Stephen Harrison

Oct 162017

I was so looking forward to using my birthday present of a Go Pro Hero 5 head camera on Saturday, the first full day at our local shoot.

I charged the batteries, fitted the head strap, tested it out and then proudly arrived at the shoot with the camera strapped to my hat – much to the merriment of onlookers! But I wasn’t fazed by their veiled jealousy: I was going to create a blockbuster filming Tilly on her first long retrieve over open ground on the 2nd drive of the day, my favourite drive.

The moment arrived, I pushed the button, sent Tilly and kept as still as possible as she raced over the fields, picked a partridge, returned and delivered to hand. Delirium! I now had something to show my Grandchildren in years to come – the perfect first outing for my Go Pro Hero and young Tilly. I pushed the button to turn it off.

I couldn’t resist having a sneak preview of my expert footage when I got back to the truck. I pressed play – and watched 10 minutes of me walking out to my picking up spot before the drive and then switching it off just before sending Tilly! The next footage was of me returning to my truck. I had turned the damn thing on when it was supposed to be off, and off when I wanted it on! The blockbuster was now of me huffing and panting across a ploughed field and back again. Tilly’s success would now be confined to my memory alone 😥.

Lesson relearned? Read the instructions properly before playing with new toys.

Oh well, it gives me an excuse to do it all again next Saturday. Think I’d better give it a test drive today. Let’s try and go back from Zero to Hero!

Oct 092017

Can you guess what is the single most common cause of injury and death amongst gundogs at this time of year (according to my vet)? Barbed wire? Traffic accidents? Dog bites? Sharp sticks? None of these. Answer: dehydration.

Particularly now when the temperatures can be still quite high, it is doubly important for a hard working dog to have regular access to clean water throughout the shooting day. Dogs can collapse and die very quickly if left to dehydrate and it’s so easy to forget to take water with us.

 I have taught my dogs to take water from a plastic bottle (the squeezy cycling sort that fits in my side pocket) and always make them drink a little after every drive. There are plenty of other devices you can buy such as the one below that many trialers use.

Why not ask the keeper to keep a 20 litre can of water in the beaters’ truck? It could save your dog’s life.


Oct 092017

This is the busiest time of year for us – right after the start of the shooting season. It’s when those who, for good reasons, haven’t been able to put in the training time discover that their gundog is behaving like an unguided missile when amongst the birds again and come looking for help! First thing is: Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!

First day madness is a common problem with gundogs, even for those who have managed to find time in busy lives to do some training. So you’re in good company. So, now that we’ve got this hyper-excited uncontrollable beast who went berserk and embarrassed us in front of our friends, what do we do?

Well, the easy answer a professional dog trainer would give you is to put your dog away until next season and spend time building steadiness. I’ve always thought this advice to be complete bo****ks, not because it’s wrong, but because it ignores reality for the majority of people who have gundogs as pets. I totally get it that you want to and will take your dog shooting regardless, so we have to manage what we’ve got, right? 

In order to move forward with Fido, we will have to move back. What you shouldn’t do now is to get hold of cold game, take Fido out and start firing shot guns and dummy launchers all over the place. All you will do is become perfect at having an over-excited dog! Instead, the key is to go back to basics in your training, in particular the choice of training environment. Take Fido into an enclosed, confined, if possible channeled area, free of any distractions where he only has you to focus on. A kitchen, hallway, patio or small garden are perfect for this.

Concentrate on the 4 basics: focus on me, sit/stay, recall and stop whistle – in other words steering and brakes. Have plenty of food rewards and use placeboards, hoops, mats or something similar to help Fido target his behaviour. Get these skills cemented in here in this benign environment until they become non-negotiable responses. Don’t be afraid to correct any misbehaviour with a growl or a sharp “No!”: any deviation in this calm environment will only be magnified in the shooting field. Make the exercises short, sharp, high-octane, unpredictable and full of fun and rewards – but laced with discipline.

This way, you’ll stand a better chance of Fido being the talk of the town in the beaters’ wagon. 

Whatever you do, don’t panic!