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Training & Behaviour

Case Study of Gundog Training: Scrumpy the Dog

Where have the past 6 months gone? It seems no time at all that I was teaching Scrumpy some basic  manners and starting to take her out and about. Now she is 10 months old and is no longer a young puppy, in fact, I find it hard to tell her apart from her mother when they are running together across the fields.  Scrumpy has a patch of white on her chest which Pimms doesn’t – that helps when they are returning to me!

Scrumpy training - learning to stayScrumpy training - the gundog learning


Scrumpy learning to sit and stay in various places

Scrumpy spent the autumn learning the basics such as sit, stay, walking to heel on and off the lead and the recall which is very important as I want to train her to be obedient at all times. I have also given her plenty of free time and she has had a lot of fun with her partner in crime, Wicket – our harrier hound who is the same age and who we have been walking for the winter.

Together, they have learned to play, socialise and generally enjoy themselves for short periods of time. We have not allowed them to live together as they would bond with each other and ignore us completely.

I do think it’s important that they have a puppyhood – like children, we cannot always expect them to behave perfectly. However, I can well understand how dogs get into trouble as one comes up with an idea and sets the scene and the other then approves and off they go. It starts as a game but would soon become serious if they were left to their own devises. We have been lucky, apart from an old pair of wellies being chewed nothing dreadful has happened.


Playing again!Wicket and Scrumpy playing

Wicket and Scrumpy having fun while training at the same time

Scrumpy undergoing some training

Along with generally meeting lots of other dogs - easy for us as we have boarding dogs visiting regularly - Scrumpy's training has involved learning about other animals – cats, sheep, pigs, horses and cattle being just a few. We have our own bottle-reared lambs who soon taught her manners as they were not averse to butting her when she thought that tag was a good game.

Making new friendsMeeting new dogs

I have walked her around the local farms where she has met other species and at the same time learnt that rabbits are not running towards the hedge for her entertainment. At the same time I have introduced bangs and loud noises ready for her future as a working gundog. This is an essential part of training a gundog and I take this stage slowly in order that she is not scared and therefore gun shy.

We start our puppies off with dropping stainless steel feed bowls and letting them hear all varieties of noises. We then progress to a starting pistol which we fire at a distance and gradually move nearer. Scrumpy showed no sign of being concerned so the next stage of her training was to take her with me on a shoot day and allow her to get a feel of the atmosphere. She had a lovely day out and sat and watched the proceedings calmly.

Working with the oldies!Learning from the experienced dogs

Scrumpy is proving to retrieve nicely and carries toys (and wellies) around all the time. I have done very little formal dummy training so far but intend to start teaching her shortly. To begin with I will spend a lot of time throwing dummies of various descriptions around her and I shall teach her to sit and stay until I decide she can retrieve one. For every 10 or so that I throw, depending on how good she is I will allow her the fun of fetching one and hope that she will bring it straight back and hand it to me without dropping it or dancing around me.

All of this training takes time and patience, every dog reacts differently and I shall have to see how she copes before I put too much pressure on her to progress further.

The other important lesson she will have in the next few weeks will be to stop on the whistle. I have just started to teach her whilst on the lead that when I say sit and blow the whistle she plants her bottom quickly down and sits straight beside me. This seems to be computing but I shall not progress to taking her off the lead until I am certain that she understands that I really mean SIT as soon as the whistle is blown.

Accessories: See a selection of training leads

Until she is really confident with this I will not move on to the next stage of training. Her recall on the whistle has come automatically as we start our puppies off by calling them with a whistle as tiny pups whenever we feed them and she has had that enforced all the way through.

Gun dog training in the woodsGundog training


When I write the next stage of Scrumpy’s first year I am hoping we will have progressed on to her confidently retrieving and handling on the whistle. She has a lot to learn now, her puppy hood is nearly over and I am hoping she will be handling left, right and back on the whistle command and hunting on open ground and in cover (brambles, bushes, woodland and water etc) who knows where the retrieve will land (especially with my throwing!) and it will be up to her to find it. She will have to learn to trust me when I give her commands and also to use her own knowledge of scent and eyesight when I fail to put her in the correct place.

We need to develop trust in each other and that will become a happy working relationship for the next 12 years or so. If she is sensible she will listen to her lovely knowledgeable grandmother Saffron who has so much experience behind her! My best dream is for the two of them to work alongside each other next season, Scrumpy will have the energy and Saffron the experience! BUT will she listen?

Who knows -  Time will tell

I am really looking forward to this summer, we have a lot to do – not least of all is a demonstration at a rural show in June in the west country where all my dogs will be on public view both in the ring and outside. If Scrumpy progresses well I may be tempted to enter her in a couple of gundog working tests if I find one fairly local and feel that she is ready for that pressure.

Scrumpy and family bedtime

Nicola Grellis

Based in East Devon, Nicola Grellis has an enviable reputation as one of the countries leading experts on breeding and training gun dogs. With more than thirty years experience, her dogs are trained to field trial standard. Visit Nicola’s website to find out more.

Nicola Grellis

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