06 Oct

Wildlife photography is my hobby. My working life & passion is working with families with spaniels & other gundogs to help them understand their dog's natural hunting instincts. 

I have loved all animals, birds since I was a child & natural environments fascinate me. I have always taken lots of snaps but in recent years I have become an avid novice/hobby photographer. 

Initially it was a break from my everyday life as a dog trainer or doing sports & activities with my own two spaniels. As we all need variety in life 

Photography has taken me to places that I normally wouldn't see if I had my dogs with me. Due to their natural hunting instincts so they would disturb the wildlife even if they were allowed to go to all these places with me.

This photo was taken when out 

So how does photography remind me of my spaniels?

It occurred to me one day, that what I was doing to get a shot of a particular but very fast bird I was behaving the same way as my spaniels do when they are hunting pheasants & rabbits. The sequence was almost identical up until the point the prey or target realises & runs or flies away. After that point it changes as our motivation is different.

Spaniels & other gundog breeds were originally bred to hunt, chase, flush out, collect & retrieve prey such as birds & small animals when they are hunted by humans. 

When dogs are hunting they usually follow a predatory sequence to find the prey.

The sequence includes:

Orientation - Sensing the approximate direction of the prey mainly using sound, & scent. Both these senses are far stronger than ours so we have probably no idea of what they are sensing.

Stalk - Once they have confirmed the prey is in that direction they will move slowly & deliberately in that direction until they have pin-pointed the prey's general location.

Creep - At this stage they will slow down & move deliberately towards the prey without spooking it before they are in the right position.

Chase - The dog would prefer this to happen on their terms so they can be as close as possible to the prey before they disturb it, in the hope that they catch it. But if the prey senses them first they have very quick response to movement so will be ready to chase if it does. Spaniels are particularly motivated by the chase & may lose interest if the prey gets out of reach.

The rest of the sequence occurs if your dog catches the prey which is something which pet dogs should not practice for many reasons. If the dog is working in the field the human hunter takes over the sequence in their own way. 

The remainder of the sequence is self explanatory in the wild & in the working world is taken care of by the human hunter once the dog has chased the prey into the open. The remaining sequence includes:

  • Grab Bite
  • Kill Bite
  • Possess
  • Dissect
  • Consume

It also doesn't apply to the comparison to photography.

When it comes to wildlife photography it is very similar as the photographer is following an almost identical sequence to get their picture.

Orientation - Sensing the direction of the animal or bird (target) mainly using our hearing which is nowhere as good as a dogs & unless the animal or bird is very close to us or the wind is blowing it in our direction we are pretty useless at "hunting" using scent. This  is why primitive man chose dogs to help them hunt for food many thousands of years ago. To be honest most animals will probably sense us by scent or sound long before they see us & birds may have already seen or heard us as they are often flying around us.

Stalk - Once we have confirmed that our target is in that direction we will move slowly & deliberately in that direction until we have pin-pointed the prey's general location.

Creep - At this stage we have seen the target & will stop to take the "shot" if our equipment allows or slow right down & move deliberately towards the target until we are in the position to take the picture, without spooking it before we are in the right position.

Chase - Once the animal or bird has sensed us & run or flown away. To be honest we could try to "chase" the target as we will have probably missed the opportunity.

In the wild, hunting animals need to preserve their energy as food is not served up to them every day like most pet dogs. They therefore wait undercover in a an area the prey hangs out until something turns up & hunts using speed and stealth and go straight to the second half of the predatory sequence. 

Most pet dogs do not do this as they are hunting for fun & not food. They do not need to preserve energy & for them they find hunt and chase far more rewarding. 

This why serious or professional photographers who arre looking for the best picture find out where their targets live or feed & wait for them to come to them rather that try & "hunt" them down to get a perfect shot. But for me this takes some of the fun out of my hobby as like my spaniels I actually enjoy the "hunt".

This photo was taken from a hide at a great distance on a holiday to Canada.

Sometimes you or you dog might get just lucky & the target or prey finds you. Just like a rabbit may hop out in front of your dog & the Elk below was stood by the side of a rood when we were passing during the same Canadian holiday.

This will mean that all the previous stages of the sequence are forgotten an d your dog will go straight to the "chase" & I got one of my favourite photos of all time.

This is why my photography hobby reminds me of my spaniels & why I love working with them.

If you would like to understand more about your spaniel's natural hunting instincts & how to incorporate these into your life together.

See details of my Speaking Spaniel Personal Dog Training Programmes or contact me to arrange a FREE 20 minute mini consultation by clicking on the link below


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