Mel – Acrobatic Dog

Mel – Acrobatic Dog

Actually the picture above is not Mel.  She did look like this though.

We got Mel from a working Springer Spaniel breeder and trainer in Lockerbie, Scotland.

I think she was about twelve weeks old when we got her, maybe older, and she was the runt of the litter and a little bit deformed.  Her front legs were a bit bowed and she was rather small and skinny.

However, she was lovely.  I loved her and she was very intelligent.  She wanted to please me all the time and she followed me everywhere, even into the bathroom.

I began training her ‘to the gun’.  However it was not long after that that I decided shooting and beating was not for me.

At the time we lived near Woburn Abbey and there were days when the sound of the pheasant shooting was continuous.  Almost from morning till dusk.  It was not pleasant.

So I decided to continue with Mel’s training and to enter into Gundog Trials and Field Trials.

I found she was a very quick learner indeed.  I only had to show her something once or twice and she would do it and remember it.

I taught her to sit and stay.  Then to sit whilst I threw a ‘dummy’ and then to fetch the dummy.  She could also hunt for the dummy and retrieve it whilst a second dummy was thrown to distract her.  Mel was also good at quartering.

Mel would sit to the sound of a gun.  Sit whenever she saw anything move, such as a rabbit or pheasant or a thrown dummy.

So I entered into my first, and her first Gundog Rally.

The gun I used was a starting pistol.  I have never used a shotgun although I had a licence for one.   I decided shot guns were not for me after someone told me that the rebound from them can break your shoulder.  So I bought a starting pistol instead.

At the Field Trial we did the quartering bit and she was not that bad.  I felt she moved too far to each side and too far ahead at times and I often gave her directions when she was not even looking at me.  So that was my mistake.  The judge was watching me!  Two dogs were sent out together each time for each of these exercises.

Then it was time for her to fetch a hidden dummy.  She retrieved the hidden dummy well.

For the next exercise she had to retrieve the dummy I threw, at the same time as a shotgun  going off and at the same time as another dummy was thrown for distraction.

Mel sat by my side and the shotgun was fired.  Well Mel, startled by the shotgun report,  went straight up in the air in the sit position and landed straight back down again, still in the sit position!  She did not move from her spot until I told her to ‘dead’.  ‘Dead’ was my word for ‘fetch’.  She had to fetch a ‘dead’ thing or dead pheasant, had we been on a real shoot.  There are times when a dog is expected to retrieve a wounded, but still live pheasant and so I would have trained her to fetch a ‘live’. later on.

Anyhow Mel withstood the sound of shotgun fire and went out to fetch the hidden ‘dead’ and she was bringing it back to me when the second dummy was thrown to distract her.  Mel dropped the dummy she was carrying and went over to pick up the second dummy.  I must have made a noise as I saw her do this, and she stopped in her tracks and looked at me.  She then looked at the second dummy and went back for the first dummy and brought it to me.

That was the end of the exercises and we all waited around for the judge’s opinion and the prize giving. There were about 18 dogs and handlers and Mel and I came 16th.  We were extremely pleased with that for our first and only Gundog Trial.

At the end of the day the judge proceeded to tell us about our mistakes.  He told the crowd that you should use the word ‘fetch’ and not the word’ dead’..  In fact he laughed and joked about  the use of this word.   I had trained Mel to go for a ‘dead’ and so dead it was.  In fact her breeder also used the word ‘dead’ instead of fetch.

The judge continued with his summing up and during the course of his speech he also commented that you could teach a dog any trick using any word whatsoever, so long as you consistently used the same word.  He also said you could use the words ‘Father Christmas’ instead of heal or leave.

In the end I  felt he was contradicting himself.

Nearly everyone came over to me and asked me how I had stopped Mel from picking up the second dummy and going back for the first.  I had not spoken to her  or told her off.  I do feel that I moved or sighed or something when she did it. She then looked at me and I frowned and looked back at the first dummy.  Luckily she understood what I wanted and then ignored the second dummy and went back for the one she had dropped and brought it to me.  The other contestants were totally amazed.

I was very proud of Mel that day and thought the judge did not know what he was talking about with his comments.  But that’s my opinion.

On the way home and halfway through our journey I stopped in a lay-by for a rest from driving and lo and behold there was my mother and stepfather also in the lay-by.  What a surprise that was!  Neither of us knew what the other was doing that day!

©Barbara Burgess

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips at



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