Fieldsports Guide to Gundogs

Gundog Gurus – part 2

gundog_gurus_2_spanielWe ask six more of the UK's top gundog trainers and handlers the questions everyone wants the answers to. 

Ian Openshaw

gundog_gurus_2_IanOpenshawOver the past 20 years, Ian Openshaw has made up over 100 Field Trial Champions – a unique record in the history of gundog field trials. He has won the Cocker Championship five times, the Springer Championship four times and the Irish AV Spaniel Championship once. Ian runs Rytex gundogs with his wife, Wendy.

Why spaniels?

They're not boring to train or to work. With a spaniel there is less repetition, they are always busy when working – hunting around and on the move doing something. I started just with springers, and got into cockers over the last 20 years. Cockers do tend to make better pets for those who want a dog that can live indoors. There is also a lot more money in them, too. 

Your most memorable moment in the field?

When my wife, Wendy, won the Cocker Championship for the first time with Chyknell Megan, and I came second with Chyknell Gold Star. That year, it was held at Sandringham, and her Majesty the Queen was presenting the awards. I went on to win the Championships the next year with that same dog that I had come second with.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

Not doing the basics properly. It is by far the most common mistake. People will teach their dogs 25 to 50 per cent of how to do something. They'll go over an exercise six times and then move on. It's like asking a toddler to do the 100 metres before they can walk.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a spaniel, what would it be?

Do the basics properly and buy the right dog to start with. It doesn't particularly matter which pup from a litter – that's potluck – but if you're going to be working a dog at a high level or entering into trials, buying a pup from good stock is important.

Another thing: when seeking the advice of a professional, remember that there are thousands of dog trainers out there – but how many have proved themselves with multiple dogs? Dogs are like people; some are outgoing and bold, others are reserved and more cautious, and there are so many types in between. Find someone who knows how to train a range of dogs to help you train yours.

Away from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

I enjoy marlin and tuna fishing when I get the chance and follow  rugby league closely. I'm a season ticket holder at Wigan Warriors and try to make it to every home and away match that I can. I have also had racing greyhounds for the past 20 years. I've had a 2nd, 3rd and 4th at the Derby.

Your first gundog?

My first dog was a black and white springer bitch called Mallowdale Jess – a dog that dad bred out of Rytex Rover. Dad had it part-trained and then I taught her the rest after reading one of Peter Moxon's books. I taught her to drop to shot and entered my first field trial with her when I was 13 years old. She came second.

Eddie Scott

gundog_gurus_2_EddieScottEddie has been training gundogs for 28 years, running in his first trial in '88. He has since made up 11 Field Trial Champions and won open stakes with two other dogs. He has consistently been placed 4th or better 12 times at various championships in the last 15 years, with seven different dogs. Eddie has won the Cocker Championship, the Springer Championship and the Irish AV Spaniel Championship.

Why spaniels?

Spaniels are the ultimate choice for the rough shooting man – they cover everything and are very versatile. My father was a gamekeeper so I've been around them all of my life. I got my first spaniel when I was 12. I started with springers, and then in the early '90s I got a cocker from Eion Robertson, a blue roan dog called Jenoren Dougal. I made him up into a Field Trial Champion in '98.

Your most memorable moment in the field?

If I had to pick one, it would be my first run in the ESS Championships at Buccleuch in 2013 when I won it with FTCh Broomfield Rosetta. We were in tough cover and I trusted her 100 per cent. Some of the retrieving was very tricky – you could hardly see three feet in front of you. But it was just a case of saying her name and away she went. In terms of achievements, I think it is only myself and Ian Openshaw who have won all three Championships; the Irish, the Cocker and the Springer.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

People tend not to relax when they're training. They always seem to be fraught with stress and worry. When training any gundog, it's like groundhog day – if the dog doesn't get a particular exercise right, all you do is set it up again, set it up again, set it up again – even if that takes you all night.

Too many people are in too much of a rush to get to what they think is the good part (i.e. working in the field), but it ends up giving them heartache. I can have a spaniel ready to shoot over – I'm talking shooting rabbits with a couple of friends (very basics) – when it is 11 or 12 months old. But I might not run that dog until it's two and a half years old. It's physically impossible for the working man to put the time in to get a dog to the standard required for trialling much earlier than this.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a spaniel, what would it be?

People underestimate the power of the stop whistle. You can train a dog with the stop whistle from the age of three months old. What a lot of people don't understand is that movement in itself should be a command to stop (i.e. when somebody moves their arm to throw a dummy, that becomes a command to stop). Likewise, when the dog flushes a pheasant, that movement of the bird should be a command to stop – a command that becomes instinctive. This is much easier than mixing it up and telling the dog to sit, stay, or leave it.

Away from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

Every free Saturday I have, I will take my mother (80) to watch the football. We have a season ticket at one of the local grounds.

Your first gundog?

Oh, she was an absolute pain in the arse. She cost me £7 and a brace of pheasants! She went everywhere with me really. She came to the foreshore when I was shooting ducks and she was a great, great dog to go beating with. She taught me a lot – particularly the things that I did wrong. 

I used to do a lot of competition fly fishing before I got into gundogs seriously, then got a spaniel from a local keeper with the intention of getting into trialling. The first test I entered with her, I won, so that was fatal for the fishing. It took a good 10 years and two or three dogs to really work out exactly what is needed to be successful. Learning to relax and truly enjoy it can take even longer!

John Halsted Jnr

gundog_gurus_2_JonHalstedJnrJohn has trained and run dogs in field trials professionally for 30 years. He has qualified for the IGL Retriever Championship for the last 24 years in succession, and in 2005 and 2010 qualified with four dogs. He won the Championship in 2009 (and since this article was first published, he has also won the 2016 IGL Retriever Championship). John has made up 14 Field Trial Champions. He runs Brocklebank Labradors with his wife, Nina, and trains and competes for The Duchess of Devonshire, her daughter Lady Carter and Ms. C. Finlan. 

Why labradors?

Labradors were always the obvious breed; I was brought up with them – my mother showed them and my father trained them. I actually started out training spaniels, but I prefer the long-range handling of labradors.

Your most memorable moment in the field?

Without a doubt when I gained first and second place in the Retriever Championship in 2009 at the Blankney Estate in Lincolnshire. Winning with The Duchess of Devonshire's FTCh Roberto Rannaldini of Bolton Abbey, and coming second with FTCh Cherwood Ace of Spades was a very special moment. It was 25 years of hard work and training coming to fruition. I have had numerous other awards but nothing compares to that result six years ago.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

People never do the basic training thoroughly enough with their dogs. Walk to heel, sit and stay will give you the foundations to build upon. If you don't get these right, your heelwork will be the first to slip, then unsteadiness won't be far behind.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a retriever, what would it be?

There is plenty of free advice out there, especially nowadays with the internet at our fingertips, but that doesn't mean it's good advice from a reliable source. For help with training your dog, go to somebody who has proven themselves on more than one occasion and continues to produce good dogs.

Away from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

Being a grandad – it's the best thing ever. There is never a dull moment and it's always full of surprises –it's amazing what they pick up!

Your first gundog?

I can't remember my actual first gundog – there have been that many – but the most special dog I have ever had the joy of running was the late Mrs J. Heywood Lonsdale's FTCh Ulstare Style. He was without a doubt the dog of a lifetime. Even now when I think of him he makes me smile. He qualified and ran in seven successive championships and was a member of the England team for six years running.

Jayne Coley

gundog_gurus_2_JayneColey2Jayne has made up nine Field Trial Champions and bred 11 Field Trial Champions. She recently earned the top dog award with FTCh Waterford Ganton at the prestigious two-day Kennel Club International Retriever event, where she was captain of the UK team. She is also an experienced A panel judge.

Why labradors?

Simply because we heard of a litter of labradors “just up the road”. I quite liked flatcoated retrievers. They were really popular years ago. A lot of keepers had them and some of our shooting friends had particularly nice ones.

Your most memorable moment in the field?

A few spring to mind, but a special one was winning the Norfolk two-day in 2010 with FTCh Waterford Fergus. That was the third two-day stake he had won that season. On the afternoon of the first day, light suddenly became quite poor as we were finishing the round. We were in line, walking-up in sugar beet, and a hare was shot well out in front by one of the Guns at the other end of the line. It was our turn, and Fergus went straight to the spot and put his head down briefly before racing straight back to me with something in his mouth, which obviously was not the hare! It was a woodcock. Unbeknown to anyone, it had been shot in the beet along with the hare! I was duly credited with the retrieve and another dog was sent to pick the hare.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

People not doing the basics thoroughly enough. Training a dog is a bit like building a house – if the foundations are not put in properly, cracks will appear later on.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a retriever, what would it be?

Each dog is different, so train it accordingly, spending more time working on its weaknesses than its strengths.

gundog_gurus_2_labradorAway from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

My life seems to revolve around the dogs. However, in February – when the dogs have the month off – I do like to travel and see how people live on the other side of the world.

Your first gundog?

When I met my husband Ian, he introduced me to the shooting field – as his loader! I dutifully carried his guns and cartridge bag between drives, and I did this for a couple of seasons. 

Ian had a young golden retriever dog, bred by the late Eddie Yapp (then headkeeper at Coombe End) who had been trained by the late Ron Eagles, but I decided I would like to have my own gundog and we heard that Rod Gillett (then headkeeper at Overbury) had a litter of black labradors. I wanted a bitch and there were three to choose from. I chose the naughty one and called her Gillie.

Through ignorance and over enthusiasm, I did far too much with Gillie when she was young and, consequently, she made a noise when out shooting. However, she was a brilliant test dog and won most of the tests I ran her in. Gillie also produced my first Field Trial Champion – Waterford Athene.

Colin Organ

gundog_gurus_2_ColinOrganColin Organ has been involved with pointers for 52 years, making up 10 Field Trial Champions. He has won over 80 open stakes, and the British Champion Stake twice. He has been an A panel judge both in the show ring and in numerous field trials.

Why pointers?

It was my wife's choice really! But I was attracted to their athleticism and their elegance, and still am. I'm a shooting man and always have been so I enjoy shooting over pointers, too. We stumbled upon showing with our dogs, which eventually led to us making up full champions (winning in both the show ring and in field trials).

Your most memorable moment in the field?

The first real working dog that I got hold of belonged to somebody called Sally Smith. He still holds the record for the most wins in open stakes today. I won the Champion Stake with him back in '83. That was a real thrill.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

People putting their dogs onto game too early. You talk to people who are training a pointer and they will say: “I can't train properly because I have no game”. You don't want any game when training an inexperienced dog. You see and hear this a lot.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a pointer, what would it be?

People don't put the time and effort into establishing the basics. You have to do the boring bits, and do them properly. And at the right age. This age will vary from dog to dog. They're like human beings, they're not all at the same stage at a certain age. When I was training dogs professionally, full-time, I wouldn't have a pointer in unless it was going to stay for six months, as I always said that it would take five months to get it to quarter properly, five minutes to get it to point and three weeks to polish it up. So many people do not invest this amount of time in their dogs.

Away from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

Mainly other country sports or anything in the countryside involving other country people. I enjoy a day's loading, and love dinner parties and socialising with friends and a glass of wine.

Your first gundog?

An Irish (red) setter called Arran. The first time I saw him, he was running in a field trial and he was in the wrong field, going like a bat out of hell. I said to a friend: “If only you could put the right harness onto that dog, what a dog he'd be.” The person who owned the dog was sadly dying with cancer, so his wife was running Arran. We just so happened to be sat on the same dinner table that night, and they were talking about the dog. I told her that if she wanted to get rid of him, I'd have him.

I picked him up on the Saturday and his old owner died on the Wednesday. Right from the word go, we were the best of friends. I often wonder if he knew that it had to be, and had sensed the passing of his previous owner.

Billy Darragh

gundog_gurus_2_BillyDarraghBilly has made up nine Irish setter Field Trial Champions. He has won the British Pointer and Setter Champion Stake twice with Irish setters and once when handling his wife Penny's Gordon setter, when she was unable to compete herself. He has judged the British Champion Stake four times and the Irish Championships once.

Why Irish setters?

I like their running style and the way they go to game. Generally, they are happy, enthusiastic and athletic runners that catch your eye as they gallop over the heather.

gundog_gurus_2_grouseYour most memorable moment in the field?

Watching the late John Nash run his Irish setter, Int FTCh Moanruad Quiva, in the Irish Championships. She was extremely fast with a light but purposeful hunting style – she seemed to float over the heather, touching only the high bits of ground – my ideal action in a true working Irish setter.

What is the most common training mistake you see being made?

A lack of basic training before introducing the puppy or inexperienced dog to game. In my experience, to get the best out of a youngster, they need to learn to quarter the ground and obey voice or whistle commands before being shown game.

If you could offer one piece of advice to somebody training a setter, what would it be?

Allow your puppy plenty of opportunity to run free but always insist on it obeying your recall command.

Away from gundogs, what else do you keep busy with?

Shooting and DIY.

Your first gundog?

My first gundog came to me as a badly-trained five-year-old German shorthaired pointer. He hunted and pointed well but would not retrieve. He taught me a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten: how important sound training is in a gundog. 

When fully trained, a gundog is the perfect partner in the field. When they are not trained, they are hard work.

 

Click HERE to see 'Gundog Gurus – part 1'

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