Knowing about scent can give us a bit more knowledge in perfecting our gundog training. Pete Carr explains that understanding different conditions is the key.
Understanding scent and scenting conditions can really make a difference when working gundogs. In truth what I should have said, is trying to understand scent and scenting conditions can make a difference, because as human beings I don’t think we can ever fully appreciate the power of a dog’s nose.
It is generally accepted that on hot dry days, scenting conditions for any dog will be poor, similar to if it is pouring with rain. As a handler we should take the conditions into consideration and make allowances for our dogs if they are having trouble picking up the scent of shot bird. The other factor that is all too often over looked is the wind and its direction. I have quite often seen handlers use little talc puffers to check the wind direction and some years ago I saw a very interesting demo given by a well-known HPR trainer who used a smoke stick to show how the wind can eddy around trees and bushes at ground level…all very clever stuff but is it important? Well yes it is. Imagine you have a bird dropped by a tree in a field and the wind direction is coming from left to right, logic dictates you should send your dog downwind of the bird. However the breeze may be disturbed by the tree, therefore any scent from the bird may not necessarily be distributed downwind and as a consequence the dog may have trouble finding the bird.
It is quite noticeable that on warm days when the grass has a heavy covering of dew, dogs that normally work with their noses to the ground (Labradors and Spaniels) will lift their heads slightly
The start of the grouse season is only a few months away and a grouse moor in high summer has to be one of the most hostile environments for any gundog, whereby scenting conditions could be absolutely awful. The dogs will have to contend with the dry heat coupled with clouds of heather pollen. Add to this that when the grouse are shot, they can be quite literally buried in the heather and it is incredible that the dogs can locate any bird by its scent. As scent is carried on moisture droplets, any extreme conditions such as very hot weather, severe frost or high winds will make the scenting conditions poor but the good gundog handler will always trust his dog to work things out…and that makes the difference!
Not everyone has access to ground where they can shoot over their dogs, especially when training them, however you can still get your dog used to taking lines of shot game.
It is interesting to watch how dogs use their noses and of course different gundog breeds work in slightly different ways. It is quite noticeable that on warm days when the grass has a heavy covering of dew, dogs that normally work with their noses to the ground (Labradors and Spaniels) will lift their heads slightly. This is because as the sun started to warm up the wet grass resulting in the water molecules starting to evaporate along with the scent of the retrieve and as a consequence the dog may be picking up the line about six to eight inches from the ground. The HPR breeds, along with Setters, Pointers, and even Flat Coated and Golden Retrievers, all work with a higher head carriage and generally work on air scent rather than ground scent but of course they can adapt their styles to the conditions.
As humans we will really never fully understand scent and scenting conditions, but by watching as many dogs work as possible we can at least gain a bit of knowledge and experience to help us in our training.
Want to share images of days out with your gundog? Visit our twitter page at https://twitter.com/iShootMag to get involved with the conversation.