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Training & Behaviour

Meet Professional Gundog Trainer Nicola Grellis

I got involved with gundogs when I married a gamekeeper. Dogs were a necessary part of the working day.  Prior to that I had grown up with German Shepherds which my parents bred when I was a kid. Dogs have always been a large part of my life. I have been training gundogs for about 28 years - I started with Holly, a black labrador who would have been good if I had known how to train her. Holly thought she knew better then me (she was probably right) and was very independent and a bit of a wild child. A few years later I acquired Barley (a yellow labrador) and decided that I needed help in order not to make the same mistakes again. I joined various gundog clubs and learnt from watching and listening to those with a lot more experience then me. One thing I have discovered is that you never stop learning and every dog you train is different.

Dog swimming in riverOver the year I have trained lots of dogs, mostly labradors, a couple of springer spaniels and a chesapeke bay retriever. To date I have actually owned about 30. At present I have 6 ranging in ages from 13 1/2 to 15 months. I mostly train the dogs for my own use although more recently I have started to do a bit for other people. 


The best part of the job is the rapport one develops with each dog - the trust they have in you and the love they give. The worst part is the bucket and shovel :( 


It takes years to train a dog to the top standard and some take longer then others. I would like to think that the basic obedience is achieved by the time they are 6 - 9 months, that includes walking to heel, coming when they are called, sitting and staying, socializing etc. The next stage of training with dummies starts when they are puppies as a "controlled game" and then moves on to more serious training at about 9 months. I would expect my dog to be fully trained and able to go out on the shooting field by the time it's 2 years old although at that stage I wouldn't be putting it in the hot spot. I always work at least 2 at the same time, the old one will be reliable which allows the young one to learn without too much pressure. 


I work my dogs on the shooting field, their job is to pick up the wounded birds as quickly and efficiently as possible. They need to be able to use their own initiative as I will not always know where the bird has landed. The dog learns it's trade by experience and no matter how much work you have done with dummies the dog has to gain that knowledge gradually. I cannot say how long it actually takes to train a dog as some are quicker to learn then others and one dog may be good at one thing and another shows a different aptitude. 


My typical day with my dogs consists of feeding, exercising and caring for them. I work as well so they have to fit in around my day. No day is the same in my life so they have to learn to be adaptable. The happiest time for them is a lovely walk in the forest where they can run and play. I allow my dogs plenty of freedom as well as the formal training. I find that it keeps them interested as they never quite know what I am going to do next. They love water so I try to take them swimming when I can. 


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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