By Mike Stewart, Wildrose International
The dual-purpose gundog is a distinction that Wildrose Kennels is known to produce, The Gentleman’s Gundog: The Versatile Lab that is equally effective on upland game birds and waterfowl. Also, of course, one that is compatible in the home and on the road.
The Wildrose Way emphasizes that versatility is not accomplished in a single training cycle as often one set of skills required does not necessary complement another. For instance, the close-range work required of quartering to flush pheasant within gun range versus taking a long, straight line for an unseen mallard dropped across open water. The different expectations are obvious. How is a balance achieved when realizing that dogs learn through consistent repetition and that confusing them must be avoided?
Back to Basics
The reality is that contrary skills sets are not trained simultaneously. Rather, we want to focus on developing the skills necessary for our primary hunting expectations first, then after field experiences, we add the second level of training for other hunting situations, thereby, avoiding confusion.
If our primary purpose for our hunting companion is waterfowling, we will concentrate our initial training efforts on:
Working from blinds, hides, water stands
Handling at distances on land and water
Cross-training for upland will begin also as long as it does not compromise the primary training progression. We could develop:
Hunting cover on command
Steadiness at heel
Marking in cover
We avoid the counterintuitive skills of sweeping and quartering, which requires the dog to work a zigzag pattern within 15 yards of the handler.
If our primary choice is an upland flushing retriever with a bit of waterfowling, then our focus becomes close handling to keep our gundog within shot range and dealing with multiple falls in thick cover. So, we could develop:
Handling close within 15 yards
Hunting cover on command
Staying steady to flush and shot
Marking by sound
For this upland gundog we would do some exposure to close-in waterfowl work such as multiple falls on water at shorter distances, falls across creeks and channels, decoys, blinds, water stands, etc., all within a reasonable range so as to not de-rail our efforts in training quartering. After a successful first season where the dog worked well within gun range, cross training for waterfowl may be completed adding distant lining and handling.
As presented in The Wildrose Way Upland DVD and in our book, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, The Wildrose Way, (both available at wildrosetradingcompany.com), different behaviors require distinctive commands for the dog to avoid confusion.
- Hunt Cover Close– Remain still, give a waist-high cast with the hunt command. Hold the dog in close range to locate a down bird. It’s a search command “Dead Bird” or “Hi Loss,” etc.
- Strike– To flush pointed birds holding in front of Pointers. Line with the command, “Put them up.” The dog should make the flush and then remain steady.
- Quarter– Stand with the dog to your side, step to the side away from the dog and give a low cast with the arm/hand at waist height with a verbal cue like “Find them,” different from other commands.
- Marks– Simply say the dog’s name if he/she saw the bird drop.
- Line Long– Take two steps forward to align the dog in the desired direction of travel. Turn into the dog placing your body parallel to the dog. Reach forward indicating the line. Provide a lining command like, “dead bird” or “go long,” a distinct cue different from hunting cover or quartering. Release by name.
With field training and practical experience, the gundog learns to distinguish the individual commands and the desirable behaviors.
Cross-training a talented gundog is quite possible: upland, waterfowl, blood trailing, shed hunting. The main thing to keep in mind is to avoid confusing the dog by exposing it to counterintuitive behaviors too quickly. Train in progression with success in one area before adding another and develop a consistent understanding of commands for each desired behavior.