A walk-up is an excellent group training exercise that’s enjoyable for handlers and gundogs alike – everyone can play. The British style walk-up is the same activity used on a large party pheasant hunt. Blockers are placed at the end of the field that is to be pushed to prevent the escape of running birds. The walkers with their dogs form a line at the opposite end of the field in relatively close ranks to prevent birds from slipping through the formation. As the line moves forward, the group effectively drives the birds until they are flushed. Usually, our walkers are fielding retrievers or spaniels. Pointers may be used but most likely these breeds are reserved for clean-up opportunities or small party hunts.
This training discussion focuses on the skills necessary for a good walk-up and driven gundog. The quartering and flushing discussion will be reserved for another feature. For now, we will focus on honing walk-up gundog skills.
Waterfowlers: Don’t leave the discussion! You may assume these walkup exercises are not applicable to your water dog’s performance. Not so. These experiences will improve the duck dog’s skills for steadiness, marking and remembering multiple falls, as well as improve the use of your dog’s nose in cover for recoveries. All good stuff, so stay with us.
Group walk-up training is not a single purpose exercise. Much will be accomplished if practiced occasionally.
· Steadiness – Remaining steady to marks. Flushes and gunshot become more of a challenge for any dog that is walking off lead rather than sitting still on a stand or in a blind.
· Excellent marking skills – Often the uplander only sees a short glimpse of the bird falling as their view is obstructed by obstacles or dense cover. Distance estimation is important.
· Aggressive hunters of cover – The nose knows. The dog must learn to get to the correct fall area. Then hold a tight search pattern using scent work, not just looking for the bird.
· Drive – The gundog must be quick and agile to get to a downed bird accurately and quickly despite obstructions. Many of these game birds, whether wild quail or pheasants, hit the ground running. A prompt recovery is vital.
· Honoring other working dogs – As part of steadiness, the proper walk-up dog “tends to its own business.” No frolicking about with other dogs working afield.
These accomplishments take practice and they make a perfect skillset checklist for a young gundog to experience before their first season. Quartering and flush work come later for a dog of duality.
Let the Games Begin
With our objectives for training well established, let’s take a look at a few of the “Wildrose Way” exercises utilized for walk-up retriever development.
The Progression of Lessons
Walk-up I –Single: A single mark to the front is thrown as the group walks an open field. Once the dogs understand the concept, move to a field with grass cover. Begin with the young student on-lead if necessary, but our training objective will be to move to off-lead heel work on walks-ups.
Walk-up II –180°: A single memory is placed behind the walk-up line by each participant. As the line moves forward, a single mark is thrown ahead of the line. The line stops and the mark is picked by one dog followed by the memory to the rear. Whether the mark or memory is the first recovery is the handler’s choice.
Walk-up III – Scatters: As the walk-up line negotiates the field with dogs patient at heel, multiple marks are thrown forward. Now several different dogs may participate picking the 3 to 5 marks.
Walk-up IV –Across the Line: As the line moves forward, a single mark is presented forward at one end of the line. The outside dog at the opposite end of the procession makes the pick. This requires the dog to run directly in front of all dogs as they remain steady. Once recovered, the handlers rotate positions allowing a different dog to be at the end of the line and make a pick while all other dogs remain steady.
Walk-up V – Distractions: Add gunfire, poppers, or launcher dummies to the drill options. Gunfire definitely adds excitement. Also, incorporate double dog retrieves. As one dog makes a pick and is on the return, send another.
Walk-up VI –Birds: Occasionally incorporate a few cold birds for dogs to find. Usually, these will be placed as unseens which are dropped without the dog’s knowledge. The mark for the dog is offered to the front. Once recovered, another dog is sent to the rear of the line for the unseen grand prize, the biggest motivator: A BIRD!
Advanced/Upland Training Videos
Walk-ups may be further researched with examples as discussed on Pages 156, 195, 205-209 in Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way and seen in videos featured in the Wildrose online library at UKLABS.com
Walk-ups are excellent training for any gundog and they remain an important prerequisite for dogs expected to quarter and flush upland game birds. It’s “first things first” in gundog development. Walk-ups are a great deal of fun, and they provide beneficial group training experiences along the trail to sporting dog excellence.