Is 2 years old too late to train a gundog?

Is 2 years old too late to train a gundog?

Over the last 30 years as a professional dog trainer, I’ve always been surprised at how many people tentatively approach me about joining my gundog classes, worried that their dog is too old. But is 2 years old too late to train a gundog?

I've worked with hundreds of ‘older’ gundogs, and so this blog aims to dispel myths, offer practical advice, and encourage owners of 2-year-old and above gundogs who are considering undertaking training.

This information is particularly relevant to owners of pet gundogs that would benefit from some breed-specific training, handlers who are looking for a new hobby to try out with their dog, and those who don’t necessarily plan to work their dog on a shoot (although this is still perfectly possible!).

on point vizsla gundog training in haslemere

Understanding gundog training basics

Before addressing the age concern, it's crucial to understand what training a gundog entails.

Gundogs, bred for working in the field, are trained in skills like retrieving, pointing, flushing, and hunting game. Essential qualities in a successful gundog include obedience, alertness, a keen sense of smell, and a desire to fetch and carry.

Each dog is unique, and age is just one tiny factor in their training potential. Genetics play a significant part in how well a gundog will take to training if they will be a natural or need a bit more encouragement and tuition.

It is true that those who get a puppy with the intention of training and working them on a shoot or competing benefit from rewarding and encouraging desired behaviours and discouraging unwanted ones from as early as eight weeks old.

But it’s a common misconception that they must be trained from puppyhood.

Dogs are lifelong learners, and if hunting and retrieving are successfully built into their genes, it will only take a little encouragement and time to mould them into a successful gundog.

older spaniel in gundog training jumping a log

Advantages of training an older gundog

At two years old, your gundog is in its young adult phase. While they may have developed specific behavioural patterns already, they are still quite malleable and capable of learning new skills.

There are lots of pros to starting training with an older dog, such as:

  1. Maturity
    Older dogs often have a longer attention span compared to puppies. This can be a huge asset in training, as they can focus better during sessions.
  2. Adolescence is a thing of the past
    Dogs, like humans, go through a “terrible teenage” phase. They are no longer innocent puppies, and as young dogs with lots of hormones, they can become less responsive and more distracted by other dogs and scent, which can disrupt training.
  3. Established personality
    You'll have a good grasp of your dog's personality and tendencies by two years old. This understanding allows for a more tailored training approach and can speed things up.
  4. Physical readiness
    Physically, our gundogs, even the larger retriever and HPR breeds, are well-developed by two years old. This is beneficial for the physical demands of training, such as running, jumping and swimming. It means you don’t need to worry about their joints and reduces the risk of injuries.
  5. Basics in place
    In many ways, gundog training is just core obedience with lots of twiddly bits. 
    Of course, many pet gundog owners seek breed-specific training because they struggle to communicate with their dog in a distracting environment where the instinct to hunt and fetch is greater than the desire to come back when called or walk nicely on the lead. 
    That said, by two years old, many dogs have started to learn and understand the basic cues needed, such as recall, sit and stay, and heel work, which means we can get started on the more specific and fun work of teaching hunting and retrieving.

Brittany spaniel in gundog training class

Challenges and overcoming them

Training a 2-year-old gundog isn't without its challenges. They might have ingrained undesirable habits, and it might take extra time and patience to help them learn new responses to cues and working in the natural environment.

Depending on what training you’ve done with them in the past, they can also be less flexible in adapting to new routines compared to younger dogs. However, these can be overcome with consistent, patient, and positive training methods.

The force-free, positive reinforcement-based methods we use at Teach Your Gundog are effective at any age, but you may need to be more patient in getting your dog to adopt new behaviours. Regular training sessions are also vital, and consistency will help older dogs understand and retain what they are learning.

black and white springer spaniel hunting

Start your gundog training today

In conclusion, at two years old, it is certainly still possible to start training a gundog. With the right approach, patience, and understanding of your dog's unique needs and abilities, you can embark on a rewarding journey that enhances your bond and provides mental and physical stimulation for your dog.

With the right mindset and techniques, an older gundog can become just as proficient in the field as one trained from puppyhood.

Are you interested in starting gundog training with your 2-year-old companion? Beginning in January 2024, our beginner gundog classes are designed for all breeds new to gundog work.

Classes take place in Haslemere on the Surrey, West Sussex, Hampshire border. They will focus on teaching your gundog the foundation behaviours, including heel, recall, a reliable retrieve, steadiness, stop whistle, directions, and hunting.

You will also learn how to use reinforcement effectively, how to play with your dog and social walking.

The focus of these classes is the development of skills required for the Gundog Club Grade 1 and Grade 2 levels and are suitable for pet gundogs, working dogs and those who want to compete in working tests in the future.

For more information, click here.

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