You have made the first steps towards your shooting dreams and purchased a healthy lively gun dog puppy. Whether you chose a Labrador, Spaniel or Setter, this animal will grow to be your number one companion when out on a shoot. In this article, Allcocks Outdoor Store will give you tips on training a gun dog and outline some of the gun dog training equipment used.
When to start training
Official gun dog training states that introducing your puppy to the fundamentals should start at around seven months. However, we believe that training a gun dog puppy should begin on the first day the puppy meets its new owner. Building a strong, trustworthy bond with the pup is essential and lays the all-important foundations to begin a strong and loving working relationship. So, before the first dummy is taken out of the bag, a strong rapport should be established between dog and man.
How to train a gun dog
Now your new companion is home and ready to begin training, it is important to remember that in the beginning the pup must not be rushed. It’s tempting to do too much too soon, but this can be the cause of many issues for first-time owners/trainers. Hopefully, your puppy’s genes will ensure it is already programmed for the job it has been bred to do.
Spatial awareness & establishing commands
During the first five months, your pup should spend a lot of time with you learning good manners and how to be responsive to you. Implementing spatial awareness is imperative. However, this does not mean that you cannot play with your pup. Play is extremely important, it aids muscle development and coordination. But the key is for you to dictate when play occurs. It must always be on your terms, not the other way around.
If your puppy jumps and nips then a command must be brought to fruition. The magic word ‘no’ should be introduced early, followed by ‘come’ and ‘sit. Familiarise your puppy with recall by holding your arms outstretched and using the command ‘come’, give your puppy plenty of praise when it does come. Sitting is taught by holding a small amount of food above the pup’s head. When it sits you say the command ‘sit’ holding out the flat of your hand in the air. Reward the pup’s good work with its favourite tasty morsel.
If your puppy is progressing well, introduce the whistle, alternating with verbal or hand signals, with rapid pips for come, and a long blast for sit. At this point, heelwork on the lead should be implemented. This will teach your pup to assume the heel position, which should be with its head just in front of your leg.
Repeat these commands and actions until the pup understands. Proceed with play and introduce your puppy to water, starting with shallow swims. Start to separate training from play and exercise and have specific short periods for training.
Once you have established the foundational commands in training a gun dog puppy it is time to take your pup outdoors and introduce them to the world of distractions. By now your puppy is creeping up to seven months old and more formal training can be implemented. You should begin by increasing the distance in which the commands are given, if this does not work and your dog does not respond, then the initial commands have not been thoroughly absorbed.
Start by stopping your dog with the usual “sit” command, followed by a short blast on the whistle as your dog's bottom hits the floor. Next, give the hand signal “back” for your dog to continue on towards the food. Again, as it approaches the food, stop it once more and introduce the “leave” command, indicating that the food should be left alone. Now recall your dog (away from the food) using the command “leave”, its name followed by continuous pips on the whistle. Once your dog has done this, it is rewarded with the “back” command to go and get its reward.
At this stage, you will now have great control over such a young dog, and because it is getting rewarded for all the hard work, your dog looks forward to training, doing it with great enthusiasm and drive.
The dummy run
It is extremely important to allow your dog to develop its natural hunting and retrieving skills. Once your dog has grasped all the basic commands and actions it is time to put everything you have learned so far together with a dummy.
Delivery and presentation of the dummy animal usually comes very naturally. As your dog gets within a few yards of you, move towards it, into its space and then issue the “sit” command. Follow this by the delivery which is accompanied by the “leave” command to release the dummy. Very rarely will you have to teach a dog to be steady with a dummy if the foundations have been thoroughly established previously.
Socialising your dog is also important, this is not a difficult task as your family members and yourself are always willing to love and play with your dog. Taking your dog to pet-friendly places and allowing them to spend time with other dogs can really help with socialisation.
Continually teach your dog, training regularly and repeating the steps above to prepare your dog for its first real shoot. To find out more about how to train a gun dog take a look at The Fields’ article on 9 gun dog training tips.