"This Way" Pup
A pointing or flushing dog youngster going into its first season should have a number of components in its field performance package including acceptance of the gun, coming to voice and whistle, quartering to voice and whistle and some type of retrieving package. A pointing dog should also be staunch on point. Of these commands the one that seems to most often be overlooked, especially in pointing dogs, is a command that teaches and facilitates quartering. This command also has numerous applications other than just to teach and engrain regular quartering, all involving getting your dog to change directions either as a matter of rhythmic quartering or as a response to a command given for still another use.
I start at eight weeks around the yard teaching the pup to look at me on a verbal cue, and change direction to where I am signaling. Pick an object in the distance then draw a straight line to it in your mind. Also, picture a zig zag line with the straight line as a center line. With pup on a checkcord (short one at first) verbally cue it, throw your arm out and run in that direction bringing pup with you. Stop suddenly, repeat the verbal cue, throw your arm out the other way, and change direction bringing pup along. You and pup are following the zig zag course, but always with the straight line and distant object as your destination. As pup progresses a step in the direction and arm signal will be sufficient, and eventually just the arm signal after verbally cueing the pup.
I use the verbal command "this way" and/or a two blast whistle signal. I teach the verbal cue first then the whistle by association. In the field it is preferable to only use the whistle reducing the need for voice, always a good idea. By twelve weeks in walks around my smaller field the pups are responding to the two blast and arm signal without checkcord on a fairly consistent basis.
This is a great command to instill early because the pups love to run and use their natural enthusiasm while learning a valuable lesson. Once birds are introduced later in the pup's education, I will only work birds two or three days a week. The other four or five days will be used for increasingly longer and more serious lessons in field handling. The goal before the first season is to engrain the behavior so pup will do it regularly without cue. Still later it can be finished, if necessary, with an E-collar that has first been properly introduced to the youngster.
Why teach quartering? There are two primary reasons. First, it makes your dog a more efficient bird finder allowing it to cross a bird's scent trail no matter where the bird is located. Second, it allows your dog to use its enthusiasm, grace and drive without getting too far to the front. This leads to an important tip when handling your dog afield. You want to keep your dog moving and hunting efficiently in front of you. When it wanders a two blast and arm signal will put it back on course. The only time the come command should be used in the field is when you want your dog to come the entire distance to you, stop and be recognized. Ninety-five percent of your handling should be directional, not a misused come. First, come is weakened if you use it to get the dog back into an area then allow it to resume hunting. That is not what come means! Second, a dog that runs straight out then back is not hunting efficiently. I call it the Yo-Yo effect. Remember, these are gun dogs hunting in consistent cover all of which needs to be searched. Sure, if you are walking a bare field along a thick fencerow you want your dog to run a line on the downwind side. I am not advocating machine-like precision where it does no good. However, most of our hunting situations are in consistent thick cover of some type.
In addition to "this way" being used to instill a regular quartering pattern, it can be used in other ways. First, if you are changing direction in thick cover with your dog to the front where it should be, signal it, and be sure it hears and sees your signal. Second, you can use it to send your dog into a particularly birdy piece of cover. Third, you can use it to teach your dog to hunt to the right and left of a logging road you may be walking. Finally, you can use it in combination with your retrieving command to get your dog to close down and hunt a confined area for a fallen bird that the dog did not see. This happens often in grouse cover when your partner shoots a bird thirty yards to the side, and your dog is in front of you. Hunting dead is more than just retrieving, and should be a part of your training regimen. The end progression of both the "this way" command and the "fetch" command when used together is to hide a dummy in tall grass, unseen to the dog. Bring the dog into the area on a checkcord, give the directional signal and the fetch command keeping the dog on task until it finds the dummy, then reward. Make sure pup always finds the dummy or other hidden object. Pup will come to trust your signals, and hunt dead reliably when needed.
Like most training, one or two commands can be used singly, or combined for multiple purposes. "This way" and the two blast is one such example.