Working dogs when decoying
Preparation, discipline and common sense are key to a successful day on the pigeons, says Geoff Garrod
If you are lucky enough to have a working dog or dogs, you will already know how much fun and how rewarding they are to work on driven or rough shooting days. I simply wouldn’t be without a dog on a day’s decoying either. They are great companions, save loads of walking and you will come home with more birds in the bag. Here are a few points to bear in mind when taking dogs decoying.
First, it is essential that you check with the farmer, landowner or gamekeeper of the land that you are shooting over that they are happy for you to have a dog with you. It may seem obvious, but people sometimes take permission to shoot as permission to do whatever they like on their day out. There are many considerations that the landowner will take into account, such as the proximity of livestock, game birds, wild nesting birds, horses or just general activity going on that day on the land. You must take their views on board, and if they don’t want your dog there that day, do as they wish. You will just have to adjust your shooting to make sure that shot birds are dropped in accessible places.
Planning ahead is a good idea too. If you have done your reconnaissance well, you
should have a good idea where you will be setting up your hide. If that happens to be near a road, think very carefully before taking your dog.
A dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours, and it is worth making sure that it stays that way. I often see people firing their gun directly over the head of their dog. If you have ever been in a hide when somebody fires a gun over your head, even with ear defenders on, you will know how much it hurts. With this in mind, wherever possible I sit my dogs well away from the hide — a few feet off to the side will do — to make sure that I’m not deafening them. Sometimes this is not possible and if that is the case, I will make sure that the dogs have space to sit behind me. It is a loud bang when you are at the rear of the gun, but if you are forward of the muzzle it is one hell of a bang and your dog’s hearing will take a pounding.
Make sure that you have plenty of water with you for the dogs, especially on hot summer days. Their well-being must come first if you expect them to work for you. I have a 25-litre drum that I take with me and there is always water available for them throughout the day. If you see any of the following — sunken eyes, dry gums, lethargy, weakness, collapse or loss of skin elasticity (gently pull the skin on the back of your
the season, you should be aware that the crops and debris from them could become dangerous for your dog’s ears, eyes and nose. It is not uncommon for seeds and detritus from the crop to become lodged in sensitive places. Checking your dog thoroughly at the end of the day could save you a vet bill. Once lodged in the soft tissue, seeds tend to work their way in deeper and cause infections and swelling. If caught early, they can be removed.
Make sure your dog is steady and capable of sitting still for prolonged periods. I’ve seen plenty of hides disappear across the field with overexuberant dogs. Retrieving is obviously important, but steadiness is paramount. If you are in any doubt about your dog’s steadiness, ensure that you have it well pegged down on a lead for your first few trips out; only when you are confident that your dog will stay put can you dispense with the lead. It is also worth remembering that you will have a live gun next to you and a dog jumping around could end very badly indeed, so the hide on a day’s shooting is definitely not a place for training.
I train all of my dogs and the best way to instil steadiness starts with training from a young age. At feeding time, make your dog sit and wait for its food. Get your dog to sit with the command “stay”, place the food down and make sure that the dog doesn’t move until given the command. Gradually extend the time between putting the food down and giving the command. Your dog will soon understand the concept of not moving until ordered to, but make sure you are consistent and never let them get away with moving early. If they do, remove the food, reset the dog and go again.
After that, start working on the same technique with dummy work, then cold game and finally try them on a short trip out on pigeons. None of this is rocket science, just make sure that you are consistent and firm with your dog. If you have control of them in those situations, you should have control of them anywhere.
I don’t have any particular preference for breed of dog for pigeon shooting. I don’t care if it is a Pekinese, a terrier or anything in between, as long as it is steady and retrieves birds well.
“i’ve seen plenty of hides disappear across the field with overexuberant dogs”
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“Lay off the coffee until you’ve finished zeroing”