MADE AND NOT BORN
Mike Swan’s take on gun-shyness in dogs
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.
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