Training by Giving Experience

Note: I wrote this after reading the preceding letters. They all have one thing in common. They let the pups experience the field. Some may feel I dwell on this aspect of training too much. I tell you, that one cannot dwell on it too much. Statements that repeat with each success story go something like these .......

..... "He ran chased & pointed everything. Then one day it was like a light came on . . . . Pointed & held his first covey!

......"You just can't beat letting them see lots of birds to refine their natural instincts."

..... I cannot stress the importance of "We hunted by ourselves the first 3 or 4 trips."

Do not put a starting, young dog out with other hunters until he loves the gun!

A.O.K., Sr.

Training is important
But experience and the incentive
To hunt are the requirements that pay off in the field . . . . .

There is no better experience than experience. A pup needs to be self assured and comfortable with you. Again, let me say, take the pup out often so he will feel assured that he won't have to run away from you to be able to stay out and romp, and that together you will return again and again and again ........

A Llewellin gun dog is born with the incentive to hunt. And experience is his best teacher.

Training is important, too, but it has a relatively minor role. Yes, that's what I said; think about it. A pup should first and foremost, be taught to respond to his name, pay attention to you each time the name is spoken. Commands should begin with the name; this is the most important part of training and cannot be bypassed. The purpose of training should be to develop the dog's finished style, and convince him that the desires of the hunter are of first importance. Beyond that, training should be secondary to the instinctive and field-learned traits.

Many handlers, particularly amateurs, have a tendency to go off the deep end in the attempt to produce a dog, which obeys unquestioningly every hand signal and every shouted or whistled order. This training-school graduate is mighty impressive in the field. With one eye or maybe both on the handler, he casts back and forth according to directions. The only trouble is he finds little or no game.

Give the Youngsters a Chance

Usually the reason is that strict and intensive training began before the dog really knew what scent is and before he had any experience. As a result, he has technique but no bird sense. The performance might be quite different if the young dog had been taken into game country and permitted to absorb the delights of the chase. He might do everything wrong from flushing birds wild to chasing coveys. But he'd be acting according to instinct and he'd be getting experience upon which later training could be based.

Take, for example, the dog's method in covering game country. If he's under complete control of the handler he'll make some dramatic casts but over territory where there is no game. He'll work barren fields or shorn stubble that wouldn't offer cover to a hummingbird. Heeding his master's commands, he'd exhaust his energy and strength on such terrain.

On the other hand, a dog with well-developed bird sense would test the scent-loaded wind and make his casts accordingly. Experience would tell him not to waste time in unpromising territory. He'd concentrate on likely spots where the cover is suitable for birds.

Performances of this type may be observed on club lands, which extend over thousands of acres. Gun dogs used in this cover often show an astonishing understanding of the terrain. They range at will without orders from their handlers, and might disappear. The hunters don't worry about them, though. They'll predict that Old Babe and Breeze will be stanch on a covey just over the next rise. Nine times out of ten they'll be right. That kind of hunting is the product of experience. The dogs know just where coveys are likely to be found. Furthermore they know where birds may be at times of the day. It just wouldn't be sensible for a hunter to direct the work of such dogs. After all, it's the dog not the man that has the instinct, the scenting power, and the bird sense. A measure of a Llewellins intelligence is his ability to adapt his methods to different types of upland game. My dogs are primarily quail dogs and they cover many acres at a cast in wide cover, which changes from open pasture to fencerow to gully to thicket and back to open pasture. When the cover is close they come in. The work with you, you don't have to stay with them. When the quarry was grouse or woodcock they recognize the difference and restrict their pace. They didn't learn that in a day. But after a few days' work on different types of game they began to understand the different problems that confronted them. And they stored up the knowledge in their memories.

I laughed at Ashly on his first Chukka retrieve. His head went down and POPPED back up ­ he turned and looked at me as if to say, "You did it not me, you just shot the neighbors chicken!" I told him to fetch, which he promptly did. He and I had a good laugh and all was well.

I took Paul, Jack, Roy and Bomber with me to west Texas for our first Blue Quail hunt. Boy do those birds run! We were late into the 2nd day when Paul stopped ­ shook his head and sort of shuddered. He backed off and circled the birds and cut them off from the front in an extremely proud point. You cannot teach a dog this sort of thing; he has to learn from his own experience.

All this was done without formal/harsh training. I supplied only a bit of patience, a murmured encouragement, a few words of advice, or a rebuke for undue haste. The dogs did the rest.

I do recommend hunting a young bird dog with an older, game-wise dog. This may help the pup. But it can do the older dog a lot of harm if overdone, at times; the well-trained brace-mate can become so exasperated or jealous that he develops bad hunting habits. I have the advantage over most in that I have plenty of dogs to help a pup along. One dog is more suited for or tolerant of a green pup, another is ideal for helping me to finish out another dog. You just have to know your dogs.

I have seen many 'leading' dogs put a young dog in its place by a cut of the eyes and a low grumble. Do dogs talk? I don't know but I sure do believe that communicate. Just be watchful and know when to clip the pup to a lead. He'll get the idea that he REALLY did wrong.

Trouble can develop, for example, if the dog establishes a point and the pup fails to honor it repeatedly. After game has been bumped several times in succession the older dog, irritated and jealous, may follow the pup's example and rush in to flush the birds himself. Right then the handler realizes things aren't working out as he had planned. Besides training the youngster he's also got the job of retraining his experienced dog.

Examples Can be Bad Also

A friend told me this tale of woe. "I had taken a well-trained setter bitch into the field with one of her 8-month-old pups. The young dog had been pointing well and ranging satisfactorily for 6 weeks or more and I thought he was well enough along to hunt with his mother. Well, I was mistaken. The bitch trailed a covey of quail and pointed. Her son backed her for a moment, then broke, dashed in, and flushed the birds. I gave him a sound reprimand and, in her way, his mother told him off too. The singles were soon located and again the bitch pointed. The irrepressible pup swept past her, heading for the covey. But this time his mother suddenly reached out and got a bone-crushing grip on one of his hind legs. Yelping with pain, the pup stopped right there. Never again did he fail to honor another dog's point." I too have seen a pup literally 'put in its place'.

Does a dog back or honor a point as result of observation and training or on instinct? Is it instinctive that puppies back their companions on turtles, butterflies, or small birds? Or, are they motivated by intelligent observation? What came first, the chicken or the egg? One could discuss this forever and come to no other conclusion than, 'IT IS'.

The first pup locates the quarry by body scent or by sight and immediately points. Another young dog may follow suit purely as an imitative gesture. Later he discovers that backing gives him a special advantage. If the quarry breaks cover in an unexpected direction he may be in a superior position to carry through in the chase. This carries over to bird work as a young dog learns to circle and cut off a running Pheasant or Partridge.

Errors in performance can be avoided if the trainer studies the young dog's disposition and plans his instruction accordingly. Some dogs can be urged to develop initiative; others must be brought under control. One responds best to a few words of reproof, another may need stronger methods.

Nothing compares to experience in developing bird sense. Of course training is essential also. But a barrage of orders, too soon, may do more harm than good. The important thing is to help the dog learn, not make him.

Happy Hunting.