KEEPA: hunting cover
A dog boldly entering and hunting cover is something much desired whether you are beating, picking-up or doggingin. My open trialling bitch Nala is renowned for being fearless in cover — she seems actively to enjoy hunting in thick brambles. I never seemed to have to encourage this particularly, so perhaps this fearlessness is in the genes more than a trained skill. However, having seen Keepa hunt for a marked retrieve in cover, I know he has that drive and ability, so he simply needs confidence and training.
I am rather frustrated when I hear handlers exclaim their dogs will hunt cover, but only when they know a bird is in there. Some feel this is the sign of an intelligent dog. To me this screams that the dog is either lazy or lacks faith in the handler and prefers to work alone rather than as a team. I want my dogs smashing through cover, having the belief that when I say to hunt there, they have confidence in their teammate. So how can I help Keepa achieve this?
To begin with, now I have the opportunity to practise these things in a real, live-game situation, it is important I ensure the retrieves I choose are a success. Every time he goes into cover, as a minimum, he needs to find scent, if not the retrieve. So, for now, if there is a chance there is no bird in the cover, I will send another dog. This way his confidence should not be knocked. If there is a clear mark into it, I will send him.
There is plenty I can be doing at home as well to help train for this. The first thing is to find various forms of cover. This includes everything from hedges, woodland, brambles, ditches and so on. Now the shooting season is under way, it is slightly harder as my ground for training is covered in birds. Once I have found some suitable areas, I start by putting simple marked retrieves into cover. When Keepa is confidently going in, I start to send him for memories and switch from where I send him, altering not only the angle but also the distance.
Because she has a team of dogs, Ellena can pick and choose the retrieves she sends Keepa for