Prepare your gundog for the season ahead
I’m sure many of us will agree that enormous sense of pride and achievement we feel when our beloved gundogs deliver on shoot days, and how it can feel when things don’t quite go as we anticipated!
So, we are here to help, whether it’s your gundog’s first game season, or they have been there and got the t-shirt, we have brought you some handy top tips to ensure a successful partnership for the season ahead.
Will Forbes who runs Stormwatch Gundogs in Perthshire, has been working his gundogs on shoot days from his early teenage years and has learned many things along the way. Here he answers some of your most sought-after gundog questions.
Q: What things can I do ahead of the season, to make sure I’m prepared?
A: Most important in my opinion is ensuring the basics. No matter what stage your gundog is at with its training, it’s vital that you have a solid foundation. So, training exercises work to improve sitting/staying, heel, and recall.
You can also practice retrieves with dummies/cold game, another thing to work on is control in situations where the dog might get distracted.
Q: It’s my gundog’s first season, where is a good place to start when it comes to exposing them to game?
A: Start with cold game, bring some birds home, practice a couple of retrieves and make sure you are confident with the dog at this stage. If you can take them on a smaller day, keep them on the lead and just let the dog take the whole experience in a controlled way. Then start with retrieves that you know are going to be successful, until the dog and you gain more confidence.
Most importantly, speak to the keeper or the shoot host and let them know you have a young/inexperienced dog, and you don’t want to be placed in busy parts of the drive.
Before the shooting starts, try and get out with the dog in live situations, go out with someone who’s pigeon shooting, this is as good a place you can get for practice for those driven days, but not as busy with other dogs and people.
Q: What should I be doing in my training session between shoot days?
A: Again, back to the basics! Try practice sit and stay, heel work, recall, whistle work, and retrieves. Try not to overcomplicate it and work within your dog’s capabilities. Having a solid foundation will pay off and it will be a joy to take your dog on a shoot day.
Q: How do I know my dog is ready for the season ahead?
A: Some dogs mature at different times, so this really needs to be assessed on the individual dogs’ capabilities. I’ve had dogs under a year old being exposed to game but also have dogs that take a little longer and don’t see live shot game until they’re around two years of age, but the main thing is not to rush it!
Don’t be afraid to see a professional trainer and ask for their advice.
Q: Your top tips for ensuring success in the beating line?
A: If you have a young dog that has never been exposed to game before, practice the hunting commands on areas of long grass/bracken at your training ground.
Then try and get them on a small day, where there might only be a couple of birds. If you are finding they are hunting further than you would like, then just do short bursts, and then put them back on the lead for a little while, to ensure they don’t get too worked up.
Q: Your top tips for ensuring success on the peg?
A: Always try and keep them nice and calm, the dog will pick up on your body language! I’d always recommend picking up on regular basis, allowing you to focus fully on the dog. Addressing any issues that arise.
Q: Should I be feeding my dog more throughout the shooting season?
A: This depends on the type of work the dog is doing, if they are out 4-5 days a week, then yes you might wish to up their feed, perhaps adding some raw feed in to ensure they are getting enough protein to compensate for the energy they are expending.
For a dog that is only working 1-2 days a week, you probably won’t need to up their feed. But each dog is different, and you should be accessing this as you go along, require vets’ assistance if you are unsure.
Q: What three pieces of kit can you not live without on a day picking up/beating?
A: My whistle, game bag, and slip lead.