Published in The Flushing Whip, (official newsletter of the National Red Setter Field Trial Magazine.)
I’ll answer your question on shooting birds over trial dogs. I feel it is a matter of the individual dog. I seldom shoot or kill birds over young dogs that I am developing for trials. I feel it is just another reason that they will want to break. If they are allowed to fetch birds and break when they are young, it makes it harder to break them. I do get a lot of young dogs in for trials that have been gunned over and it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, these dogs often have tremendous drive and bird finding abilities, but the fact is these dogs will always remember having birds in their mouths. That is also why “bad training birds” with a young dog is also a big disaster. You should try to avoid using weak flying birds that a dog can catch. There are occasions that killing birds over dogs can be used to fix different problems. Shooting birds on the ground in front of a dog can be used as a cure for flagging. It isn’t 100%, but I’ve seen it work with quite a few dogs. Also some dogs that are not real intense can be “fired” up on birds by bringing back a shot bird or allowed to mouth a bird or two. Each dog should be interpreted individually in all aspects of training, but for the most part a well bred dog probably will not need to have birds shot over it to be developed into a field trial contender. Finally a polished well broke trial dog can certainly make a great gunning dog too, if just not allowed to break and retrieve. I hunt all my trial dogs, I simply don’t allow them to break or mouth birds.