Tassla is becoming an increasingly more experienced hunting dog, and therefore I am able to take it more and more easy as a dog handler when we’re hunting. It has been exciting to see her development from an inexperienced and a little overwhelmed dog in hunting situations to the situation now, when she knows exactly what is going on and what to do, and she can do most things on her own. And my own development goes hand in hand with hers.
Tassla would probably like to do most things on her own and in her own way, when it comes to hunting 😉 – but she still has a couple of rules that she has to relate to. That is, of course, to listen to my cues, but also to do things independently within certain limits. As, for example, not to hunt too far away from me, being steady when she flushes etc. And the last-mentioned situation is getting better and better. When we hunt – and I don’t mean during field trials – I follow her more and more. I have learned now that she is always right. If she wants to go in a certain direction, it is because there is a bird – or hare. Hopefully, I can hold on to this free feeling we both have when we hunt, and take that with me to the field trails later, we’ll see.
On one of the hunting days we went on a hunt where Tassla had to work very hard and a very long time in the snow, and we were at the end of the last part of the hunt. I stood together with some shooters that we had walked on a line with, and we were waiting for some people in the line to move on. Tassla stayed around me all the time, and behind us there was a little pile of stones next to a small bush, and she seemed to go over there all the time. I didn’t think that there could be a bird, we stood very close to the bush. It wasn’t very thick so you could see through it, and the bird should have flown away long ago, because we were standing next to it talking. But she poked around in there and didn’t give up, and in exactly the same moment as I was going to tell the shooter that “she has something there” a pheasant took off.
She simply finds birds if there are birds, and she doesn’t give up. That is a very good quality for a hunting dog.
At big hunts, when there are many shooters, there are usually also a lot of retrievers that take care of the retrieving, but sometimes the spaniels do almost the entire job. Tassla’s favorite is to be allowed to retrieve an injured bird. It might sound awful, but I think that it is very good to have a dog that likes that particular task – because an injured bird must always be retrieved first and fast, so it can be killed. In such a situation she works very well, and she doesn’t give up.
When we are hunting it is sometimes very easy to get a bit stressed, because many things happen at the same time. People shoot everywhere and birds fall down to the right and left. Don’t misunderstand me now – it is always very organized and security is always the most important thing, but as a dog handler you might stand on a hill with your dog and there are shooters all around – they shoot towards the sky, not towards us – and in such a situation many birds can fly up simultaneously, and consequently many shots go off in a short time. The feeling that many things happen at the same time can be a bit overwhelming. If it is at the beginning of the hunt, it is especially important that I stay calm and doesn’t let myself get too involved in such an intense situation. I usually reward Tassla’s steadiness in those situations – that she sits quietly after the flush – and I calmly walk over to her and praise and reward her before we start again. It doesn’t take that much time to do that, and we are soon working again. If I reward her that way, I can gain from it during the rest of the day: Tassla doesn’t do a sloppy job and she stays steady.
There are many things I like about hunting. Maybe I would never have started to hunt, if it weren’t for my dogs. It is a teamwork between my dogs and me, and that is the great thing about hunting, and to see them work with the task they are bred to do. But it is also wonderful to be outside all day in sunny winter weather, work together with other nice people to solve tasks, and then I think that the actual shooting is a lot of fun.
My goal is to be able to shoot for my own dogs. I haven’t done that yet, because I am so occupied with handling the dog. I’ve shot for my friends’ dogs so far. But now Tassla starts to feel so confident that I probably could start focusing on the shooting, so soon I hope we will be able to do it.
The best part is to see Tassla’s joy when she knows we are going on a hunt. When we are on our way to a hunt, she runs so happily in front of me – her whole body is swinging with joy. She was so adorable when we were on our way to our last task during the last hunt. I went last in the line behind some shooters and she knows that she should keep track of the shooters – they fix the birds. 😉 She trotted around among them and her heelwork was great, not with me but with the shooters. 🙂 (And YES, she does a great heelwork with me too, if I ask her – but in that situation she may be unleashed and free and just enjoy the moment – just as I do. 🙂 )