The newest member of the Buccleuch gundog team is Roxy, a liver-and-white English springer. She is now 11 weeks old and a real joy to be around. Roxy?s story starts earlier this year.

A friend, Cumbria-based trainer Ian Clarke, called to ask if he could use my liver-and-white dog, Buccleuch Drummer (known to us as Spot), on his bitch FTCh Kidnais Successor. At the time, Spot was on holiday with Graham Osbourne, headkeeper at the Duke of Buccleuch?s Boughton estate in Northamptonshire, so I picked him up and took him to Ian?s on the way home. Ian brought up Kidnais and we introduced her to Spot. Nine weeks later Ian called to say Kidnais had delivered eight puppies, three bitches and five dogs ? and he offered me second pick of the litter.

I had been looking forward to seeing the puppies as I?d seen Kidnais?s previous litters and she has produced some really good dogs that I?m sure will be running in this year?s trials. I wasn?t disappointed when Ian opened the kennel door and the litter came charging out.

What to look for in a good litter

Things to look for are the body condition of the puppies ? you don?t want them too thin, and the coat should be stain-free. Their attitude indicates the type of environment they have been brought up in and the amount of time that has been spent on them. I would have been delighted to have taken any of them home but I had asked Ian to remove all the males and the female he was keeping, as it?s hard to watch the one that has taken your eye if there are too many running around. Also it?s better to have only those you can pick from as it stops you bonding with one you can?t have. In the end there were two and the choice was down to personal preference. When I watched Roxy retrieve and play with Ringo (the German shepherd puppy Ian was looking after for the local police force), however, I could not have asked for a better wee dog.

When collecting a puppy it?s important to keep stress to a minimum. I had loaded the pickup with our dog box and some vet bed to make Roxy as comfortable as possible. Ian had timed the feeding of Roxy just right. She had been fed a few hours before I arrived so there was no upset tummy on the way home nor did she make a sound, which is unusual. After giving her a little time to settle down after arriving home, she was ready for food.

Keeping warm

As she was outside in the kennels I put the heat lamp on as we are not known for a tropical climate up here in the hills of Dumfries and Galloway. This also helps the puppies settle more quickly as the heat helps them to sleep through the night. A little background noise in the kennel by way of a radio can also help them to sleep.

Roxy was a little off her food when she arrived but I wasn?t too worried ? it?s better to feed little and often rather than giving bigger meals. I don?t like leaving food in with new arrivals as feeding time helps to build a bond as you are taking on the role of mother. If you keep to regular feeding times it also helps with toilet training. Fresh food, clean water and a clean environment are vital to getting the best out of your puppy.

First retrieves

After a few days of settling in and making sure Roxy was happy to come when called and settle on my lap, I thought I should try her with a retrieve. Don?t worry too much what you get them to retrieve, as long as it?s not too big or too heavy. I normally use a tennis ball as almost all the puppies I have trained have enjoyed retrieving them, which I think must be to do with the movement. If puppies don?t take to the ball straight away I use a cloth with a knot tied in it or something similarly small and light.

Environment is the most important factor when practising the retrieve. A grass surface is best and the fewer distractions the better. I prefer to use a short corridor-type space with a wall at my back. When throwing a ball for the first few times be prepared for the puppy to run off with it. Remember that they have been used to their siblings stealing things from them. For this reason it?s best not to take the ball from the puppy straight away. After the first few retrieves we move from the more confined space to a road or field. The first time they run away go back to the space and build up more slowly.

Our first problem came when having been retrieving to hand nicely, she suddenly decided to run away with the ball. When this happens it is better to take time and think through the problems rather than charge in and try to fix them. Eventually we worked out that her running off with the ball was to do with wanting to avoid going back to the kennel as she associated fun with the outside world. Not retrieving was one of the creative ways she had discovered to avoid going into the kennel. So we had to change her mindset. Scott Esquardo, who works with me in the kennel, came up with a good idea. To solve the problem Scott suggested we feed her half her food before the walk and half after she came back inside. This way she was desperate to get into the kennel for the rest of her food.

Thankfully Roxy is back to retrieving straight to hand. I will continue to create positive experiences in her training, helping her to use her natural abilities almost like peacing together a jigsaw. She has all the pieces instinctively but it is my job to create the right environment and training techniques to allow her to fit them together.

At the moment Roxy is obsessed with catching swallows. Fingers crossed she grows out of it before we start shooting pheasants to her! No doubt there will be many more little hiccups like this, but at the moment I am generally pleased with her progress. The best thing about her is I really enjoy taking her out.

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