The pet gundog on the peg

You may have lost the bat­tle to keep that cute puppy in the ken­nel but that doesn’t mean he can’t be trans­formed into a good, al­beit part-time, gundog, as David Tom­lin­son ex­plains

The Field - - Countr Estate | Sporting Dog -

No doubt most peo­ple start with the best of in­ten­tions. The de­ci­sion is made to get a proper gundog, one that will sit obe­di­ently at the peg, walk to heel off the lead, re­trieve on com­mand and re­call in­stantly on the first pip of the whis­tle. We have all seen these paragons, rare though they are, and the one fac­tor they all have in com­mon is that they live out­doors in ken­nels. Af­ter much re­search a suit­able lit­ter of labradors is found with a proper work­ing pedi­gree, a puppy is cho­sen and, at eight weeks, a de­light­ful and de­mand­ing young­ster comes home for the first time.

Though the ken­nel has been pre­pared it doesn’t take long be­fore all the fe­male mem­bers of the fam­ily protest that the puppy looks lonely and for­lorn, and that it’s cruel to leave it in the ken­nel. The man of the house dis­agrees on prin­ci­ple but ev­ery­one knows that he is bluff­ing, so the puppy moves into the kitchen, never to set foot in the ken­nel again. The lat­ter wasn’t, how­ever, a waste of money, as it’s great for stor­ing bi­cy­cles.

Though we may be re­luc­tant to ad­mit it, most of us with what we claim are ‘proper’ work­ing gundogs have pets that en­joy the

odd day out shoot­ing, whether it’s twice a week or once a fort­night. If we worked as of­ten as they do our bank bal­ances would be in a sorry state. How­ever, though their em­ploy­ment in the shoot­ing field may only be part time, they play an im­por­tant role as fam­ily dogs and com­pan­ions, even though there are times when they are hard to shift from their favourite sofa.

I once did a cen­sus of the dogs on a shoot; the re­sults were in­ter­est­ing and prob­a­bly typ­i­cal of most. All but one of the guns’ dogs – eight labradors and two cock­ers – were in­door dogs. All the beat­ers’ dogs lived in­doors and just two of the pick­ers-up claimed to ken­nel their dogs, but they did have rather a lot of them. How­ever, I once met a re­tired cou­ple who picked up al­most ev­ery day of the week. They shared their bun­ga­low with no fewer than 21 golden retriev­ers, so num­bers seem to be no bar to dogs liv­ing in­doors.

more re­spon­sive

The ex­perts will tell you that a dog that lives in a ken­nel is in­vari­ably a far more re­spon­sive pupil than one that lives in­doors. It re­gards any ex­cur­sion out of the ken­nel and in your com­pany as a treat and as a re­sult soaks up in­struc­tion like a sponge soaks up wa­ter. In con­trast, the in­door dog is so fa­mil­iar with you that it sees no real rea­son to take much no­tice when out train­ing and fails to re­spond to the whis­tle be­cause it is busy with a very in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant smell.

The truth, of course, is some­where be­tween the two. Not all ken­nel dogs come out want­ing to learn and there’s no good rea­son why an in­door dog shouldn’t be re­spon­sive and quick to train. I al­ways re­mem­ber An­drew and Fiona Robin­son telling me that the first cocker they made up to be a field-trial cham­pion was an in­door spaniel and all the bet­ter for be­ing so. The Robin­sons’ Whau­p­ley ken­nel in North York­shire has since made up an­other four FTCHS and gained field-trial awards and wins with more than 38 other cock­ers in the UK. They still main­tain that even top tri­alling dogs don’t have to be kept in ken­nels.

Even if your dog is go­ing to be a work­ing pet, or even a pet worker, there are rules that should be fol­lowed. Do buy a puppy from work­ing lines. This doesn’t mean that a show-bred labrador or golden re­triever, for ex­am­ple, can’t be trained to the gun, but it’s likely to be much harder work teach­ing it. Though most show-bred dogs do re­tain the work­ing in­stinct, rekin­dling it can be dif­fi­cult, while their con­for­ma­tion is sel­dom as suited for work as their more lithe and ath­letic work­ing cousins.

It doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence whether a puppy is des­tined to be a pet or a worker or a com­bi­na­tion of both, as ini­tial train­ing is much the same. So­cial­i­sa­tion with hu­mans, other dogs and other an­i­mals is the ini­tial pri­or­ity, along with such sim­ple train­ing as sit­ting on com­mand. If you can teach your puppy to not only sit but stay sit­ting, you are half­way to hav­ing a steady gundog.

Chil­dren love play­ing with pup­pies as much as pup­pies like play­ing with chil­dren, and there’s ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with that. How­ever, there are a few sim­ple rules that must be obeyed. Never, ever, let you chil­dren en­gage in a tug of war with your dog or else you might well find your­self in­volved in a sim­i­lar tus­sle over a re­trieved pheas­ant. Re­triev­ing games are also best avoided, as they can pre­vent your dog from ever be­com­ing steady. House train­ing is im­per­a­tive for an in­door dog but not one that lives in a ken­nel, but it’s al­ways a mis­take not to house­train as there are times when even a ken­nel dog must be brought in­side.

Just be­cause a dog is go­ing to be prin­ci­pally a pet doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be sent off for pro­fes­sional train­ing. It’s a lit­tle like send­ing your chil­dren away to board­ing school, but a lot cheaper. You are cer­tain to en­counter re­sis­tance from fam­ily mem­bers to such a plan and there may be no rea­son to do so if younger mem­bers of the fam­ily prom­ise to help with the train­ing. If you do de­cide to send the dog away, dis­cuss care­fully with the trainer how long it should be for. Most will tell you that a month isn’t nearly long enough, but depend­ing on the dog it might well be suf­fi­cient for it to learn the ba­sic dis­ci­plines for its fu­ture (part­time) ca­reer.

daily regime

If the tu­ition is to be at home, make sure that you stick to a firm daily regime. Most train­ing is two steps for­ward and one step back­wards, so you have to be pre­pared for set­backs. Also, make sure that all fam­ily mem­bers give the same words of in­struc­tion or the same pips on the whis­tle. Clever dogs might well be able to ad­just to dif­fer­ent han­dlers but it makes life eas­ier for ev­ery­one, and es­pe­cially the dog, if all the in­struc­tions are iden­ti­cal.

There is no short­age of ex­cel­lent books and DVDS on train­ing. I have sat and watched train­ing DVDS with my dogs but, sadly, they never seem to take it all in. I have found that books are best, at least for me. Strongly rec­om­mended is a trio of paper­backs by Lez Gra­ham: The Pet Gundog Puppy; The Pet Gundog; and The Ad­vanced Pet Gundog. Gra­ham, train­ing her own pet gundog, no­ticed that most books on gundog train­ing take the sub­ject so se­ri­ously that they fail to con­sider that the ca­nine pupil may also be a pet. Her ap­proach is radically dif­fer­ent but proves that you can have an ex­cel­lent gundog that still snug­gles next to you on the sofa af­ter a hard day in the field.

I once did a cen­sus of the dogs on a shoot. All but one of the guns’ dogs – eight labradors and two cock­ers – were in­door dogs

Just be­cause a dog is go­ing to be a pet doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be sent off for pro­fes­sional train­ing

Top: teach­ing a puppy to sit will help to cre­ate a steady gundog. Above: do buy your puppy from work­ing lines

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