One of our lovely ambassadors Katie has shared a bit of background about her tribe of dogs, and a small look at her off-season training plan that might help you to plan for your own dogs!

I am by no means a dog trainer (my dogs would vouch for this) but, I do try to learn and improve on my journey! 

I am fortunate to have a close friend who is very knowledgeable and happy to support me. Dog training is all year round, but I think for most people, the longer, lighter days undoubtedly give us more ability to focus and stay consistent (not my strong point, but I am working on it). 

If your dog’s live in, training is non-stop to a certain extent, but if they’re kennelled then training can look a little different and require a more structured approach.

Your time with your dogs will depend on many factors, including how many you have, what age and what experience. 

The last 6 months have looked very different for me. Each dog has bespoke needs. 

We have five dogs, starting with the oldest, Snoop. He is an 8-year-old Rat Terrier. He is a rescue dog, gun shy, training shy and he considers work a visit to the office!

Second, we have Buddy (*my husband has Buddy). He is a Jagd Terrier. He has come out on shoot days before, however, due to some personality issue we decided he is better suited to working away from other dogs. Chasing Muntjac is his favourite pastime, although he is equally as happy with rats or rabbits. I leave his development to my husband. 

Then we have the “Working Dogs”, two liver and white Spaniels and a Fox Red Labrador. They are all trained for picking up, and can hunt well, but do not work well in the beating line. 

Morph is 4 years old. He is an absolute pleasure to spend time with, both working and as a pet. In August, he had a Cruciate Ligament operation which meant he was off work for the whole season. This brought its own difficulties, not in the least that my limited time was now ever more diluted. 

He was on crate rest and lead walks only. Although he had the “all clear” in January, I decided to keep him away from the shoot for the remainder of the season. We are now near the end of February, and we have recently begun working on dummies again. 

We started with throwing dummies in, near where he was hunting, so it involved no stress on his legs. Only this week have we progressed to some long blinds, where again, this is not too hard on his legs. We are fortunate to live next to a river, which is the best recovery for Morph (when it’s not in flood!). Our pre-season plan for Morph, along with swimming, is steadiness and turning his ears back on. Six months off has left him a little overzealous! 

Dexter is the second Spaniel. We rehomed him at 5 months old and he will be four in August.  Dex is Morphs cousin.  

I was incredibly thankful for Dexter this season as he was my only working dog. He is good, but not without issues. Dexter arrived noisy and sadly, is still noisy, but you cannot question his drive and love for his job. He is fast and if I can learn to slow him down, he hunts well. He will pick at distance and both him & Morph will pick runners. 

The plan for Dexter in the coming months is slowing down and proofing direction. 

Finally, we have Goose. He is 13-month-old, coming on 4 months! I have never known such a young dog. We are new to Labs, so maybe it is a Lab thing. He is all puppy! Goose is the dog that taught me each dog will develop and mature at their own speed.

He needs time, which with the longer days and lighter nights, I am now able to give more of. We are very much working on basics right now. Sit, stay, steadiness, go back, hunting and directions, with no pressure, it’s all fun. I threw a cold pheasant out for him over Christmas, but he was definitely not in a hurry to bring that back. I didn’t put out any more game out until last week, when I sent him on a cold partridge in a sock. This worked well and he had no hesitation in coming back with it. Working on cold game will be a priority over the summer, although I am in no rush. If he is not ready next season, he will not work. It’s that simple! 

Goose came out to socialise on several game days this season, and even sat on a few drives. (I pick up on small syndicate shoots, so really not many birds at all). He had no idea what is going on, but he was very happy to be there all the same.

Along with game training, I will be asking my friend to help me. We need to work on marking birds and relating that to picking. Steadiness is also high priority, not only for game days but I am hoping Goose will double up as my stalking companion! 

Training is always better with friends. We can share advice, frustrations and tips, but also it helps on a practical level, to have at least one extra pair of hands for throwing dummies. Alongside all the actual training, it’s good to consider walking. It is a contentious issue between dog trainers, with most advising not to walk your dog. My dogs are working pets and I like to get them out. What I would say is, try to walk individually (I don’t do enough of this) on occasions. I find it useful to take a dummy or two. This keeps them engaged and their ears turned on! When I can, I try to access the shoots we pick up on. This is great ground for training with lots of scent and occasionally, still some game cover. Most areas now have dog training/walking fields. These are especially useful if you want to focus on uninterrupted training, without the risk of other dogs running in and, to be able to put dummies out for blinds.  

So, my off-season plan! Each dog is in need of some individual work tailored to suit their needs. I will have to train together a lot, but I also plan to do some one to one. Training with friends is a priority (for my own mental health and happiness and for the benefits mentioned above). Steadiness for all and fitness. Fitness for us, often includes water work, which given the temperatures we have experienced the last few summers, is a real bonus. 

My lack of consistency is without doubt the biggest weakness in all of my dogs and I strive to improve this for them. I also have a lot to learn myself and I will still be accessing reputable trainers, to teach me and ensure I am on the right track. I would advise, if you are new to working dogs, that you seek a gun dog trainer or at very least, an app to support you. I also am a strong advocate for learning with friends. Focus on your journey and remember, it is meant to be enjoyable! These are my plans, for my three working dogs, who each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Have fun!

Written by Katie Young