By P.J. Viljoen
These dogs are called versatile or dual-purpose dogs since they combine the functions of the pointing and retrieving dogs. They are also often used as tracker dogs. They retrieve equally well on land and in water and adapt easily to various hunting conditions and can be used with a greater or lesser degree of success on all types of gamebirds. The top versatile dogs are equally as efficient as the specialist breeds and contrary to popular belief can be as far-ranging as necessary and can handle cold water conditions equally well. There are a number of breeds classified as dual-purpose gundogs, but at present, only the German Shorthaired Pointer has proved itself as a truly versatile gundog under South African conditions. They are the ideal bread and butter dog for the hunter who hunts a variety of game. However, because of their versatile functions, their training normally requires a greater degree of expertise.
HOW TO SELECT A PUPPY.
Having decided on which breed you like best, the next step is to select a puppy from that breed. So how do you select the best puppy? YOU DON’T. You select the PARENTS.
This is easier said than done. By far the majority of gundogs in South Africa are show dogs who for generations have been selected for their conformation rather than working abilities and are therefore gundogs in name only. Many a prospective owner has fallen into the trap of buying a so-called gun (show) dog, or even worse, they buy a cheap unregistered dog. In both cases, the breeders would have assured them that the parents are top hunting dogs. After a year of hard training, they would discover that the dog has no hunting ability. With unregistered dogs, you might also end up with an unstable or aggressive dog.
Therefore, your first step in selecting a puppy is to make sure that both parents are from registered working stock. The only way to do this is to contact one of the various field trial clubs in South Africa, which specialize in working gundogs of the breed of your choice. In most cases, the field trial clubs will only recommend those dogs that either has achieved prizes in field trials or have passed a working or natural ability test. Insist that you see some sort of written proof of the parent’s working ability, usually in the form of a certificate stating the dog’s field trial prizes or in the case of versatile gundogs, a natural ability certificate should be the minimum requirement. Do not fall for those breeders who say that they have hunting dogs and not field trial dogs. Since field trials are merely a means of testing hunting dogs, such a breeder either does not know much about gundogs or is simply trying to sell his substandard dogs.
Having assured yourself of the parents working ability the next step is to go and see the parents yourself. If possible go hunting with them. Make sure that they are of good trainable temperament. In other words, they must not be hard-headed, over aggressive or over-sensitive. Also, make sure they are not gun-shy.
Only now are you ready to select a puppy. If you have done your homework with the parents, you can almost close your eyes and pick any puppy from that litter. The chances are about one hundred percent that it will have the temperament and working abilities required of that breed. It is unnecessary to use elaborate methods to select a puppy or to let a so-called expert make the selection for you. Just make sure that it is a healthy puppy and full of vitality. Thereafter, take the puppy that appeals to you or your family or simply pick the puppy in the color that you like. It is far more important that you are happy with the puppy than to let someone else make the choice for you and you end up with a puppy you do not really like.
BASIC TRAINING AT HOME
Having selected the puppy of your choice from working parents, you should not need to (and cannot) teach the puppy hunting ability and hunting desire. That it gets from its parents. Your job is to channel the hunting ability in a form useful to you and to make sure that the dog develops to its full potential. All you need to teach is the basic discipline and make sure that his hunting ability matures. Do not fall for the story that a pup first has to chase game in order to develop his hunting desire and skills, if it does, you bought from the wrong stock.
Do not be tempted to let someone else train your dog for you. If someone else trains your dog for you, you will never learn how to work with and understand the dog yourself. The chances are then virtually guaranteed that you will ruin the dog in a short time irrespective of how well it was trained in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, puppy training is neither for experts nor time-consuming. All you need is enthusiasm, 20 minutes a day and some basic knowledge. This knowledge is mostly common sense and can be learned from handbooks but better still, join one of the field trial clubs which will only be too willing to show you the basics. Also do not be tempted to buy an electric collar; it is not a shortcut and not a replacement for basic training. Remember that all dogs learn by repetition so rather have a series of short sessions than an intensive crash course.
It is much easier and less traumatic to teach a puppy the basics than to try and break bad habits in an older dog. Therefore, start your puppy’s basic training as early as possible, seven weeks of age is a good time. Let the puppy lead you in his progress, as soon as he achieved one aspect, move on to the next one. Of course, you start with a velvet hand and always treat the puppy with tenderness. It is essential, that every time the puppy does something right or even half right, to praise the puppy. Without praise, you will never be able to teach the puppy anything.
There are basically three phases to puppy training, namely the discipline phase, the retrieving phase and training in the veld.
For most gundogs, you need to teach them only three commands that will lay the foundation for advanced training and full control. These commands are COME, SIT and NO. Apart from the obvious reasons, the come command is essential for good retrieving. Similarly, the sit command is essential to prevent the dog from chasing and breaking and also aid in refining pointing, backing and flushing manners. The no command lets the dog fully understand when he does something wrong.
For the come command you simply start by calling the puppy during meal times. Most puppies will recognize the come command within a few days. As soon as the puppy readily responds to the come command during meal times, start calling it outside meal times. At first when it is not doing anything else and then later when it is busy with something else such as playing. The idea is to gradually increase the distance and the temptations in order to teach the puppy that it must come under all circumstances. Always praise it when he comes to you.
For the sit command, put your one hand in front of the puppy’s chest while pushing down its rump and at the same time give the sit command loud and clear. As soon as it sits, praises it in a friendly voice. Hold it in this position for a couple of seconds and then repeat the exercise a few times. When the puppy starts to sit by itself, again gradually increase the distance and the temptations until it will sit at any distance and under all circumstances.
To teach the puppy the no command simply tap it lightly on the nose while saying no every time it does something wrong such as stealing from the table or biting the cat. The no command is given in a firm assertive tone. In a short while, you will simply need to say no in order to let the puppy know it is doing something wrong.
If you can teach the puppy to obey these three commands at all times, you have laid the foundation for a top-class hunting dog. Most of the discipline training can be done in front of the television and the sessions must not be longer than 20 minutes. To say that you have no time for puppy training is therefore not an excuse.
This phase can be concurrent with the basic training phase and can be called play retrieving. To start off, you will use only dummies. Never use real birds before the puppy is well advanced in his retrieving. The dummies can be any object that your puppy likes to play with such as teddy bears, balls, hairbrushes or custom made dummies. The idea is to get an object that your puppy likes. Go to an area where the puppy cannot run away from you, such as a narrow corridor or the passage in your house. Tease the puppy with the dummy and then throw it a short distance. At the same time give the fetch command. Most puppies will pick up the object, and because it cannot run away from you, you will end up bringing the object to you. Praise and make a big fuss of the puppy. Repeat the process three or four times a day (not more) until the puppy readily brings the dummy to you. Only then and only when your puppy obeys the fetch and come commands can you move to open ground and start advanced retrieving. From now on you must also insist that the puppy sits every time you throw the dummy and only retrieves it on command. Only when the puppy sits readily and retrieves the dummy with enthusiasm straight back to you, can you introduce it to retrieving real birds.
TRAINING IN THE VELD.
This phase is more a refinement of the puppy’s hunting instincts than actual training. If you have good hunting stock, the chances are that the puppy will do anyhow all that is required of it. Space does not allow us to go into all the different techniques to develop the hunting of the different breeds. However, the golden rule for all breeds is not to introduce your puppy to game before you have full control over him. Many a new owner ignores this advice at their own peril. If you cannot control the puppy it is guaranteed that it will end up chasing and trying to bite everything that moves.
With regard to the pointing breeds, start off by letting the puppy run in an open field with preferably short but good cover and no hares, buck or gamebirds which the pup can chase or which can chase it. Let the pup run and investigate scents to its heart's content in order for it to develop its muscles and scenting ability. Do not use these sessions to practice your disciplinary skills and never punish a puppy in the presence of game, he might associate punishment with game and starts blinking game. Also, do not try to curb the pup’s ranging instinct, rather hide every once in a while and let the pup finds you. He will enjoy this game but at the same time, it will ensure that he keeps an eye on you, which will lay the foundation for adapting to terrain later on. Once the pup starts showing independence by ranging out on his own and only when you have full control over him can you take him to areas where there are gamebirds. Here you have to watch the pup closely, never allow it to chase or bite anything. Apply your basic training and let it sit every time game jumps up in front of it. If it disobeys you, go back home and reinforce your basic training. Do not allow it to get into the habit of chasing game since most dogs that chase game soon hunt only for themselves and also lose or never develop their pointing instinct. If the puppy does find game, whether by accident or by its nose, make sure that it sits immediately on flush. It will soon realize that the game flies away when it gets too near and will start pointing in a short while if it did not do so at the beginning. Always praise it when it finds game and acknowledges flush, irrespective of whether it points the game or not. It must clearly understand that is what pleases you and that it hunts for you. When the pup starts to consistently find game and hold them on point and always acknowledge the flush, then you have a hunting dog and can start shooting over him.
This is only a short introduction to the basics of gundog training. There are many other techniques to enhance and speed up the training such as dummy launchers, pigeon launchers, planted birds, etc. but if you selected a gundog from hunting stock and laid a good foundation in basic training it is almost guaranteed that you will end up with a gundog that will be your greatest companion in and out of the veld. Good hunting.
Do not assume that other people like your dog or even like dogs at all.
- Do not allow your dog to make a nuisance of itself.
- Never allow your dog to show any aggressive behaviour against another dog or person.
- Do not allow your dog to whine under any circumstances.
- Always ask permission from the landowner first as to where your dog is allowed and what it is permitted.
- Do not allow your dog to chase, bite or play with any farm- or household animal which is not your property
- Never allow your dog to chase or bite any game.
- Keep your dog under control at all times; never allow the dog to spoil the hunt.
- Remember that the dog that first finds the bird has the first prerogative to retrieve that bird irrespective of who shot the bird.
- Never allow your dog to break on shot in order to steal another dog’s retrieve.
- Never allow your dog to steal another dog’s point. If he does not back, keep him under control in order not to spoil the point and the hunt.
- It is not good practice to mix pointing and flushing dogs, as conflict between handlers is almost guaranteed.
- Remember that the hunter in line nearest to the pointing dog has first priority to shoot over the pointing dog and not the owner.
- Always give inexperienced or unlucky hunters a chance to shoot over the pointing dog.