GUN­DOG FO­CUS: Ryan pro­vides an in­sight into our most mis­un­der­stood gun­dog sub­group

Ryan re­flects on train­ing his old Weimaraner, and high­lights the ups and downs of an of­ten mis­judged gun­dog sub­group

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - with Ryan Kay

It seems that this year we had a proper sum­mer for a change – hot days and warm nights… even in York­shire! Here in York, it was gen­er­ally dry and warm, and the har­vest­ing time was pretty straight­for­ward for the lo­cal farm­ers – wheat and spring bar­ley gath­ered in on any day you like, as the warm late Au­gust and Septem­ber weather re­mained. This also meant that there was plenty of stub­ble avail­able for train­ing, from early on.

My old Weimaraner, Tash, now well into her 14th year, is al­ways happy to see the stub­ble. To her, it must sig­nify the start of the shoot­ing sea­son. She has the chance to stretch her legs across the fields, where she gets her nose down on the scent of hares, and on the stub­ble, where the young poults now wan­der in search of loose seed. The old girl has taught me a lot, not only about the breed and how to train them, but also about how Weimaran­ers and other HPRs are of­ten per­ceived by those own­ers who favour the more pop­u­lar breeds, such as Labs and spaniels. The truth is, I trained her all wrong – I ex­posed her to the wrong shoots and I had un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of her. Like my Hun­gar­ian vizsla, she is a res­cue dog, picked up from Dogs Trust at ex­actly one year old. Her his­tory was un­known and so we took a chance. Her tail had been docked, which sug­gested she was from the right stock. She was, in­deed, and her work­ing in­stinct was ex­tremely strong. Read­ily ‘point­ing’, she worked for me pri­mar­ily as a rough shoot­ing dog. As for steadi­ness, well, the less said about that the bet­ter, but she al­ways found what was hid­ing on our beat, pre­sent­ing me with a chance to get a shot off. Rough shoot­ing is where a well-trained HPR can prove its worth. They are es­pe­cially good at find­ing those elu­sive odd­ments of game, and the sheer pop­u­la­tion of game on many of our lowland shoots sim­ply does not suit many of them at all. And so, quite of­ten when it comes to util­is­ing them on a shoot, the right HPR breed can be bet­ter suited to pick­ing-up.

Tash will still come beat­ing this year on a small shoot, though, where all the game needs find­ing. Now quite deaf, we’ll let her off the lead at the start of a drive and col­lect her at the end, with­out so much as a whis­tle or a word be­ing spo­ken to her through­out the drive as she trots about.

Dur­ing that time, she won’t have drifted far at all and may have even pointed a cou­ple of birds, while wait­ing for my wife, Ali­son, to come and flush them for her with a stick. Hav­ing worked on this par­tic­u­lar shoot ev­ery sea­son since we got her, it is fair to say that Tash knows the ropes.

Some time back, a trainer friend of mine rang me for some ad­vice on how to go about train­ing a par­tic­u­lar HPR breed he’d been asked to train for a cus­tomer of his. Nor­mally a spaniel-only man, my friend agreed to have a go at train­ing the ex­u­ber­ant dog, and was in­deed look­ing for­ward to it. He men­tioned that he’d also rung an­other very well-known trainer and asked him for his ad­vice, to which the re­ply was: “Get rid of it.” Hmm, well… I tried to point him in the right di­rec­tion and men­tioned the key word of ‘pa­tience’ many times over.

In ac­tual fact, I can see why that par­tic­u­lar trainer told him to get rid of it, and for sev­eral rea­sons – the main one be­ing the per­cep­tion that ‘there’s no money in them’. You see, un­for­tu­nately for HPRs, they’re gen­er­ally not seen as be­ing lu­cra­tive enough for the ma­jor­ity of ‘pro­fes­sional’ train­ers. Here is a size­able gun­dog group that’s made up of size­able dogs, which re­quire a large amount of food and of­ten a con­sid­er­ably lengthy amount of time and pa­tience to get up to a de­cent stan­dard. In fact, for some of the slower-ma­tur­ing breeds it can take many years to ac­com­plish all the el­e­ments re­quired from a good HPR; dur­ing the same amount of time it may be pos­si­ble to train, say, three spaniels.

My thoughts are that many sim­ply can’t train them, due to the fact that all HPRs are of­ten lumped to­gether un­der one train­ing ethos um­brella. I’ve heard it my­self, when chat­ting to a pro­fes­sional trainer of nearly 30 years, who said: “I’ve given up on HPRs – I’ve tried, but I can’t get on with them!”

Train­abil­ity

I can un­der­stand how a tra­di­tional trainer, who is used to bring­ing a bid­dable Labrador or springer up to speed, can be­come a lit­tle dis­il­lu­sioned when faced with a vizsla that still be­haves like a puppy at two or even three years old. But this also comes from a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what they’re ac­tu­ally de­signed to do. I know of an ex­cel­lent trainer who takes in all breeds for res­i­den­tial train­ing, and pur­posely starts on the Labs first

‘The big­gest prob­lem is that our largest gun­dog sub­group is of­ten lumped to­gether and spo­ken about in gen­er­alised terms’

thing in the morn­ing be­fore mov­ing onto the HPRs later, as this helps to, in his own words, ‘sort his head out’!

The big­gest prob­lem is that our largest gun­dog sub­group is of­ten lumped to­gether and spo­ken about in gen­er­alised terms. The 14 or so dif­fer­ent breeds recog­nised by the Ken­nel Club can­not be stan­dard­ised when it comes to think­ing about breed char­ac­ter­is­tics, and there­fore the train­ing meth­ods which will pro­duce the best out­comes also need to be in­di­vid­u­ally tai­lored. Dif­fer­ent ap­proaches need to be ap­plied from breed to breed, as some of the HPR breeds just couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent when it comes to train­ing.

Of course, an­other prob­lem for gen­eral gun­dog train­ers is ac­tu­ally gain­ing enough ex­pe­ri­ence on all of these breeds to be able to train them prop­erly. This isn’t helped by the sheer lack of pop­u­lar­ity (see box­out for 2015 lit­ter reg­is­tra­tion statis­tics) and willing own­ers want­ing to take on the task of train­ing one for the shoot­ing field. A few years back, at a game fair, I ac­tu­ally over­heard a pro­fes­sional trainer ask­ing a lady what breed of dog she had on the end of her lead. He could not iden­tify a Large Mun­ster­lan­der! Of course, many folk can’t, but the fact that he was an es­tab­lished trainer con­firms my be­lief. He’s still a good trainer, but had not been ex­posed to Large Mun­ster­lan­ders at any point in his ca­reer.

I en­joy train­ing HPRs and there are many oth­ers that do too. I was very im­pressed at an HPR re­triev­ing day dur­ing the sum­mer to wit­ness a chap and his two Ger­man short­haired point­ers per­form as per­fectly as two top Labs dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar re­triev­ing el­e­ment. They sat pa­tiently, were sent by name, marked per­fectly and re­turned swiftly.

When look­ing for an HPR puppy, I would strongly ad­vise you to, firstly, re­search the breed, and sec­ondly, to buy from proven work­ing lines. If I want a spaniel, I could prac­ti­cally pick out a puppy from any lit­ter ad­ver­tised and the chances are the dog will work. It may not be a po­ten­tial Field Trial Cham­pion but it will still work, given the right guid­ance. On the other hand, if I wanted a Hun­gar­ian vizsla, al­though they dis­play du­al­ity, the chances of this work­ing out based on the same se­lec­tion process are far too hit and miss! So, proven work­ing parent­age is a must. And lastly, as I’ve said be­fore, HPRs are not a gun­dog group that a novice han­dler should take on lightly, as the big­gest thing that goes against many HPRs is their good looks. Please don’t pur­chase based on how lovely they look – get help from some­one who un­der­stands the idio­syn­cra­sies of that par­tic­u­lar breed, and re­search how to go about train­ing them with re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions and time frames.

Tash the Weimaraner with Ryan’s wife, Ali­son Trained prop­erly, Ger­man short­haired point­ers are just as ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing well in re­triev­ing ex­er­cises as Labradors are

Ali­son works Tash in the beat­ing line on a lo­cal shoot

Due to their lack of pop­u­lar­ity, many ‘pro­fes­sional’ train­ers wouldn’t be able to iden­tify a Large Mun­ster­lan­der

HPRs can take three times as long to train than gundogs in other sub­groups

Weimaran­ers of­ten look a bit lumpy and bumpy in their old age

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