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!