In a previous post, I wrote about the different ways hunters in different parts of the world behave AFTER a dog goes on point. Today, I'd like to look at the finer details of the way many Europeans work with their dogs after the point has been established, but before the flush.
In France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere in southern Europe the hunter and the dog will usually move forward to flush the game together. In French, this is known as coulé, in Italian it is guidata and in Spanish guia. And it is reflective of the most ancient way of using pointing dogs. Even in the UK for some kinds of 'walked up' shooting like grouse on the Moors of Scotland, the dog and handler also move together until the birds flush. Derry Argue, author of Pointers and Setters, writes about witnessing the huge difference between North American and English traditions when guiding several hunters from 'overseas' on the grouse moors of Scotland:
The partnership between handler and dog is no more apparent than when walking in to a point...In the USA, the dog is trained to stand while the handler goes forward to flush the birds... But on the British scene, the dog hands responsibility to the handler and both of them proceed to put up birds together but with the handler dictating the pace.
I well remember some overseas clients I had out with me one day when this characteristic was demonstrated in rather and amusing way. At every point, the Guns raced forward and ran ahead of the dog and fired wildly as the birds rose. I remonstrated with them to go slowly as there was no need to run. The bird were lying well and there was no danger of the dog, an old experienced Pointer, flushing the birds prematurely. But it was no good. So I bided my time and in due course my chance came.
By the dog’s demeanour I knew she was pointing a big covey of grouse a long way off and I knew she would not move until I told her to no matter what anyone else may say or do. So I sat down on a rock and watched the fun. As usual, my clients ran up to the dog, ran ahead of her and charged around the heather trying to find the grouse. I just sat there with a broad grin on my face indicating, every time they glanced in my direction, that if they wanted to do it their way perhaps they ought to put a bit more energy into their scampering about. It was a hilarious situation and it took all of twenty minutes to convince them that I might actually know best when, to their credit, they shared in the joke.
After that, I had no more trouble. I believe we walked forward fifty yards from where the dog had pointed, way ahead of where they had assumed the birds to be, before a very good covey rose in front. Later that day…I walked in beside the dog for all of two hundred yards before a large covey that had been running ahead of us decided to take to their wings. Argue, Pointers and Setters p. 15-16
Here is a video showing a UK handler and his pointer walking forward in unison on the grouse moors of Scotland.
In the English version of the FCI field trial rules the term used is "approaching". The rules specify that it must be a 'commanded' approach. In other words, the dog should only approach if it is somehow signalled to do so by the handler.
A point begins when a dog winds game and points standing and rigid. Next, the dog exercises a commanded approach...If a commanded approach is required the dog should do so unhesitatingly and easily, moving ahead of the handler exclusively at the latter’s command and without losing touch with the game. A long approach is acceptable on condition that the approach is energetic, purposeful and effective. Refusal to execute a commanded approach leads to elimination.
Another term for approaching is "drawing on". In Australian field trials, drawing on is defined as follows: "When a dog points and the game moves on the dog, to retain contact may at times also move on. This may be to the order or sign of the handler, and is generally a series of quick, careful, stealthy steps. A dog shall not be penalised for drawing on of its own accord, providing that it will remain firm on point and that it does not flush the game."
Normally, the 'command' to approach or to draw on is more or less silent, the handler just takes a step forward and the dog should move with him. In some cases the dog is a bit 'sticky' and the handler has to use some subtle signals to get it to move. So handlers snap their fingers or make clicking sounds with their mouth or tap the dog on the back of the head or brush the leash across the dog's shoulders etc. Watch the handler starting at the 55 second mark to see if you can spot his (not so) subtle signals to the dog.
In many field trials, as the dog and handler perform the commanded approach, judges are very careful to evaluate the dog for its breed-specific style. Here is what the French working standard for the English setter says: The coulé (approach) is one of the breed's characteristics. When game is on the move (or after a point is established, upon command), the English setter follows (or approaches the game) with an exceptionally lithe, cat-like movement, with great concentration until it freezes the game or forces it to flush.
The Italian working standard for the English Setter is even more specific and sounds like someone directing a scene from an opera: When game tries to get away from the hunter by running, the English setter follows without losing contact, one moment like a snake, the next, like a panther, with amazing dexterity it strikes dramatic, voluptuous, almost orgasmic poses with its lithe and flexible body. Its feline movements are close to the ground and slithering, as if it were afraid to startle the game in open ground. If however, there is good wind and the vegetation is higher, then it may remain more upright, and further with the limbs only slightly flexed.
The Italian working standard for the Pointer is over 7,000 words long and says that the Pointer should move forward in a series of quick, sharp 'sword thrusts' while performing the guidata. But then adds it might be better to say 'sabre slashes' : the sword is used to stab, the sabre to slice, and the movement of a Pointer should evoke images of thrusting and slashing.
Here is a video showing two magnificent black pointers (I'm sure William Arkwright would love them!) doing the guidata. Clearly the birds they scent are on the move and the dogs are doing their best to keep close without flushing them. Note how the forward movements of the Pointers are much more 'thrusting/slashing' than those of the setter in the video below this one. When the birds eventually do flush, the dogs give chase, something that would result in them being eliminated in a field trial. Nevertheless, they show the kind of style during the guidata that trial judges look for.
And here is a video of a young setter in training. Notice how feline the dog is and how the handler makes the noise of birds flushing...brrrrr or encourages the dog to move forward by saying (in Italian) "go on" and "where's the bird?". Clearly this dog is being trained for the commanded approach that is required in trials. In actually hunting situations pointing dogs in Europe are generally allowed to move on their own accord if it is to keep contact with a moving bird or to get as close as possible without flushing it. And they do it without any word or signal from the hunter. This, to may European hunters, is the epitome of cooperation between the dog and hunter. And I have to say, I agree with them!