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Pickers-up and Beaters with Gundogs

Gundog gets its breath.    

(Gundog whistle commands is now at http://www.shootpics.co.uk/dog_whistles.html )

Dog training is often more about owner training.  Getting dog owners to do what is required to make a dog do what is wanted, is mainly the issue.  My late father trained gundogs over many years ... and seemed to work miracles with them, including those that have been recovered in a pretty difficult state as 'rescued' animals.    Many dog owners do not grasp what is required of them as owners and trainers of their own dogs despite a plethora of DVDs and books on the subject.

I have seen a gundog handler beating on a shoot and spending far more time 'training' his gundog than trying to put pheasants over guns.  Perhaps a balance of training and attention to the job in hand would have been better?  To this beater the 'line' didn't seem important (he was many metres behind the beating line) .... pheasants running back were ignored .... likely hiding places for pheasants (fallen trees covered in bramble etc) were avoided.  His sole concern seemed to be training his gundog .... yet he didn't seem to have grasped even the basics.  His 'commands' were very soft ... and uncommanding.  And he said that the gundog trainer he was working with had perfect control over this dog, but that he didn't.   Perhaps the trainer needs to be open and honest with the dog owner and train him rather than the gundog?  

The idea of having a dog to help whilst beating, is to find the birds that sit tight and to go into cover that most beaters couldn't possibly get into.  BUT, the dog must not work far in front of the beating line.  If it should, then when birds are flushed they could go anywhere.  Our aim is to get birds over the guns.....who are usually in front of us.  So, when a bird is flushed, it already needs to have in its bird-brain that there are a number of stick-tapping beaters approaching, so that when the dog flushes it, it is already thinking of flying in the right direction.


Nick with his gundog - & my young dog getting in to the picture.



The trouble is that when they are puppies we need to exercise our gundogs, and as such they are encouraged to run around and burn off the calories!  So, we tend to let them run around a bit......and their 'distance' confidence grows.  But when beating, they need to be under total (close!) control. 

My pooch now sees it as his 'right' to flush anything he can smell.  So, he's going to need a lot of training before the coming season, because I just can't have him following his heart, rather than listening to me, responding immediately without even thinking about it.  At present, he's delaying responding for a few seconds......and that's no good!  If I can't train him properly or he is too strong-minded to do exactly as he's told, then he won't come beating with me.  No shoot can have dogs on it that are not 100% under control.

There are plenty of books on basic & advanced dog-training

There are also specialist gundog trainers dotted around the country, who can put gundog owners on the right path. 

Badly behaved gundogs can be really annoying on a shoot day and might not be invited back.  So, good training and control is essential.  It is beyond the scope of this site to go into detail about training dogs/gundogs at present, though if you scroll down you might find a few useful tips.

One thing to bear in mind is that your dog(s) will be working in undergrowth where they can easily pick up ticks.  They can carry numerous diseases and in particular, Lyme Disease.  It is really worth protecting your dog with spot-on treatments and/or having a tick removal tool.

Gundogs with gun.



Gundog Training - a Few Tips

I didn't intend to go into gundog training here, but I get many visits to this page by people looking for such help.  Many websites provide 'answers' that really don't explain fully what to do, so that many people must be quite frustrated by not finding the 'answers'.

Your best bet is to buy a good book on the subject.  You will probably learn a lot more than you thought you would.

Here are a few of the questions visitors have input to Google et al to get here and questions that have been put to me by dog owners:

Tip: When training a puppy always make sure he is praised/gets a treat/gets a toy EVERY time he does what you ask of him.  Gradually remove the edible treats so that he just gets a fuss and praise (though some dogs might still get a 'toy').  BTW, only ever have ONE toy which is used when successful.  He will really want to stick to that.....it will be his favourite.

Q. can you teach a dog to go left and right?
A. Yes......those who are involved in picking-up need to have full control over their dogs to direct them towards downed birds.  Likewise, in the beating line, dog owners will want to control their dog to go left and right on command.  Some dog owners use a whistle, others a call and arm signal.  I started my pup's left & right training by standing facing a fence in the garden, making him sit and stay and throwing dog biscuits in either direction and then sending him off, with a verbal instruction and a hand signal.  He quickly got the idea and I reduced the biscuits and used a dummy instead. Then I covered his eyes before throwing the dummy. Now he knows 'go-left' and 'go-right' - though they are always my left and right!

Within a short while my dog had got the idea properly.  I was able to throw items in the garden without him knowing where they were.  Instead of telling him to go-left and go-right etc I waited.  He soon got fed up hunting around and stopped to glance at me.  I gave 2 pips on the whistle and indicated with just my arms.  The dog responded correctly and quickly found what he was searching for.  He realised that I am there to help him and that the 2 whistle pips probably mean he is going away from his quarry, so he stops to look at me.  It is a lovely feeling to achieve this ... just as it is watching your own young children cross milestones and then never looking back again.

Tip:
When you are working your dog other people do not want to hear lots of 'unnecessary' calls or whistles.  In the early training stage it is important to encourage the dog as much as possible and to 'excite' him when he is getting close to his quarry, perhaps a dummy.  But as soon as he has got the idea you can weed him off that 'excitement'.  So it is important that he learns to look to you for a visual command.

Q. how can i stop my dog running in on pheasants
A.
Any dog doing this is not under 'total' control.  So it probably believes it's in a higher position than the handler.  Or perhaps it is headstrong & can't be controlled in such a situation.  Does it do everything else you tell it, first time? 

I'm expecting similar problems with mine, this coming season.  So, where I can, the dog will be on a double/treble lead but kept close and if it takes off against my instructions I will release the slack in the lead, turn around and walk another way at 90 degrees or so, and my dog will get a sharp reminder that I'm boss, LOL, whilst my back is turned in apparent disregard of him (dogs don't like to be ignored, or tugged sideways)!  Hopefully, a few such corrective actions will get him back under full control.  I've done it with other dogs with great results.....though I always wonder if it will work with the next one!

Q. My dog pulls on the lead all the time, and is very strong to handle.
A. Your dog is taking charge and pulling (dictating/bossing!) you.  You have to make him understand that YOU are the boss/leader. 
Dogs are natural pullers.......just as huskies pull sledges. 

A few things you can try, but you MUST be authoritative in all cases. 

a) Have a double or treble lead (just loop them together).  Hold the lead normally at usual length.  Keep the end of the double/treble in your other hand.  When the dog really starts to pull, let go of the lead under tension, keep hold of the end of the double/treble and WALK AWAY at say 90 degrees, ignoring your dog.  He will get a sharp tug/shock and also see your back (ignoring him).  He won't like that!  Give him the command to 'heel' and do the same again.  Usually, dogs quickly get the message.

b) Try turning at 180 degrees and standing still.  Often the dog will come back to you out of concern for you and the fact that you are ignoring him.  Once you've turned and made him sit, then start off again.  Repeat as necessary.

c) I always carry a stick when walking.  It aids me, but is also good for the dog.  NEVER hit a dog, especially with a stick.  But, when his nose creeps forward when under the 'heel' command, tap the path in front of him.  He may well jump out of his skin, but will soon get used to not wanting to 'jump' like that!

Q. I have a puppy who always seems hungry, yet I am following in the instructions on the bag. What should I do?
A.
Ignore the information on the food bag - it is only 'guidance'.  Puppies will only eat what they need to.  So, fill up their bowl and let them fill up their stomach!  If they don't come back to the bowl for about 15 mins, then remove it and (if dry food) cover it.  At the next meal, do the same.  Whatever you do, do not feed a puppy/dog either side of exercise for around 30 minutes....otherwise they could suffer 'bloat' which can kill them.  It is very important to feed very often with young pups....it really does aid their development, just as feeding a baby very often does.

Q. My puppy of 11 months drops the training dummy when he returns to me.  How can I get him to hold it until I'm ready?
A.
Very simply, when your puppy is within a few feet of you, continue to look at him/call him on, and back away from him, forcing him to carry on, with your hands ready in the 'collect' position.  Then stop, tell him to sit immediately, grasp the dummy and tell him 'dead' (or whatever you want to use to release) and once he has let go, praise him madly!

Q. I am frightened to let my 10 week-old puppy off the lead/leash as he might run away.
A.
There is no need to worry, provided you are out in the countryside, not near a road!  Puppies look to their 'leaders' and provided you have established a good relationship with your puppy and he knows you are the 'boss' or his new 'mum' he will want to be with you.  So, he won't wander far.....and when he does move away and starts to come back to you, it's a great opportunity to call him by name and to get him to 'come here'.   He'll then quickly learn those commands.   On some of my early trips to the country park with my pup, when he wandered away I hid behind a tree......and as soon as I could see that he was concerned I moved out and held my arms apart and he came running up to me.  Another lesson learned!

Tip:
When you call your puppy to you when you are with others, make sure he can also 'see' you - especially when amongst a group of fellow beaters & dogs.  I crouch slightly, and hold my arms out to the side for a second or two ..... and do it again if he hasn't spotted me.   The look on his face (tail!)  when he realises where I am, is just wonderful!

Tip:
Puppies are playful creatures.  Their bodies and brains take time to develop.....just like a human baby.   So, don't rush....take your time and involve plenty of play.  Your puppy will then form a wonderful relationship with you. 

Tip:
Praise, praise, praise.......and encourage, encourage, encourage.  I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this.  When your young dog is hunting for something (a dummy?) or swimming towards a retrievable object, get excited 'for him' and really encourage him to go the extra length!  When he does so, praise him like heck!  Cos he'll love that too!!

Q. What are the verbal instructions for a gundog?  (Gundog commands).
A
. There are no 'definite' verbal gundog commands to be used, just as there are no definite whistle commands for gundogs.  It's entirely up to you.  I use gundog commands of my own and some commands that I picked up as a youngster from my father....and from other gundog handlers I've met over many years.  Many seem to use an 'H' in front of commands, LOL!  So 'up' becomes 'hup' etc.   And the 'T' in 'get' seems to be a 'd' instead - such as ged-on!  Using these gundog 'words'  makes it look as though you have been part of the country scene for years, LOL!  But, it's up to you.

When I can think of all those I use/know I will come back and list them all!  I've hyphenated the words as they are said quite quickly with no 'space' between them ... almost as just one word.

  • Sit - pretty obvious! - said with an open palm signal with fingers closed.
  • Stay - likewise - said with an open palm signal with fingers spread.
  • Wait - used like 'stay' (with the same hand signal) but the dog knows to wait and watch for a dummy etc
  • Come-here - very obvious!  With one or two hands dropped to the side, open palm, fingers closed and slight outward movement from the body.
  • Heel - not always easy to instill in a young pup....but various techniques can help. (If you are stuck, contact me).   'Heel' doesn't always mean the same thing to people.  I actually want to be able to see my dog out of the corner of my eye.  So 'heel' means 'keep your head in front of me but go no further'.
  • No - hey look - no matter what the language, non means no!
  • Leave-it - forget/stop eating the crap/bird remains left by a fox!  Also used when he's taken off after rabbits/hares/deer or wanted to 'visit' friendly dog-walkers!  Mind you, perhaps I should have used 'leave'....cos some people don't like to be referred to as 'it'!!  ;-)
  • Hi-lost - the command used to seek for 'game' or a dummy I've launched.
  • Bring-it-on - the command to return to me with the retrieved bird or dummy.
  • Lie-down / Flat - no further explanation needed.
  • Dead - release the bird or dummy into my hand.
  • Go-left -  well actually, it's my left, LOL!  Pronounced as 'go-LEFT'!  With the emphasis on LEFT.
  • Go-right - the opposite of go-left....would you believe!  Pronounced as 'go-RIGHT'! With the emphasis on RIGHT.
  • Get-on - usually pronounced as 'gedd-on' ..... to go forward.
  • Get-in - usually pronounced as 'gedd-in' .... to encourage the dog to get in to the cover/brambles etc.
  • Come-back - get your ass back towards me!  ;-)
  • Over - often used at a fence - though I DETEST barbed-wire fences (due to the injuries I've witnessed) so I take EXTRA care at such obstacles.
  • Under - often used at a fence.
  • Hup - normally to get the dog to jump up into the back of a car/trailer etc though in some parts of the country it is used as the sit command.


Some extras:
  • Head-down - enables me to get my dog to keep his head down when applying ear drops.
  • Open-wide/open-up/open - so he knows I'm about to open his mouth, to clean his teeth or apply some medication.
  • Eyes-shut/eyes-closed - when I say this he now knows that I'm about to cover his face with my hand, to aid other training, particularly retrieving.
  • Go-back - which I use after sitting & staying, if the dog doesn't do as required and follows me instead of 'staying' put.
  • No-biting - used originally when he had darned sharp puppy teeth. Since proved useful to stop him 'chewing' dummies etc.
  • Be-quiet! - no more barking or whining!
  • Stay-close - he's now learnt to work 'close' to me rather than running-on.  Constant use of this word every time he exceeded a few metres when just walking has done the trick.  Now I have to know that it will work (in conjunction with 'leave-it') to not chase the quarry.  Roll on the coming season!  (Spreading some mini 'Bonio' biscuits helped get him to 'search' close to me.

Tip:
One of my friendly neighbours (Matt Winter) has a lemon cocker a tad younger than mine, but just as beautiful!  We went out one day in Matt's Landy.  His own dog (Jarvis) was already in the back.  Jarvis could have 'laid claim' to his territory and caused grief, but didn't as he knows my pup (Jake) very well - they are good friends. But....I would strongly recommend putting a dog in backwards in such circumstances.  That way, they are not 'confronting' each other (which can lead to fights!) but the 'owner' dog has the chance to sniff the rear of the 'intruder' dog, which then seems to break the ice.



Here are our two dogs:
        
                                    
                                 'Jarvis'                                                                             'Jake' - view his pedigree

Jake came from Robert French,
Old Coulsdon, Surrey CR5 1BT who has turned his garden into a 'farm' with ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, dogs etc.  Robert bred Jake from his own bitch and one of Tony Price's (Tawnyhill Gundogs) with 36 Field Trial Champions between the two.  Jake will not be another FTC, as I just want him as a working dog on shoots and do not want to trial him.  But he has a wonderful nature, a good, generous and friendly character and is a joy to train.



Q. How many verbal commands can a dog understand?
A.
That is going to depend on a number of things.  Have a look at
How many words do dogs understand?  Around 160 is reckoned to be the average for a well-trained dog.

Q. When should I introduce my dog whistle?
A.
This is usually after the dog has achieved the level required from voice and visual commands as he grasps each one.  When I get my puppy to sit, he gets the verbal command accompanied by the visual command (open palm with fingers closed) and then one pip on the whistle.  He's picking this up right now, at 11 months old - when I started it a while back.  Your puppy may be earlier or later developed.  My puppy has responded well to the recall, the problem being that whatever I 'played' on the whistle he just came straight back!  Now, as he's calming down a bit, he's learning that different 'tunes' mean different things. 

Q. What are the gundog whistle commands?
A.
Have a look at this page where it is all explained ..... gundog whistle commands.

Q. I was told the other day when out walking my dog that it is now the law that my non-working dog must be on a lead when on a walk in the country.
A.
Possibly...a little known law was introduced in 2010 in England so that such dogs must be on leads on "open access land" from 1st March to 31st July.   "Open access land" is indicated on Ordnance Survey maps.  

Please check legal matters with a lawyer.

Q. Does a working dog have to have a collar?
A.
No ... not whilst working.  It could get caught by the collar in undergrowth and be injured. The Control of Dogs Order 1930 (as amended) requires that every dog in a public place must wear a collar with the owner's name and address on it. The exemptions are when the dog is being used for sporting purposes, driving or tending livestock, destruction of 'vermin' or is one of a pack of hounds. 

Please check legal matters with a lawyer.

Q. Must a dog be on a lead when on a public highway?
A. Sensibly, yes.  The Road Traffic Act of 1988 made it an offence to have a dog on a 'designated road' without a lead.  How do you know if the road is 'designated' or not?  The sensible answer is to keep it on a lead when on or near a public highway.  Should your dog cause an accident you could be liable for many thousands of pounds. 

Please check legal matters with a lawyer.


Q. A farmer threatened to shoot my dog for chasing a pheasant in a hedge next to his land.  I was on a public right of way but my dog was off the lead.  He also said that was illegal.
A.
He was probably wrong on both counts.  Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 the owner, and anyone else under whose control the dog is at the time, will be guilty of an offence if it worries livestock on agricultural land. The dog must have been attacking or chasing livestock in such a way that it could reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering or, in the case of females, abortion or the loss or diminution of their produce.

An offence is not committed if at the time of the worrying the livestock were trespassing, the dog belonged to the owner of the land on which the trespassing livestock were and the person in charge of the dog did not cause the dog to attack the livestock. The definition of 'livestock' includes cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses and poultry.

Game birds are not included. 

When on a public right of way your dog has to be under 'close control'.  That does not mean he has to be on a lead.  He has to be close to you and respond to commands to return and stay with you. 

Please check legal matters with a lawyer.

Q. I keep hearing about a dog's 'intelligence'. Can you indicate the best breeds?
A.
That is beyond me I'm afraid!  Have a look at The Intelligence of Dogs on Wikipedia - it might help.  Or visit the shootpics.co.uk book shop ... where you can buy the book and others about dog intelligence.  Click on 'gundogs' and you will find them on pages 3 and 4.

Q. How do I stop my gun dog whining?
A.
Oh dear! A whining dog is 'painful' ..... and not accepted on many shoots or at trialing events.  I've witnessed gamekeepers telling beaters not to bring their dog again if they want to continue beating on the shoot.  :-(

Once a dog picks up the whining habit (mine only started whining after being on the beater's wagon with the above dog!) it probably won't be easy to stop it.  A gamekeeper friend reckons that if his dogs start whining he leans over their heads and blows a loud, shrill whistle.  Others 'startle' the dog with a small plastic bottle containg gravel which they shake over the dog.  I whack the ground with a stick, right in front of the dog .... but 5 minutes later he will start a tiny whimper and I have to whack the ground again.  Once they have picked up the whining habit it can be very difficult if not impossible to break.




* * *
Mid-Sussex Working Spaniel Club -  my Dad. Sadly died at 2:30 pm on 18th Dec 2011. He got me into beating and shooting. THANKS, DAD!  :-)  RIP.
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