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  1. A quick update from me. We were back in the woods again this weekend for a tale of pros and cons. We got there a bit earlier and settled in. After another week of rain ‘my tree’ had a lot of standing water around it so I spent the first 20 or so minutes covering that over with branches and deadfall to provide a stable, dry base to stand on. I’d also bought a military surplus basha mid-week that I plan to use for a hide later in the season, but which doubled on this occasion as a bed for the dog. I’d also brought a longer lead with me, to see how he reacted with a bit more freedom. Once sorted we both settled in and waited. After about 20 minutes of nothing a pigeon drifted along the hedgerow and up over the top of me (I stand under a tree about 40 yards into a wood on the edge of a hedgerow). This time I didn’t rush and waited until it was right in my sweet spot then, bang, down it came. However, before I could congratulate myself I sensed something to my right, twisting 90 degrees just as another pigeon flared up over the edge of the wood from the side. This time there was no time to think and I shot on instinct. Down it came too. 2 for 2. Moments later another came along, this time moving faster and slightly higher up. Buoyed with my early success I went after it, hitting it flush and down it came too, hitting the ground hard. Two more followed shortly after to leave me 5 for 5 within the first hour. I was tempted to leave at that point and of course my form didn’t continue, but it was a brilliant start and showed me that waiting and only taking birds I knew were in range was the right strategy. After that it was a bit of a strange afternoon with long periods of no or out of range birds (that I eventually lost discipline on and started to take a pop at out of frustration), followed by short flurries of in-range activity. I ended the day 17 for 57, so only a little over the 3:1 ratio I aspire to (I know you’ve all told me not to count, but I do like to keep tabs). My friend, sitting on the far side of the wood, bagged over 40 so it was a good afternoon for both of us. Unfortunately, my dog didn’t go as well this time. Previously, I’ve tied his normal lead to my tree and he’s sat beautifully, but this time I took a longer lead to see how he’d react with more freedom. Either he’s worked out what’s going on or my improved shooting has taught him that a bang normally means a retrieve. As a result, he kept standing up and a few times he even started to dash out, only for the lead to stop him and me to put him back in his place. As a result, I kept him tethered and only let him have a couple of retrieves, deliberately walking out to pick the birds he could see and making a show of doing so. He clearly wasn’t best pleased by this as the few retrieves I did give him weren’t as clean as before and on one he dropped it by my feet rather than offering it up to me as he normally does, before then dashing back off into the wood and hunting around, ignoring my recall whistle. As a result, I had to go and bring him back, and I only gave him one more retrieve after that much later on when I was confident that he’d calmed down (which, to his credit, he did deliver nicely to hand, albeit he tried to dash off again only for me to give a gruff shout and he begrudgingly skulked back). I try to focus on the positives (the good retrieves, no whining (etc.)), and I know that he’s still young at just over 2, but whereas other dogs seem to love to please, and want to do the right thing, mine seems intent on doing precisely what he wants despite all my efforts to the contrary. The funny thing is that he’s the biggest softy in the house and foot perfect on dummies when training on the drive and in the garden. However, get him out in the field and on the real thing and he turns into this ferocious 100mph hunting machine that, in truth, I am barely in control of even at the best of times. We’ve got a few weeks off now, so I’m going to do plenty of steadiness work and hope that helps. I’ve also made friends with a local gun dog trainer so I will hopefully pop over to see him too and see what tips he’s got (this time last year my dog was so wild outside the house that I was at my wits end, but he’s helped me turn him around to the point we’re at now, so I’m sure he’ll know what to do).
  2. Thanks to all for the comments and advice.
  3. Having enjoyed reading the reports on this page for some time I thought I’d add my own. I’m still pretty new to shooting, having started about a year ago, but I’ve had a few lessons and my friend has been patiently showing me the ropes and encouraging me on the bad days. Just before the game season started I’d reached the point where I was typically getting high 20’s/low 30’s out of 50 at our local clay club and I was lucky enough to get a few game days during the season when I’ve not disgraced myself, plus our beaters day (I’ve enjoyed beating almost as much as the shooting itself). To continue my education my friend has taken me roost shooting the past few weekends with the warning that it can be “quite challenging.” That has proven to be a huge understatement. I’m normally OK at snap shooting (the oscillating trap is my favourite at the clay club), so I thought pigeons might be ‘my thing.’ It turns out that I think they are, but not for the reason I thought. The first afternoon I had over 20 shots before I first connected, and I ended up with a ratio of over 10:1. However, in amongst that was a real belter of a right to left crosser about 40 yards up that I was really pleased with. The second afternoon my ratio improved to 8:1 so still pretty dire, but learning from my first experience I made a conscious effort to be much slower with my movements so there were fewer occasions where I was right on the bird only for it to flare and jink just as I went to shoot. I’d also bought a face mask to better conceal myself, which I’m sure helped, together with the fact we’d pulled a load of fallen braches together to make a hide in front of the tree I’d chosen to stand under. Again, in amongst the many misses were a few shots I was really chuffed with, but this visit was also particularly pleasing as I took my young dog with me. He’s my first dog and it’s fair to say he’s got the better of me in most respects (I needed an old banger but I’ve managed to land myself with a Ferrari with the traction control turned off!), but he sat beautifully throughout, never making so much as a whimper. When I eventually got the chance to send him for a retrieve he was out like a rocket, picked the bird beautifully and brought it straight back to hand. It was the first bird I’ve shot that he’s retrieved and I’m really not sure who enjoyed it the most, but it was a special moment. We went again this weekend just gone, and again my ratio improved, this time to just over 6:1 by the end. Still not brilliant, I know, but at least I keep improving. We got there early this time and for the first few hours I had little luck. I’d built myself a little hide by the very edge of the wood thinking it would make it easier to see the pigeons as they came in, but I must have done a pretty poor job as they kept flaring away at the last minute, resulting in numerous wasted shots. Then the last hour it suddenly came together. I’d moved back into the wood to the hide I’d used before and as the light started to drop the pigeons came in thick and fast. I dropped 10 birds in the space of as many minutes, including one really high bird that my friend saw from over the other side of the wood and congratulated me on at the end, so it must have been a good shot. Once again my dog was out with me and filled his boots, clearly loving every second. So, in summary, I’m hooked. The shooting is really challenging, but all the more rewarding for it and has pushed me to up my game. In the process I’ve also found an activity my dog not only loves, but (so far) seems willing to work with me at – he may never be a beating or peg dog, but maybe pigeons is what he was meant for.
  4. Just to add that Buze's comment above is probably the key and shows how easily advice can be misunderstood. When gundog trainers talk about free running, in reality they don't mean that at all. What they are actually referring to are exercises off leash that the dog thinks are a fun game when its running free, but in fact are completely controlled by the handler. They also are typically conducted within a matter of meters of the handler, thereby keeping the dog very close. As the dog grows older the complexity and distances involved increase, but to start with everything is simple, close and short to minimise the risk of the dog going wrong and to ensure it is focussed on the handler. Looking back, I can't understand how I didn't realise this- it seems so obvious now (albeit after spending the best part of a year in the company of several experienced gundog trainers)- in my case I did all of the above around the house and in the garden (hence why he did and still does worship the ground I walk on in those locations), but when we went out for 'a walk' I treated it as an opportunity to give the dog some 'free time.' To be clear, I never let him just run completely free and we did do various exercises, but I didn't apply the same level of focus as I did around the house/garden as I thought he needed a break- huge mistake (incidentally, when practising retrieving exercises in the field I always made a big fuss of him (and as per my initial post, to start with he always came back straight away...), but the problem was that I'd let him roam free in the first place and without proper direction). That's another thing I didn't realise- I assumed things learned in one context would apply elsewhere- they don't. What happened was the dog learned to act in one way around the house/garden, but quickly realised he could get away with a lot more elsewhere, and once he realised that he quickly became uncontrollable. I should have been absolutely consistent at all times and whatever the location. Sorry to turn this back to me, but hopefully it will help to ensure you don't make the same mistakes I did.
  5. Macca Your post sounds exactly like the situation I found myself in with my cocker at a similar age. He was (and remains) loyal and devoted in and around the house and garden (and yes, like you I'm sure, I have always played with him to try and ensure he thinks the sun shines out of me), but get him outside and it was a totally different story. In my case what started as a dog who pottered about within 5 feet of me, soon became a dog that would roam around 30 feet away. At first this was fine as he always came when called, but then he realised there was nothing I could do if he didn't and that was it- suddenly he was running free wherever he wanted. Then he bumped a hare and chased it the length of a field and that was when my problems really began. All of this was because as a first time owner of a working spaniel, I didn't appreciate the importance of keeping him close, and getting him to properly focus on me. I then stupidly compounded matters by trying to deal with the problem myself (albeit by reading countless training books and turning to the internet for guidance), rather than getting specialist advice (and by the time I did the issues were well and truly entrenched). Thankfully, though, you have already sought advice, so hopefully all will be well. In my case I've come to realise that the problems probably weren't completely my fault and there are underlying behavioural issues that affect my dog. However, if I could go back I'd do things totally differently. Nevertheless, fast forward 1.5 years of constant dedication and he will just about walk to heel both on and off lead, but I have to focus on him 100% at all times and probably always will. As another poster has suggested, I also keep training sessions very short to stop him boiling over. Sadly, I've come to realise that I'll probably never be able to work him for real, but we've still achieved quite a lot considering how bad things had got, and in the process the trainer I found to work with has become a good friend. The purpose of this post is not to suggest you have dire times ahead, but just to sound a note of caution, and hopefully inform your decision as to which training approach to take. As you've discovered, the world of gundog training is riddled with massive inconsistencies, which can be terribly confusing. Furthermore, as I've come to realise from spending more time in the gundog world, there's a huge difference between a sticky, soft dog and a bold, confident one (or a complete nutter in my case!), and a very different approach is required for each. Good luck!
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