05. Training a dog to quarter

posted Aug 16, 2011, 11:32 AM by Alder Brittanys   [ updated Oct 17, 2011, 8:22 AM ]
This entire area of training can be summarized in 7 words: "Never teach a pointing dog to quarter."

As several of the most popular gun dog training books get this wrong, however, I'll explain.

Only a flushing dog should quarter. You're getting a pointing dog because you want a dog with drive, range and intelligence, not a dumb dog that wanders back and forth in front of you hoping to stumble on a bird. A smart pointing dog will figure out where the birds are most likely to be and run to that spot as fast as he can. If there isn't a bird there, the dog should move on to the next likely spot. If that next spot is a half mile away, that's where the dog should be.  My rule of thumb is this - until I figure out how to smell a 2oz bird from 15 yards away while running 20 miles an hour, I'm going to trust my dog to tell me where the birds are, not the other way around.

In short, there's no advantage to a pointing dog that runs back and forth in front of you.  If there's a bird in front of you, you're likely to spook it yourself anyway.  The goal of a pointing dog is to cover a wide range of territory and pin a wild bird.  It's a lot easier for him to do that without your heavy boots thumping through the brush right behind him. Yes, it's scary letting your prized dog run out of sight but very few Brittanys will actually get lost.  A Brittany will almost always know where you are even if you have no idea where he's gotten off to.  It takes a couple of year of training but, once your dog figures out that he's not going to catch the birds on his own and, if he waits for you to show up, you'll shoot the bird for him, almost all pointing dogs will settle in and hunt with you. Of course hunting "with you" may involve busting cover 400 yards to the front, but the dog still knows where you are. A beeper collar or, even better, a GPS system will make you much more comfortable when your dog gets out of sight.  Just be careful about making sharp turns when your dog can't see you - a big running dog is going to expect you to more or less keep going in the same direction and speed as when he last saw you.  You risk losing your dog if you suddenly turn around without getting his attention and bringing him around.

The one situation where a quartering dog may be useful is at a preserve on pen-raised birds where there are a set number of birds that have been planted in places a wild bird would never hang out. If that's the way you're going to hunt, you don't need a pointing dog.  Get a lab and an e-collar and save yourself a lot of time and money. If you're serious about hunting wild upland birds, though, get a good pointing dog and let him roll. A pointing dog has thousands of years of genetics behind him that give him the intelligence to know where birds are most likely to hide. He instinctively knows the exact spot he needs to be in to get the best chance at smelling a bird without startling it. His body has been bred into a finely-tuned machine that will get him to that spot as quickly as possible and snap to point in a split second if he makes game. His nose can detect less than 10 molecules of scent. He can smell in stereo.  That's right - stereo. Sit back and try to comprehend that for a second. Your dog can sense things about humidity, pollen, wind speed, swirls and directions of smells that scientists have been unable to reproduce. To force that dog to methodically run back and forth hoping to wander across a bird like a simple lab is a sin and the authors of the books that recommend it should be quartered themselves for suggesting it.
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