The Gundog Training Equipment
If you are thinking about training a gundog or have already started the process then you are going to need to look at this guide. In it I will talk about some of the training tools and equipment you will need for the training of both young and older dogs, why you need them and how to use them.
Let’s start with the basic puppy gundog pack, this should consist of a game bag, field or slip lead, dummy and a whistle.
The game bag is essential for two reasons, firstly it keeps all the training equipment you have in the one place and is easy to carry. Secondly your dog will start the process of training vs play association, remember a gundog puppy is the same as any other puppy it is carefree and playful. So, building that early association with the training bag is essential, liken it to the use of a harness on the guide dog for the blind. The moment that harness goes on they associate it with work, when you pick up that bag your puppy should associate the bag with training.
Get yourself a few slip leads, I can almost guarantee you will always loose them, but more importantly and highly likely is that your puppy will try to chew it so you will need a backup lead just in case. From day one you need to desensitise your young pup to the sensation of wearing a slip lead, if they spend the early days walking on lead and collar or even in some cases I see a harness then introducing the slip later is going to be hard work.
The whistle is one of the most important tools in training, as it gives a clear, loud and above all consistent signal for your dog to learn. Now there is a huge array of type whistles but for me the best one to start with is the ACME 210 ½. The reason we use the whistle is that your tone of voice is important and can change very quickly depending on the situation, but a whistle always sounds the same, so your dog always knows what you mean.
Lastly you need a dummy, a standard canvas one at this early stage is fine. You could make one up yourself by using a couple of tennis balls in an old sock but to be honest dummies are cheap enough and are the right weight and size. At this early stage don’t go buying the bigger dummy (Pheasant, Duck ect). Stick to the smaller Partridge size canvas dummy right now so you will not get so many refusals to pick and retrieve. If the dummy is to big and too heavy at this stage, you will be shaping the wrong behaviour and they will get into a habit of refusing the retrieve. Make it simple and make it fun and as the dog gets bigger and more confident then you can introduce the bigger dummies to them.
Okay so that’s the puppy training pack which is all you really need until your dog reaches 6-8 months and then we can be looking at the introduction of a few more training tools. Assuming the training is progressing, what training aids are on the market and how far do you want to take it. Well for me it depends on what type discipline or work you are training your dog to perform. Is it for the beating line or do you want your dog picking up and standing to peg with you? Both have different needs and require different tools. But let’s concentrate on the picking up and peg dog as the training is more in depth.
The most important thing to remember about the picking up or peg dog is that they require a huge amount of patience and steadiness while the birds are flying over and being shot. So, to train this patience and steadiness you are going to have to replicate the action, noise and smells the best you can. This is where the starter pistol or dummy launcher comes into play as part of your tool kit.
Obviously with a starter pistol you are limited by your own throwing ability and your dog’s willingness to remain in a sit while you place the dummy at a distance. Which is where the dummy launcher can be more effective, especially when teaching a dog to mark while standing to peg with you. Again, the dummy launcher will use .22 blanks but these are designed 6mm, 8mm or 9mm with each calibre firing the dummy to a different distance. There are different types but the most common is a handheld unit which fires one dummy at a time. You could add a shoulder butt which replicates the shotgun, or you could go full out and go for a remote-control unit. At the end of the day it depends on your budget but for the average gundog enthusiast the handheld unit is all you need. When using the dummy launcher always be aware of the environment around you as they can send the dummy a fair distance. Standing by your dog’s side or just short of your dog hold the launcher up, never point the launcher directly at anything or anyone and always have it slightly elevated. When you are ready, call the words “mark it” to your dog. Release the dummy and wait for it to land and bounce, then send your dog for the retrieve. Repeating the process until your dog is nice a steady and marking nicely.
There are many different types of starter pistols, but they are all basically the same, firing .22 blanks which can replicate to a point the sound of the shotgun, which in turn alerts your dog to the fact that there could be a retrieve coming. Each .22 blank is filled with black powder and gives off a distinctive smell much like a shotgun cartridge, so in training I need to get my dog to associate that smell with a shot bird. When using a starter pistol always think safety first, so always point it away from yourself and the dog. Get your dummy and place the starter pistol side on to the dummy, fire the starter pistol which will release the black powder and it will leave that smell on the dummy. At this point either throw or place the dummy for the dog to retrieve.
We now at this point also need to be looking at size of dummy and the types of dummy we are using as we progress with the training. Canvas dummies are great to start off with especially if I am going to do some trialling but if it is field work you are aiming for then it is the lifelike dummies you should be looking at as a way forward. All different types once again but the Avery or Dokken Bird Dummies are my personal favourite handheld throwing dummy, they have that lifelike look and weight that really keeps your dog’s interest. If you have a dummy launcher you can buy the lifelike dummies also to suit.
There are so many other training tools out there and I could keep going on the subject but at the end of the day the above items are fundamental to training a dog from a young pup through to becoming a fully-fledged working Gundog with each tool having its place in that journey. Remember the training never stops, so although it might feel like a lot of expense to have these tools you will hopefully be using them for many years to come.
One of the last tools I would add to my collection is fur and feather. It is that transition from dummy to feather that is so important, many trainers collect their own feathers (wings) and tie them to their existing dummies which is great but there are alternatives and recently I saw a full real Pheasant pelt retrieving dummy. A rabbit dummy also is an essential tool to have in your bag for two reasons, one for retrieving and two to control your dog’s impulse to chase fur.