Trust Your Dog!

On my iPhone I have a list called “Field Trials” with six bullet points. Each one represents something I consider important to remember when I am handing Keeper in a field trial. The first one, and the only one in all uppercase letters, says “TRUST YOUR DOG!”. One year ago today, in the very field where I can presently camped, Keeper and his trainer Gary Riddle showed all of us watching exactly what that means.

Gary Riddle & Keeper - 1st place in the Timpanogos Open 9/10/21

Gary Riddle & Keeper – 1st place in the Timpanogos Open 9/10/21. Click to enlarge.

Field trial dogs like Keeper, and so many others, have had years of training from some of the finest Spaniel people in the country. Over the years they learn the “do’s and dont’s” of field trialing as well as obedience training. They practice dummy launcher retrieves, water work, delivery to hand, steadiness, and the many other things they need to master in order to be successful in competition.

Back in the late 1960’s, when I was a teenager, I worked as a young trainer in eastern San Diego County for Warren Grimsby, the co-owner of Warcon Kennels. We typically had over 100 mostly retriever field trial and hunting dogs in training at a time. Warren taught me many things, but the one I remember the most was about spirit, or desire, in these dogs. He’d say, “It’s like Prego Spaghetti Sauce – it’s in there. And if it’s not, no amount of effort will put it in there. They are either born with it or they’re not”.

Through generations, in many cases for hundreds of years, these dogs we work with have been bred to do a certain thing. In the case of English Springer Spaniels that thing is to find, flush, and retrieve pheasants and other game. In order to do that, certain instincts must be bred into them and their offspring are born with these traits.

Using the wind properly, no matter the direction, is critical to the success of a Spaniel in the field. They must hunt crossing the wind, downwind of the bird’s “scent cone”, in order find and flush game. The best dogs develop this critical ability naturally, like a fox or coyote would learn in the wild, and then the handler must learn to understand and trust that the dog is better at locating game than the handler.

The video below is from Keeper’s 1st place performance in a Utah trial last year. His first bird, at the very end of the inbound course, had run well off from where it was planted. Conditions were very dry and scenting was not good, unlike when the cover is a little damp and holds the bird’s scent much better.

In this video you will see that Keeper, after a fairly long hunt down the course, picked up a very slight scent trail that took him to the top the the hill, well off the course where the birds had been planted. But at the top of the hill the scent was not strong enough to hold him and he came back down, still looking for that bird. Then back up, back down, and back up for a third time. Because both Gary and the judge trusted that Keeper was indicating a bird, they patiently waited him out and he finally produced that pheasant, retrieved it in a valley over the hill and out of sight to all of us (on the right side in the photo above taken from where the bird flushed), and eventually won the trial. This particular contact had a lot to do with him finishing in 1st place!


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