A Method of Steadying to Flush
By Charlie Shoulders
Let's look at one of the many methods of training your dog to be steady to the flush.
Often when working with a young dog on quartering patterns we will snap a long line onto the dogs collar as a means of helping direct the dog and to help establish range. Now we will use this same long line as a tool to aid us in the steadying process. The "long line" is simply a very long rope, 50- 100 feet in length. A number of people at our training sessions have used them, and some have their favorites which seem to tangle less than others. You can find these lines in hunting dog supply stores or catalogs. Back to the tidbit. Have Fido on a sit/stay, with you holding the long line snapped to the dog in medium to light cover, and ask a helper to drop in a live bird no farther than 10 yards away where the dog can see it. You may have to blow the sit command on the whistle to reinforce the sit but that's all right. Fido wants to get at the bird and that's good! Release the dog, and while still holding onto the line, your dog should have a good hard charging flush as the dog has seen the bird go in and knows where it is.
Did I mention that a good pair of leather gloves on your hands would be strongly recommended? I think you can see why! Now with the bird in light cover it should want to fly and not try to hide. Here is a handlers judgment area in trying to decide how far to let the dog go on the flush and chase, and it's going to be a trial and error method on your part. The objective is to have the dog go in hard and flush the bird but then to blow the sit command and reinforce that with a tug or pull on the long line. You want to keep the flush bold and not cower the dog or confuse him with the sudden jerk on the end of the line. This will take more than one bird to establish what you want from the dog so you should consider the cost and type of your training birds. Pigeons will work fine for this especially if they are yours and will fly back to the coop! Important point to mention is to have a dead bird for the dog to retrieve so this is a fun exercise and not punishment. When Fido sits throw in the dead bird in the flight direction of the flyer and give the dog a reward for a good job. We don't hit every bird put up in real life so it's not necessary to do this with every flyer. When you think that Fido has got this idea firmly engrained in his mind it's time to move on to planted birds in the field. Again keep the long line on and using it as a reinforcement tool to steady the dog when he finds and flushes the bird.
I hope that you can see the long line on the dog in the photo to the left. If not here's what's happening. The dog was quartering the field with the long line on and has found and flushed a hen Pheasant. The handler has shortened the line and it is tight, no slack, while blowing the sit command. Now if the gunners were told to shoot, the dog could have a retrieve or just a fly away. I'm guessing in this case we had a shot flyer! If the shot was successful the handler could then release the dog for the retrieve.
In this next photo you can see all kinds of things going on.
The long line is in the trainers hand as the dog comes back to hand with the retrieve. The whistle is ready and hand signals are being used to help as well! Hey, who's training who here? When you think about it we can add on steady to shot with this method as well, using a training pistol, poppers or live shells. Remember to be safe though. Get some help with this one. It's not a good idea to be shooting while being jerked around by a hard charging AWS. I personally would also not try to mix the two exercises together at first. Too much for Fido and handler to grasp. Try the flushing drill first then move on to the shooting situation. All dogs learn at a different pace so knowing your dog you can adapt these methods to suit your situation.
The photo on the right is an example of a different method used to help in the steadying process.
The handler has placed himself between the dog and the flushing bird and is using the whistle and a hand signal for sit and stay. If the dog breaks at this point, the handler can physically intercept the dog. This type of correction can really enforce the sit/stay command! Of course it's never easy trying to guess which way a bird will flush but it can be done. As you can see the dog has a excellent sit on the flush, (the bird is the blur in the trees) and the handler now is waiting for the shot to see if the dog breaks.
I hope that these tidbits will help and be an encouragement to you in your efforts in steadying your dog.