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Is your gundog ready for its first shoot day?

When can you be confident of launching a youngster in the field? Here's how to avoid an embarassing disaster.

gundog's first shoot day

Your dog must walk to heel off the lead before experiencing a shoot day

Rather than ask how old your dog should be, ask yourself the following …

If the answer to any of these questions is “sometimes”, then you need to get them sorted before venturing out. 

Dog's first shoot day

Make sure your dog is steady to feather and fur before taking it on a shoot

Beating line

Taking a young gundog into the beating line of a small shoot can do wonders to restore its confidence and get it going again, particularly after a lot of training getting the dog steady to dummies and game.

However you must do this carefully because there will be a lot for the youngster to take in – even experienced dogs get excited on a shoot day.

Ask permission

Always ask the gamekeeper if it is okay for you to bring a young dog along. Make it clear that you will not be working the dog all day and that the aim is to give it a bit of experience.

To start with I leave the dog in the box with the back of the truck open so he can see and hear everything and get used to the comings and goings.

When it is time to move off, get your dog, put it on the lead and walk it to heel.

Gundog's first shoot day

Initially leave your gundogs in the box so they can see and hear everything

You’re in control

Your dog needs to realise you are in control. If it’s relaxed you can just wrap the lead round its neck like you did in the early stages of heel work training, but again make sure he doesn’t pull ahead.

Dealing with different drives

First off, think about the kind of cover. If you’re in a crop that is fairly low and not too thick, so you can see the dog at all times, and you are working a spaniel and are confident of its hunting, there is no reason that you can’t take it off the lead and work it during the early part of the drive. There is likely to be plenty of scent to encourage the dog, but fewer birds.

Make sure you keep the dog’s quartering pattern close to you and keep your concentration on the dog.

If it makes a flush blow the stop/sit whistle and make sure the dog obeys the command.

Be aware as the dog gets into more scent and more birds that is when he may well start to get “hot” and things can go wrong. To prevent this from happening call him and walk him back to heel before he gets to this stage.

Beware of maize cover crops

Maize can be a nightmare for dog handlers as the dogs can quickly get out of control and run up and down the rows. The rule is keep the dog walking right next to you. This is where your training will really come into play, as trying to walk a dog at heel while holding onto a lead through a block of maize is a nightmare. The dog will want to go one side of the stems and you will go the other side and it becomes very awkward.

Dog's first shoot day

Maize can be a nightmare for dog handlers, so keep your dog next to you

Be overcautious

Towards the end of the cover, there may well be a build-up of birds and this can be very exciting for a young dog. Don’t take any chances, he needs to be on the lead and sitting next to you watching rather than doing.

Once most of the birds have been flushed, a keeper will quite often ask beaters to let their dogs go so they can flush the last few stragglers. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO LET YOUR YOUNG DOG JOIN IN THE FUN. It is the quickest way to ruin all your hard work.

It is best to be overcautious on your gundog’s first shoot day. The initial outing  should be a gradual build-up of experience for the dog.

Follow the advice above and your dog will have benefitted from some initial experience in the field.  The next time you go out in the beating line your dog may well have a lot “more about him”, so just be ready!