Mike Swan’s take on gun-shy­ness in dogs

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

Imade my first visit to Bur­gate Manor, the head­quar­ters of what was then the Game Con­ser­vancy — now, of course, the Game & Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust — on a sum­mer day more than 30 years ago. A last­ing mem­ory is that of a fine golden re­triever, sit­ting in a pose that re­sem­bled a Trafal­gar Square lion, on the lawn in front of the manor. The dog was free to come and go, but had been trained to stay where she was.

Cloth Ears, as she was known, be­longed to a young mem­ber of the Game Con­ser­vancy staff, Dr Mike Swan. Mike is still based at Bur­gate Manor and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to this mag­a­zine. just three weeks, ac­ci­dents are rare. The fine, sunny weather dur­ing May un­doubt­edly helped, as it meant that for much of the time she had free ac­cess to the gar­den.

Mixed bless­ing

This, how­ever, was a mixed bless­ing, as puppies and gar­dens — or at least well-tended ones — aren’t a good mix­ture. She soon dis­cov­ered my raised beds which she thought were ter­rific fun, as she could race through them and leap off them. Makeshift I was de­lighted to re­ceive an email from him fol­low­ing my re­cent ar­ti­cle on gun­shy­ness 9 May). Mike is con­vinced that prop­erly gun-shy dogs are made and not born. He be­lieves that it is a good idea to get young dogs used to loud noises by such tech­niques as clap­ping hands while the dog is eat­ing.

One thing that he thinks all train­ers should be aware of is en­vi­ron­ment. His el­der bitch was un­trou­bled with a shot in open fields when he first in­tro­duced her to gun­fire, but when he fired his gun straight up at a Fe­bru­ary pi­geon un­der tall beech trees she was un­nerved.

“I think it was the echo from the tree canopy in what was rather like a cathe­dral,” he con­cluded. His sen­si­ble ad­vice is to watch your dog care­fully in the early stages and be ready to wind back at the first hint of ner­vous­ness. He also suggests get­ting a friend to make the bangs or fire the shots to start with, bar­ri­ers have had to be erected around the veg­etable gar­den.

Like most healthy puppies, she likes her food. She has been fed Sal­ters puppy food — as good a dried food as any you can buy — along with raw beef mince and a lit­tle chopped kale. She has found raw chicken wings a chal­lenge but is keen to try. It has been im­por­tant to make sure that she eats all she is given, as Rowan is keen to pol­ish off any left­overs and we don’t want her to be­come a fat old

dog. Rowan’s re­la­tion­ship with Emma so that you, as the han­dler, can fo­cus en­tirely on the dog. A shot in the op­po­site di­rec­tion from 100 yards away, fol­lowed by a thrown dummy and a re­trieve is a good place to start — and then put the gun away un­til to­mor­row.

Mike re­tains his en­thu­si­asm for golden re­triev­ers — he has had six of them since ac­quir­ing his first in 1982. has been fas­ci­nat­ing to ob­serve as it has de­vel­oped. At first the old spaniel was clearly ill at ease with such a small and de­mand­ing in­truder, and there were many warn­ing growls. But every day she has be­come more tolerant and now she even per­mits the puppy to share her bed, and will play with her. Most amus­ingly, she was quite pro­tec­tive of her when a visit­ing springer came for the day.


I’ve al­ways main­tained that train­ing should start from the mo­ment the puppy ar­rives in its new home, though it is not easy with a wrig­gling puppy. Emma re­sponds nat­u­rally to the whis­tle, which is a good start. How­ever, she has the typ­i­cal cocker en­thu­si­asm for jump­ing up at you. I think that this has to be tol­er­ated in small puppies, but it is some­thing that we must soon start to dis­suade her from do­ing. I hate dogs that jump up.

As for re­triev­ing, she has as­tounded us by not only show­ing a pas­sion for pick­ing up her ten­nis ball or rag­ger, but bring­ing it back to hand for it to be thrown again. She has two field trial cham­pion grand­par­ents on her father’s side and three on her mother’s, so she has the right DNA. Michael was right to warn me, but I think we can just about cope with a puppy.

Af­ter her ini­tial un­ease, Rowan now al­lows the puppy to share her bed

Golden re­triever fan Mike Swan with Bram­ble

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