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Gun Dogs - Gun Dog Etiquette on shoot day - Bob Laidlaw


I have had discussions with two people in the last week where the behaviour of dogs on shoot day had caused problems.

Both were shooting in new syndicates and interestingly, both men were looking at their respective problems from opposite sides of the fence.

I have had discussions with two people in the last week where the behaviour of dogs on shoot day had caused problems. Both were shooting in new syndicates and interestingly, both men were looking at their respective problems from opposite sides of the fence.

A guy that I have shot with a number of times in recent seasons and would regard him as a safe, sensible character with a well behaved dog, had joined a new syndicate. On one of his first shoot days with his new syndicate he allowed his dog to retrieve a shot bird midway through the drive, to make matters worse it was a bird shot by his neighbour.
The following day he received an email from the shoot captain telling him that under no circumstances should his dog be allowed to pick up until the drive has ended. Furthermore, his dog should not retrieve a fellow guns shot bird without permission from the other gun.
Clearly this shoot is run by a shoot captain who is firm about shoot etiquette and will have things done correctly. This can come as a culture shock if you've been involved with a shoot where dogs are allowed to run riot. However, these points should be made at the outset and although it would seem that this wasn't made clear when joining the syndicate, the shoot captain was right to act quickly and decisively.

The other gun that was experiencing problems had again just joined a new syndicate and was having his first day with them. He had taken his dog with him and was looking forward to meeting the team and making some new shooting friendships.
From the very first drive things started to go wrong when one of his fellow guns was allowing his dog to run loose off the lead and run-in for every bird shot. The new member had been looking forward to working his dog and, like so many of us, sees his dog as an integral part of his shooting equipment and as important as gun and cartridges.
Throughout the day the frustration built as his dog was not able to retrieve his shot birds, rather the other rampaging dog was picking everything that came down.
On the last drive, true to form, rampaging dog ran-in yet again to pick one of his birds at which point his own dog, which had behaved well all day, bolted for the same bird. Out of shear frustration he bellowed at his dog in an effort to stop it, only to be told by rampaging dogs owner that he should not shout at the dogs.

There is a lesson to be learned here, firstly to my knowledge there is no hard and fast rules as to when your dog should be sent to retrieve a shot bird and each shoot will set it's own standards. However, common sense suggests that, as with the people who pick-up on your shoot, dogs should only be unleashed to collect shot birds when the drive has ended.
Dogs running back and forth chasing runners during a drive can be both distracting and dangerous. Just one out of control dog can unsettle even the steadiest of dogs and the urge to chase after birds and compete with the other dog for the retrieve can be just too much even for a well trained dog.
As a gun dog owner/handler the responsibility falls to you to ensure that your dog is under control at all times, if it is not, then you need to think about more training or simply leaving the dog at home. A gun dog is not just a K9 who will pick up shot game, pretty much any dog from good gun dog blood lines will do that automatically without any training.
The desire to retrieve has to be harnessed and controlled so that the dog will retrieve only when sanctioned by you. If you can't trust your mutt to do that then it should be kept on the lead, or even better left at home until properly trained.

Bird retrieved and beautifully delivered after final whistle

"Bird retrieved and beautifully delivered after final whistle"

Dogs under control

"Dogs under control"

The next problem is this, at what point and to whom do you make your feelings known ?
A direct approach to rampaging dogs owner may well cause unrest and bad feeling in the team. The other guns will almost certainly share your frustrations but may be reluctant to voice this and give you their support.
This has to fall to the shoot captain to nip this in the bud and stop any bad feeling or arguments between the guns. This could quite easily be done as a general email/letter from the captain to the team requesting that “all guns bringing dogs to the shoot are requested to keep them on the lead until the drives are finished”, the shoot captain could also request that dogs retrieve only their handlers birds unless help is requested by other team members. This directive could be reinforced during the safety briefing.
Personally I would make contact with the shoot captain after the shoot day so that any words you may have are not over heard by other guns.
It is always difficult to handle situations like this when you are the new boy, the last thing you want is to be seen as a trouble maker or moaner, but you've paid your money and you are entitled to have your say – but please be tactful.


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