As spring moves into summer, the coming months offer the perfect opportunity to prepare new gundogs for a first shooting season. Four times winner of the British Spaniel Championship, Ian Openshaw, offers some tips on bringing on a potential shooting companion.

Reproduced from "Shooting & Conservation"

If your dog faces its first full shooting season in a few months, the chances are that when reading this article, the basic obedience training has already been done. There are several exercises to ensure that the dog can sit, stay and remain to heel, but before any further progression can be made, the dog must he able to carry out these

Once comfortable with the sound of gunfire, a dog can improve its steadiness - and even retrieving, if ready - by accompanying you on pigeon shooting outings. Most people find it difficult to remain still in a hide, so it's good practice for a dog! Beware of standing corn and barley. Though, as parts of the crop easily find their way into the ears When you feel ready to give the dog retrieves over water, the same principle applies - start slowly and build up gradually. Encourage the dog over the tiniest of gaps in dykes and then progress from there. We use a small river, eight yards across, and move to wider waterways - 30 and 70 yards respectively. The important point here is to get him over to the other side. Too many dummies thrown in the middle of the river at this stage will lead to problems in the field if a bird comes down on the far bank. Don't worry about those that do fall in the water - the dog will be in like a flash!

We are fortunate to have the nearby River Severn at our simple tasks on instruction. If it is competent and responsive to your commands, further training exercises and water work can begin.

With more daylight hours at our disposal come May, June and July we can use it to our advantage. Owners of local clay shoots across the country are putting on more evening events, particularly practice sessions. There is one near the kennels which operates every Tuesday, attracting a few regulars. take the dog along to the shoot, making sure that you are not interfering with proceeding, and keep your distance. By keeping 200 yards from the: shooters with the dog, you will be able to watch for the response. If there is no sign of nerves, then move of a dog.

When it comes to retrieving exercises, find out what your dog prefers. Is it a canvas dummy? Rabbit skin? Tennis ball? It's surprising how fussy some dogs can be early on. A tennis ball thrown in long grass encourages the dog to actually hunt for it, unlike a huge cumbersome dummy hurled where even you can see it from a distance. Start with short seen retrieves, though, and gradually progress to unseens, while extending the distance of each exercise gradually and according to the dog's abilities. The most crucial point is that the dog must be kept keen. Six well completed and varied retrieves is a full training session. Better to do half-a-dozen well than 20 poor disposal. The young dogs sit and wait whilst dummies are thrown downstream. When each one is sent, the dummy has drifted on the slight current which means the dog must be keen and swim to collect, rather than heading straight there. Don't forget, water work is great exercise for the older dog as well. Dummies thrown upstream will encourage hard swimming and improve fitness.

These are a few ideas which help my dogs but the over-riding factor is simply to use common sense. Keep it interesting for the dog and gauge this by the dog's reactions. Stop if you are boring him. Put the whole scenario into a human perspective: if you work the same hours in the same job, day in, day out, with the same people in the same place with not a hint of a change, you get bored. With variety and interesting activities, like humans, dogs become more responsive and they will work better.

closer to the guns (or wait until the next event to do this).
Keep your dog amused by pottering around still keeping your distance throwing the occasional dummy or ball for the dog to collect. Carried out properly, this will acclimatise 99% of dogs with the sound of gunfire. Should the dog show any sign of nerves, remember next time to take something he feels comfortable with - his food is an obvious example! Such evenings provide cheap and efficient training.

When following this course of action, you do have to beware that the dog doesn't start at a single shot. He may be fine with several shots (as at day shoots) but become nervous at the odd bang.
A solution to this, to be applied, if ones, where the dog has already got bored. How would you like it if I told you to run up and down the same hill in the same direction, time and time again? The first couple of times would be all right but on the twentieth? I think you'd probably tell me where to go! And remember that between nine and 12 months old, dogs are not fully mature and their muscles have yet to develop properly.

Water work
Dogs can be introduced to water no matter what their age - whether 12 weeks or nine months. All you need is nice weather and of course with summer coming it is the perfect time. Use common sense: even think like a dog. Would you like to be encouraged into a stream on a cold February necessary alongside those clay shoot evenings, is to have a friend fire single shots for the benefit of the dog. If you like, throw a canvas or rabbit-skin dummy for him to retrieve. He will then associate the shot with something rewarding -hopefully! (If your aim is no good, you will discover whether the early obedience training on steadiness has worked!) Incidentally, do not introduce a dog to gunfire in wooded areas, because of the echo, which can prove disconcerting for a youngster. morning? The outing should consist of a gentle stroll on a nice, hot day - if you feel like jumping in, your dog certainly will.
Treat it like a game initially, if you have more than one dog. take them both or all along. They love playing together, and if a youngster is water shy, that will soon change if older dogs are splashing around nearby. A small stream is ideal for a first meeting between dog and water - if there is a wider pool further along then move along and use it.