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Beating a gundog’s first time anxiety

A young dog in the beating line encounters new sounds, scents and strangers, which can be overwhelming.

spaniels in the beating line

Spaniels in the beating line

Here are five tips to lessen gundog anxiety on those first few times in the beating line.

1. Keep close

A dog used in the beating line should never be any further than 15m either side of you and about the same in front. It needs to hunt close and tight at all times.

A simple method to train a dog to stay close when hunting is to hide tennis balls in light cover to start with and encourage your dog to find the ball. You will always be close by and over a period of time, and by association, your dog will learn that if it stays close to you and follows your directions it will always find something good.

At this stage it may be a tennis ball, but later it may be a pheasant or rabbit.

Gundog anxiety

You must build a bond with your gundog from an early age, so it wants to be with you all the time

2. Use a lead

Your dog needs to be trained to be steady. A dog that runs out of control at a flushing point is a liability and will probably result in you being asked to put the dog on the lead. You may not be asked back to the shoot again either.

There is less shame in putting your dog on a lead in the early days to stop it getting into trouble than being asked to control your dog. Seeing pheasants stack up at a flushing point is tempting for any gundog, let alone a youngster.

Gundog anxiety

There is no shame in putting a young, inexperienced dog on a lead to stop it getting into trouble

3. Familiarity with other dogs

Being crammed into the back of a beaters’ wagon with strange dogs can be stressful for a first-timer. If possible, sit in the back of the trailer with him. That way the dog can see out and will have a bit of space. Keep an eye on your dog and see how he is reacting to the situation.

Beaters wagon

Being in the beaters’ wagon for the first time can be stressful for a young dog

4. Control in covercrops

It’s easy to lose a dog in maize covercrops. The best advice is either to keep your dog at heel or, again, to put him on a lead, though trying to negotiate thick maize stalks with a dog in tow is not easy.

If your dog is experienced and has a good hunting pattern you can quarter him up through the cover, but many dogs try to take the tramlines and will pull ahead, so it is better to keep the dog under control.

Quite often towards the end of the drive the keeper will ask the beaters to let their dogs go and work out the last of the cover. This is a time when disaster can strike and a bit of restraint is needed. Three things can happen: the first is that a situation may arise where the dogs are all working a relatively tight area and inevitably there will be competition, and in the heat of the moment your dog will ignore all your commands, with ensuing mayhem.

The second is when the flushing point has a wire fence or a bramble hedge line and, due to the pressure of the dogs, birds get caught (pegged). This is something you do not want to encourage as it can quickly become a habit.

The third situation is the most embarrassing and that is when your dog is able to see the gunline from the flushing point, sees birds being shot and decides it will go and join the picking-up team. Avoid these with forethought and training.

5. Getting used to strange noises

A young dog in the beating line will come across many new experiences. Strange noises, strange dogs, new scents. Most beaters carry sticks. Flags are popular on most shoots and the crack of a flag can unsettle even the most confident youngster. Get them used to this beforehand by waving plastic bags around their heads,  along with making various beater’s noises. The more experience you can give a dog before he gets into the shooting field the better.

Gundog anxiety

Condition dogs to flapping flags by waving plastic bags around their heads.