Q: My springer has worked well on his own with me roughshooting for several seasons, but then I took him on a big shoot for the first time. As the beating line drew near, he froze and would not move from the peg to pick-up my birds. I have now joined a syndicate and would like to use him at the peg, but how do I get him to work?
A: Dogs that are used to working in isolation can react adversely to more busy environments. The noise and activity at a driven shoot can be quite daunting for any dog when it is first introduced.
Being close to the other Guns is perhaps also making his situation unbearable and a common reaction when a dog is fearful is to freeze. Reintroduce him gradually to more public situations throughout the summer, get him used to the bustle of country fairs, the noise of clay shoots and as many new situations as possible. If during these visits he gets well rewarded, either by you with praise, touch and treats, or by being fussed by other people, he should soon overcome his fears.
During training and exercise, get him used to you carrying a stick or a beater’s flag; do not frighten him with it but let him get so accustomed to it being there that it becomes of no consequence to him.
Simulate some mock drives with a few friends until he is absolutely fine with what is happening and give him the odd retrieve as a reward. By the end of the summer he should be more than ready to be reintroduced to the formal shoot, but make progress in stages — begin at the back behind the Guns for a few days before taking him into the line itself. Let someone else do the shooting so that you can concentrate on your dog until you are sure that his fears have gone.