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Hunting the Uplands with your Boykin

Part 1 - Quartering
by: Howard Nichol, Brentwood, TN

Those of us who own one of these amazing little brown dogs already know what great retrievers they are. Even if you don't hunt or hunt test your little "best friend" you know how excited they are when sent to get things thrown. They are naturals even if not trained.

They are also dynamite Flushing Spaniels. They have those flushing genes right there on top inherited from such greats as Springers, American Waters and even Cockers (yes, they are great little hunters and a solid effort is successfully being made to put them back in the field. In fact Cockers are having their first National Field Trial in 40 years this fall). Those flushing genetics are there for any one who wishes to use their Boykin to the utmost. So with that introduction, let's talk about training our Boykins to flush upland game birds. We will cover the training in several articles. The first will be "Quartering".

QUARTERING: 7. To traverse (an area of ground) laterally back and forth while slowly advancing forward. --intr.
Webster defines the process well. And quartering is exactly what a spaniel (a flushing dog) is supposed to do to find and produce game. Now let's talk about training them to do it for you, the hunter, not just for themselves.

There are two basic ways to train your Boykin to quarter, the "alone" method and the "with assistants" method. If you have two training buddies, you have the assistants' method locked up. It is the best method and will produce the best results. If you are like I was, and are training alone most of the time, you will have to use the "alone" method. Which ever method you use, your mission is to convince your Boykin that since he (or she) moves so much faster than you do that he should swing from side to side in front of you. Doing so, he can cover that ground instead of just heading straight 100 yards out front to see what is there. Since 100 yards is too distant a shot for any hunter, it is to our advantage to train our little brown buddies to stay close, cover the area well and quarter out front in shooting range.

A flat quartering pattern is your dog hunting back and forth, windshield-wiper style, ideally 20 to 30 yards side to side and up to 15 to 30 yards out front. In reality, except in Spaniel Field trials, a quartering dog will not be hunting with this perfect windshield-wiper look. Most of the time you will be next to a fencerow or along side a grain field or a creek. Hills and drop-offs change the situation. The wind and type of cover you are hunting will also. However, if you train your Boykin to quarter the basic pattern, he will naturally hunt close and in front and be responsive to your signals. That is what we want to teach him.

The signals you will use with your dog are a "double toot" of your whistle and a hand signal to the left or right. You will also use the single whistle blast "stop" command and the three to four whistles for the "come-in". The "stop/sit" and the "come in" are for when he ranges too far out front and you want him back in range. Start using the "double toot" and hand signals while out on a romp in an open field when your Boykin is a puppy. Every time he looks back at you do a "toot-toot", give him a hand signal the opposite way he has been going and step off in that direction yourself. You will find that he will enjoy running out front and will look back often to see where you are headed. You basically walk a zigzag route and he follows your lead out front. With enough of this drill, he will soon start the zigzag (windshield-wiper) pattern himself while you are walking straight ahead. (A note here: do this briefly each time and if boredom sets in go right ahead to the actual bird part as described below)

With this walking background its time to start the actual training. "Alone," you must do it all. Obtain dead pigeons and carry them in your hunting vest. Find a training field with light cover. Go for your romp but this time plant one pigeon first where he will pass right by it on his first turn. The rest of the pigeons you toss in behind him while he is not looking. As he heads to the right, toss one ahead of you and to the left. As he turns back left, he comes to the bird on his pass out to your left. Of course he follows up with a retrieve each time.
In time you should graduate him to clipped wing birds and dizzied birds that are planted ahead of time. Clipped wing birds can't fly so your dog will develop a real solid (hard) flush. Dizzied-planted birds will fly of course and will be the basis for our next article on steadying your Boykin to the flush and shot. Two things to remember here, a dead bird or clipped wing bird thrown in behind a dog will tell him that birds are found in close. Planted birds, especially when working into the wind, are going to be scented by the dog and will draw him out farther. You will have to use both methods to keep your Boykin seeking game out front but not so far as to be out of range.

Working with assistants, now that is the way to go! Grab your yellow-eyed little buddy and heel him. Have your two training partners go out 15 yards on each side and slightly ahead of you. They should have several dead pigeons each in their hunting vests. As you all start walking forward, cast your Boykin off in the direction of one assistant- say to the right. Have that assistant show and shake the pigeon at the dog while calling the dog's name, etc.. This is to get the dog to charge toward the assistant. As the dog arrives, have that assistant stuff the pigeon back into his vest and turn away from the dog. At the same time you give the "double toot" and the arm wave to the left. Have the left assistant start exciting the dog and shaking a pigeon from that side. After a couple of turns, have one assistant, while the dog is heading away from him, drop a bird for the Boykin to retrieve. When the dog turns back, have that assistant shake a bird to once again get his attention but let the dog find the dropped bird to retrieve. Keep these training periods short. Let the dog's enthusiasm tell you when to quit. After a few periods you will want to use clipped wing birds. Later, during the steadying process, you will use planted dizzied birds and your assistants can stop the show-and-shake exercise and just walk along on each side.

A word of caution here: This and future articles are thumbnail sketches of quartering and steadying training. They assume your dog has been gun proofed prior to any gun type training. They assume that your Boykin has been on birds, likes them and retrieves them, etc..

For a complete and excellent book on training Flushing Spaniels see: "Hup! Training Flushing Spaniels the American Way" by James B. Spencer; Howell Book House. His book is available from Stover Publishing Co. Inc., 1-800-767-HUNT.

Three videos I know of are available that show quartering spaniels in action: "Field Training Your English Springer Spaniel" as demonstrated by Ben Martin of Royal Kennels, 1-513-746-8507, and two AKC Video Series "On the Line with the English Springer Spaniel" and "High on Hunting Spaniels" 1-919-233-9780. The first video is a training film; the second two are films produced showing AKC Spaniel hunt tests.

Finally, "Spaniels in the Field" magazine is a quarterly devoted entirely to flushing spaniels. The magazine always contains at least two training articles, 1-218-343-6253 or fax 1-218-343-6258.

Catherine's and my two Boykins, HR Catherine's Little Brownie and HR Catherine's Dolly, hunt quail, Chukar and pheasant. In Dolly's case, there is no doubt that she likes hunting the uplands more than sitting in a dove field or duck blind. Brownie on the other hand is a retriever through and through. Both dogs work the quartering and the retrieving well, however, it just seems each has her favorite discipline.

So, if you are interested in expanding your Boykin's hunting skills give the quartering training a try. Most people prefer to hunt quail and Chukar with pointing dogs. I just like my Boykins and have no problem keeping my eyes on them to be ready for a flush should they make contact. You do have to keep them close and stay alert, but their tail and actions tell you when to get ready. In the pheasant fields, however, a flushing spaniel is of no equal. Those wild running ringnecks can drive a pointing dog crazy. Your Boykin will thrive on the challenge. Good luck and good hunting!!

You can reach Howard Nichol by e-mail at: boykins2@aol.com

Spaniels in the Field Periodical dedicated to spaniels. Great articles on training your dogs to flush.

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Upland hunting - flushing
Upland hunting - control
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History of the Boykin Spaniel
Boykin Spaniel Standard

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Last Updated: 11/5/99