First published in August 1848 when shooting over dogs was the normal way of hunting, ‘Dog Breaking’ by General Hutchinson was one of the first books written on the subject of gun-dog training. In the preface to the 1909 version, the general’s son discusses the improvement in dog welfare during the intervening years. This he puts down directly to the impact of his father’s work in the use of kind methods of training. Here is a brief introduction to the Summary of Instructions, printed to bring the methods within reach of gamekeepers of the day, although the cover price of 1 shilling would still have been a challenge.
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My edition of this book, reprinted in 1928, contains a Summary of Instructions. This was originally published at a cost of 1 shilling to bring the knowledge in the larger book to the common gamekeeper. To summarize the General’s summary, the first thing a dog-trainer needs is control of his temper; he should never hit his dog (he adds the word unnecessarily, but we have moved on even further).
The second thing a dog trainer requires is consistency; if the dog does something wrong it must always be corrected (he adds he does not mean punished).
The handler must never be harsh with a dog because he, the shooter, has missed a shot.
The trainer must also spend time reflecting from the dog’s point of view.
Hutchinson shows from his writing that he has immersed himself in the study of dog training, primarily from the dog’s position. He acknowledges the power of the handler’s words, signs and expressions.
The discussion so far is based entirely on the first paragraph of the ‘Summary Of Instructions’.
The second paragraph comments on the need for quietness when hunting; the necessity of keeping your voice low or absent, using your whistle quietly, and again, not whipping your dog. I feel this demonstrates the general treatment of dogs when the book was written. This section alone drove me to use hand signals almost exclusively when handling my pointers, and the whistle as a tool of last resort.
The next paragraph discusses what he desires in a dog (remember this is an age when pointers were the means of finding game when it was scarce).
He believes that a pointer which is hunted singly should: –
- stop as soon as he is convinced that he has found game
- should not move until asked to
- should immediately lie down as soon as a shot is fired (this is because they were shooting muzzle loaders, and there was a wait for reloading before the dog could be allowed to disturb other game)
- should be persistent in retrieving the shot game
- should understand where you wanted him to seek the shot game
- should only need a quiet ‘find’ command to let him know that he is in the area of the dead bird
- must cover all his ground
- must not cover the same ground twice
Now I know a lot of hunters that would love a dog that behaved in such a fashion, and having set out what he considers essential in a dog, the good General then proceeds to explain to his readers exactly how to achieve these goals.
If you would like to hear more, I intend serialising the General’s Summary of Instructions – sign up here if you would like to be kept abreast of progress.