Diary of a Gundog: From Puppy to First Shoot. Episode 2: Exploration
Here in the second episode of our new series we’ll be keeping up with an excited Oscar. Having had a little more time to get used to his new home, it’s now the moment for him to finally go out on proper walks, as he’s had all his jabs.
It is imperative for gundogs to be well trained and obedient on a shoot, where there will be interesting smells, a sizeable area to be explored, lots of people and the noise of guns to boot. Oscar must be able to carry out orders without getting distracted by the sensory overload that he’ll experience and this requires a huge amount of training; training that starts as a puppy when it will have the greatest impact and become instinctive.
Over the last few weeks when Oscar wasn’t allowed out for walks, training has been restricted to the house and garden. However the family haven’t rested on their laurels, teaching Oscar to stay, lie down, sit and the beginnings of making him walk to heel. This was all done in a friendly way, through games and play, to encourage trust, loyalty and love within firm boundaries. For example, in his first days with the family, Oscar was swiftly trained in understanding ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when given food. Once he’d learnt these in a friendly way and was settled with the family in their home, it was okay to introduce ‘no’ in a sterner voice for unwanted behaviour such as toilet accidents and chewing.
Oscar quickly understood the meaning of ‘stay’. He was made to sit and given the command with the addition of being shown a raised palm. When he moved, he was told ‘no’ and replaced until he stayed. This was built up from calling him after a few seconds to leaving him a few minutes with no one in sight before calling him. Using the raised palm as well as voice commands ensures that Oscar will also obey the hand signal in circumstances when a voice command can’t be given.
Taking opportunity of situations as they naturally occur is also proving successful. Oscar wants to stay close to his owners. When out for walks, if he walks alongside the command ‘at heel’ is given to reinforce his actions with the word association. In these early months this is merely used as a basis for more thorough obedience training in the months to come.
As a gun dog, it is important that Oscar obeys one ‘Master’ over everyone else. As Oscar will be out shooting with Mr R primarily, he will need to obey him first before anyone else. Initial training at home has been carried out by him, with repetition by Mrs R when appropriate, so that Oscar also learns to obey her. They practice a clever training exercise at weekends or when out for walks all together. Oscar is given the ‘stay’ command whilst Mrs R is out of sight. When Mrs R calls Oscar, he is only allowed to go on Mr R’s ‘yes yes’ command (the double ‘yes’ distinguishes it from any other ‘yes’ utterance he might overhear). By doing this, Oscar will still obey Mrs R when out and about in the week, but will ultimately obey Mr R over everyone who calls him.
Now Oscar is finally allowed out for walks, he can’t wait to explore. His family are keen for him to experience different environments and situations, so that he becomes a well socialised dog; happy in any place with any people and obedient in new situations. Walks on the fell and in woodland and also busier places provide a host of smells, sounds and sights for Oscar to process. Oscar’s first camping trip left his owners a bit tired, because Oscar was alert to every little sound in the night. Every branch that rustled in the wind, every hoot of an owl had him up and wanting to investigate.
The family are particularly encouraging him to explore water and he loves playing in the river. Episode Three will cover the importance of confidence in the water for gun dogs and how the family are developing Oscar’s water skills.
Exploration – Through Oscar’s Eyes
It’s amazing! I can go out for walks. I can run and play. There’s so much to see and do, so many interesting smells. I love going out on the fell and in the woods. The children are out at school all day now and they love seeing me when they come home. I love seeing them too and playing games and having lots of cuddles and fuss made of me. We stayed out all night one night. I was far too excited to sleep, the woods are even more exciting in the dark.
When we’re out, we sometimes play games where I have to stay and then come. If I get it right they’re really pleased. I like it when I get it right. Phew! All this exploring is tiring. Time for a nap now.
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