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Gun Dogs - Learner Labrador - By-Sue Knight


With lighter evenings and gundog training in full swing, many people will be asking themselves when is the right time to introduce their young dog to the shooting field.

We decided this would be the ideal introduction for our young black Labrador "Drummer" aged 15 months.

Introduction to the beaters trailer

"Introduction to the beaters trailer"

Learning to sit patiently

"Learning to sit patiently"

Learner Labrador

With lighter evenings and gundog training in full swing,  many people will be asking themselves when is the right time to introduce their young gundog to the shooting field. I was faced with this dilemma last season. Normally we don’t take a gundog out until at least two years of age but a shooting invitation presented an opportunity not to be missed. We knew the shoot well, the beaters, drives and Guns and decided this would be the ideal introduction for our young black Labrador ‘Drummer’ aged 15 months.

The plan was simple. My husband would shoot with our eldest Labrador ‘Roydon’ as peg dog and I would stand well back with ‘Drummer’ and our other picking up dog, ‘Quincey’. As luck would have it, my husband had drawn a good peg for the first drive but unfortunately the first pheasant fell dead within a whisker of ‘Quincey’ and ‘Drummer’ and both dogs lunged to pick it up. Not the ideal start regarding steadiness! However, by holding the bird aloft in one hand and with dogs on lead in the other, we sat out the drive and let ‘Roydon’ pick the other dead pheasants.

By the third drive ‘Quincey’ had resigned himself to sitting and watching rather than working. ‘Drummer’ found the sitting still a challenge and I made a mental note to practice longer sits but at least he was silent. He was now learning to listen to the sound of the beaters and the flight of small birds prior to a flush of pheasants. When a bird was shot within sight he watched it land with interest but I emphasised the ‘leave’ command.

After lunch, I left the two older dogs in the back of a vehicle and concentrated on ‘Drummer’. Once the Guns and beaters had moved off, I introduced him to the beaters trailer, teaching him to jump on and off under control. He gave the row of hanging pheasants an interested glance but made no attempt to snatch one. I then tried his first retrieve on a dead hen pheasant.

Sitting ‘Drummer’ up I walked forward along a track parallel to a hedge, dropped the bird, returned to his side and gave his retrieve command. To my delight he ran straight out, picked it with only slight mouthing and returned to hand. With much praise, I repeated this again extending the distance and then called it a day after his second successful retrieve.

During the remaining season, he was introduced to other shoots under careful supervision. Some days he learnt to remain quietly in the car while the other dogs worked or just to sit, on a lead, and watch a drive. He learnt to cross a stream via a narrow plank by waiting until I called him over and thrill of thrills, there came the day he retrieved his first freshly shot cock pheasant and brought back a hen runner, both to hand.

I read an article that said if a gundog could not be trusted to remain off lead, it was not ready for the shooting field, but how can you train for the atmosphere, the excitement, the scents and the sounds?  It is still early days, but I hope by the end of next season ‘Drummer’ will drop his L plates and become part of our picking up team.

Article and Photos  © Sue Knight


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