The prob­lem: Steady to ground game

The so­lu­tion

Sporting Gun - - TOP-UP TRAINING - Mr. J Ed­Monds, Bed­ford­shire. Gra­ham Watkins sg’s gun­dog guru

The causes

No mat­ter what you plan to do with your gun­dog in the fu­ture, it should be steady to all ground game and that in­cludes deer as well as rab­bits and hares. In my part of the world (Ox­ford­shire) we have a lot of munt­jac and these can be very tempt­ing for a dog. The dan­ger is that game, hares es­pe­cially, can take a dog a long way from the han­dler and apart from per­haps spoil­ing other drives, there is al­ways the fear that the dog could end up chas­ing it across a road.

Han­dlers that have prob­lems with dogs chas­ing ground game quite of­ten think that is the prob­lem, in fact the real is­sue is that the dog has not been prop­erly trained on the stop whis­tle. The dog must re­spond to the whis­tle com­mand no mat­ter what the dog is do­ing.

Train­ing your dog in a rab­bit pen can be a great way of not only get­ting a spaniel to hunt, but also to steady the dog to ground game. How­ever some dogs do get wise to the fact that you are con­stantly watch­ing them and that the sit­u­a­tion is some­what man­u­fac­tured.

Quite of­ten when out in the shoot­ing field there can be a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of time be­tween finds and flushes and it is all too easy to lose con­cen­tra­tion. Fail­ing to read the change in your dog’s body ac­tion can mean that he will have made the flush and be chas­ing it be­fore you have even re­alised. It is far eas­ier to stop a dog be­fore it runs in than try­ing to stop it once it is mov­ing.

It is sur­pris­ing how many novice han­dlers start hunt­ing their dogs and for­get to put their whis­tle in their mouths. If the dog has a quick find and flush and does chase it, by the time they have found the whis­tle, put it in their mouths and blown the stop, the dog will be in full flow and head­ing for the hori­zon. Be pre­pared!

The so­lu­tions

As I’ve al­ready men­tioned, quite of­ten the root cause of dogs chas­ing ground game, whether it is in a rab­bit pen or in the shoot­ing field, is not the fact that they are chas­ing, it is that the stop whis­tle has not been fully in­grained in the dog. Quite sim­ply, if you – as the han­dler – blow that stop whis­tle the dog should stop what it is do­ing, sit and look at you for a com­mand. There is no doubt that a rab­bit or a hare run­ning away from the dog is very tempt­ing but with care­ful and con­sis­tent train­ing most dogs can be taught to be steady.

“My spaniel is mak­ing good progress in his train­ing, but how can I make sure he will be steady to ground game when we are in the shoot­ing field? I am happy that he re­sponds to the stop whis­tle prop­erly (most of the time), but he has chased a hare while out train­ing in a lo­cal field and I am worried that this will be­come a habit.”

The train­ing

It is al­ways worth go­ing back to ba­sics when you have en­coun­tered a prob­lem. Steadi­ness and the stop whis­tle are two com­po­nents of your dog’s train­ing that will need con­stant tweak­ing and re­fresh­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter a shoot­ing sea­son. I like to use rab­bit skin balls or dum­mies be­cause these can be a bit more tempt­ing for the dog, es­pe­cially if it does tend to chase rab­bits. In the first in­stance sit the dog up and throw the ball or dummy out in front of the dog, put your body in front and slightly to one side just to block the dog in case it does move. Once you are happy that your dog is to­tally steady to thrown dum­mies while sit­ting still, you can then brush up on the stop whis­tle. You should have in­tro­duced this com­mand dur­ing the dog's ba­sic train­ing but, again, it does not harm to re­mind the dog what a long sin­gle blast on the whis­tle means. Com­bine the whis­tle com­mand with a hand sig­nal and to get the dog re­ally sharp throw out a dummy at the same time but don’t let him pick it up be­cause this may en­cour­age him to run in. Once you have re-en­forced the dog’s steadi­ness when he is sit­ting, you can then move on to get­ting him to stop when he is mov­ing, this is a bit more dif­fi­cult. You want to find a flat piece of ground, a play­ing field is ideal. Get the dog hunt­ing about and when he is least ex­pect­ing it throw out a dummy in front of him and at the same time blow the stop whis­tle. For this ex­er­cise, a black and white dummy can work well as the con­trast­ing colours are vis­i­ble to the dog and also very tempt­ing. Be ready to make sure the dog does not get hold of the dummy as it will be self-re­ward­ing it­self for run­ning in. Once you are com­pletely happy that the pre­vi­ous lessons are fully em­bed­ded in the dog, you can move on to steady­ing him fur­ther in a small pen, the type used for par­tridges are ideal. To start with only sit the dog down and walk the birds around him, keep a care­ful eye on the dog to make sure he doesn’t move, you re­ally are putting a lot of pres­sure on the dog at this time so keep these ses­sions short. The fi­nal stage is the rab­bit pen, if pos­si­ble the pen needs to be of a good size so it repli­cates a nat­u­ral set­ting as much as pos­si­ble. Also you don’t want too many rab­bits in the pen be­cause ide­ally you want the dog to work for the finds. At this stage, be ever ready with the stop whis­tle – as soon as the dog has a find and flush make sure you give the stop com­mand. Be aware that it is rarely the first rab­bit that the dog will chase, but it may well be the one af­ter that as by then the dog’s senses will have been height­ened and you may well find that he goes “up a gear”. If he gets overex­cited fin­ish the ses­sion and leave it for an­other day.

Temp­ta­tions Ground game can be very tempt­ing for a dog


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