Oh the excitement of deciding that the time has come to bring a new puppy home.
For most of us that enter the world of gundog training, our new “gundog” will be a companion to spend time with out in the field, a team mate and a work colleague . Many of us will have made our choice of breed based on whether we want a picking up dog or a beating dog or just because we like a certain type of spaniel, whatever the reason the final goal stays the same, to work together, and if perchance we happen to be quite good at this and stumble into the odd working test or even a field trial (ooh’s and ahhh’s) then all the better.
But for all of us the journey starts the same way ... with a little bit of training
What better place to start than at puppy class. With socialisation at the fore, a great way to introduce both pup and handler to the very basics, the building blocks for all future training, lead, whistle and a simple recall whilst being comfortable and polite around other dogs.
Puppies need stimulation and fun not boring lengthy sessions, 10 - 15 mins once a day without applying too much pressure is an easy way to make training routine yet enjoyable. Please don't think that turning up once a week for half an hour will get you a nicely behaved pup. You need to give your puppy time, patience and practice, practice, practice.
After the basics are solid it's time to venture out of puppy class and into a novice group.
Whilst every training class should be fun and informative our youngsters need to learn when is play and when is work... playtime is over, time to concentrate.
Both Novice and/or Intermediate classes re-inforce the basics and start pushing our dogs that little bit further. Longer sit/stays, longer retrieves, memories and blinds all put together with hand and whistle commands and an introduction to game.
And still we must practice, practice, practice whilst employing a degree of moderation. We do not want our dogs to become bored or to start pre-empting "what comes next".
When training at home set yourself a clear goal BEFORE you start. Know in your mind what you are going to do and stick to the plan, once you have achieved your aim... finish !!!.. The temptation is to "just do another one" or "push it a little further", but what if we then fail, our simple, cleanly executed session starts to turn quickly into one of those that we all hate.. shove the dummies in the bag and everyone goes home deflated. Stop on THE WIN .... If you haven't been able to achieve the goal, learn and understand why and then finish on a simple set of achievable basics. Some nice heel work, some nice sit/stays. Always finish on the WIN.
For those that are interested in competition, Working Tests are run through the spring and summer. There are also a number of club competitions and Kirkbourne had the pleasure of fielding two teams in the National Gundog Competition, held at The Yorkshire Game fair, in 2015.
The tests were structured around "real life" situations that you would find on a shooting day. The use of live game to test steadiness for both spaniels and retrievers proved to be a nerve wracking moment for handlers although nearly all managed without incident. If you have put the training in, and stuck to the plan .. trust the dog and relax.
So time has flown and we have spent the last 18 months or so training hard ... and as summer turns to Autumn, so thoughts of the shooting season (and the first for many) start forming.
We need to make sure our dogs are steady... steady to everything !!.. The sound of shot, the flush of a bird, the flush of ground game, other dogs running in, the beaters wagon, the sights sounds and smells of a shoot day.
We have moved to the advanced class and are taking advantage of the specialist pre-season training sessions that are available.
At Kirkbourne we are extremely lucky to be able to work very closely with the local shoot and it's head keeper.
We are able to organise "Beaters Days", where dogs and handlers get to Meet The Keeper and see what goes in to running a successful shoot.
We introduce our dogs to the beaters flag and learn how to use this unweildy item without doing either ourselves or the dogs harm ...
And with fantastic access to farmland as the season the season draws nearer still we are able to partake in the time old tradition of "dogging in" (moving naturally wandering birds back to where the keeper wants them to be)
And then we arrive at the big day ... the day we have been training for, in sunshine, snow , sleet, rain, fog, ice and mud up to our armpits.. it's finally here !!!!
A mixture of nerves and excitement.
The 2015 Season saw Kirkbourne Spaniels supply a team of both beaters and pickers up to the local shoot.
Some members had been training with us since the beginning and it was with a huge amount of pride that we stood back and watched as they settled in and worked a full season.
click the images to see full screen slide show
So, remember, when you collect that tiny bundle of fluff with razor sharp teeth, from puppy to gundog doesn't happen overnight.
It takes time, patience, perseverance and a few tears along the way, but if you stick to the plan you will get there in the end...