Quartering for the Versatile Pointing Dog
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
In our Jan./Feb. 1993, Pointing Dog Journal article we wrote about "Bending" (teaching the dog to turn). In the Nov./Dec. 1993 issue, our article covered patterning the dog to stay to the front. In this article we describe teaching a dog to "quarter."
When hunting areas where there are no "objectives" to cast toward-such as you may encounter at NSTRA and NAVHDA events-the most efficient way to hunt the ground close in front of you is a side-to-side pattern called "quartering."
To have a good quartering pattern, a dog needs two skills. The first is bending side to side, and crossing the field in front of you as you walk down field. The other skill a dog needs in order to quarter as efficiently as possible is to be consistent at turning to the front.
Teaching the Dog to Turn Side to Side
Plant birds along both sides of the field. Send the dog off to hunt as you walk toward one side of the field. When the dog is about 30 - 40 yards in front of you, turn towards the opposite side of the field, and give the dog a command to turn. See Diagram A. If he does not turn on your first command, "nick" him with your e-collar to reinforce your second command to turn.
Follow the dog after he runs across in front of you toward the other side of the field. Following the dog's direction keeps him "freed up" and prevents him from sticking too close to you.
Repeat, walking through the field in a zigzag fashion. After you have practiced turning the dog from side to side in several different fields, you will notice that you no longer need to walk in a zigzag fashion. You can walk in a straight line and the dog will cast from side to side, turning on your command. If you practice quartering often, consistently turning him at a particular distance, he will begin to turn automatically at that distance without your giving a command.
Teaching the Dog to Turn to the Front and Not Backcast
Training a dog to run an efficient quartering pattern involves more than just teaching it to go back and forth in a windshield wiper action. You also want the dog to turn to the front so he is always hunting new ground and not casting back over ground that he has already covered. Diagram B. Getting the dog to be consistent at turning to the front under all wind conditions requires a lot of work!
The major influence that causes a dog to turn in a particular direction is the wind. For example, when hunting into the wind a dog will often want to back cast. When hunting in a crosswind the dog won't want to cast very far on the side going into the wind. When hunting with a tailwind the dog won't want to quarter; instead, the wind will "push" him straight down the field.
If a dog turns downwind (which dogs naturally tend to do), he will often back cast and hunt ground that he has already covered. Time spent looping downwind when you are hunting into the wind is not efficient, because the dog has already used his nose to cover that area. Therefore, your job as a dog trainer is to teach the dog to turn forward whenever hunting into the wind. Also, you must teach him to carry a cast into the wind, and not allow him to just cast a few yards and then turn before completing a 25-yard cast.
To teach a dog to turn to the front regardless of the wind direction, you can make use of some visual aids. These aids are two white plastic electric fence posts and six white plastic buckets.
Before you attempt this method of teaching the dog to turn to the front, he must be trained to "fetch" using an e-collar, as described in our article about the Trained Retrieve in the May/ June 1994, issue of PDJ.
First, set the posts six (6) feet apart and teach the dog to come directly between the posts when called to you. Help the dog by placing obstacles next to each post, so that he will naturally want to come between the posts. See Diagram C.
After a few repetitions of coming between the posts, place a low obstacle between them. Now the dog will want to go around the fence posts instead of between them. Correct the dog for running outside the posts by applying a low "nick" with the collar just as he passes by the post. See Diagram D. Important: After every correction for running around the posts, move the dog closer to the barrier, so that he is about three feet from the posts. You want to ensure that after a correction the dog will do it right the next time. This gives him a comparison, and helps him to understand what you want.
After the dog knows the concept of running between the two white posts when coming to you, teach him to recognize the same "through-the-posts" concept when sent away from you for a retrieve. Throw a dummy over the obstacle, and send him to retrieve it.
Now we can use the white buckets (three on each side of a small training field), and teach the dog to make a turn around each bucket as he proceeds down field. The posts, which the dog knows to go between when he sees them, are used at first to guide the dog to approach the bucket from the correct side.
To get the dog to go toward the bucket, toss a retrieving dummy behind the bucket until he's familiar with the idea of going beyond the bucket to go look for something to retrieve. Keep walking in a straight line after you send the dog to retrieve, as shown in Diagram E. The dog will pick up on the idea of going around the bucket to return to you.
When the dog understands the concept of running around the bucket to retrieve, no matter which direction you're going, start adding buckets. Place dummies behind them on each side of the yard, until you have three on each side. Place the buckets in a staggered fashion, as shown in Diagram F, so that you can cast the dog from side to side as you walk forward. When the dog doesn't go around the bucket, stop him and send him again. Insist that he go around the bucket.
When the dog is smooth at the drill with a dummy behind every bucket, gradually reduce the number of dummies until only the final bucket has a dummy behind it.
This bucket procedure will counter the effects of a headwind or crosswind. It can also be used to counter the effects of hunting in a tailwind, where the dog will just want to run with the wind and not quarter. Run your bucket drill with the wind at your back. When the dog tries to go straight down field and skip buckets, use the e-collar to call him back toward you and cast him to the correct bucket.
Also, when quartering in the field, if the dog gets too far down field instead of casting to the sides, you can toss a bird out in front of you, then call the dog back in to find it. See our article, "Hunt Close," in the July/Aug., 1994, issue of PDJ.
If you practice often enough, the training will carry over when you are quartering in the field, and the dog will average out much better at finding birds quickly. We realize that not all pointing dog trainers want their dogs to run a flat quartering pattern, but for those that want their dogs to be able to quarter in this fashion, this drill will accomplish that training goal.
Dobbs Training Center