Work­ing dogs when de­coy­ing

Prepa­ra­tion, dis­ci­pline and com­mon sense are key to a suc­cess­ful day on the pi­geons, says Ge­off Gar­rod

Sporting Gun - - Gamekeeping Our Shoot - DE­CEM­BER 2018

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”

If you’ve just bought your first foxing ri­fle, you’ll need to get it ready to use in the field. If you bought it sec­ond­hand as a com­plete rig, it may al­ready be set up but you still need to make sure it fires nicely in your hands be­fore at­tempt­ing to use it on live quarry. If you’re pur­chas­ing your ri­fle new, you need to es­tab­lish that the sell­ers have your in­ter­ests at heart. Tak­ing the time to talk to other shoot­ers about which shops are best can re­ally pay off. Some places will do ev­ery­thing in their power

“Lay off the cof­fee un­til you’ve fin­ished ze­ro­ing”

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