Q: My Labrador-spaniel cross has been great out with me alone early on in the season. He was steady and would walk nicely by my side when told to stop hunting. Then I took him out for a couple of days in the beating line on a big partridge shoot where he flushed lots of birds and was very steady, but now he will not stay at heel. He keeps drifting off to say hello to anyone who looks friendly, which is embarrassing when it is one of the Guns walking on the flank. How do I get him to take notice of me?
A: You probably allowed him to hunt quite freely on his first big day as he was so well behaved, but hunting game is far more exciting than walking at heel. He got to enjoy meeting other beaters, who probably greeted him in a friendly way.
Dogs quickly learn to do things when they gain pleasure from them. His gundog training should now concentrate on heelwork and he will need to gain lots of pleasure from it, so a pocketful of high-value treats is essential. From now on, make any shooting outings more structured. Keep him on a lead until away from the meet, do not set him off hunting when the keeper sounds the horn to start the first drive and keep him at heel until he is calm before letting him hunt in cover where you can keep full control. If he flushes a bird then bring him back, reward him and let him settle down at heel for a while before casting off again. If necessary, use a lead to maintain close control at heel.
All the time he is by your side he needs to know you are really pleased with him, so give him praise, fuss and treats. Lots of practice at home or in the training environment will soon teach him to switch off when he is by your side.