Written by Marilyn Miller
I recently asked friends, Stacey and Frank, how they became interested in hunting and how they chose Brittany Spaniels as their hunting companions. Frank was a hunter first and when the couple married and moved to Maine Stacey became interested in bird hunting. They began on their own, without dogs which proved difficult. After speaking to a game warden at the Fryeburg Fair, they decided on Brittany Spaniels. Brittanys usually weigh between thirty and forty pounds which makes them easy to transport. They have a good temperment which was needed for their two small children. They make nice family dogs. This breed needs daily exercise to prevent boredom and destructiveness. Apartment living is not recommended for them.
The names of the couple's two Brittanys are "Cooper" and "Abby". They primarily hunt Grouse and Woodcock and occasionally released Pheasants. The dogs are trained with Quail or Chuckar which are raised and not native to Maine. Stacey and Frank hunt different types of cover. Woodcock is usually hunted in wet areas along rivers or streams. Woodcock follow water sources as they migrate which occurs in October through early November. The hunting season in Maine is October 1 - November 14. The Grouse season is October 1 - December 31. Grouse, otherwise known as Partridge, do not migrate.
Training the dogs to hunt on their own proved difficult and a trainer was needed. Their breeder worked with them, however, after a short while they realized Obedience training was necessary before seriously starting work with birds, A reliable recall, heel command, and "whoa" commands were a must. The recall command is especially necessary for the safety of the dog. If a bird flies across the road, your dog must come when called to avoid disaster. The heel command is necessary to keep control of the dog when walking to and from the field. The "whoa" command is used when you want the dog to stay still when he is on point. A true test of this command is when the dog scents a bird, as their natural instinct is to stalk then pounce and flush the bird. The whoa command tells them to stop. They must learn they are working for you and the gun. The dog must not move when the bird is flying but "stay steady to wing". They must also "stay steady to shot" which means stay still until the bird is shot and on the ground. When this happens the dog is allowed to retrieve the bird which is their reward.
Brittany's have a soft mouth which is necessary to retrieve an intact bird. There are training methods to correct a hard mouth if needed.Getting the dogs used to the sound of gun fire is another part of their training. Stacey and Frank began with a .22 starter pistol. They shot away from the dog, then evaluated the dog's response. The dogs are fed and praised while the shooting is going on. This associates the noise of the guns with good things. Once this is accomplished the .22 blank starter pistol is introduced with birds.
It took a couple of years to train "Cooper" and "Abby" to be good gun dogs. Much patience, work and consistency were involved. Stacey was training the dogs in AKC obedience at the same time. Luckee and I were showing in the Rally ring in Acton, Maine several years ago and Stacey and Cooper were showing in the Open ring. Stacey and Frank worked with the group NAVHDA (North American Versitile Hunting Dog Association). They learned different training techniques from other members of the group which met one to two times a week. The dogs were also tested in the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test. This evaluates the dog for it's natural hunting ability. The test involves finding and pointing birds, water retrieves, tracking a Pheasant and obedience work. Cooper and Abby were tested in AKC hunt tests and earned their Junior Hunter titles.
This proves that basic obedience skills are the foundation of any other canine sport, whether it be gun dog training, Rally, Agility or Flyball.
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