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hitting the ground or splashing in the water. Nothing develops a dogs resourcefulness and mentally matures a dog and its working ability quicker than work on natural game. Any dog that misses out on being used as a working gundog on natural game misses out on invaluable experience and development. It isnít the same on planted game. It takes much longer to mature a dog only worked on planted game. As the purpose of field trials is to improve the breed as working dogs, any trial dog that does not make a good, practical working gundog under natural conditions has to be questioned. Naturally, one does need to make the dog work as important, if not more so, than the shooting to avoid bad habits developing. I was always happy not to carry a gun and work a dog for others to shoot over. If I did the shooting over a dog I was handling, shooting was always secondary to the actual dog work.

"It is a major mistake for a trainer to give a command and for a handler not to see that the command is obeyed."

Over the years, I have heard of a number of highly successful handlers that take their trial dogs hunting. I expect most would give some of the credit for their success in trials to taking their dogs wild bird hunting.

The hup command, besides being fundamental to teaching steadiness, I always believed was the most important command a spaniel should be taught for a handler to control his dog. Any dog hot on a moving bird heading for a centreline or working moving game up a hedgerow or ditch, may not always turn to the whistle, but if he will hup, the dog and handler can regroup and proceed in a more controlled way. If the dog runs through the hup command, all is lost and the dog is basically out of control. I always felt confident I had good control of a dog if it responded sharply to the short toot on the whistle under various conditions. If the dog didnít respond sharply to the hup command, one could figure when a split second response was required to maintain control it would not be there and the dog would flush across the centreline, or out of range, and was much more likely to chase after the flush. For this reason, I always practised this command under various conditions. Practised too often at uninteresting times can bore a dog or even intimidate a young sensitive dog.
Practising the "hup" command during an exercise outing

One of the most useful times I found to practise this was if I had a group of dogs out running for exercise. It was a relaxed fun time for the dogs. Every now and then I would toot the whistle to hup and expect every dogís rear end on the ground in a flash. If a dog didnít respond instantly, the basics hadnít been taught well enough and more individual work was necessary. For the others it was good practise and reinforcement that the short toot on the whistle meant to stop any time it was heard - even when things were relaxed and other dogs were running about for distraction. Whatever the response, each and every dog had to be sitting before the gang was released to go on running again.

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