The Close Season for Gun Dogs

The Close Season for Gun Dogs

Stan Rawlinson (Doglistener) Explains the problems that can occur with your working gundogs during the close season and how to stimulate your dogs and keep them fit, active and keen.

What you need to do to keep your dogs stimulated, keen and fit during the close season

Gunner one of a litter I bred in 2017 He is the one I kept and is working with my others on 4 major shoots. He is so good I am thinking of using him for stud

Breeding Specialisation: Today’s working dogs are the product of countless years of specialised breeding.

Which has resulted in dogs with an instinctual flair for hunting and retrieving.

They vibrate with excitement and the need to find their quarry, it is palpable.

If you haven’t felt or seen this then you have never worked a true hunting or retrieving dog.

You can see their joy; the pleasure they show when they are working.

Even the ones that are sometimes fractious and aggressive with other dogs forget their animosity as soon as they start hunting in earnest.

And what strange mechanism allows our dogs to sense that this is the day that we are going out beating, shooting, stalking or whatever type of hunting we do, because every time they know when we are going to those special places.

I used to think it was the way I dressed, So I put on my shooting and beating gear on the days I was not going to work them to test this theory. They still sensed the days when I actually was going on the real shoot with them.

I think we must give little clues with our body language, subtle nuances that we cannot detect, but their heightened awareness and ability allows them to read it as clear as if we had it stamped on our foreheads.

Ownership is a Privilege: To me is the joy of owning these magnificent animals is to see them doing what nature intended. That gives me more pleasure than any other pastime I can think off.

Though I no longer train gundogs, my profession has taken me into the psychological aspects of why our pets behave the way they do. Irrespective of what I do now, for me the working dog still embodies the spirit of what dogs are all about. These are the high-performance sports cars of the canine world. Forget the pampered pooches seen at Crufts, though some undoubtedly do actually work.

Springer Hunting For Game
Springer Hunting For Game

Having said that, in the main our working strains are a very different animal to their show-ring counterparts.

Just look at the Labradors or the Springer’s, or one of my favourites the working Cocker Spaniel.

Put the two side by side with the working strain. If you did not know better you might be excused into thinking, they were different breeds.

We see far more working dogs today than at any other time in recent history, reflecting the change in our working environment, and class system and new found affluence.

No longer the domain of the landed gentry, shooting hunting and fishing is enjoyed by a wide swathe of the population from postmen to politician’s lawyers to labourers.

This in itself causes something of a conundrum. The large shoots kept packs of working dogs under the tutelage of the head keepers or under-keepers. Some of the larger estates had dog men specifically employed to train, breed, and exercise these animals.

Today most of the working dogs are owned by individuals rather than the landowners, and that in itself causes problems for the well-being both physically and mentally for our working dogs during the close season

Is your dog pulling on the Lead, Unruly, Bad Recall, Aggressive on Lead, Jumping Up?
See my article and Video Clips on how to stop this.
The Jingler
Three of my dogs at Lord Carrington’s Estate in High Wycombe

  Keeping the Dogs Occupied: The large estates had the facilities to keep their dogs sharp and fit, by working them on the areas of the land where the sporting game was not laid down, and where breeding birds would generally not be disturbed.

Now that most shoots are fairly small, keepers are not overly enamoured with people training their dogs over their precious land.

This is especially the case at this time of year when the birds start to nest up. Or when the poults are starting to be brought in normally in July.

One minute the dogs are working once or even twice a week then suddenly after the 1st of February and the end of life as we know it.

Few shoots start to shoot their pheasants before late October, so the effective season runs from November to the end of January, a paltry three months.

Isn’t it time that our shooting season was realigned to the reality of the breeding cycles of our game birds? I am sure that point has been raised on many occasions. It is my belief that the pheasant season should start in November and finish on the 1st of March. Grouse, of course, is the glorious 12th August and partridge and duck the 1st September

It is like allowing our kids free rein in Disneyland for a day or two each week, then after a few months saying that they cannot go anymore. They would probably get morose and upset wondering what they had done wrong. To some extent, that happens to our dogs. I have seen dogs get depressed, confused, frustrated and in some cases difficult to handle when the season comes to a close, come to think of it, I have seen quite a few people have to same symptoms.

I have a couple of friends that work their dogs on a commercial shoot in Surrey whose whole lives and work are based on ”The Season” they work flat out February to October so they can take the time out to indulge their passion for shooting, beating, and picking up. I also used to pick up at the same shoot, but unfortunately found the keeper so foul-mouthed and abusive to everyone that I felt I could no longer offer my services. I am sure he will know who I am talking about, and so will the rest of the team.

I work my dogs on four shoots now all of them have excellent gamekeepers They could not be more polite and appreciative, it is an absolute pleasure to work on these shoots That often reflects on the size and the keenness of the work parties, There is a solid team that is always helping out on the rebuilding of release pens and generally helping out in every way they can. This is because they respect and like the keepers rather than accept the bad behaviour that in some cases appear endemic, and is often excused as pressure on the shoot days. There is never an excuse for rudeness or ignorance.

My Old Springer Spaniel He Still Works
My Old Springer Spaniel He Still Works

Obsessive Behaviour: Some dogs start to get strange quirky habits, like shadow chasing staring at walls and other obsessive-compulsive disorders.

In February, the days are so short that unless we are retired or out of work it is very difficult to give our dogs the type of stimulation that helps them overcome the postseason doldrums. It is almost a punishment for them.

I remember when I was in the Army. One of my postings was to a place called Falingbostal.

it was the back of beyond of nowhere with nothing to do other than patrolling the then East German border. It felt like a punishment posting.

As if we were being made to atone for some unknown misdemeanour. I hated the place not just the cold but the isolation and the loneliness.

Perhaps our dogs do feel the same way? I am aware that we cannot be anthropomorphic and assume dogs have the cognizant abilities of humans, Though just occasionally I have thought that one or two dogs appeared smarter than their owners. Certainly when it came to common sense.

I believe there are a number of things you can do to help your dogs over this difficult period. I see many shoots that do not see other members or beaters until the next season.

Why not arrange a number of meets with the dogs the beaters and the guns, if possible. Obviously, on a large professional shoot, this may not be possible to include the guns but it can include the keen people that help run the shoot, from the stoppers off to the beaters and pickers up and dogging in teams.

Me on right with a couple of friends at Sir Rocco Fortes Shoot

Get together and arrange a walk over part of the shoot or another land that may be available that will not cause any nuisance or disturbance to nesting birds.

The dogs will think that they are back in harness and will love the couple of hours of exercise and work.

Meeting the people and dogs they had worked with during the season perks the dogs up enormously, and it does us a great deal of good as well.

Volunteer to dogging in when the poults are the right age and starting to wander from the pens.

The picture on the right is of myself and two other pictures up at a very large well-known shoot in Surrey. All three of us are involved in the dogging in here during the close season.

I worked my dogs on 128 days in the 2018/2019 season starting on Partridge and Ducks in September then the pheasants starting October. The dogging in will help the steady up the dogs and rectify the faults that have crept into so much work during the season.

If you cannot get dogging in, try and keep up the general training, it is difficult sometimes when lots of other pet dogs are roaming and interfering, so it is best to try and find some isolated spots to do some dummy work, hidden retrieves, and send away’s keep it varied and interesting.

Do not constantly do the same exercises in the same order, do a couple of very different actions and exercises that may not me shooting related. Teaching your dog a few silly tricks can be rewarding to the dog, always finish all exercises and training on a high. If the dog cannot get a particular requirement then finish on one that he can do with lots of praise.

Remember, If a dog cannot get a particular training exercise it is not the dog’s fault it is normally yours. I see people getting frustrated with their dogs because they do not get a complicated command, I always say if the dog cannot understand your wishes then you have gone too far too fast. Go back a few stages and take it nice and easy.

Make Feeding Interesting: Scatter feed your dog instead of feeding in a bowl, scatter the food in the garden the kitchen or the kennel this will make the dog have to work and hunt out the food.

There are also specialised shaped balls and activity cubes that dispense kibble and treats.

These have to be manipulated by the dogs to get their treats; it makes the dog have to work for it and stimulates mental callisthenics, easing boredom and lethargy.

My Large Range of All Natural Air Dried Treats

As do all my own range of (1) Natural Air Dried Treats.

All of them are great for dental hygiene the most prolific disease in dogs.

87% of all dogs and 70% of cats over three years of age will already have this serious ailment. (2) Dental Hygiene in Dogs and Cats

Are you aware that kibble with wheat, other grains and gluten in the ingredients, are the main cause of dental disease in our pets

I started my own range of Doglistener Premium Treats in Autumn 2018. I did that because I wanted to be absolutely certain that the treats I was selling were ethical and truly natural.

Click the picture left to go to my full regularly updated list of Doglistener Premium Air Dried Natural Treats  

I needed to be able to guarantee their provenance and I required them to fulfil stringent ethical criteria that I personally stand by

For them to fulfil those requirements, they had to be from free-range animals, all grown as nature intended with no growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics and non-halal and from EU regulated livestock.  They also had to be totally natural without any additives, colourants, grains or even spices.    

They also must be from human grade animals, not the so-called 4-D meat that gets its name from diseased, dying, disabled and dead livestock, deemed unfit for human consumption. 

Once I had found suitable suppliers from only EU countries which have stringent requirements regarding animal husbandry I had one final condition

I wanted the treats to be once dried, to be packaged and sent directly to me, not stored in warehouses for months if not years, which is how some dog foods and treats are kept.

I feed my dogs both Kibble and raw food. The raw is from a specialised supplier that does not sell meat from animals that have any growth enhancing drugs or pumped full of antibiotics or any other drugs, all have to be free range.

The resultant food is some of the best you will ever feed your dog. See (3) Dog Food and Behaviour for all the foods have tested and what I recommend and feed my dogs I also use (4) Fish4Dogs. I have found it to be the very best of the dried food for price and quality.

The foo

Sometimes small things make all the difference try putting a cupful of sugar in a juggernauts fuel tank or a tiny speck of grit in a grandfather clocks mechanism, from such a small ingress the effects can be quite dramatic.It could be a small simple thing that may make all the difference to the mental well-being of your dog. So the above ideas are well worth trying.

Work Ethics: Sometimes all it needs simply have your dog earn his use of your resources. Is he hungry? No problem, he simply has to sit before his bowl is put down. Does He want to play fetch? Great! He has to”down” before you throw the dummy. Want to go for a walk? He has to sit to get his lead put on, and has to sit while the front door is opened.

He has to sit and wait while the car door is opened and listen for the word (I use “good”) that means “get into the car”. When you return he has to wait for the word that means “get out of the car” even if the door is wide open. Enforce the new rules, but keep in mind that your dogs only doing what it’s been taught to do and it’s going to need some time to get the hang of it all.

What you will find is the dog starts to get with the programme and looks forward to the expectations of behaviour. He will be stimulated by the need to do certain actions before he gets the resources he wants, whether that is exercise, food, or attention. This simple little exercise can often have an enormous effect on your pets self-esteem, put some or all of the above things in place and I will be surprised if you do not see a more relaxed and well-behaved dog on the first day of the next season.

I have just started a facebook page on July 31st  2018 called All About Gundogs at the bottom this page is a link to it click on the small facebook logo and please join.

©Stan Rawlinson 2006
Updated 2019

(1) Natural Air Dried Treats

(2) Dental Hygiene in Dogs and Cat

(3) Dog Food and Behaviour

(4) Fish4Dogs 

Comment (1)

  • fionalake55_262328

    Is there a safe and effective Flea and Tick Treatment?
    I am Using the Garlic Powder from the Sheen Dog Store-to help deter fleas and ticks. ( as well as other health benefits)
    I have also used the Frontline flea and tick serum on my cocker spaniels neck area.
    But should he be ingesting a tablet instead of the serum? I just worry the vets flea and tick medicine may be too harsh on his stomach. As he has vomited/had diarreah from them once in the past.

    July 16, 2020 at 8:31 pm

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