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Bill Fawcett Reviews
Gundog Sense and Sensibility by Wilson Stephens

"If we analyse the inner reason why we do what we do in training a dog, we have much more change of correctly solving the problem of how to do it."

This book was originally published in 1982 by Wilson Stephens, a longtime contributor to The Field. In fact, the basis of this book was from articles in that magazine.

Getting into a dogs mind is always an entertaining subject. At breakfast this morning, Cindy and I were discussing how differently I would raise children if we had to do it all over again. Iím not sure the welfare people would appreciate me picking them up by the ears and telling them to "hup!"

"In a well-trained young dog still gaining experience, gun sense (which is an acquired skill - feeds upon game sense (which is largely inherited). Beginning from the realisation that the best place for pheasant is in the air, and for a rabbit on open ground, there comes an awareness that the gun must also be given its best possible chance. In this respect Ďworking to the guní is no mere picturesque phrase."

But Wilson brings out the differences between dog and human behaviour. He ranks the effect of the five senses on a dogís mind. "At commencement of training they rank in descending order of importance as follows, Hearing, Smell, Sight, Touch, Taste."

I thought Wilsonís observation on the use of hands (we "handle" our dogs) to be most enlightening. Says Wilson: "A crisp clap on the muscles of the neck, firm enough to give it a healthy sound, has the opposite effect - cocked ears, eyes turned towards a visitor worth knowing the blown nostrils that indicate pleasure. So with a dog, it is the touch of hands that proclaim themselves competent by their firmness, which makes a dog feel in better company."

"A quick dog is likely to be a keen dog, the kind of dog which turns on a sixpence at a single whistle pip. And a dog which reacts instantly to a single whistle pip will do likewise to a single touch of scent, making something of a clue which a more solid dog might fail to exploit."

Finally, as the owner of two turbo-charged springers, I found the chapter on The Paradox of Speed to be quite relevant to my situation. Itís also interesting fodder for those who are called to judge AKC hunt tests, where varied spaniel breeds are considered.

This is a well written book; something that is not always the case with dog training literature. Although targeted at all gundog breeds, it seems to have an emphasis on English springers. It is most suitable for the advanced trainer, as it covers the workings of the dogís mind more than actual training routines.

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Gundog Sense and Sensibility
Copyright © 1982 Wilson Stephens
2001 edition, Swan Hill Press, an imprint of Airlife Publishing Ltd - UK
ISBN 0-84037-262-1

Bill Fawcett resides in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, Cindy, and his Smythwicks Springers: Jenna, Beebe, Chip and Dottie. He is a hunter, field trialer, breeder and member of the M-AHSC and the ESSFTA. He maintains a public FB ESS pedigree database at

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Spaniel Journal - your source for flushing spaniel training, hunt test, field trial & hunting information