What talents should a good beating dog have?

It’s generally assumed that a beating dog doesn’’t really need much training, and that dogs that work in the beating line are somewhat inferior to the high-powered picking-up dogs, or those that sit obediently on the peg.

I’’ve long suspected that the beaters and their dogs have more fun on a shooting day than anyone, and my experience confirms this. I also appreciated fully what a good beating dog is capable of and should be doing.

As for the humans, there’’s a camaraderie among the beaters that you rarely find among the picking-up team or the Guns.

The ideal beating dog should

  • Always hunt close to his or her master
  • Be responsive to the whistle
  • Never be tempted to chase anything, however irresistible it may be

A drive is an intensively exciting experience for a dog, with birds flushing in all directions, lots of shouting and flag waving and numerous bangs. It’’s almost impossible to replicate such situations when training, which explains why sometimes even the best-behaved dogs go AWOL.

The perfect beater’s dog

Though his style might not have been spectacular, Buzz, a rescued spaniel, was a hard-working and steady dog, giving Sally…

The dangers of mixing beating and picking up

Unless your dog is trained to a very high standard, it’’s difficult to take it beating one week and picking-up the next. I’’ve seen top-class picking-up dogs do brilliantly in the beating line, but I’’ve also watched them run-in at the end of a drive and start collecting fallen birds, despite the furious blasts on their handler’’s stop whistle.

dogs in beating line

The excitement of being in the beating line, and the exposure to hot scent, can be too much of a distraction.

The best beating dogs have no interest in retrieving.

Pegging unshot game

A perennial problem is stopping your beating dog from pegging unshot game. This is more of a challenge if you are working a dog that likes picking-up. It’s unfair for the Guns to have to pay for birds that invariably end up on the gamecart, but which haven’’t been shot at.

Almost all gundog breeds are prone to peg, with hard-hunting spaniels and HPRs perhaps the worst.

Border collie at work dogging-in

Border collie at work dogging-in

Unusual beating breeds

One of the attractions of beating is that the dogs involved don’t have to be traditional gundogs.  Border collies seem to have a particular talent and enthusiasm. I always feel sorry for HPRs that beat, as on a typical 200-bird day they have little opportunity to point. I’’ve no doubt, though, that they come into their own on small shoots where birds are sparse.