Fieldsports Guide to Gundogs

Not so Ordinary

dog with pheasant

Maybe you think you don't need a field trial champion, but as Martin Deeley explains, you probably expect more of your dog than you think.

As a gundog trainer, I am told by many I train for that all they want is an ordinary gundog, and not a trials or test dog? I got to thinking, what is an ordinary gundog? Ordinary relates to the type of shooting and work they are doing and it usually indicates that they want no frills on the dog. It becomes 'ordinary' only because they are familiar with the type of work they want their dog to do.

But if you really think about the field sportsman's dog, the dogs are not ordinary. Indeed they are specialists, they are skilled and precise workers - there is little that is 'ordinary' about it.

The pigeon shooters dog specialises at watching the bird fall from the sky and then going out and picking the one that has just been shot from among a lot of decoys. He also has to sit quietly and patiently in a hide, not making any movement that would distract incoming birds. Similarly, the duck hunter's dog has to have these attributes but with the added skills of strong water work, traversing difficult waterways and have the ability to work in poor light, and be able to deal with diving ducks or large geese.

On a rough shoot, a flushing dog, such as a spaniel or retriever, is expected to keep close, investigate every piece of cover, and after a flush, wait until commanded to fetch or continue hunting if the bird was missed. One of the most important jobs my dogs have to do when picking up shot birds is 'sweeping up' birds that no-one knows exactly where they have fallen. Controlled quartering of the ground by a dog, hunting for dead and wounded birds, is an essential part and, in my experience, one of the most rewarding jobs. But, whatever gundog work we practice, each has to have a basic foundation of obedience and skills coupled with specialist ability.

All hunting dogs are specialists, but some will require more specialised training than others. Training a hunting dog is not just a matter of obedience and control, but preparing them during training for the main jobs they will be expected to perform in an environment and with the equipment they will have to deal with. Although the basics of gundog training may be similar for all dogs, there are ways in which an owner can give their dog experience which will help both of them in their hunting partnership.

Owners who want their dog to go pigeon or duck hunting should use a hide during training and have decoys out in a field to introduce their dog to working with these accessories. By practising specialised training in this way, your dog will become familiar with decoys and the hide and the first time he is taken out in the field will be less likely to take blind and poles with him on the first retrieves or frustrate you by checking out each decoy as the wounded bird hobbles away. The same is true of duck hunting where a boat is used. A dog has to be trained to be calm and wait in a boat, as well as know how to jump aboard from the water.

A dog does not always see a bird shot, especially when he is in a hide or the cover is tall grass or heavy. What your dog needs in these situations is the ability to mark sound, have gun sense and the ability to realise that in front of the gun that fired is the bird. Some dogs quickly develop the skill, others have to be taught when he hears or sees the shot being taken, to observe the direction the gun has been pointing in and upon command, make for that place. A dog that has been taught to go to the gun that has been fired and understands that following gunshot scent results in a retrieve at the end, makes gun sense look second nature. This can be taught by using live cartridges during training to fire along the ground to where a dummy has been seen to be thrown, then progressing to unseen retrieves where a dummy is laying previous to the shot and encouraging the dog to retrieve it by following that line of shot. Always remember to follow the same safety codes when training with live cartridges as you would be expected to at a shoot.

There are so many training techniques you can use to prepare the ordinary hunting dog for his specialised task and have lots of fun doing it. Use hides, boats, straw bales and any environmental factor that he will have to deal with on a real shooting day. Prepare him for the wait, the patience required and to be able to switch on when the need arises and just remain attentive when not in action.

Think about what you expect from your hunting dog, think about what it will need to do and then be creative in training and preparing him for these 'ordinary' tasks. Never ignore the basic and essential foundation of obedience and the skills he will need but remember that decoys and other factors will be present and if he experiences these in training then when he gets into action on the real thing they will present no problems at all. www.martindeeley.com

 

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