Our second month with Magnum at home was an eye opener for me and my family. In the April 2018 edition, I referred to the forced lifestyle change when acquiring your first gun dog, but it’s more of a complete lifestyle takeover.
If you already have a busy lifestyle, and most of us have, think twice before you acquire a dog, as it can be too much for some families. The first seven to eight months is the worst, as this period of training and conditioning is crucial for your dog’s future. Any training not mastered during this period will take a lot more effort to correct later.
I have mentioned this before, but must emphasize: do not buy the first pup in the Classifieds, even if it is claimed to come from working parents. Ask the breeder for proof of this. It’s best to buy a KUSA (Kennel Union of SA) registered pup from parents with a proven track record. Acquiring the pup is one area where you should not try to save money. Rather use that old shotgun for another two seasons and spend the money saved on a dog with the best possible potential. Remember, the dog will be your hunting partner and friend for years to come. Furthermore, all the training in the world will not perfect a dog that lacks certain abilities. So, choose wisely.
I realized very early that watching a couple of DVDs and reading books does not qualify you to train a gundog. I therefore got involved with the Transvaal HPR Field Trial Club, Boavida Gun Dogs and Wingshooting, Matotoland Kennel, Von Kyroch Kennel, Mike Hunt, KZN HPR Club and SAVHDA as early as possible to broaden my outlook on various training methods. I also found the input from Magnum’s breeder, Johan Botha (Von Kyroch Kennels), invaluable.
I further realized that there are numerous methods for training gundogs and it’s nigh impossible to follow all the different advice, but good advice will help in determining what will work best for your dog and your circumstances. That’s why it’s important to join a club or association.
Another penny dropped when Francois van der Walt from Matotoland Kennel asked me, “What will you do if you are out in the veld and Magnum decides to run away or chase a rabbit?” I immediately agreed that control is crucial, therefore discipline training was my main focus for this month. I also got Magnum to socialize with other working dogs.
During training I determined that Magnum’s attention span dropped after a period. It’s important to know your dog and stop training immediately once you notice this. I used five stages throughout the discipline training. I began with just the two of us in my backyard working on the “sit” and “come” commands. I’d say “Magnum sit” and blow a whistle. An immediate response is mandatory, so I’ll push him down forcefully (do not use excessive force) if he does not respond immediately and give praise after every task is completed. Then I’ll instruct him to “stay” as I walk away; if he follows I’ll take him back and put him in the same position and repeat the exercise until he stays on the spot. Mix it up a bit. Perhaps even try walking around the corner or to a spot where he can’t see you.
Then follows the “Magnum come” command, followed by the whistle. For “sit” I use a long blow on the whistle and for “come” five quick (beep, beep, beep, beep, beep) whistles.
Stage two is basically the same, but now I bring out my two boys (4 and 6 years old) to play while Magnum and I complete the exercises.
In stage three my two boys are joined by our two border collies to present even more distractions and in stage four, with boys and dogs in tow, we move to the front of the yard where passers-by and cars further add to the distractions.
In stage five he must complete the command successfully in the veld while among other hunting dogs. We are still working on this stage but this is where socialization comes in – it’s so important to let your pup run with other dogs, preferably bigger dogs that don’t want to play anymore.
Since focusing on discipline, I’ve taken Magnum to the veld three times where he could mingle with other gun dogs and there has been a marked improvement in his ability to work on my commands. I must emphasize that there may be other ways of achieving the same results, but I use the means available to me.
I chose to use homing pigeons to train Magnum. Step one is to introduce the bird to the dog – he’ll try and reach it, so be ready as he’s not to catch the bird. The moment your dog focuses on the bird, flush the pigeon. Later you can use a starter pistol when the bird flushes and the starter pistol can later be replaced with a shotgun.
Next, place a pigeon in a trap out in the veld, upwind and out of sight of the dog, and cover the trap with grass. Keep the dog on a leash and let him search for birds. Once he’s onto the scent, keep the leash tight until he points and then slacken the leash somewhat. Do not allow him to get to the bird. Once he points without any tension on the leash, flush the pigeon and give the “sit” command. It is important never to punish your dog when he is on a scent or near birds.
Lastly, I have found the advice received from members of the Field Trial Club and SAVHDA to be invaluable and I suggest you join them.