Bettinsons’ beckon….a weekend training the dogs in Wales.


Sunrise on the Brecon becons, Wind has played a major role in sculpting the landscape.

Sunrise on the Brecon becons, Wind has played a major role in sculpting the landscape here.


Wind…. it’s influence was everywhere last weekend in Wales. It was a gentle breeze as we crossed the Irish sea from Rosslare to Pembroke on Thursday morning; it had sculpted the oak wood that clung steeply to the valley sides as it rose behind our rented cottage;  it made my eyes water and left my face raw and tight after a day standing exposed on the Welsh moor where we trained the dogs with Mark and Jamie.

Wind it’s effect was clearly visible all around and it is an element everyone, me included, involved in working gundogs is always aware of but until last weekend I had truly underestimated it’s value as an aid to improving my handling in gundog work…



The knarled trunks of the oak trees shaped by wind.

The Bettinsons’ have International recognition as trainers and after spending three days out on the Welsh moors where dogs and handlers are put through their paces I can understand why.


This is tough ground to work a dog over.

It is rough, tough ground to work a dog over. Wide open moorland that is cut through with  narrow winding gullies and for the three hours we spent walking slowly in line down through the shallow valley the ground changed all the time but  the wind was a constant companion. Even when it was barely there it had a bearing on how a line should be taken and how a dog worked. Every command, every ask and all conversations in relation to setting your dog up before a retrieve revolved around thinking about the fall, using the natural landscape to help your dog succeed and finally, always, always, checking the wind.


Uisce in action.

Mark’s words still echo in my head and will possibly for a long time to come, “…leave him be Mary, he’s right for wind“….and when a dog is ‘right for wind‘, that, I discovered, is when the magic happens. There is no battle of wills between dog and handler then, it becomes a much more fluid and organic partnership and, because the need to use the whistle becomes less frequent, the response when it does come into play is much sharper. The result is that the more often this sequence happens the more confident the dog becomes and the more they are willing to give.


Walking up the moors.

Chessies, as we’ve discussed before are independent thinkers with a highly developed sense of smell. This is something which is a great asset when trying to find a wounded duck out on the water or in the reeds after dusk has fallen, it’s a trait I would never like to see being bred out of them just to make them more manageable for trial work. However, from time to time, even a Chessie has to learn that sometimes his Master may actually be able to help him recover a bird or two and so, learning to take direction and listen to whistle commands is  a vital part of a process that will improve that working relationship for both parties.


In my limited experience as a handler of Chessies  I have found that they are quite compliant companions when whistle use is short, sharp and to the point, but it is when you start to bully them with the whistle that they tend to shut down and that is when they will blow you off to find the bird on their own terms or give up and come in. Finding a way of learning to use the natural elements more and handle less would surely result in a more productive working partnership.




Where you cast a dog to will be influenced by ground and wind.

So, as we made our way slowly down the shallow valley that first morning and I listened to that lilting Welsh accent in my ear, I began to get a clearer picture and learn that casting for a blind retrieve wasn’t so much about straight lines anymore and more about using the fall of the land and wind direction to allow the dog to work with more freedom to find the bird on its own initiative.


It was difficult to assimilate at first, similar to when I learnt to shoot. Just as following through on a flying target and pulling through to allow for wingbeats, pellet spread and wind takes practice, equally I found, allowing for land fall, distance to retrieve, and wind is going to influence greatly where you originally cast a dog to. Sometimes,  this meant taking in an extra twenty metres or more to allow for these particular elements to come into play but, for an air-scenting breed, that dislikes being held up by too many commands from base camp, when his handler figures this out it must be like manna from heaven.


By the third morning the pieces started to fall into place and, when we took our place in line, each and every aspect of his work was seamless, looked easy and was pure poetry to watch. I understood  the difference then between novice and advanced level dog work….a talented dog in novice will do well with a poor handler but to succeed at advanced level takes not only a talented dog but an instinctive handler, one that has to touch his dog with the least amount of pressure to get the job done. They, both dog and handler, make it appear easy, perhaps because rather than battling the elements they are both using  the tools that nature provides….a dog’s nose, the ground they work over and  our friend the ‘wind ‘….what do you think?


That superior scenting skill is an immense asset when used in conjunction with wind.



15 thoughts on “Bettinsons’ beckon….a weekend training the dogs in Wales.

  1. Yes Mary , I am in my hide ducks planned down 100 yds across the water its swam to bank to hide up ,Dog ,she did not see it ,so send her at angle about 30 yards down wind of duck ,as she swims that rough water I am looking around down in hide to see if any more on the wing ,but take a few fast glances at dog ,estimate when she will make landfall ,a another look around the landscape and then she’s their looking back over her shoulder ,,,this is the critical point get it wrong and it will be a hard hunt ,she’s saying by her posture ” Go on then ,Tell me ” I rise and put arm out and call Go Left ,and so she turns and works the marsh edge ,she’s learnt that wounded duck hide up on edge so if foe comes its a fast dive to safety of the water !! But could she now be at a disadvantage as when wind hits a rise in ground it often will rise itself to flow over the obstciul leaving a wind free void at the base ,,,and that’s just were she is now searching along the bottom of the salt marsh edge ,in this type of retrieve were I dont want to put her of the hunt by interfering ,one can only hope two things happen ,one is the bird sensing danger will move to waters edge giving dog more scent and a visual movement sign as well ,but the second is she could so easy in her haste over scent the bird and miss it completely due to that very lack of wind at the base ..Now dont forget the bird might have been seen to crawl up to the salt marsh edge but after that it could have gone anywhere ,so best to get her as close to area of last visual contact and then its down to Her and the wind /scent ..Now I see her whole body change from hunting mode to Locked on mode she’s got it lucky this time the wind or lack of it has given her just enough to know theirs a duck here some were, and at this point one needs to be ready to help to keep her in that scent area as if she moves to far out it does more often than not take a longer time to locate bird as her own scent will tell her she’s searched this bit so needs to move on! Mary just some thoughts brought on by doing it for a few years now with a fair few Chesapeake’s!!!

    With the Setter and Pointer training sessions one of the first things shown is how the humidity will affect the wind /scenting conditions .mostly done by using smoke tablets and its very clear how at different times of day even if wind is still in same quarter the scent will act defiantly as the wind at ground level changes according to strength and pressure!! Even small hillocks and smaller holes creates lots of different scenting challenges… a fine example of this which most of us have seen is the next doors bonfire on a late summer evening, the smoke rises slowly up to about 10/15 ft then levels of as it moves with the wind only to drop down some 15/20yds away right back to land suface!!!!¬!!!

  2. Mary, I’ll be picking your brains on this! I’ve known for quite some time that it is something I need to learn. I used to think my dog was getting out of control when taking my line for a distance but then running a curve. Then I realised that he was “falling off” to get into the wind. If I could “read” the wind better, it would make life easier for him – and for me! And yes, you’re right about the whistles: you get three – maybe four – blows before he decides, “Hasn’t a clue! I’m on my own on this one.” Great post!

  3. An other great read.That is a very interesting point about the wind/smoke that the pointer men going to try and find more info on that thanks again Allan

    • Thank you Allan, apparently one of the very first things demonstrated at a Pointer/setter field trial training day is the use of smoke tablets to show how air moves….as far as I am aware they do the smoke test at different times of the day….to show that air temperatures also affect air movement and as a result scent….I think it is one of the most fascinating aspects of dog work.

      • I cant be sure but think its one of the Greenhouse type of fumigators that get used as it gives of a lot of smoke ,I also think you can buy the same type of thing for testing chimmnys >>but dont forget the smoke will rise as its burning or smouldering as it is hot ,but once up and in the breeze its cooled and so then it will show the air and also the scent movement . You can also I have found learn of off your dog as I have seen mine scent a dummy from 30yds (60ft ) as it passes down wind of it and that was on a gentel breeze yet on a windy day when I thought it would do the same it did not scent it till it was 10ft from it !!! Scratch my Head !!! I think its due to the stronger wind breaking up the scent ! Some times on a scent the dog will find it then lose it then find it again then lose it ,when this happens it always seems to be when its windy ,so I guess the dog is only catching fragments of the scent trail ????? As Mary said Fascinating ,and I reckon I will never stop learning on this as conditions can always through some thing new into the eqaution !!!!!

  4. Good article I always train my dogs with the passion they show in action, in combination with the wind and ground we work on. That gives me free working dogs with a lot of initiative, which rewards me several times with game of which many friends presumed to be lost.

      • I have my first chess since okt last year after training a lot of goldens, labradors and spaniëls and discovered a whole new expericience with this dog you just describe. He fits so good with and I recognise what you mean. It is always amazing to see and observe that such a great dog can move so harmonieus and fast using wind so effectivly. Born with a natural intrest for goose and ducks ( and we have a lot of them in Holland) together with his excellent nose, and trainability,makes this youngster for me a dog from which I expect a lot coming hunting season. Kind regards Rene

  5. That´s a really nice report about a lovely weekend. My first experience with chesapeake was a very individual and independent working girl. I trained with other retriever people as i was the only chessiegirl at this time, who was working. So i got told more obedience and handling with whistle. Ok i did so far, obedience getting better, but whistle not really. Still we had some success in workingtests. When she was four i got Nico and Bella and decided to handle them with whistle from beginning. My results, Nico starts to wine and Bella stopped working by to much handling. Still she won wopen workingtest. What i am doing wrong? 2011 I was in the USA and watched to the american handler and trained a little bit with them. By coming back i did the same here in europe and got recognized how different are the ways to train. I watched really good dogs and handler and couldn´t hear the whistle. Why?? As Jamie said, bring them in the right wind and they will do their work! My puppies showed at the Bettinson´s Tranining that they were be able to be quiet and steady in line, bringing marks, so we will start now to bring them on line!! Maybe i can go there next year again and show two dogs are be able to go in the right wind and bringing the blinds in the same way as the marks. Quiet and easy as Mark said, give them a chance! It was just a lovely weekend!!!

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