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  • Dennis Hammett

Developing and training Llewellin setters

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

"And I think humility is probably the personal trait most commonly absent. Many people like to brag about the number of years “experience” they have accumulated, but without acquiring knowledge through thoughtful observation, it is worthless. Learning always comes to those willing to be humble."


I have learned this after years of breeding, developing and training birddogs: I have never had dog problems, only people problems. Field dogs are not machines, you can’t press a button and expect them to perform their tasks perfectly. It takes a knowledgeable and understanding handler to get the optimal performance from a hunting dog.

So what makes a top bird dog handler? You need to practice only three things, patience, observation and humility. Patience may be the most important personal behavior, more natural for some and maybe the most difficult for many to learn.

And I think humility is probably the personal trait most commonly absent. Many people like to brag about the number of years “experience” they have accumulated, but without acquiring knowledge through thoughtful observation, it is worthless. Learning always comes to those willing to be humble.

Subtlety is nearly always a more effective tool than force, but subtlety is a hard tool to exercise if you believe, as many people do, that you are superior to the dog. There should be no effort at “dominance” without establishing a respectful partnership. And for many young setters, maybe even most, it is confidence building and leadership from a high quality trainer that is needed, not being the “master”.

And there is no mysticism, no magic, only the recognition of kinship with the animals you work with and develop. I call it the soul connection, but maybe it’s just love and respect for them. I remember watching a bird dog demonstration many years ago from an old trainer, a kennel manager for a wealthy news mogul and I noticed his hands. Standing for probably a half an hour, he was always touching the pointer, gently, lovingly caressing it. To compliment a horseman you say: “he has great hands”!

Plenty of people have borrowed an insight or two or even their whole training “program” from the “professionals”- those that have made money by popularizing what they seemed to think they know, or what they think we should know. But probably what you should know never will be popular, nor will you ever make much money from it. You cannot sell modesty or undying curiosity. And it is hard to put a price on accepting that everything you think you know about field dogs may change with the very next one.



"There should be no effort at “dominance” without establishing a respectful partnership. And for many young setters, maybe even most, it is confidence building and leadership from a high quality trainer that is needed, not being the “master”. "


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