There can't be many subjects that are more emotive and contentious in the world of gundogs than discipline says Justin Clarke

Is it right or wrong to chastise your gundog?

Disciplining a dog

Really it is a case of common sense and depends on what discipline is acceptable.

Using your voice

The best way to let your dog know that you are not pleased is via your tone of voice. Don’t underestimate the power of a telling off – it’s often overlooked. How often should you use tone of voice when disciplining your dog? It depends upon how well the dog has been trained and the animal’s character. Like people, dogs have different personalities. Some are confident, others easy-going and others are wilful.

There is no justification for hitting and hurting a dog at any time. It is cruel and counter-productive and will close down the dog.

There can be no more of a pathetic sight than that of a dog which is sat next to its master, the zest for life clearly extinguished for fear of doing something wrong and the retribution that may well ensue. Some people may comment upon how well-behaved the animal is, however to those of you that have had a few dogs through your hands, the signs will be very clear.

Gun dog discipline: any physical handling must be proportionate

For example, when teaching steadiness, a young puppy will always want chase a ball or dummy. It is normal practice to hold the pup back by the scruff, whilst giving the verbal command to sit. In time the pup will associate the verbal command with the physical handling that prevents him or her from running in and will learn to be steady.

When you are teaching a more wilful dog to sit and stay, it may be necessary, should the dog move, to then run out and place it back on the original spot from where it first wandered. You can show your displeasure by combining tone of voice with the scruff contact. After a couple of times you will only need to use tone of voice. Use common sense and judgement when using scruff contact and there is no danger that the dog may be hurt. Surprised yes, but not injured.

Exceptions to the rule

Recently when out picking up, I witnessed one particular dog take a dislike to another. Prior to any conflict taking place, the handler, who was very experienced, quickly read the situation and gave his dog a sharp tap on the nose. Technically, this act comes under the ‘hitting’ category, so was he right? Yes, of course he was. For sure, the dog would have experienced a moment of discomfort but the reprimand was appropriate and proportionate. More importantly, he possibly saved both dogs from considerable face and neck traumas, not to mention blood loss, which can occur during a sustained dog fight.

Justin Clarke has produced both field trial winners and champions over the last 15 years. Based in East Sussex, he regularly judges field trials and working tests. 

What about timing when you’re disciplining your dog?

Q: I’ve now finished training my spaniel and thought I’d done a good job until I took her on a farmer’s shoot in October.  She blanked me when she was in contact with game and the more I shouted the more disobedient she became.

I scolded her after she’d run off three times. Was I right to do this?

A: Scolding a gun dog on its return is completely defeating the object. The next time she breaks she will stay away longer because she will be thinking she’ll get told off when she returns.

You have to act fast and correct her when she does wrong. Your problems can be corrected in a pen or in the presence of a professional trainer.

In a training pen you are able to put your gun dog under more temptation more frequently and so you are then able to correct any fault much more quickly. At the same time you and your gundog will be getting good training tuition and this way you will have quicker and better results.  Never take a young gun dog into an active shooting environment unless you are 100 per cent sure that all foundation training is strong.

How do I train a defiant gundog?

Q: My dog knows he isn’t allowed in the vegetable garden but goes in there as soon as my back is turned. I tell him “No” and he looks guilty but then he just does it again.

A: None of us can carry out gundog training when we aren’t there, so we need to create a barrier that prevents access at all times if there is a place we don’t want a dog to go. Dogs may look guilty when we tell them off, but it doesn’t mean they understand the concept of being forbidden access to places that are interesting or fun. All they know is that we are ‘barking’ at them. Take the pressure off both of you by preventing access with a physical barrier, and give some thought to providing the dog with pleasant occupation in a place he is allowed to be, to make that a more desirable option.