How do you start training a gundog?

How do you start training a gundog?

If you’ve recently collected your gundog puppy you might be wondering what comes after the toilet training, early socialisation and first walk on one of Surrey’s beautiful commons.

If this is your first gundog breed, you might have started to notice that your retriever, spaniel or HPR is already showing its innate desire to hunt - especially in the autumn when there are lots of pheasants and partridge about in the countryside.

Your gundog puppy might also be a keen retriever. In this case, you’re likely to have spent a few hours a day collecting your slippers (or any other items which aren’t screwed down) from them.

If you wish to work your dog in the field, this is the time to nurture all these natural talents.

If you don’t, this is the time to build a relationship and develop a strong connection so that you can gain your gundog’s focus in the environment.

It will also be important in the long term to ensure your gundog has an outlet for their natural abilities.

Instead of trying to suppress them, giving your retriever, spaniel or HPR the opportunities to hunt in a controlled way, or retrieve on cue, will prevent problems from cropping up in the future, such as bogging off on walks, chasing shadows and other small furry things, and pulling on the lead.

In this blog, we’ll explore what gundog training involves, if it’s right for you and your dog, and how you can get started with gundog training if you live in Kent, Surrey, West Sussex or Hampshire.

spaniel puppy hunting in gundog training class

How much exercise does a gundog puppy need?

Gundogs, particularly those from working lines, are known for being “busy” and having lots of energy.

If you’re a first-time gundog owner you might be shocked at how challenging it can be to get your puppy to settle at home.

You’ve probably heard the saying “a tired dog is a good dog”, but it’s really important that we don’t over-exercise our gundog puppies. To ensure their joints develop properly and to prevent health issues later in life, you should really stick to the 5 minute rule in terms of ‘walks’ and then add activities like scentwork, sensory walks, proprioception exercises for enrichment and healthy development.

This means you should walk or exercise your puppy for around 5 minutes per month of their age. So if they’re 6 months old, you only want to do about half an hour per walk – this can be two or three times a day.

If you have a particularly active puppy who is into everything at home and struggles to relax, you probably think this isn’t enough. But a longer walk isn’t the answer.

The best way to tire your gundog puppy out is to get them using their brain. And this can be done most effectively with training.

black labrador retriever fetching pheasant toy in puppy gundog class

What age should I start training my gundog?

Traditionally it was thought that gundog training should not start until the dog had mentally matured and was around 6 to 8 months old.

At Teach Your Gundog all our instructors use fun, positive reinforcement and force-free methods to train gundogs of all breeds and all ages.

This approach, which focuses on rewarding the dogs for the behaviours we want and avoids punishing them if they make a mistake, means we can start training with gundog puppies as soon as they have had their vaccinations.

Early stages of training focus on building a strong bond between you, the handler, and your puppy, fostering trust and understanding.

Once you have nailed this, we start to look at the basic gundog cues you will need to progress with your breed-specific training.

yellow labrador puppy sits facing handler in foundation gundog group class

What are the basic cues I need to teach my gundog?

Before we look at the basics you need to teach your gundog, let’s briefly explore the jobs they have been bred for.

Retrievers - such as labradors, golden retrievers and flat coat retrievers - are bred to be steady next to their handler while game is shot. They are then sent to pick the game and bring it back quickly and cleanly so that it can be prepared and cooked for the table.

Hunting Retrievers - such as cocker spaniels, springer spaniels and clumber spaniels - are bred to hunt for birds in cover before flushing them for the Gun to shoot. If there isn’t a retriever present, they will also be required to pick the birds and bring them back in the same way, so that they can be prepared for the table.

Hunting Pointing Retrievers (HPRs) - such as vizsla, pointers and weimaraners - are bred to hunt in large open grounds like moorlands and will point at the birds to show the Gun its location. The Gun can then move closer before the HPR flushes the bird for the Gun to shoot. If needed, they will then retrieve the bird and deliver it to hand ready to be cooked into a healthy meal.

Now we know what gundogs are bred to do, we can look at the basic cues we need to teach our gundogs to work successfully in the field and be fulfilled and happy pets.

  1. Sit/Stay: Fundamental for steadiness and control. This builds on to our stop whistle cue later.
  2. Come/Recall: Teaching your gundog to come back promptly and reliably when called is a vital cue for everyone’s safety.
  3. Heel: No one wants a dog that drags them about on the daily walk.
  4. Retrieve: We harness the natural retrieving instincts by teaching them to fetch and return items gently and efficiently.
  5. Hunting: We can also teach our hunting dogs to put their noses down and follow scent on cue while staying close by to us.

A group gundog training class in Haslemere, Surrey taught by Jules Morgan

Is gundog training right for me?

Some owners, especially those not interested in field sports, question if gundog training is right for them and their dog.

The short answer is: if you have a gundog breed then yes, gundog training is right for you.

It does require patience, time and a genuine passion for nurturing the innate abilities of these special breeds. At Teach Your Gundog, based on the Surrey, Hampshire, West Sussex border, we focus on making training fun and engaging for both the handlers and the dogs regardless of your goals.

Want to take your dog picking up or beating? We can help.

Want to work through the Gundog Club Graded Training Scheme? We can help.

Want a fun hobby which involves spending time with your dog? We can help.

If you’re ready to embark on your gundog training journey and are looking for a reward-based, experienced and accredited gundog trainer in Surrey, West Sussex or Hampshire, then our puppy gundog classes for dogs under 8 months old, and foundation gundog classes are both taught by Jules Morgan and are carefully designed to help you get off to the best start with training your gundog.

Click here to book a class now, and embark on a remarkable training journey with your gundog here in Haslemere on the Surrey, Hampshire, West Sussex border.

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