How not to have a lumbering Clumber
A series of four articles by James Darley, giving insights into his success with the breed at work and in field trials. Published 1999 – 2000, they remain relevant to trainers and handlers today.
Clumbers as spaniels: same job, different approach
While the Clumber is a spaniel, and fulfils exactly the same demands as other spaniels, he has peculiarities in his work. And while a good working Clumber is by definition a highly distinctive shooting companion, these differences go beyond the obvious of size, build and colour.
He is inclined to dwell on scent. When he does so, the handler may need to hurry him or himself run. Lining and boring-on are not unusual traits. Teach “No” on animal runs. One particular bloodline was notorious for dogs accelerating away and then hunting with great style – at a distance of three gunshots. In Sweden, which has more Clumbers than any country after the UK and the US, the breed is expected to follow the blood trails of deer, as well as to hunt for game. It is asking much from the same dog, too much, as I found when judging a field trial and dogs were hunting in straight lines ahead.
The dog must learn when he is at the limit of comfortable range, by being dropped or turned. If he is hunting in straight lines, the handler should turn and run. Hunting training should generally be in long grass or light cover, not in the bare open. A big sky and wide horizons can be a lure to running bigger.
Hunting of a pattern seems less natural than with a springer or cocker. But with a Clumber that is relating willingly to the handler, it is readily introduced. The handler needs to be active. He may take as much exercise quartering the ground as the dog. He may look crazy to an onlooker. But he is giving the dog the lead, the direction, making him responsive to body and hand movements.
It is helpful to understand that the Clumber’s nose is his dominant force. It is large and pink and you will soon come to respect it.
Where other breeds cover their ground by a mix of pace, pattern and penetration, as well as scent, the Clumber relies more on what his conk tells him. Head carriage is typically low as he is working ground scent more than air. The need to preserve voluntary eye contact is thereby obvious, as part of the overall need to keep the dog dependent.
Thus, the Clumber needs scent to inform and motivate his hunting, unlike those spaniels it is said will quarter up the M1 motorway. So the trainer should not expect great shakes in a recreation ground, or a bed of nasty cover devoid of game, nor in hot and dry or still and humid conditions.
A tendency to slow as scent intensifies and to hesitate before flushing may give the gun time to approach, but it also may allow game to escape or flush out of range. The dog should anyway be within the gun’s comfortable range, and chivvying the dog to move on is an abomination. Handlers should not make excuses for the breed on this score, but instead give dogs under training every encouragement to hunt hard, accelerate on hot scent and flush aggressively.
Marking is often not good – and the trainer may need to teach this skill by, for instance, using dummies, releasing homing pigeons, shooting woodpigeons at flight, even adding a verbal “Mark” when game or songbirds are flushed.
For anything more than a short sprint, the Clumber is not so quick on his feet as more volatile breeds, but he need not be slow if the trainer takes to heart the advice to go only at the double and to keep him excited.
He is prone to be stubborn, but will be less so if dependent, if the handler is honest and trusting
and thinking like the dog, anticipating. He is also inclined to be introverted – and needs tact, joy, play and success.
I have yet to come across a Clumber that is not a natural retriever. I have encountered many with retrieving problems, but these were all made by handling errors, whether of commission or omission.
On the other hand, I have yet to meet a Clumber that has never tenderised game, even if only in the excitement of youth or with the first bird of the day or the season. Hard mouth is a danger, but less so with the confident dog accustomed to racing back for effusive praise and more work – the dog developed through the techniques described in this series of articles. Use of a command “Gently”, introduced early to encourage a well-mannered acceptance of biscuits, can be helpful. Carrying is always to be allowed. If he is rough with his work, the object carried can become a wire brush, a bird studded with cocktail sticks, or simply more game and not less.
Clumbers need more uplifting experiences, and fewer depressing ones, than other spaniels. By their nature, they have further to be uplifted to be stylish. Equally, they have a shorter distance to fall to be depressed.
If the balance is right there is no more rewarding experience for the handler, and for fellow guns, than to shoot over a working Clumber under full steam. Train a Clumber fit for the field, let alone for field trials, and not only will the handler have gained an experience that is still rare, he will have attained a level of insight and competence such that training any other breed can seem a breeze.