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Scent line training – don’t rush your young gundog

It’s best not to rush your young dog at this point in its scent line training, advises Fran Ardley

Dragging the dummy alongside a hedge will make the task easier for the dog

In last month’s article (Gundog training, December 2022), we looked at the initial stages of teaching your gundog to take a scent line in preparation for the time when it will have to find injured game (a runner) in the field. Although you can teach your dog the skills needed using artificial means, you should be very cautious when it comes to the real thing.

I always say to my clients that they spend a lot of time and effort in training their gundogs, so during its first season they should be careful to make sure they don’t overface the dog and put it in a situation where its training could quickly become unravelled. Picking your dog’s first runner is a classic case in point.

Imagine you are picking-up with your dog. You are watching him to make sure he is steady to falling birds and unshot birds that are landing nearby, and then you see a pricked bird that lands and runs. Now you have a decision to make. If you have an older, more experienced dog with you it would be advisable to send that and let the youngster watch. If not, you could take a chance and send the young dog. 

The main issue that could arise is that if the bird is a strong late-season cock bird it may prove too challenging for an inexperienced dog. If the dog does get hold of it and the bird kicks out with its spurs, this could encourage the dog to squeeze a little bit harder to stop the bird, and then you potentially have a dog that may become hard-mouthed.

It is a dilemma. The bottom line is pick your retrieves, don’t be rushed into anything and let your dog gradually gain experience and confidence. Watching a dog take the line of a runner is one of the most exciting aspects of gundog work, but it does need to be practiced in the training field.


Shot scent

Scent line training

Firing a starting pistol on to a rabbit-skin dummy helps teach a dog to recognise shot scent

Scent line training

Doing this at the start of the drag creates a scent ‘hotspot’

In last month’s article we concentrated on rolling balls to create a reasonably short scent line for the dog to follow. Now it is time to increase the complexity of the line. When game is shot there will be a number of scents given off: blood, adrenaline and, of course, shot residue from the pellets.

We can teach the dog to recognise shot scent by firing a starting pistol on to a rabbit-skin dummy. You can do this at the beginning of the drag to create a ‘hotspot’ for the dog.


Scent line training – game on

Scent line training

Test the dog on cold game, adding in some deviations or hedges

Once your dog is confidently following artificial lines (dummies) you can progress on to cold game, which will of course add another element of scent into the exercise. Set the task up exactly as you did previously with the dummy, but this time add in some bends or even take it through a gap in the hedge line.


Get out

When you line-up your dog, make sure you are working into the wind. This will make it easier for the dog and help its confidence. You want the dog to get its nose down on the scent line, so indicate with your hand the first hotspot area and, with luck, the dog should follow the line like it’s on tracks.


Scent line training- nice and straight

Scent line training

Keep the dummy at arm’s length to avoid your scent

Once you have created the fall area you can then proceed to lay the line. Initially, I like to drag the dummy alongside a hedge as this will help the dog with the task. Tie the dummy to a longline and drag it in a straight line and at arm’s length, as this helps to avoid getting any foot scent on the line. To start with, don’t make it too far. When you reach the end, rub the dummy in the ground again to make another hotspot.


Think like a bird

Try to make the exercises as realistic as possible

To really test your dog, you can make these exercises as complex as you like, and it helps if you can think like a pricked bird. When picking-up, the Guns may be standing out in a grass field, so any injured birds will make for whatever cover there is available. Try to set up these scenarios. If there is a tree or a rough area in the field, lay a line from the grass into the cover, as it is exactly where a pricked bird would run to.

Send the dog from the fall area in the field and let him work out the direction the bird has taken. The more experience you can give the dog in a training scenario the better equipped he will be when you take him out into the shooting field.