When should you move gundogs on to live game?
Gundogs: I have a 10-month-old gundog I think is ready to make the step up from dummies to live game.
Do you think he is the right age for it?
Mark Whitehouse says: Hunting is what spaniels do naturally, but all other aspects of training have to be manufactured.
As with all gundogs at 10 months old, I would expect you and the gundog are well into the foundation training; walking at heel, sit and stay, short retrieves with a tennis ball or small canvas dummy and delivery back to hand, as well as plenty of socialising.
And the stop whistle should also be installed at this stage.
Hunting is what spaniels do naturally and it is fun to them.
Therefore, before I bring them into contact with game, and obviously put them under a lot of temptation and pressure, I always make sure I have installed all my foundation training.
There are not many 10-month-old spaniels which are ready for the training pen and contact with live game.
You must ensure the young gundog is steady around game, and this is unlikely to be the case when they are 10 months old.
On average my spaniels are around 12-14 months of age before I even introduce them to the training pen and allow them to hunt freely and to be in contact with live game.
At the 10-month mark I would introduce the young spaniel to a number of steadying exercises in preparation for the training pen.
The first would be a thrown tennis ball with a rabbit skin wrapped around it.
As the spaniel is quartering in front, throw the tennis ball across his path around 10-15 feet ahead on open grassy ground so he can see the movement, and then blow the stop whistle.
If he doesn’t stop at this point you must move quickly so as not to allow him to handle the tennis ball, take him back to the point of command and set it up again.
This is a repetitive exercise and timing is absolutely paramount.
This would be simulating the movement of ground game such as rabbits.
Once you are totally confident your young gundog is responding well to all of these exercises, and stopping every time without delay, then you can seek out a training pen and move to the next level.
It is vital that you do not rush things.