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
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