This Blog follows on from Emma’s Blog on the basics of using the wind, I am going to explore in greater depth about the hunting breeds and how wind affects them.
This diagram is looking at a perfect theoretical world where a dog is quartering into the wind, traveling in the same basic direction as the handler.
This is a situation in which you would set up with an inexperienced dog so that they had the best chance to locate scent or ‘Strike’ scent and learn how to follow the ‘Scent Cone’ to the source.
The quartering pattern is a more smooth, curving action on the turns but I am a bit restricted using my Word drawing skills!!!
The best example I have of this is if you are at a showground and it is mid-morning and suddenly, as you are walking along, you smell bacon or coffee, depending on what floats your boat you will instinctively turn towards the smell and follow it to the source, your reward is a bacon sandwich or
the cup of coffee.
Types of Wind
As many of you have probably noticed, the real world differs somewhat to theory and a perfect training set up.
When you are working or competing your dog, will need to learn to work in less than perfect conditions. Convention labels the wind direction relative to the handler’s direction of travel
- Hunting a head wind, with the wind, or into the wind – The wind is directly in the face of the handler as in the diagram above. Using a clock system, with the handler at the centre of the clock, the wind will be coming from 12.
- Hunting with a cheek wind – The wind is at a slight angle to the handler. Using a clock system, with the handler at the centre of the clock, the wind will be coming from either 10 or 11 on the left; 1 or 2 on the right.
- Hunting with a Side wind – The wind is at a right angle to the handler. Using a clock system, with the handler at the centre of the clock, the wind will be coming from 9 on the left or 3 on the right.
- Hunting with a Tail or Back wind – The wind is coming from behind the handler. Using a clock system, with the handler at the centre of the clock, the wind will be coming from 6.
Each of these wind conditions needs a different approach so that your dog will be successful in scenting a bird before ‘bumping’ it, especially important with the pointing and setting breeds.
Another important element to consider when working a dog that is hunting for either game or dummies is scent.
The amount of scent available to your dog depends on many variables. The wind dictates where any scent will end up, but the scent needs to dissolve in moisture in order that your dog will be able to use it. This is why on a hot, dry day your dog may struggle to locate anything until they practically trip over it.
Conversely, on a crisp November morning, as the sun warms the frost on the ground your dog goes bonkers running around overloading on the scent. Overnight lots of ‘critters’ walked around leaving scent frozen in the ground frost. As the sun warms the ground, the frost melts and then evaporates bringing the scent off the ground and into the air for the dog to access.
Now, we have to look at the combination of wind and scent – Does the wind actually have access to the scent? There are barriers that will prevent scent from traveling with the wind.
For example, if a ball or dummy falls into the centre of a dense clump of grass, it will take a long time for the scent to come out of the clump because the wind tends to go around the dense grass rather than through it. In order for a dog to scent that ball, he will need to disturb the clump of grass with his nose in order to come into contact with the scent.
Large obstacles will cause disturbances in the wind called eddies which will also disrupt the movement of scent. When you are setting up exercises for inexperienced dogs, be careful not to put your hunting article near to something like a wall or dense hedge as the wind won’t pick up the scent and carry it to your dog.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the movement of the air at ground level may be different to what is happening at your head level.
If you are interested in learning more about how scent and wind affect how a dog can work then spending some time researching the topic will give you a better idea of how best to set your dog up for success and also to realise why your dog may struggle on any given day. Helen Phillips’ book ‘Clicker Gundog’ is a good place to start as there is a useful chapter on hunting.
Another factor that affects how a dog works is the breed type. There are obvious splits, Retriever, Spaniel, HPR, Pointer, and Setter. But within those groups, each breed will vary in how they work, and also, within the breed, individual dogs will vary in the way that they work.
Labradors, Goldens, and Flatcoats all use scent differently when they are working. Equally, you have the busy style of the ESS and Cocker compared to the more deliberate style of the Clumber and Sussex spaniels.
The HPRs, Pointers, and Setters also differ in styles, from a rangy gallop to a more deliberate style depending on breed type. It goes back to the terrain and job that they were originally bred to do.
If you are working your dog then you can shape your dog’s hunting style to the terrain that you normally work. If you want to compete then you will need to investigate what is the appropriate range and style for your breed and work to encourage that in your dog.
Flushing dogs, generally have a lower head carriage, using the scent within the undergrowth to locate the game. They should be working within half a gunshot (around 5m) of the handler so that when they locate and flush a bird it is within range and can be shot.
HPRs, Pointers, and Setters, generally work with a higher head carriage and range over greater distances because they will point game when they locate the scent and then wait for the gun to approach before the game is flushed for the gun.
Working Different Wind Types
As a handler, we should be there to facilitate our dog’s hunting rather than hinder it, which can happen if we don’t understand how dogs use the wind. Hunting should be a partnership.
Our job is to define the area to be searched and then keep track of where the dog has been, moving our dog’s search area when appropriate, to ensure that all the ground in the area assigned to us has been searched. Our dog’s job is to locate a scent and follow it to the source. If we are too prescriptive about the pattern that our dog has, then we will hinder the dog from actually telling you when they find the scent in the form of a change in body language.
In general, when a dog ‘Strikes’ scent their pattern will tighten, their tail action may increase and their nose tends to lower. Some dogs have very clear ‘Strike’ behavior whereas other dogs have very subtle changes. When your dog ‘Strikes’ scent it is good to stop moving and let them work out where the scent is going, sometimes it is tricky as the scent is patchy.
If we keep moving at this point, we may pull the dog away from a scent and lose the game. Practicing working placed hunting articles helps you to learn how your dog tells you about finding. This is vital information that you need to make note of so that when you don’t know where the game is, you can read your dog and handle it accordingly.
In order for a dog to locate scent, they have to be downwind of the source. If a dog is running with the wind behind him, he is effectively running blind and can ‘Bump’ birds, flushing them without being aware that they are there. This is not so much of an issue with flushing dogs, as they should be close enough to the gun that the game can be shot, however, with the pointing and setting breeds this is a big problem as game may be flushed out of range of the gun.
We now go back to our perfect theoretical world where the wind isn’t gusting or swinging from one direction to the other, or being disrupted by barriers and terrain changes, as happens in the real world.
Once a dog understands how to use the wind, these following adaptations tend to happen naturally, but we can encourage them as we see our dogs working out how best to use the wind.
The original diagram covers how a dog works in the wind.
The dog will still be working into the wind but their pattern will be angled relative to the handler’s line of travel.
When your dog is working a side wind, you will need to remain standing at A whilst you send your dog on a downwind leg. The dog then tuns into the wind and quarters back past you working into the wind an appropriate distance for that beat.
You then move forward to stand at B and repeat the process, moving forward to C when your dog has completed his downwind run and then quartered into the wind again. This minimises the chance of your dog ‘Bumping’ a bird. The size and range of this pattern will be determined by the breed type and terrain.
The pointing breeds need more latitude when working a Sidewind and a Back wind as they pretty much find the best way to work the area on their own. They are cast off and then range, finding their way back to working up into the wind. This can be scary at first as it may seem like they have gone off self-employed which is why it is good to go to an experienced trainer when you are getting
your pointing breed started so that you understand what is ‘normal’ for your breed. The dog will basically be doing a similar pattern to the diagrams but you may need to handle it slightly differently.
The handler remains stationary at A. The dog sends out down wind, as far as required, he then turns and quarters back into the wind towards the handler. Both handler and dog then relocate to B and repeat.
Again, this will minimise the chance of ‘bumping’ a bird. The size and range will be determined by breed type.
Hopefully this has given you a bit more information on how hunting dogs will work with different wind conditions and why we need to educate ourselves about wind, terrain, and scent. The diagrams are the theoretical best-case situations, which will never happen in the real world!
However, I hope that you have a better idea of what is happening when you see your dog change his pattern to keep working the wind. Learn to read your dog, and, as you practice together learn to trust that your dog knows what he is doing. Keep building towards a partnership where your dog will hunt where you ask him to, and you can let him work that area the way that he feels is best. Most important – have fun together