Diary of a Gundog: Episode 3 – River Stories
Episode Three of our Diary of a Gundog series will concentrate on a combination of rivers and dogs. Now approximately five months old, Oscar the yellow labrador is being trained to be comfortable and confident in water in preparation for his first day of shooting in a few weeks. Why is it so vital for gundogs to be confident in water? How do you train them to be confident in water? And will there be cute pictures of Oscar bounding about in the water? You bet!
Naturally a good swimmer, Oscar has been encouraged to go into rivers during walks from an early age and enjoys playing in the water; leaping in for sticks that are thrown for him and having fun with the children. This perfectly tallies with the family’s desire for early training to be built on fun, friendliness, patience and praise before serious training begins in earnest in the coming months. In the past, professional gundog trainers have often advised to resist training until a dog was over eight months, but in these modern days of training that relies more on reward for positive behaviour and less on harsh punishments for unwanted behaviour, gradual training is often carried out earlier with no ill consequences.
On shoots in more rugged environments, Oscar will be expected to run through rivers and streams to get to a location and run or swim into water to fetch the retrieve. When waterfowling the shooting party may spend all day in wetlands, standing on boggy ground or in the water’s edge and Oscar will need to run in and out retrieving. Having issues with a dog that does not like getting his paws wet is not an option, so Oscar must be well trained to do his job whatever terrain he is on.
Experiencing the temperature and feel of flowing water, as well as the uncertainty of a pebbly or sandy river bed beneath his paws whilst young have meant that he is not afraid of water. Having gained this early confidence, Oscar can move onto developing his water skills further, such as swimming for a stick in the river and learning about the flow of water carrying objects downstream. Mr R has been very busy teaching Oscar to ‘mark’ an object, so that he can go and fetch it. By the river this has entailed making Oscar sit on the bank, getting his attention with a stick and then ensuring his gaze follows it not only as it is thrown in but as it floats downstream, before he is allowed to jump in after it. After lots and lots of attempts, Oscar has finally mastered finding the stick consistently, even in fast flowing water.
Copying older, more experienced dogs is one method of training that the family use. Before Oscar’s arrival, the family frequently dog-sat for a very well-trained, black labrador called Ollie. And it is Ollie now who is assisting in Oscar’s training. Much like a child learning by watching their parents and then acting out role-playing games, Oscar watches Ollie’s behaviour and mimics it. On earlier excursions, if Oscar’s owner stood by a steep section of the river bank, Oscar would try to scrabble out on the steep bit, rather than finding a shallower section to climb out on. Now he can follow Ollie as he finds an easy place to get out of the river and learn from him.
Oscar’s eagerness to learn from other dogs will come in handy when he goes on his first shoot in a few weeks’ time. On his first shoot, Oscar will only be watching, not participating, to get used to the sound of gunshot, being around the other dogs and people. He still has a lot to learn before he participates in his first proper shoot; how to hold the retrieve and when to drop it, developing steadiness and perfecting control and obedience. You can find out all about how Oscar finds his experience of being part of a shooting party in Episode Four.
Brrr! Rivers are chilly, but fun! I love racing in to grab sticks they throw for me. At first I was confused, because when I jumped in where the stick had landed, the stick wasn’t there. It had disappeared! Then I learnt that the sticks floated away and now I can watch them and swim after them.
Getting out of the river can be tricky if I can’t find the right spot. A good shake warms me up again and if I can get them all wet when I do it then I can have a laugh too! Funny, they’re not so keen on cuddles when I’ve just been in the river….
All of the beautiful photos of Oscar used in this series are courtesy of owner, Mrs R.