TIME FOR FORAGING
Blackberries are good for you and good for your dog
have always been a forager. On many occasions I have come home from shoot days with my game bag stuffed full of mushrooms. These days, though, it is just as likely to be onions or parsnips left behind after harvest, and I never fail to be amazed at how much of a crop is left in the field after the harvester has finished. I am currently picking blackberries on almost every walk as it is an exceptionally good blackberry harvest this year.
However, I am not a great blackberry eater. Much as I like the fruit, I find the tiny pips get stuck in my teeth. Blackberries are fine if I can be bothered to pulp them and sieve them to get rid of the pips, but
Iis very different to ours. “There is no such thing as driven shooting, so there is no picking-up,” she explains. “Rough shooting with a couple of dogs is normal. There is no walkedup format in a South African trial; instead your dog will be expected to do multiple, lengthy, individual retrieves, of anything from guinea fowl to geese. Dogs are encouraged to work in a natural way, and the whistle is used only as a last resort. The emphasis is on the dog using its own initiative and thinking for itself.”
Les brought three dogs with her when she moved to the UK: Amy, a four-year-old golden retriever, a 12-year-old Labrador and a 16-yearold Maltese poodle. Both the poodle and the Labrador have since died, but Amy has relished the work she has been asked to do. She had never seen a pheasant or a partridge before, but took to picking-up as if she had done it all her life. However, she was taken aback by the number of birds killed on a big commercial partridge shoot in Hertfordshire. Les has since taken on a working-bred golden retriever, called Lucy, from Wendy Andrews’ Catcombe Kennels.
Coming to terms with the UK trialling world has been a challenge. “It’s been a huge eye-opener for me,” I don’t often do that. However, what
I do is pick them for my dogs, who really enjoy them. I have had dogs that would pick them themselves, gently nuzzling the fruit off the bramble, but most dogs are put off by the thorns, and prefer their blackberries picked for them.
Blackberries are a good source of antioxidants, fibre and omega-3 for dogs. They also provide vitamins and minerals, so it would be difficult to find a better hedgerow snack for a dog. Lots of other animals like them too. I remember once watching a fox snacking on blackberries early one morning.
Change of email address
Observant readers may have noticed that my email address has changed. For reasons best known to BT, my last address stopped functioning reliably, so if you have emailed me recently and haven’t received a reply that is the reason. says Les. “I have had to adjust to the exceptionally high standard of work required by the dogs, the walked-up and driven formats, the gravity and intensity of it all, the centuries of tradition that surround it, and this darned awkward stuff called sugar beet. Even the clothing is different. How quaint to the foreigner is the traditional tweed shooting suit, complete with collar and tie. In South Africa, a T-shirt, shorts and sandals suffice. The trials there have often just a handful of people, so it is a lot less competitive. Another crucial difference in a trial over there is that each retrieve is replicated as best as
22 • SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE
If you have got ideas or suggestions for an article, have a question to ask or simply want to tell me about your dog’s exploits, don’t hesitate to email me. However, you will be amused to know that readers who have enjoyed something that I have written will email me, but those who disagree are more likely to write to the Editor. possible for each dog. Here, of course, no two retrieves are ever the same.
“In South Africa there is more freedom in club training, with all the dogs playing together before working. It is a much more relaxed, fun environment. UK gundog folk keep the lead on at all times, and actively discourage their dogs from socialising with other dogs. My training ethos is ‘Let’s put the joy back’. Yes, I do things differently. I use lots of cuddles and praise and food rewards and I throw the ball and shriek with joy to show my dog it has done well. I’m used to the funny looks and raised eyebrows now, but quietly persist as this approach does get results.” This does appear to be the case as earlier this year, Les took the Top Individual Dog of the Day Award with her 22-month-old puppy at the South Eastern Gundogs Intercounties Team Event, competing against more than 60 Labradors.
“Training doesn’t have to be all serious and stern and full of dire threats,” adds Les. “My ways are softer and based on mutual respect, joy and understanding. We are a team, so we have to work together. I see the differences here, I observe, I listen, I learn, I draw my own conclusions, but I still train my dogs my way. However, I do feel passionately that training and work should be fun for both dog and handler.”
Les Crompton with Lucy, her working-bred golden retriever from Catcombe Kennels
Blackberries: a great hedgerow snack for dogs