it must be picked up and the question answered, leaving no doubts who is boss.

4. Observation. The handler must develop the habit of seeing all. When things are a bit difficult, the answer is often in your memory of a dog you once had, or you saw a friend's dog with a similar problem, and how it was sorted out. One of the joys of handling a hunting dog is the need for field craft, and to see what mother nature is showing you. Some handlers whose memory is not good keep a training diary to refer to.

5. Elation. We allow this virtue occasion. This occurs at the time you know you have the right dog, of the right breed, doing the work today that gives you a real thrill. There is nothing like the pleasure of the feeling that you and your dog are working as partners.

BEWARE, there are those days when your paragon returns you smartly to the need of virtues 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Author & Copyright:- Joyce Damerell


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