There but for the grace of God go I’ was the thought running through most dog owners’ minds when the video of flatcoat retriever Fenton chasing deer in Richmond Park, oblivious to his owner’s increasingly desperate shouts, went viral. Most of us would be content with a dog who simply sits, stays and comes to heel, but some dogs love to work and many owners find a whole new life through the gundog field trials, sheepdog trials, dog-agility competitions (for fit owners only) or even, after the success of Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent and Uggie in The Artist, owning a star of stage and screen.
Whatever you want to do with your dog, a well-trained animal is far more agreeable than an uncontrollable menace the dog will be happier, too, because it’s in their nature to please-and the training process itself strengthens the bond between owner and pet.
Visit the Dogs Trust website (www.dogstrust.org.uk) for a series of basic training videos and sign up to the Kennel Club (KC) Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme (www.thekennelclub.org.uk). Open to all dogs, KC-registered or not, it spans four levels, Puppy Found-ation, Bronze, Silver and Gold, with classes all over the country. The KC has plenty of advice for getting started in dog agility, too.
In the south of England, Sarah Whitehead’s Clever Dog Company runs four-week courses (01753 859004; www.cleverdogcompany.com) and Pure Chaos 2 Calm in the New Forest offers personalised training (07733 285719; www.purechaos2calm.com). The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.co.uk) can recommend local trainers or you could ask veterinary clinics and rescue organisations about classes.
Working dogs require more specialised training-The Gun Dog Club has a network of accredited instructors (01428 717529; www.thegundogclub.co.uk) and the International Sheep Dog Society offers a list of trainers and classes (01234 352672; www.isds.org.uk).
To put your skills to the test, consider volunteering to help train guide dogs. It can be hard to hand over a fully trained animal at the end, but the reward is knowing that you’ll be giving a new lease of life to its recipient. Guide Dogs (0118-983 5555; www.guidedogs.org.uk) and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (01844 348100; www.hearingdogs.org.uk) are always looking for help.
Give it a try
For inspiration, visit a gundog or sheepdog trial and admire how the dogs respond to the slightest command. Most country shows run dog competitions of some form and even if you only try for the Best Six Legs trophy, they’ll give you an idea of how well you work together. Obedience is often forgotten when there are distracting smells about, and if your pet decides that the Best Ten Legs is more his style when there’s a pretty bitch trotting by, it might be time to sign up for classes.
What to buy
Staghorn dog whistle, £8.06, Canine Concepts (01869 349777; www.canineconcepts.co.uk)
Training dummy in pheasant or partridge, from £10.99, Working Dog Company (01462 450830; www.workingdogcompany.co.uk)
Slip lead, 12 colours, from £7.99, KJK Ropeworks (01462 450830;www.workingdogcompany.co.uk)
Honey’s 100% dried-liver treats, £1.99 a bag, Honey’s Real Dog Food (0844 656 1566; www.honeysrealdogfood.com)
Picker-up bag, £28, Quest Gundog Training Company (01257 425222; www.questgundogs.co.uk)
Make a weekend of it
Gundog Training Holiday, Aislaby Lodge, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Head deep into the Yorkshire Moors for a three-day course with KC judge Graham Stephenson. All levels of gundogs are welcome and there are prizes at the end of the weekend. Participants and their dogs stay in cottages in the grounds and a third night’s accommodation is included, so you can explore Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. £399 for one handler and one dog, full board.
(01947 811822; www.gundogtrainingholidays.com)
Kelford Dog Training Centre, Tai Uchaf, Moeladda, Denbighshire, Wales
All levels are welcome at this secluded centre 1,200ft up in the Welsh countryside. The training reflects ordinary life as much as possible and guests and dogs are observed together before a bespoke programme is created. The focus is on improving respect and understanding between human and canine. From £250 for a five-night stay for one person and dog.
(01490 460616; www.kelford.co.uk)
Tips from the expert
Sporting writer and gundog fan David Tomlinson offers advice
* Practise your training regime every time you take your dog for a walk, from walking to heel, both on and off the lead, to simple sits and stays
* Keep your dog interested in what you’re doing and don’t allow free hunting. A bored dog (especially a springer spaniel) may well run off
* One of the simplest training regimes, and one that most gundogs love, is the memory retrieve. Drop the dummy on a path, carry on walking and then send your dog back for it. As the dog gets more experienced, send it back on increasing distances. This is a great way of giving a dog lots of exercise, too
* Many professionals frown on the use of edible rewards, but tidbits can be a considerable help to the amateur handler. They must be used sparingly and never when a dog is bringing back a retrieve, as the reward may encourage it to drop the dummy (or bird). A dog that ignores biscuits will be more responsive with a piece of ham or chicken
Read all about it
Taking Control: The How and Why of Basic Gundog Training Anthea Lawrence (Trafford Publishing, £12.95)
Total Recall Pippa Mattinson (Quiller Publishing, £16.95)
The Perfect Companion: Understanding, Training and Bonding with your Dog Karen Davison (CreateSpace, £6.37)
January 9-11 English Springer Spaniel Championships, Dunira estate, Comrie, Perthshire (0121-608 9523; www.thespaniel.club.co.uk)
March 6-9 Crufts, Birmingham NEC (0844 463 3980; www.crufts.org.uk)
May 17-18 Paws in the Park, Ardingly, West Sussex (01730 266633; www.
June 8 Bowood Charity Dog Show and Summer Fair, Bowood House, Wiltshire (www.bowooddogshow.org)
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