Training your dog to become a gundog is a truly bonding experience. It builds a very strong relationship between the owner and their dog as trust has to be gained in order to succeed. A good trusting relationship is a key requirement when they are at a distance in the field with guns and birds everywhere. They help us by retrieving what is shot and we need to help them to find the retrieve. Teamwork is vital; they need to listen to us even though they are heavily distracted by the hunt, in order to fulfill the task and get the job done. When it all comes together it is a very rewarding experience for both taking part. It is also very beneficial for working breeds to have an outlet for their natural instincts as this can reduce problem behaviours developing at home and on walks. Chasing, hunting and ranging far are very desirable traits for working gundogs but these same behaviors’ can be a nightmare when they are our pets! Having control over these natural behaviours are very important for their safety and our sanity!
Many of the different things that are important to be a good gundog are also very desirable in a pet dog. These things include; a fantastic recall; an emergency stop; calm in a highly distracting environment; control when they are off lead; walk nicely close by on and off lead; to retrieve an item and bring it back to hand every time and only when asked by you (no more stealing other dogs balls!). If you own a gundog breed there is the advantage that they actually love their work and do it without the need for rewards; as having the opportunity to retrieve and hunt is the greatest reward for most. However, for other breeds the same results can still be achieved but the use of rewards are needed to teach them to love retrieving and hunting. There are exceptions to the rules as there are many labs that don’t find retrieving rewarding and many non-gundog breeds that love to retrieve!
As many of the things we need gundogs to do are quite complex the most effective way to teach is to break it down into smaller easier pieces then gradually put them all together. The training methods used are all force free and use the things your dog values such as food and toys to reward the correct behaviours (incorrect behaviours just get no reward so they learn quickly what pays). A clicker is used for some of the exercises which speed’s up the learning for the dog, especially when accuracy is important.