JEREMY HUNT SAYS: Steadiness is the foundation of all gun dog training. The only way to tackle it is to go back to basics and to address the situation that’s causing the problem.
I would think you have probably given your gun dog too much dummy work. While he has seemingly learned to be steady in that situation, moving onto game triggers new temptations that he hasn’t been programmed to resist.
From now on you must never let your gun dog run-in to game.
Although it isn’t the sound of the shot that activates his misdemeanour, it’s obviously the excitement of a shoot day, the scent and anticipation of birds flying and falling around him that causes the problem.
And that will be impossible to re-create in a home training situation.
At home you could use dead game (preferably fresh killed after a shooting day) and work your gun dog hard on being steady to birds thrown.
Have him on a slip lead but extend the length (attach two together) so that if he runs-in you can immediately jerk him back briskly and assert your displeasure very firmly with harsh words.
Don’t let your gun dog retrieve anything but keep up this training to ensure that he learns to resist any temptation.
What you are actually trying to enforce is the clear notion that no matter how exciting they look, how good they smell or how feathery they are, these birds are absolutely nothing to do with him until he is told otherwise.
It would be also be worth asking a friend to get their gun dog to retrieve some of these training birds to add an extra dimension to the lesson of steadiness while another gun dog works.
If you feel you have achieved the steadiness you require on the lead you can then try your gun dog off the lead with a bird thrown low and close enough to allow you to intercept him should he break.
Only when you have achieved total steadiness in a non-shooting situation should you consider taking him back into the shooting field.
Even then I would leave your gun at home and just get your gun dog used to sitting next to you (on the lead) while all the action goes on around him.
You will have to be very firm with him if he starts to show any signs of unsteadiness.
Only you will know when you feel confident enough to take him shooting with you again, but when you resume just allow him to see one drive on the first few days and not to retrieve anything.
Everyone has their own approach to achieving steadiness but it is always more difficult in an older gun dog.
You may well find it worthwhile investing in some corrective training with a professional gun dog trainer on a one-to-one basis.