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How do I stop my gundog from swapping birds?

An annoying habit - so what's to be done? Gundog trainer Peter Blatch offers some advice

gundog in cover

Q: My spaniel bitch is doing well in her first season but last Saturday when sent for a retrieve she picked the bird then dropped it on the way back and picked up another she saw. She then did the same thing again a bit later. How can I cure this behaviour?

In the field too soon

A: This is an annoying fault and is often a sign that a dog has been brought into the shooting field a little too soon. As you’re aware, it’s a bad habit that must be stopped before it gets any worse because the bird the dog drops could be wounded and make an escape.

At the very least it will make the job of finding it again much more difficult.

Back to dummy training

To nip this problem in the bud you need to go back to basic dummy training.

  • Place several dummies on the ground then throw a dummy for the dog to retrieve.
  • On its way back the dog will have to come past the other dummies and, if it shows the slightest interest in any of them, blow the recall whistle and bring it in to you.
  • Once you’ve got the dog coming directly back without looking at another dummy you should throw a retrieve as near as possible to the dog on its return to ‘invite’ it to run in.
  • As soon as it does, blow the stop whistle and give a stern ‘No’.
  • Now blow the recall and get it to come straight back with the dummy it was carrying in the first place.

The simple aim of this lesson of course is to make the dog 100% responsive to the ‘stop’ whistle and to ensure it is concentrating on you.

You will need to pay full attention to what your dog is doing after being sent for a retrieve; turning your back on him to take another shot or watch other people shoot is simply not on – he will quickly realise that you’re not watching and all your good training will quickly go out of the window.

Mind you, I have seen my own old fox red Labrador come back with as many as three partridges in his mouth at once… a classic example, I suppose, of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks.