Quartering or hunting is the forte of the hunting dogs, with springers and cockers being the most popular of these breeds.
Teaching a working spaniel to quarter its ground should not be difficult. Most are natural hunters and, depending on their temperament, require only encouragement or a degree of restraint in order to curb their enthusiasm. An exuberant dog with a good nose may test you to the limit, while a sensitive dog will probably require more encouragement.
Open ground is the best choice for a site for training. You will never get a rhythmic pattern of ground treatment instilled in a dog in rough cover. That will come later.
How to start teaching a dog quartering
I don’t subscribe to the belief that a spaniel when it’s working a pattern should be like a windscreen wiper, simply doing a job.
I want to see it using both its nose, and the wind. In fact when I look at other people working their dogs, there’s often a doubt in my mind as to how good the dog’s nose actually is – usually when it’s just tearing about, seemingly unaware of which way the wind is blowing.
Depending on the direction of the wind there are three correct ways for the dog to work – but when it comes to improving a dog’s hunting pattern I always start the training with the wind blowing into my face.
When working with a young dog whichever way you, as handler, are facing and walking, then the dog will run in that direction too.
Bear this in mind and we can use it to improve the dog’s pattern.
The other important point is that the dog should be sharp on the turn whistle and come right back to you each time you give the command – it’s not good enough for the dog to simply turn and go across your front without coming in to you.
If you allow the dog to get away with this you will find that when it eventually comes to hunting live game he will still turn on the whistle, but he’ll gradually get further and further away from you with each cast.
To avoid this, be sure he understands that the turn whistle means turn and come back to you.
Correcting an older dog
A good way to correct an older dog that has been taught the turn whistle wrongly is to wait until he is going away from you and discreetly drop a tennis ball near your feet.
Now give him the turn whistle, encourage him back in and he should get then the scent of the ball and pick it up – a reward for him turning quickly on the whistle and returning to you before going out on another cast.
Dropping the ball in this manner also teaches the dog that there are things to be found close by the handler, rather than at a distance. It’s a ploy that’s especially effective on a fast dog with a soft temperament – the sort that doesn’t like you chasing it down to enforce a turn whistle.
Teaching a good pattern
It’s relatively easy to teach a young dog a reasonable pattern. First, determine which way the wind is blowing on the training field which, in an ideal world, will have some light cover in the form of longish grass.
- Walk to the downwind end of the field with the dog on a lead, then turn and make ready to hunt back into the wind.
- Before you remove the lead, sit the dog up and turn sideways to the wind so that it’s blowing onto your left cheek.
- The dog will think you are going to walk in that direction.
- Remove the lead and cast the dog in the direction you are facing. You might have to take a few steps forward with a softer or slower dog by way of encouragement before blowing the turn whistle.
- As soon as you’ve sounded two sharp pips you should turn your back on the dog and walk off in the opposite direction.
- The wind will now be blowing onto your right cheek.
- The dog will immediately turn, see you walking in the opposite direction then run past you.
- As soon as he has gone far enough ahead give him the turn whistle, turn and walk the other way – but this time at a slight angle so that you progress gradually up the field, into the wind.
If you repeat this process all the way up the field and practise it every day you’ll soon be able to walk a straight line into the wind with the dog quartering to and fro achieving an acceptable pattern.
When the wind is blowing from behind
Once you’ve achieved consistent hunting into the wind, you need to teach the dog to hunt with the wind blowing directly from behind.
The correct way is to cast the dog off to the left and away from you until he has cut off a piece of ground that’s no further than you could comfortably shoot anything that he flushes.
He should then quarter that bit of ground back to you while you stand still.
Once he’s back, quickly walk forward as he casts out to the right and takes in a new piece of ground.
Remember to stand still at the point where he had cut across for his first piece of ground.
He will now work the second piece of ground back to where you are standing.
Repeat this process over and over again until you have covered the training ground and practise it daily until the dog becomes proficient at covering all the ground efficiently.
When the wind is blowing from the side
This is a variation of ‘working with the wind from behind.’ With the wind blowing from left to right cast the dog to the right and he should work across the ground in front – from right to left – by going away and then back to you, repeating this until he has covered all this ground.
Stand still while he works. Once the dog has finished hunting you should walk quickly forward stopping at the other side of the worked piece of ground.
Now cast the dog out to the right and repeat the process. For a right to left wind the process is the same but the dog would work the opposite way across your front.
Repeat these manoeuvres for perhaps 15 to 20 minutes in each session. You will find that hunting becomes his favourite pursuit and he will never become bored with it. Stick to short sessions teaching a dog quartering in the beginning because a puppy of six or seven months old has only a certain amount of energy and you do not wish to exhaust him.
As each day goes by, you will find that your meanderings will gradually develop into a straight line, while he will develop a rhythmic ground treatment.
During the past month Remy, the Labrador puppy, has been coming along really well with his lead work, and over…
There are two important aspects of quartering a dog
- Never over-run the dog’s nose, that is, walk forward faster than the dog can hunt his ground
- Throughout his training and right through to his first shooting season, you must work him in a tight pattern from side-to-side for as he develops his nose and game sense he will, bit by bit, without you realising it, take up extra ground and before you know it will be hunting in the next parish.