Tak­ing time to freshen up the dogs for the com­ing sea­son

The sea­son is fast ap­proach­ing but Phil Moor­som re­minds us that it’s not just the Guns who will need to get back up to speed, but our ca­nine com­pan­ions too

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

The ma­jor­ity of Guns that I know don’t gen­er­ally start their shooting un­til mid Oc­to­ber un­less they are true par­tridge and grouse en­thu­si­asts like me. This sea­son, the Rough Rovers have quite a few early sea­son game days, a cou­ple of char­ity days on the clays and a sim­u­lated day all de­signed to get us back in the swing of things be­fore the days shorten, the tem­per­a­ture drops and the trees lose their leaves.

As al­ways, hav­ing waited for what seems like an eter­nity for the sea­son to come round, sud­denly it’s here. I re­alised at the end of June that both the dogs and I were car­ry­ing a bit of ex­tra tim­ber that would need to be shed be­fore tack­ling the grouse moors and the sea­son as whole. This sit­u­a­tion had been ex­ac­er­bated by the main dog, Fig, hav­ing to un­dergo a lengthy course of steroids while I first de­tached a ten­don in my arm re­sult­ing in ‘Pop­eye arm’ (not at­trac­tive) and then sprained my lower back in the work­shop for­get­ting that, in spite of my new Pop­eye arm, I no longer have the strength of a 25 year old.

So, while we are ea­gerly pre­par­ing our­selves for those pre­cious days out in the field, it is im­por­tant for those of us who love to share the days with a ca­nine com­pan­ion not to for­get to get them back up to speed with both their fit­ness and their train­ing.

In the same way that one does not put one’s gun away on the 1st of Fe­bru­ary only to take it out again on the first game day of the sea­son ex­pect­ing to shoot like a de­mon, it is un­rea­son­able to ex­pect one’s dog to pick up where they left off last sea­son be­ing steady, pa­tient and obe­di­ent. It will in­evitably be ex­cited and prob­a­bly se­lec­tively deaf. In­ci­den­tally, I do know some in­fu­ri­at­ing peo­ple who do put their guns away for six months and shoot bril­liantly when they dust them off.

Now, I know that many more ded­i­cated peo­ple read­ing this will have made sure that their dogs have kept a ‘paw in’ dur­ing the off sea­son, whether ad­her­ing to their own strict sched­ule, go­ing along to train­ing days or trav­el­ling around the coun­try trail­ing. But for those of us who are less com­mit­ted, or have less time to train their dog, it is im­por­tant to man­age and be re­al­is­tic about one’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

‘While we are ea­gerly pre­par­ing our­selves for those pre­cious days out in the field, it is im­por­tant we get our dogs up to speed too’

We ac­tively en­cour­age our mem­bers to bring their dogs along, par­tic­u­larly on the many walked-up, bound­ary days we have in the cal­en­dar. We get a lot of en­quiries from peo­ple who are strug­gling to find a place where they can shoot over or work their dog with­out fear of judge­ment or up­set­ting ter­ri­to­rial pick­ers up.

I am not a dog trainer and have been lucky enough to have been blessed to own an in­tel­li­gent, well-bred dog that seems to have ab­sorbed the nec­es­sary skills from watch­ing oth­ers on her many days out in the field. How­ever, there are two pieces of ad­vice I shall im­part to new gundog own­ers.

First of all, do not be in a rush to get your dog out in the field. I have seen a few dogs put off by be­ing taken out too early and up­set­ting a day by sim­ply be­ing over-ex­cited and over-stim­u­lated.

I re­mem­ber the sea­son be­fore last we had an early sea­son walked-up day in Wilt­shire and were pleased to wel­come a new Gun, Tom, and his black Labrador, Snowy. Now, Tom was a lovely guy and I am pleased to say still shoots with us oc­ca­sion­ally, but on that first day he was very keen to im­press and got a bit car­ried away at break­fast singing Snowy’s praises.

The first piece we shot was The Dairy and I had in­structed the team to be very quiet as there were al­ways a few ducks sit­ting on a small pond hid­den away in the woods. A beater and two Guns had set off to bring the woods up from the rear and shoot any­thing that turned. While wait­ing silently for them to get into po­si­tion, I felt a tap on my shoul­der from a rather sheep­ish look­ing Tom. “I’ve lost Snowy,” he whis­pered. As I ap­proached the keeper to ex­plain the predica­ment, we heard some in­tense quack­ing and the ducks lifted from the pond and flew off. We had found Snowy and his day did not get much bet­ter as he ran into the cover on another drive and spent most of the re­main­der of the day in the back of his De­fender. It turned out that Snowy had plenty of peg ex­pe­ri­ence, but the more re­laxed for­mat of a walked-up day was more than he could han­dle.

My sec­ond piece of ad­vice is that, with a young or in­ex­pe­ri­enced dog, it is pru­dent to ei­ther work your dog or shoot and not nec­es­sar­ily both to­gether, as you may end up spoil­ing the day for your­self and per­haps oth­ers too. I have seen too many Guns lose their tem­per with dogs mainly be­cause, while they are fo­cus­ing on their shooting, the dog will slip away and do their own thing. We have sev­eral new dogs start­ing this sea­son and have agreed with the own­ers that the best way to bed them in is to come along on a cou­ple of days early on just to watch and walk the line on the lead, then move onto some con­trolled beat­ing and then to­wards the end of the sea­son, depend­ing on both dog and owner’s progress, end up shooting over their dog.

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that we all need to start some­where and, in­evitably, we all make mis­takes from time to time. On our days, we ac­tively en­cour­age both new Guns and new dogs and hope­fully pro­vide an at­mos­phere where the nec­es­sary skills can be learnt, en­cour­aged and, when it doesn’t go ac­cord­ing to plan, for­given.

You may at least come away with a good story and, as with ev­ery­thing, you tend to only get out what you put in.

Sim­u­lated game days are a great way to get back in the swing of things

Work­ing your dog and shooting on the same day can be chal­leng­ing with younger, less ex­pe­ri­enced an­i­mals

Don’t ex­pect your dog to pick up where they left off last sea­son – they might need some fine-tun­ing

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