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"WERE I appointed to the command of the Channel Fleet," said a friend of mine to me some years ago-he wasn't a sailor-"I should endeavour to do my duty to the satisfaction of my superiors, in that responsible position; or were I offered the bishopric of London" -he wasn't a parson-"I should wend my way cheerfully and hopefully to Fulham or St James's Square; but I would not undertake the breaking of a retriever for the contents of the Bank of England." This gentleman's experiences had been unfortunate.
I shot with him for many years, and never saw him with a wellbroken dog or a capable keeper. He spoke strongly I hope to prove to my readers too strongly;
but we must first define what a retriever is. With me it means solely and entirely the creation of a few years back say five-andtwenty or thirty-the fashionable flat-coated breed, what might be appropriately called the Shirley race, now brought to such perfection by Colonel Cornwall Legh, Mr Shuter, and others.2 No one can deny that cross-bred dogs, and even mongrels of low degree, are often marvellously intelligent and clever; but they are uncertain in temper and infinitely more difficult to break than those of blue blood. A strong prejudice, I am well aware, exists, or I think I may say used to exist, among sportsmen against this fashionable breed, and the reason is not far to
1 Mr S. E. Shirley, Ettington Park, Stratford-on-Avon.
2 I have little or no experience of the curly-coated breed; but I am confident
that for one admirer of that species there are twenty of this.
3 The reason why such dogs appear abnormally clever is that they are con
VOL. CLXI.NO. DCCCCLXXX.
seek. Until quite recently the best specimens one saw exhibited were found on inquiry never to have been broken. They were simply bred for show, and were moreover brought into the ring nearly as fat as a "Devon" or "Hereford" at Christmas - time. In the eyes of a man who keeps dogs to shoot over they were fit for nothing, not even to breed from. A sportsman likes to breed from dogs he has shot over, that he has seen at work, that he has spent many a happy day with. He and his keeper alike, if he be of the right sort, are pleased to watch a young one coming on. "He's as good as his father," or, "He'll beat the old dog yet," they say one to the other. Nothing can be more pleasant, nothing more natural. Yet notwithstanding all this, notwithstanding the care most people take to buy pups of "good working parents," it is the blood that tells; and I never would hesitate for one moment to breed from a dog or bitch, or from a dog and bitch-provided they are of high degree-that had never seen a hillside or a cornfield, but had spent a miserable unprofitable existence eating "Spratt's patent" on the show-bench, ignorant alike of heather and stubble. The celebrated "Moonstone was never broken, his sister "Thoughtful" was similarly neglected-children and grandchildren of hers I have broken myself, tractable, persevering, and dashing retrievers.
bred from "Wiseacre," "Darenth," "Taut," and "Heedful." The first named, Mr Shirley's beautiful dog, is a splendid worker; so, I am informed, are "Darenth" and "Taut." "Heedful," on the other hand, is no use in the field, being, if all tales are true, "gun-shy"; but his pups have in no single particular shown a disinclination for work, or inaptitude to learn. On the contrary they have-notably in two cases-required little or no breaking, and have soon made a name for themselves. Another objection I have heard urged against the breed is that they are occasionally timid, or, as keepers term it, "soft," a fatal defect in the eyes of these functionaries, who-a good many of them at any rate-are fond of something to hammer. Some years ago, in conversation with one of the cloth-a good keeper, too, and as keepers go a humane one-when shooting in the south of Scotland, I explained to him the difficulty I had had with a bitch, whose working he much admired, from her extreme timidity, and told him several anecdotes in proof of what I said. He listened most becomingly, but I am under the impression he didn't believe one-half of what I told him. that as it may, he wound up the conversation by observing most emphatically, "Weel, me an' you differs on that pint. I would reyther at ony time tak it oot as pit it in," which, being ren
stantly with their masters. A poacher's dog does not live in a kennel, but in his master's cottage, and gets to know nearly every word he says. It is the same with shepherds' dogs, about whose extraordinary sagacity innumerable anecdotes are told. When the "runkled breeks, a' spiled wi' lying by for weeks," are produced, the dog knows "the day that this is," and, unless the cottage is in a pastoral district where collies and Christians worship together, does not take the trouble to raise his head from the hearthstone when his master opens the door and leaves for the kirk.
dered into English, meant that he would rather flog a fault out of a headstrong dog than have the trouble of humouring and encouraging a timid one,-a true keeper, who spoke according to his lights! Both sorts of dogs, the headstrong and the timid-what this gentle man preferred, and what he did not can be easily broken if you begin them at the right time, and use them the right way.
A perfect retriever, full of dash and a quick worker, a dog that goes out at a gallop and comes back at a gallop, keen and persevering, and absolutely steady at heel till told to go, is worth quite fifty guineas. How few change hands at such a figure, and how seldom one meets with such an animal! Are, then, retrievers almost impossible to break? I say emphatically, No. Retrievers are singularly docile and tractable, easy to teach and eager for instruction, and the reason one meets with so few good ones and so many bad, is simply that their preliminary education that education, I mean, which should begin when the dog is very young-has been to all intents and purposes absolutely neglected.
In the early days of the Volunteer movement, now over thirty years ago, crack rifle-shots began to crop up all over the country. Grocers' apprentices, bank clerks, and men of all trades and professions, all were fired with enthusiasm; most paid diligent attention to their instructors, and many came to the front; and I have heard it said-I believe with a considerable amount of truththat a "coming man" could be picked out before ever he had fired his rifle that is, that a capable instructor could decide, by the aptitude of the pupil and his steadi
ness at drill, who was likely to make a good shot and who was not. So it is, and more so, with a retriever. A capable breaker ought to be able to decide how a young dog will turn out, and diagnose his future long before he has seen a bird fall on the heather or the stubble. But the vast majority of keepers do not recognise this. They seem to think little or nothing can be done till the shooting season comes round. Then, when "the Twelfth " does arrive, they have other duties to perform. Gentlemen want shooting, not dogbreaking, and when they see headstrong dogs running in, and timid ones running home, they not unnaturally lose their temper. Still, few blame the keeper. It is "that brute of a dog." "How did that young dog turn out?" I have asked I am afraid to say how often. "Well, sir, the family was only at the Lodge for six weeks last year, and the weather was so bad that there wasn't much shooting;" or, "The season was the very worst for partridges I ever remember; there was scarcely a bird in the country," were the sort of answers I used to receive: in fact, the most valuable time in the dog's life had been completely wasted, whilst puppies of the same litter that I had kept myself, and that I had had under instruction at most two days a week, were already capital workers. That some keepers can break dogs, and break them well, I do not deny; but 95 per cent-I honestly believe I am within the mark when I say so-break them on totally erroneous principles. They take months to accomplish what may be done in days, and although they eventually reach the goal, it is by a most circuitous route, beset with difficulties of their own creation, the outcome of
either laziness or ignorance, or of both combined. Mr Bevan in his excellent work says that if broken too quickly, a retriever is sure to be wanting in perseverance. The question is, What is too quickly In my opinion, a puppy thoroughly well grounded and properly handled -say from the age of seven or eight months-should prove of use and do some fair work the very first day he is shot over, and be brought gradually to something like perfection at the end of his first season. This is not too much to expect. To attempt, on the other hand, to bring a young dog on fast by at once showing him a lot of shooting; to take him, absolutely devoid of proper grounding, as a friend of mine did to a very big drive where hundreds of grouse were killed, and tie him up in a butt, that he might get "a good doing his first day," is about as great a mistake as one could make-in fact, a more unwise course could scarcely be followed. To think that this would steady him or teach him anything is absurd. He is unduly excited, and unduly restrained; and you are more apt to break his heart than anything else by such treatment. Far better take him out alone and shoot two or three birds over him. First lessons should never be long, and young dogs should never be kept at work more than an hour or two at a stretch. Even if he has been well grounded and is ready for work, giving him a good doing" is a fatal error. As he gets tired, so he gets care
less, drops his birds, lays them down, and rolls on them, or commits some other fault. If he waits till told to go, seeks for, and fetches back at once even a brace of birds, he has had a capital lesson, and earned his dinner. Hunting men who indulge in the luxury of a second horse are accustomed to send "the young one" home early-a most sensible plan to follow. The same tactics should be pursued with young retrievers. Have two out, or four if you have them - not all at once, it is needless to say; but if you have enough shooting, let your men meet you with a fresh dog every hour or two. A long day, as I have just said, tires a young dog, and makes him careless: a short lesson improves him, and makes him keener for another; moreover, all your dogs get regular exercise and continuous instruction. How much better that than to tire a dog out and leave him fretting in his kennel for two or three days afterwards-for, tired though he be, he still will fret! Besides, you cannot cram all your instruction into a dog, any more than you can into a human being, at once; and it stands to reason that your pupil will learn infinitely more by having five brace of birds shot over him every day for six days, than thirty brace in one day.
Any lesson inculcating obedience and self-control is always useful; and before a retriever's education -properly so-called- begins, he should be taught to lie down when
1 Apropos of this, when shooting in Buckinghamshire not long ago, I was explaining to my host that the dog I had with me had never been out before. Shortly thereafter, a very old lame beater hobbled up to me, and asked me if he had heard aright. "Yes, my man," I said, "this is his first day." He looked at me very steadily, shook his venerable head mournfully, and hobbled off again, doubtless saying to himself, "Well, he's a respectable-looking man, but Lord, what a liar!"
you hold up your hand or say "down," and remain lying while you walk or run away from him till you beckon him up by a wave of your arm. Two or three lessons of ten minutes each will teach him to lie down. Put him in position, and check him when he offers to get up, praise him when he is still, gradually increase the distance you walk from him, go out of his sight, come back and reward him when you find him in his place. Should he follow without leave, chide him, take him back, put him down again firmly, and caution him. Do not keep him in position too long at first, and above all things never make him lie down when he gallops back to you.1 A dog should bound back to his master with his head as high as he can carry it-as he ought to have it when retrieving "to hand." Dogs are always in a great state of excitement when let out in the morning, and the more dogs you have the greater the excitement. If you make them all lie down while you talk to your keeper or put off the time in any other way for a couple of minutes, walk away slowly for fifty yards, beckon them up, instantly checking them and making them "come back" when they get in front, it is an excellent lesson to begin the day with. Needless to say, a young dog should be taught to swim and enter the
water freely, or he may be found wanting when you wish him to fetch a bird from loch or river. He should not be thrown in, and if the weather is cold he should be well dried before being put back in his kennel. Throw a piece of biscuit into the water close to him at first; then from shallow water into deeper, and he will find himself off his legs and swimming before he knows where he is. A retriever should be an "all-round" dog in the widest acceptation of the term. He should behave himself like a gentleman in the house, he should enter a dogcart, boat, train, or
motor-car with equa
nimity; he should run in couples, answer to whistle, enter his kennel instantly when told, and do many other things of more or less importance, which the exercise of a little patience and common-sense will teach him; and not the least useful lesson he can learn is to look on sheep without excitement, even when they suddenly take fright and bolt in all directions, this part of his education being perfected by taking him into an enclosure in the lambing season. You need not, when you do So, be the least solicitous for the safety of the lambs. It is your dog you must take care of; for should he show an inclination either for lamb or mutton, the ewes will soon settle the question, and establish
1 I recollect on one occasion being out with three puppies, teaching them the art of lying down. The lesson was being given in a park, and I had with me an old favourite to set a good example and make things easier. I had just succeeded in inducing all four to lie down and remain quiet, when an invalid lady came suddenly in sight from behind a clump of trees about a hundred yards distant. In an instant the dogs were on their legs-I had not time to realise how many and were off in her direction, barking furiously. Fearing she might be frightened, I made after them as hard as I could, calling on them to come back. Although a little boisterous, they were very friendly, and when I got up, blowing like a grampus, the only thing she said was, "Oh! do look at that dog. Turning round, there I saw the old one lying where I had told him to lie. Notwithstanding three dogs and his master bolting incontinently, he had not moved one yard.