What makes a gundog unreliable at the peg and what about part-trained gundogs?
Q: I am getting my first Labrador puppy soon, which besides being a family pet, will be my shooting dog in the future hopefully. I say hopefully as this will be the first one I have trained myself. I used to borrow my father’s dog to take out driven shooting and she was perfectly steady and great to handle. All my shooting is driven and I have been told not to let the puppy retrieve ground game or fur dummies, as this will make it unreliable at the peg and induce it to chase. Is this correct?
A: There is an element of truth in this. If you get any peg dog really keen on fetching ground game it can induce unsteadiness to the sight of game running by. The same is true of continually fetching birds, especially if the dog is given the opportunity to chase and catch too many runners in the open. To create a steady, reliable shooting companion begins at the very basic stages. You must have a well-trained obedient companion before embarking on the more exciting introduction to live game in the shooting field. There is a great temptation for the novice handler to progress too quickly.
The first work with the gun should not be a full day out on a driven shoot; short outings — preferably with a friend shooting — will accomplish much more. Do not send it for every bird or rabbit shot, but pick the easy ones by hand. Unsteadiness will begin if a dog is allowed to retrieve everything that it sees shot. Apply the same principle in training and pick-up more dummies than your dog to nurture and encourage absolute steadiness. It does not matter what they are covered with, it is over-repetition that will cause unsteadiness issues.
How do you bring on a part-trained gundog?
Q: I bought a part-trained gundog in early summer with the intention to train on and develop him as part of my picking-up team, which consists of three experienced Labradors. My part-trained gundog, a spaniel, is now 17 months old and lacks confidence around other dogs. Should I give him as many retrieves as possible or should I be more selective when I send him for a bird?
Mark Whitehouse says: A team of three strong Labradors on a busy shoot day is more than enough for one handler to concentrate on, especially when picking-up behind the line of guns. Trying to concentrate on a part-trained gundog lacking in confidence at the same time is a tonic for disaster. I predict your spaniel will go backwards in his development in such a tense and active environment.
At this early stage you must be more selective and make sure every time you send him he is not under any pressure or in competition with other dogs, and that he never fails as this will only dent his confidence and he will question his ability to undertake any tasks that are asked of him.
I would recommend that on selective drives, when the pressure and intensity is not as demanding, that you leave two of your Labradors in the truck and let your young spaniel work alongside your most experienced dog. This will allow your part-trained gundog to grow in confidence and allow you to concentrate more on him.
Finally, always give him lots of praise when he returns with a retrieve. If he is struggling on a retrieve, walk him closer and give him some help if required, but always make sure he comes back with a retrieve, as this will give him the boost he needs.