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Training Day Tidbits

By Charlie Shoulders

Reminiscing on the past three training sessions of this current year, I thought I would share with you some of the most frequently asked questions that seem to come up, especially from those just getting into spaniel field training.

 I think that one of the most asked questions is about the dog whistle. Like, ďwhat is that whistle you are using? Iíve never seen one like it. The one I have is not like yours, can I still use mine? Where can I get one of those whistles like you have?Ē

OK, letís see if I can tackle this question in a reasonable fashion. Thereís a specific whistle for flushing spaniel work. The spaniel whistle is basically a tube about 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter and from 2 to 3 1/2 inches long and is made of plastic, although it can also be made from bone, antler or horn. Maybe even wood, although I have never seen one. My favorite is a whistle 2 inches long thatís made from Buffalo horn. It is a pealess whistle and is much quieter than the common Acme Thunder which is shaped like most whistles we know and has a pea. Now, the reason for this type of whistle is that it is a quieter type of whistle and supposedly it does not scare or alert the game in the field of approaching hunters. I find this reason somewhat dubious and incomplete but letís think about it in this fashion.

When you go out with Rover for a day of Pheasant hunting do you roar up to the site in a cloud of dust with the radio belting out the tunes, getting out of the vehicle with the slamming of doors and hatches or trunks? Then go charging out into the field with no regard for the wind or the lay of the land or even knowing if the birds populate the spot that you picked? Or do you rather arrive as quietly as possible at daybreak, open and close doors with as little sound as is possible, then stand around with that last cup of coffee, watch the sun come up and listen for the cackle of roosters talking to each other, marking in your mind where the talk is coming from and how many participants? Of the two I would pick the latter. While someone may get away with the first described behavior on opening day I bet that they wonít be as lucky on day two. Especially if that area has been previously hunted.

So with that tranquil setting in mind would you rather hunt a field with a loud whistle to help direct Rover, or use one of a softer quality? Now I would not even suggest that those roosters donít know there is something afoot, but I think the invasion of the field is somewhat more subtle and infinitely more pleasant with a spaniel whistle. Personally a day full of loud whistle blowing would get on my nerves. Which may be the real reason that the quieter spaniel whistle is used.

For those who are involved in Hunt Tests or Trials the quieter whistle is preferred. Especially to those who are judging the event and are usually standing close to the handler. Itís not a good idea to blast the ears of the judge! Or ones spouse, just ask Paula. Hereís another tip, try not to over handle the dog in tests and trials with too many whistle commands. A problem that yours truly continues to have. Let your dog work naturally and show its style and enthusiasm, using the whistle only when absolutely needed. But I digress.

I think another reason for the softer spaniel whistle is the connection between the dog and handler. In that the dog, even when doing its primary job of questing for game, still must keep in mind who is the boss. While yes, a loud harsh whistle can accomplish this, with a softer whistle the dog must reserve a part of itís concentration for listening to the whistle, thus the connection between dog and handler is always there.

I have been addressing whistles for flushing field work here. Whistles for retrieving are a different matter and are much louder so as to be able to carry over the long distance of the retrieves that are made. Some of these whistles even have small megaphones attached to them. Spaniel whistles can be bought from a number of places, here are two web sites you can try.

 The ďDobbs Training CenterĒ www.dobbsdogs.com and also Lion Country, www.LCSUPPLY.com.

Hereís another favorite question - which is a good segway from the whistle topic as this area of training also has to do with subtle controls. ďWhy do you start your dog out in front of you, and facing you, and not from your side out of the heel position?Ē Oh boy, actually this one should be easier than the whistle question, believe it or not.

Letís look at this from the dogís point of view. Here we are in the heel position, the field is stretched out before us and Rover just knows there are birds out there ready to be flushed. All he is waiting for is to be released to do his thing. In an uncontrolled situation, what generally happens is that Rover runs straight down the field until he picks up bird scent then heads off in pursuit of that tantalizing scent! The thought of quartering or obeying commands never enters his mind, itís off to the races, itís time to hunt and to hunt for himself, not the boss.

Now letís try this picture. Place Rover out in front of you with his back to the field and facing you while you face him and the field. Iíll bet a dollar to donuts that Rover will turn his head around to look down the field, if not his whole body. Donít let him get away with this behavior, go out and reposition him with stern verbal and physical commands. Hereís the key, donít release Rover until he makes eye contact with you, and you use a hand signal to indicate which direction you want him to quarter to. If Rover wants to ignore your hand signal and runs straight down the field, stop him and get him back to the starting position and try again. Sometimes a long check cord can help in this exercise. It is of absolute importance that Rover knows what sit (hup) and stay means. You should try this in your own back yard first without birds so the temptation to break and run is removed. Be prepared for some failures but Rover is pretty smart, wants to please and wants to hunt, so this should not take too much time. Setting up in this fashion allows the handler adequate and more focused time to judge the field and objectives and the wind direction, so as to be able to send the dog in the best possible direction. Like the soft Spaniel whistle, this way of starting out also keeps Rover tuned into the boss!

Question number three that I hear a lot of is ďHow can I get my dog to work like so and so.Ē This in reference to a different breed of dog than what the questioner owns. Gulp!! We see a lot of different breeds of dogs at AWSFA training events, revealing that there is a lot of interest among different dog owners to learn how to train their own dog. Not everyone has the funds available to spend on pro trainers nor the dog with the proper temperament to be sent away to school. We have seen almost all the Spaniels, I canít recall seeing a Sussex or a Field Spaniel though. Some times even a pointer will show up. Even those dogs associated with retrieving put in a occasional appearance, like Labs, Chessys and Irish Water Spaniels.

Iím here to tell you that all dogs do not work alike! Thank God! Each breed has itís own style and temperament. Thatís what makes this so much fun. An English Cocker will not run like a Field Cocker or a Clumber like a Boykin or an AWS like a Springer. Surprising as it may seem to some, a lot of first time owners donít realize this and may think their dog is doing something wrong if it does not work like another. Donít try to change your dogís natural inclinations but work with it to bring out the strongest and best characteristics of your breed of dog, for your dogís individual personality. Enjoy the dog and breed that you pick and you will have many wonderful years of devoted companionship.

Here we go with question four which is ďHow do you feel about the use of electronic collars on dogs? and should I get one for my dog?Ē

Wow, do you get the feeling from these questions that someone is bound to disagree with your opinion someplace along the line? No wonder people let differences separate them in the dog world! Volumes of material have been written on this subject by more knowledgeable writers than I, but Iíll give you my best answer. And that is, it depends on you and your dog. I know, it sounds like a cop out doesnít it. Let me say this right up front, loud and clear.