With the onset of spring there’s no time to waste in getting to grips with gundog training – be that sorting out issues that cropped up unexpectedly with dogs working in their first season or progressing with the training of youngsters. Often there simply isn’t enough time to address problems that developed while picking-up or at the peg, so a degree of tolerance is often all that can be mustered – albeit with the intention of putting things right when the pressure is off.

Judging by the enquiries I receive concerning gundog training issues, the season all too often throws up problems that clearly weren’t evident when the dog was being trained on dummies or during smaller bag days. It is very much ‘back to school’ for those dogs who have had a taste of the real thing and yet shown they still have some rough edges in need of polishing. It is also time to bring on youngsters who have yet to embark into the shooting field. The best advice is not to delay, or you’ll end up playing catch-up in mid-summer. By then the problems you had during the previous season won’t be as fresh in your mind – and if you leave it too late to start training a youngster you might not be able to find a place in a local gundog training club which often have a surge of new members in spring.

Using quality furry dummies allows dogs to get used to the texture and weight of the quarry species.

Suppose you have a young-ish dog who has had one season with you – either picking-up or at the peg – and has developed habits that need correcting. Possibly they are not too good on runners, or may even be too good and started running in to them. Perhaps they drift away from you at the slightest opportunity and you to be constantly on top of them. They might be a reluctant jumper or are perhaps great with the first retrieve but lose their steadiness as the day heats up. Spring is therefore an ideal time to take stock and assess what areas of training were a problem and how you should go about getting them sorted.

No time like the present

You should start with this remedial gundog training as early as possible. It will give you plenty of time – and that’s the key. Training is like using building bricks and enables you to work steadily and slowly with the dog to build-up the dog’s knowledge through your instruction. A lot of it is repetition that serves to compound the flow of correct information to the dog – and it can be best achieved when there’s plenty of time to do it.

Having decided what needs improving, the next decision is how best to tackle it. Starting early will give you a better opportunity to secure some private tuition with a professional – or even send the dog away for a refresher course.

If you are determined to employ your own methods and experience it’s certainly worthwhile contacting a local gundog training club or trying to find a few people who gather together for regular training sessions and join in with them. If you trained the dog yourself initially but still discovered shortcomings in the shooting field, it’s probably your methods that need some input from others to find out why they haven’t been successful. Everyone has their own way of doing things but there’s nothing better than a meeting of minds. Whatever standard has been produced by following a gundog training book or watching a DVD may not have delivered the results with your dog – remember that every dog is an individual.

Gundog training clubs get gundogs and handlers out of their comfort zones.

Being a member of a club or simply training with others presents an opportunity to tap into the wealth of experience others have gained – and there could well a very simple way of overcoming your problem that you may never have thought about. Getting involved with others and with more experienced trainers at this time of year takes all the pressure off and gives you several months to gradually put right the wrongs without the panic of a rapidly looming start to next season.

Likewise, for younger dogs heading for the field in the coming autumn – as well as for those just about to embark upon their initial puppy training – joining a club or meeting up with other gundog people also means you have the opportunity to work with other dogs. Training in isolation works for some but it’s often a big culture shock for a dog to have to cope with other dogs working around them while they has to sit and watch. The sooner a dog learns steadiness the better.

The value of working tests

From early spring and into the summer most gundog clubs hold a programme of working tests as well as their normal training sessions. If you make a prompt start to your training you will be well placed to enter summertime working tests ranging from puppy through to novice and open. While these events are often regarded as something for the specialist dog trainer that shouldn’t be the case. These competitions are a great opportunity to test the water with either a youngster or an older dog who has a few issues in need of sorting out. While tests may be seem like a far cry from the realities of the shooting season, they can be a very useful in evaluating how much progress is being made.

Game and country fairs held across the UK during the summer always stage one or two gundog competitions – as much for the entertainment of the crowd as for those taking part. While these competitions deserve the full support of gundog owners, it’s wise to choose your event with care and be mindful of your dog and the training you have put in. If you’re underway with some serious pre-season training make sure the scurry or test you take part in at a fair is going to help you and not undermine all your training efforts.

No doubt a spot of pigeon shooting will be on the agenda for some, but dogs who have to sit quietly in a hide for long periods don’t always give a fail-safe indication of steadiness at the peg or in the picking-up team. I have lost track of the number of people who say their dog is steady in the hide but not at the peg.

So don’t let your dog languish for too long. Take the initiative, start training and even better, get involved with a local gundog club. When those first partridges come flying overhead in September you’ll be more than glad you did.

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