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  • Sue

You don’t have to do it all

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with training? Or feel like you’re going through the motions just because you feel you have to? Sometimes it’s good to just take a step back and think what it is that you really want to do with your dog.

I’ve spoken to people many times in the early stages of their training journey who have been frustrated or disappointed because they feel they aren’t progressing as fast as they would like or that they seem to take one step forward and 2 steps back. Particularly when you’re training your first gundog, it can be tempting to rush things, to get to the ‘exciting’ stuff before the basics are put in place. You might have read an article, a book or watched a film where all of the skills of a working gundog are showcased, and you have that vision in your head as the end goal. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that is indeed what you are striving to achieve and have the time, patience and dedication to put into a dog over many years. But it’s also OK to have a smaller goal or to have one particular job or skill as your focus.

The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and with your trainer if you have one. What do you truly want to achieve with your dog. It’s OK if your dog never works on a shoot or if the thought of entering a competition gives you palpitations. Your journey with your dog is meant to be fun and enjoyable for both of you. Yes, a gundog needs to have a fulfilling life, preferably with a job to do but that job doesn’t have to be a Field Trial Champion or a picking-up dog. It will be just as happy going out with you, exploring environments with you, taking part in sports, enjoying gundog training or being an assistance dog. The important thing is that no matter what ‘job’ your dog is destined to do, you put in the basics – ensure that your companion has obedience, manners and a good bond with you so that it wants to be with you, not a self-employed lunatic who runs off towards the horizon as soon as the lead comes off.

I’ve met many people who start off doing basic gundog training so that they work with their dog’s natural abilities with the sole intention of having a dog that they can take for a walk, that will come back when called and will behave in the house. They continue with their training and end up with the skills that they wanted and maybe a few extra ones to boot. That may be the end of their training journey – and that’s fine. They get to enjoy exploring the outdoors with their companion and a pub lunch with a well-behaved dog. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve also met people who started off with the same intention but who then felt that their dog needed to be able to retrieve, be able to hunt and flush game, to complete in tests and trials, when really, their heart wasn’t in any of these things and so instead of training being enjoyable, it became overwhelming.

Books and instructional videos will always tend to cover every role and skill that a gundog can achieve because they will mainly be made to show everything that you could learn. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to do it all. There are so many avenues open to dog owners now – from pure gundog work to scent work, agility, man trailing – the list goes on. All these activities are fantastic for ‘working breeds’ as they help build a bond between you and your dog, they channel their natural skills and instincts and give them a fulfilling life. But the main thing is that you find something that both you and your dog enjoy – otherwise it will become a chore that you don’t look forward to and your heart won’t ever be in it. Remember that training a dog continues throughout its lifetime, so make sure you are doing something that you love. And be aware that you may have to change your plan – a dog may become gun-shy, may be too vocal to be a competition dog, may not take to retrieving. Dogs are not robots, so sometimes it’s a case of accepting limitations and working to that particular dog’s strengths.

Remember – you don’t have to do it all. Have a goal that you are comfortable with, especially if you are a first-time gundog owner. The most important thing is that you have fun, look forward to what you do and progress at a pace that you are comfortable with.

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