Gundog training

The morning after the Winter Wonder Ball, we headed off to Tenbury, the mistletoe capital of the UK, to meet Pip Kendrick, who set up her own business, Sporting Saint, manufacturing and supplying gundog training equipment. She also introduced us to a local friend of hers, Jeremy Sharp, who runs a gundog training centre on a nearby 250-acre farm.

First of all we sat around Jeremy’s kitchen table sipping a much-needed coffee (three out of the five of us had been at the ball the night before!) and Pip told us a bit about her business, which she set up about 12 months ago. She had the idea when she started making products for her own needs and spotted a hole in the market for selling good quality, competitively priced products via an easy-to-use mail order service, and complementing that by talking to customers about their individual requirements and offering advice.

Pip and her Sporting Saint products.Pip Kendrick of Sporting Saint

She now sells around 140 products – from rabbit training dummies and waterproof dog beds to whistles and game carriers – the vast majority of which are designed by her and manufactured locally. Because the products are manufactured in England, she can easily cater for individual requirements and will never be out of stock. As she pointed out, in this day an age no one wants to wait, so if she advertises something it must be available.

Jeremy, Pip and the dogs.Jeremy and Pip

Later in the morning, we headed out to the kennels with Jeremy to take a look at the dogs. He and his business partner, Will Clulee, keep about 50 at the moment, plus some gorgeous puppies that wouldn’t stand still for long enough to take any good pictures! Both Jeremy and Will are professional trainers and, between them, they have won many filed trial awards.

Jeremy used to farm but decided working with gundogs was far more sociable and turned his attention to that. He mostly keeps labradors and cocker and springer spaniels, firm in his belief they make the best gundogs, as the minor breeds have a smaller gene pool so you are more likely to have problems.

People will bring their puppies to Jeremy from about 3-5 months for him to train for them, or others will come to him with their puppies for lessons. You could also buy a good, fully-trained and nice-looking dog for around £3,000. We wondered what happens to any of his dogs that don’t look like they’ll make good gundogs and he said they are mostly sold as sniffer dogs – apparently as long as the dog likes chasing a tennis ball it can make a good sniffer dog!

The majority of gundog training starts at around 8 months. Before that he will teach them basic manners i.e. coming when called, getting in and out the kennel and sitting and staying. He won’t shoot over them until they are at least a year old, but normally when they are about 18 months. The two things you really don’t want your dog to be is hard-mouthed or gun-shy, and, whilst the former is often hereditary and almost impossible to fix, the latter can easily be brought about if a dog is taken shooting too early. Apparently the trick employed to get them used to the sound of gun fire is to play with them at the same time as firing a staring pistol.

Jeremy then went to fetch a couple of his dogs and we watched him doing some training with a 15-month-old springer and a 4-month-old lab, before he brought out 4-year-old Logie who showed us how it should really be done. It was really interesting seeing him teach the young lab how to sit by first letting it run freely and then holding it in the sitting position and talking to it calmly but firmly. We asked if he ever used treats and he said a good working dog should be happy just to be praised or to get the dummy – that should be their treat.

We then went for a bit of a walkabout on the farm with a spaniel and a labrador to see if we could find anything to shoot so we could watch them work for real. When taking two dogs out, the spaniel is usually used to flush out the game and then sit and watch the flight of the bird before it is shot. The labrador will then be sent in to retrieve it. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything but, with the help of a few more Sporting Saint dummies, we were able to watch them work at distance in open ground and it was a wonderful sight.

Jeremy working with a spaniel and a labrador.Jeremy working with a spaniel and a labrador

It was extremely enjoyable day, not only watching dogs work, but also chatting to Pip and Jeremy about their businesses. Having set up Muddy Matches, we absolutely love talking to people about their business ventures and ambitions. In their case, it was really interesting to see how two non-competing businesses working in the same field can complement one another. Whilst Pip provides Jeremy with good quality gundog training products and sends her customers to him, Jeremy acts as a sounding board for her and, by using her products, generates more customers.

We’re looking forward to catching up with them at this year’s CLA Game Fair – look out for Pip’s stand! In the meantime, you can find out more by visiting the Sporting Saint website, where there is also information about Jeremy’s gundog training and dogs at stud.