How easy is it for young gundogs to learn bad habits? Jeremy Hunt advises some concerned readers
Labrador bad habits?
Q: I have put a lot of effort into training my young Labrador bitch but because there are some unruly dogs in our picking-up team I am concerned that all my work may quickly be undone. How easy is it for young dogs to learn bad habits from others?
A: Very easy indeed, so it is up to you to make sure she avoids situations that may undermine all your training. You will say that is easier said than done because of the unpredictability of a shoot day, but you must prevent her from getting into tricky situations or bad company, at least while she is still at an impressionable age.
Running-in, squeaking, changing birds, stealing birds from other dogs and damaging birds — these are all faults we have seen in dogs that we often find ourselves working alongside in a picking-up team, but such is life.
Having laid a good foundation with your bitch, the testing time will be when she is asked to perform under the real conditions of a shoot day. My advice would be to make sure you don’t try any heroics and start asking her to do things that may put her good intentions at risk from other dogs.
If the captain of your picking-up team knows she is new you should be allowed some leeway in what birds you pick and this should mean you are able to give her some nice easy work that will boost her confidence.
Once dogs are confident in their work it is surprising how they seem less susceptible to learning bad traits — but in the early stages it is up to you to keep her well away from dogs that could badly influence her.
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Putting dog in kennels
Q: I have a 14 month old Labrador and will have to put him in kennels for two weeks while we are on holiday. I am concerned he will pick up bad habits while in there. What do you suggest?
A: This is a common problem but there are several options. You could try and find a local gundog training kennels that would take the dog while you are away and as well as board your dog they could give two weeks of training. This may cost slightly more than a conventional boarding kennels but your dog would be in safe hands and should be even wiser when you collect him.
Alternatively you need to check out the daily regime of any conventional boarding kennels you may consider using. Some are austere places where a somewhat clinical and rigid routine can be equally as unsettling for a young dog as a more relaxed one.
But you certainly don’t want a well-meaning kennel maid throwing a frisbee for your dog and undoing months of dedicated work. If you are a member of a local gundog club, maybe someone from the club would take care of your dog for the time you are away?
At least you know he would be under the guidance of a knowledgeable individual. You should check out all the options and visit any kennels you are considering before you make a final decision. I would go for a professional gundog trainer.