This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
Retrieving, in my opinion, should be invariably committed to a dog, specially kept for that purpose; but, as this is not the universal practice, it will be necessary to say a few words on this subject. When pointers or setters are broken to retrieve, in addition to those qualities peculiar to them, they should always be so much under command as to wait "down charge," until they are ordered on by the words "seek dead," when they at once go up to the place where they saw their game drop, and, taking up the scent, foot it until they find it Some breeds have no nose for a foot-scent, and, if ordered to "seek dead," will beat for the body-scent as they would for a single bird; and, when they come upon the lost bird, they "peg" it with a steady point in the same way. This does not injure the dog nearly as much as working out a runner by the foot-scent; but a retrieving pointer of this kind, is of little use for any but a badly wounded bird, which has not run far. Few pointers and setters will carry game far, nor indeed is it worth while to spend much time in teaching them to do so; and when they are set to retrieve, it is better to follow them, and help them in their search, so as to avoid all necessity for developing the "fetch and carry" quality, which in the genuine retriever is so valuable.
But it is chiefly for wounded hares or running pheasants that such a retriever is required; and as the former spoil a pointer or setter, and are sure to make him unsteady if he is allowed to hunt them, it is desirable to keep clear of the position altogether, while pheasants are so rarely killed to these dogs that their retrieval by them need not be considered.
The regular land retriever requires much more careful education, inasmuch as he is wanted to abstair from hunting, and from his own especial duties, except when ordered to commence. The breed generally used is the cross of the Newfoundland with the setter or water-spaniel, but, as I have explained in another place, other breeds are equally useful. In educating these dogs, they should be taken at a very early age, as it is almost impossible to insure perfect obedience at a later period. The disposition to "fetch and carry," which is the essence of retrieving, is very early developed in these dogs, and without it there is little chance of making a puppy perfect, in his vocation. Young dogs of this breed will be seen carrying sticks about, and watching for their master to throw them, that they may fetch them to him. This fondness for the amusement should be encouraged to a certain extent, almost daily, but not so far as to tire and disgust the dog, and care should always be taken that he does not tear or bite the object which he has in charge. On no account should it be dragged from his mouth, but he should be ordered to drop it on the ground at the feet of his master, or to release it, directly it is laid hold of.
The consequence of pulling anything out of the young retriever's mouth is that he becomes "hard bitten," as it is called; and, when he retrieves a wounded bird, he makes his teeth meet, and mangles it so much, that it is utterly useless. A dog which is not naturally inclined to retrieve, may be made so by encouraging him to pull at a handkerchief or a stick; but such animals very seldom turn out well in this line, and it is far better to put them to some other task. As soon as the puppy has learned to bring everything to his master when ordered, he may be taught to seek for trifling articles in long grass or other covert, such as bushes, etc. When he succeeds in this, get some young rabbits which are hardly old enough to run, and hide one at a time at a little distance, after trailing it through the grass so as to imitate the natural progress of the animal when wounded. After putting the young retriever on the scent at the commencement of the "run," let him puzzle it out, until he finds the rabbit, and then make him bring it to his master without injuring it in the least.
Encouragement should be given for success, and during the search, the dog should have the notice of his master, by the words:
"Seek! seek! seek dead!" etc. A perseverance in this kind of practice will soon make the dog very bright, in tracing out the concealed rabbits, and in process of time he may be intrusted with the task of retrieving a wounded partridge or pheasant in actual shooting. But it is always a long time before the retriever becomes perfect, practice being all important to him.
Many shooters use a slip for the retriever, the keeper leading him in it, until he is wanted, which is a good plan when a keeper is always in attendance. In any case, however, these dogs should be made to drop "down charge," as the gun may be used while they are at work, and if they are not broken to drop, they become excited, and often flush other game before it is reloaded.
The breaking of the water-spaniel or retriever is also a complicated task, and, as he has to hunt in the water and on the banks, his duties are twofold. These dogs are used in the punt as well as on the edge of the water, but when the education is finished in the river, the pupil will generally do what is wanted from the punt. As in the land retriever, so in this variety, the first thing to be done is to get the puppy to fetch and carry" well; after which he may be introduced to "flappers" in July and August, when the water is warm, and he does not feel the unpleasantness and ill effects, attendant on a cold winter's day with a wet coat. The young birds are also slow and awkward, in swimming and diving, so that every encouragement is afforded to the dog, and he may readily be induced to continue the sport, to which he is naturally inclined, for hours together. The chief difficulty at first is in breaking the water-spaniel from rats, which infest the banks of most streams, and which are apt to engage the attention of most dogs. The dog should be taught to beat to the hand, and, whenever a flapper is shot and falls in the water, then he must be encouraged, to bring it to land without delay.
No art must be neglected to induce him to do this, and, every other plan failing, the breaker must himself enter the water; for, if the dog is once allowed to leave a duck behind him, he is much harder to break afterward. Indeed, perseverance in the breaker is necessary at all times, to insure the same quality in the pupil.
The object in teaching the spaniel the range to hand is, because without this there will often be difficulty in showing him where a bird lies in the water - the eye of the dog being so little above its level, and the bird very often so much immersed, that when there is the slightest ruffle, he can scarcely see it a yard from his nose. As in all other cases, the water-retriever must be strictly "down 3harge," and he must be thoroughly steady and quiet at heel, or he will be sure to disturb the water-fowl when the shooter is in ambush waiting for them. The slightest whine is fatal, and the dog should, therefore, be taught to be as quiet as a mouse until ordered to move.