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Simplifying Range in Your Flushing Dog

Establishing gun range with your flushing breed is essential—whether that be reining them in or pushing them out.

Simplifying Range in Your Flushing Dog

Flushers should adapt their range to cover and always be working off the cue of the handler. (GUN DOG photo)

As I make my way back to the training fields of New York’s Hudson Valley each summer, I find myself excited to reestablish a routine that I have come to count on. Each morning begins the same way: I wake up, get dressed, and drive over to the training field in Salt Point, stopping for a coffee on the way. When I arrive, my friend Dan Lussen has the dog trailer parked and some chairs set up under the same shade tree, and we usually take a moment to sit down and discuss the day. Often a box of donuts appears, and fellow dog owners and trainers stop by to watch us work, to chat, or just to run their dogs. After the coffee is gone, we get bird bags filled, and put the first dog down for a run.

This pattern has become comfortable over the years, and it works for me. I know what to do each day without thinking too hard, and I know when, where, and how to make myself useful. I use the same building blocks to begin each day as I did the day before, and the day before that, even as the content of each day changes a bit. In a sense, this is the exact same experience that we trainers are trying to provide for our dogs, one in which those dogs can become confident in the knowledge of what is expected of them, while still being allowed to experience something slightly unique with each run. They can show up and do their thing and be assured a modicum of success, and the potential for some new education.

As with all skills learned by a dog or taught by a trainer, my job is to establish that pattern, that routine, implementing the standard expectations that establish a dog’s “normal.” In previous installments of this column, we have discussed this process, calling it the construction of a “foundation.” When working flushing dogs, a key component of that solid foundation is an understanding of, or a normal baseline for, the dog’s range. Flushing dogs may learn to hup, heel, recall, and retrieve, but they need to refine all of these skills within the context of an established range. Where flushers specifically are concerned, that range requires the dog to stay quite close to the handler.

cocker spaniel running through woods grouse hunting
Most of a flusher’s work should be concentrated in a half-circle about 25 yards in radius, extending out from the handler. (Photo By: Venee Gardner)

Establishing Range

In a perfect world, a flusher should quarter in front of the handler/gunner in a zig-zag pattern that keys off the handler, even as he/she changes direction. The dog should stretch to 20, maybe 25 yards out and away, but should quarter back in close to the handler on each pass. The goal, remember, is for the dog to encounter birds well within range of the gun, flushing those birds into flight at a range where the handler/gunner can be presented with a makeable shot. Any initiation of a flush beyond 20 yards is really pushing the limits of most gunners, at least for ethical shooting. In tight wooded cover, any flush beyond 25 yards may be irrelevant.


Establishing this range for a dog just sets a reliable, replicable set of guardrails within which other skills can be taught and practiced. It requires that I essentially create a routine for the dog, much like the one I follow each day. The act of building range is best accomplished in a manicured training field, simply because the ranges can be clarified and eye contact with the dog can be maintained.

Essentially, we like to work in a field that has some length to it, maybe a few hundred yards, and fairly low cover. The field should have a central pathway running lengthwise for the trainer to follow, and some sort of hard edge on each side (either another mown path, or an end of cover, etc.) when the dog is cast out to the left or right, early whistle training teaches the dog to key back into the handler with a tweet of the whistle. Therefore, when working in the training field, once the dog hits that 20-yard boundary, be it out to the sides or ahead, the tweet brings the dog back in front of the handler where he can be directed to the other side of the field, stretching out 20 yards in that direction then coming back for a check in. Think of the dog like a yo-yo on a 20-yard string. He should key off the yo-yo-ist (i.e., the handler), extend to the length of the string, and bounce back.

dog trainer carrying shotgun in field with springer spaniel running
The act of building range is best accomplished in a training field, simply because the ranges can be clarified and eye contact with the dog can be maintained. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Shortening & Extending Range

On occasion, though, a dog will arrive in the training field with a desire to work inside or outside of that optimal range. The shortening or extending of range can occur for a variety of reasons. On the outer end, some dogs simply run big. This extended range can be the result of time spent running with pointing dogs, pressure put on the dog by a fast-moving handler (moving quickly through the field which encourages the dog to move ahead), or because the optimal range of work results in an absence of birds. On the flip side, a dog that works too close may be timid, or may lack confidence that a reward exists further out away from the handler where the birds are in fact likely to be.

Regardless of whether a trainer is working to extend range or rein a dog in, the basic foundational work of obedience has to be in place. Dial those early drills (heel, place, hup, etc.) to ensure clarity and connection before moving out into the field. Once that foundational work has been done, it is critical to establish strong prey drive in the dog, as the bird will be the great reward that will either stretch the dog out in pursuit, or pull the dog back in.

In the case of a big running dog, the goal is to associate birds with proximity to the trainer. As the dog quarters out and away, the trainer should roll a dizzied pigeon out in front, ensuring that the dog contacts the bird only a few feet away from the trainer. The bird must be rolled when the dog is moving and looking away. Once the dog turns on the outside of a cast, the trainer can stay put, and let the dog organically work back in to find the bird nearby. Once the bird is flushed (and either shot or chased), the trainer can move a few steps forward and repeat. The association of birds (the ultimate prize) near the trainer will eventually keep the dog returning to the area where the obvious action is.

In the absence of numerous rolled birds, the process or reining in a dog is a bit more cumbersome, and requires the e-collar. As the dog quarters and eventually stretches out of range, the dog must be hupped. Once stopped, the dog can be recalled, and the process re-started. The repetitive process of being held within a certain range will eventually re-calibrate the dog’s sense of distance, but not without some repetition. The reward of the pigeon makes for a far more efficient, and enjoyable, teaching process.

When a dog is holding too close to the trainer, it needs to be convinced that the big reward lies a bit further out and ahead. In this case, we use planted birds. Dizzied birds are placed at increments through the field before the dog is put on the ground, and then the sticky dog is worked into them. The handler should not move quickly and should let the dog stretch out a bit with each cast to encounter the birds, ideally within that optimal range. Usually, this process is quick to build confidence and desire in the dog, making him more likely to unstick from the handler and hunt.

Another key consideration in developing or establishing range is to pay attention to wind direction. A dog working into the wind will often work closer to the handler, whereas a dog working downwind will often work further out. Use this baseline to your advantage when setting your training field or drilling with your dog in practice, and try to establish a replicable, optimal range.

In the end, it is critical to remember that flushing dogs are not pointers—we want them working in close. Though there are those rare instances when a dog is too sticky to be productive and requires a bit of a nudge to get out there and work, the more a flusher works to the edges of that magic 25-yard half-circle ahead of the handler, the more birds will generally wind up in the bag. Establish that range, and you will eat well.


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