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A Spaniel Field Trial


Types of hunting

Gun dogs are used to hunt all sorts of game. Many are used in the pursuit of big game. The majority of working gun dogs are used to hunt upland game.

Types of dogs

Gun dogs are divided into three primary classifications based upon method of work:


The techniques used for training a dog depends very much on the type of work the dog is expected to perform.



Retriever Work Retrievers are used to find and retrieve game that has been shot particularly when waterfowl hunting. In order to work as a gun dog, a retriever should be trained to perform the following tasks and behaviors:

  • Remain under Control Retrievers used as gun-dogs are trained to remain under control sitting calmly and quietly until sent to retrieve.
  • Mark downed game Marking is the process of watching for a falling bird or multiple birds. When the command "mark" is given the dog should look up for incoming birds and remember where each bird falls.
  • Perform a Blind Retrieve Once the dog has completed the retrieve it should gently but firmly hold the bird until commanded to release it to the handler’s hand.
  • Shake on Command Following a retrieve a well trained dog will not shake off excess water from its fur until after the delivery is complete.
  • Quarter Retrievers are often used in a secondary role as an upland flushing dog. The retriever must work in a pattern in front of the hunter and must be taught to stay within gun range.
  • Remain Steady to Wing and Shot When hunting upland birds, the flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that it sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired

Traits for Training - When selecting a retriever for training consideration is given to:

  • Biddableness - intelligence, controllability and open to learning
  • Desire & Drive - a broad range of behaviors including the desire to retrieve and the willingness to take on significant obstacles to make a retrieve. They will also demonstrate an exceptional interest in birds, bird feathers and bird scent which is termed “birdiness”.
  • Marking and Memory – consists of good eyesight and depth perception and the ability to remember each fall.
  • Nose - dogs are led primarily by scent. A retriever should be able to use its nose to find downed game in heavy cover or to quarter a field to locate and flush upland game birds.
  • Soft-mouth A soft-mouthed dog is one who will pick up and hold game softly but firmly on the retrieve.
  • Hardiness - A retriever should willingly re-enter cold water to make multiple retrieves.
  • Socialization Exposure of young dogs to new places, strangers and strange dogs.

The Training Process - The training process should start when the dog is still a puppy. During training the retriever is taught a series of skills. Throughout this process they are exposed to different environments and situations that help them cope with the rigors of hunting. The key points of this training are:

  • Water While most dogs are capable of swimming young retrievers are typically introduced to water gradually to build their confidence in the water.
  • Guns and Gunfire A Retriever should be trained to ignore gunfire.
  • Boats A retriever should be taught to enter and exit a boat with little disturbance and to sit calmly while in the boat.
  • Obstacles The retriever is taught to overcome obstacles, such as heavy cover, downed logs, sunken tree limbs, etc.
  • Diversions The retriever is taught ignore distractions and continue with the work at hand.

Flushing spaniels

Spaniels are trained primarily to quarter in front of the hunter to flush game. Trained spaniels should possess the following skillls:

  • Retrieve to Hand The majority of hunters and all hunt test or field trial judges require that a dog deliver a bird to hand, meaning that a dog will hold the bird until told to give it to the hunter directly.
  • Soft Mouth It is desired that a springer deliver game with a soft mouth, meaning he does not puncture it with his teeth. The game should always be fit for the table. If a springer damages the bird, it may be hard mouthed. This is a serious fault, but it can be difficult to determine whether it may have been genetic or caused by poor training methods. It is usually wise to avoid breeding any springer that is hard mouthed.
  • Quarter A flushing spaniel's primary role is often as an upland flushing dog. Dogs must work in a zig-zag pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The dog must be taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside of shooting distance. This pattern is one of the primary criteria used to judge a dog in a field trial.
  • Scenting Having the ability to scent game is of vital importance to the hunter. A springer should have a good nose in both wet and dry conditions. A dog with a good nose will learn to use the wind as it quests for game, ever adjusting its pattern according to the nuances of the wind.
  • Flushing The springer should have a positive flush. It should not hesitate or point when encountering game. Some field trial dogs will often get airborne during a flush. This is exciting to watch, but is not necessary to win. Most hunters prefer that their dog not flush in that style, as it can present a risk to the dog.
  • Hup This is the traditional command to sit and stay. When hupped the dog can be given direction called to the handler. The ability to hup a dog actively working a running bird allow the handler and any gunners to keep up without having to run.
  • Follow Hand Signals Upland hunting involves pursuing wild game in its native habitat. Gun dogs must investigate likely covers for upland game birds. The dog must be responsive to hand signals in order for the hunter to be able to direct the dog into areas of particular interest.
  • Steady When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird.
  • Blind Retrieve An adequately trained and experienced working springer can be expected to use all of the aforementioned attributes to be conducted by hand, whistle and command to a position whereby an unmarked lost game bird can be picked and retrieved to hand.

Pointing breeds

Bird dog training varies among breeds and handlers. Training for hunting can begin soon after a pup is weaned, around 10 to 12 weeks. A pup is encouraged to search for treats hidden in the handler’s pockets. In this way, he learns that he is rewarded for using his nose. At this time, the pup is often introduced to a gamebird in a cage (often a common pigeon). If the dog shows excitement, he is said to be birdy and is rewarded for this behavior. At this stage, some pups already exhibit a natural tendency to point. Handlers encourage the pointing behavior through games.

See also

External links


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