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Seven Essential Gundog Training Tips

We are breaking this article into lists of do’s and don’t dos, with explanations for the reasons. Although some may seem common sense, you will not believe the number of people who make these mistakes and who end up with a dog that is confused.

Do buy a dog from working stock

Breeding is important to livestock. It controls not just the looks of the animal, but also the capabilities – the sense of smell, the intelligence and disposition. Although we can mould behaviour in the animal, you will find it much easier to direct something that comes naturally, rather than instill it from scratch. It used to be the practice, when dogs were seen more as livestock than pets or companions, to rid yourself of a dog with vices

Do dress appropriately for dog training

By this I don’t mean that you should always train in your shooting gear, but remember if you spend eighteen months training your dog to respond to hand-signals in casual clothes in a bare field, he will probably wonder where the hell you are when you are dressed in your real-tree head to toe against a matching background.

If you find yourself in a bright place, think before you wear sunglasses.

My wife, Terry, was working our English Springer in an obedience competition attended by the local press. The bitch (by which you all know I mean Bonnie) would not approach her on the recall. When the line-up photo appeared in the local paper, the thing that jumped out of the page at you was Terry’s sunglasses!

Bonnie was obviously stressed by being asked to come to her wearing these, so if your animal starts circling you rather than her usual straight in approach, do whip your glasses off.

Don’t think that your dog thinks in the same way as yourself

Because they don’t! They see the world in muted colours – to a dog’s eyes the orange retrieving dummies actually end up a very similar colour to grass, which is why they sometimes make a hash of finding them. They are also much more aware of scent and sound, and when you think how we think in pictures and words, our main senses for the world being vision and sound, I wonder if dogs think in scent and sounds?

Say it once

The aim is to teach a dog to respond to a single command, not the second, third or fourth.

For this reason, always teach a dog new commands in a way that you can control the situation and ensure that he obeys.

As an example, when you are teaching the dog to present a retrieve in a classic manner, that is, sat square in front of you with head lifted, use a corridor joining onto the dog’s sleeping quarters (in our case, the kitchen).

With my back to the kitchen and the dog sat at my side, I will throw a short retrieve. Once the dog fetches the dummy, his first instinct is not to run over and give it to me, but to run back to the bed and chew it. By setting myself in a narrow corridor I am in a good position to intercept him, encourage him to sit in front of me.

Getting him to present nicely? A previous lesson involves getting him to come to you in the same corridor, and using a small treat to raise his head…


Always assume that if a dog does not obey, he is not being contrary, he just isn’t aware of what is wanted.

Only when a dog has been obeying a command for several weeks, and suddenly decides not to, are you right to even consider punishment. This should be used as a last resort, and both your’s and the dog’s personalities taken into account. Remember this is a relationship you are working on, and the best relationship involves trust and committment on both sides.

Never punish a dog when he returns to you, especially if you call him. Suppose you let him out in your garden, when next door’s pet rabbit has just pulled itself through the hedge. Your dog decides to play foxes and rabbits, and accidentally kills the bunny. You scream at him, he starts to run in fear, then you call him and he comes. If you punish him now, he will forever think he is in trouble when you recall him or when he smells a rabbit. Look at it from his point of view.


When you start training, make sure that temptation never abounds in the area. If you are doing retrieving outside for the first time, don’t go where the dog is likely to fall over a rabbit and set off in hot pursuit. If game is around, walk the ground first to chase it off, then the dog can enjoy hunting the ground with a lower risk of giving you a coronary.

That is not to say a little temptation is a bad thing – but build up to it. You should eventually be able to stop your dog in full flow with a peep on your whistle.

Say it quietly

Before my dog lost his hearing (and he is deaf; he doesn’t hear the rattle of a crisp packet now) I had a party trick.

German Short-haired Pointers don’t really like sitting in a field. At four hundred yards, I would give a little peep and he would stop and look at me.

If it had been thirty yards he would have sat, (he knew the range at which I considered a sit compulsory and worth the walk to enforce it!). Since he was nearly a quarter of a mile away, and knowing I would only walk it occasionally to discuss his manners with him, at that range he would stop, but just look at me.

Without any visual signals, I would hiss ‘sssttt!’ very quietly, and he would instantly sit, to non-doggy people’s amazement.

The point of what I am trying to get across here, is that a dog doesn’t need to be shouted at, blasted with a whistle, unless it is a dire emergency, so don’t do it – you will see much more game.

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