Dog Training - The First Working Dog
We join William on the start of his journey with his first gun dog.
Game shooting is a country pursuit I have always loved and been part of since I was young. One of the highlights of a day in the field is watching the gun dogs at work. Their obedience, passion to hunt in flushing game and above all the retrieve afterwards is the ultimate package in a trained dog. For years I dreamt of one day being able to take my own companion in the game field to assist with my day out and make the experience of the sport complete.
My dad had his first gun dog Jess who was accompanying him shooting until the age of 12 and now that her successor Holly is doing well on shoot days I was eager to get my own dog to train. After moving away from home last year I finally had both the space and opportunity to get sorted with my very own dog. With my partner Laura’s dad being a Labrador breeder and as luck would have it a litter of puppies became readily available in January this year. Maybe it’s just the habit of home but I always wanted a bitch, as seeing other peoples dogs occasionally fighting on shoot days on occasions has put me off dogs. After a careful selection I chose a yellow bitch and before I knew it Laura had already chosen the name of “Lily”. Preparations began for a kennel outside, a cage for the house and more toys than I ever had when I was younger Lily was finally ready for coming home.
Lily settled in well in her new home. The first few weeks were spent playing in the kitchen with her toys and getting used to people and her new world of strange noises. Before we knew it a month or so had passed and she was ready for her first walk. She handled her first outing very well and I could already tell that even at this early age of 13 weeks her confidence was booming, and moving forward she was going to be a very hard natured dog. The only thing I have ever seen bother her was the traffic but within two days that was all sorted and as of yet I have found nothing to phase her. Several months’ came and went and she was happily living in her kennel outside.
I am open to admitting from the start that apart from reading as many dog training books, watching DVDs and speaking to as many people with dog connections I had no real idea when it came to training. Having a dog as a pet is quite different in a training sense. In the game field you have the added distractions such as the game itself as well as all the scents that at times you want the dog to follow, but the majority of the time the dog should be close at heel and obedient. Luckily Laura’s dad was quite experienced and guided me along the way. At about 7 months I started to introduce the basics. I knew she would take quite some time and would be hard work but hopefully in the long run things would work out well. After she was comfortably accustomed to wearing the lead one of the first things was teaching her to heal on the lead. It sounds pretty tedious but without a dog in control on the lead you have no hope of control when it’s off the lead. After a few weeks constantly correcting her and being fairly strict she was finally starting to get the idea. After this was established I introduced the sit command when I stopped walking at roads, junctions and anything else, which she executed very well. A short time after and she was carrying this out un-prompted. Everything until now was going well but as anyone who trains dogs will tell you that soon stops....
The next thing was to gradually introduce the whistle into her training. This was firstly done when sitting and within a week she was sitting on command with the whistle no problem at all. This went well and was progressed so she would also do this in close proximity even when off the lead. After this I started bringing the whistle into the recall to get her back to me. Again this took several weeks to achieve with 100 % consistency. The next bit was the stumbling block. Getting her to sit, and stay. The first few sessions went well but then she stared to decide to bolt off and do her own thing. After stern words with plenty grumbling and re-seating her I suspended the training for several weeks. We soon realised that her temperament was letting her down and she needed a bit more puppy time. Training continued casually before we decided to move on to the retrieving with the hope of channelling this energy into the exercise.
It became apparent that with Lily being a very confident head strong dog that the retrieving became an object for her to pick with great enthusiasm, but then run off and do what she wanted. This soon became a project in itself which until today we are just beginning to get the dummy delivered to hand as we desire. We tried retrieving on a track, having a long training lead on the dog, a long training lead on the dummy until out of desperation we seemed to find what worked. It sounds simple and primitive but having two dummies was the only option. Throwing one dummy and when she picked it immediately enticing her back with the other one to get the retrieve and then throwing the remaining one. After doing this for several months she is just about delivering consistently at 9 months of age, slow compared to most but every dog is different.
I can tell you now that trying to train a dog is one of the most frustrating things to do, but at the same time absolutely fascinating and rewarding. The joy of watching progress to then be knocked back and have to try numerous ways to get things back to how they were is endless. Sometimes you get tips from a book or experienced person, sometimes you just persevere until something works.
At 9 months old Lily still has many training areas to push further so she will be ready for the game field next season. The winter months are a real restriction for training but lunch time at work is precious time to keep her fresh. When the summer time comes I will be making a big push with the training. Fingers crossed this time next year she will be retrieving her first pheasant......