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Training a Pet Gundog – Tips and Advice to get you Started

ready300Many of the most popular dogs in our homes and lives, are members of the gundog group.

If your dog is a Labrador perhaps, or one of the spaniel breeds, you may be wondering if you should take this into account when training him

You might even wonder if he has the makings of a bona fide working dog.

Today we’re going to talk about how to train a pet gundog and for those that want  to go further we’ll be looking at getting started with gundog training.

But first, does your dog have the makings of a gundog?

What is a gundog?

The Kennel Club divides dogs up into different groups.  Each breed of dog is allocated to the group most appropriate for the purpose for which the breed was originally developed. So we have a group for hounds, another for terriers, and so on.

The gundog group is the most popular group and contains many of our most beloved breeds, including the Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, and many others.

Any dog belonging to the gundog group of dog may have the potential to be a working gundog

Could your dog be a working gundog?

If one of his parents was a member of the gundog group, the chances are, he too has some gundog genes tucked away in there somewhere.  But how likely is it that he could learn to ‘work’ as a hunting companion.

The answer is not always straightforward as we shall see

Gundog instincts

Gundogs have been bred for generations to hunt, flush and retrieve game, and as a result have some pretty powerful chasing and carrying instincts.

These instincts are strongest in working lines but are also evident in many show bred gun dogs too.

And they can get gun dogs into quite a bit of trouble.


Training a pet gundog in such a way as to harness his instincts and urges, is one way to help your dog enjoy his life, and to gain some more control over him.

If you find this enjoyable, you may want to go further and get involved in gundog field work.  But not all dogs, and not all owners, are cut out for life in the shooting field

Is my dog suitable

Many people with a keen hunting and chasing dog, are excited by the idea that he might be ideal for gundog work.

“My dog would have made a brilliant gundog” people often say to me as they regale me with tales of  their dog disappear over the horizon in hot pursuit of a rabbit.

But here’s the thing.

The working gundog is a dog that has huge self control.   Yes, he does have plenty of hunting instincts, but he also only uses them in close co-operation with his handler.

This means two important factors need to come into play

Avoiding bad habits

Good basic obedience and impulse control are essential in a working gundog.  They are also a great asset in any pet gundog.

Dogs that have developed the habit of chasing wildlife can be very difficult to stop.  Being a working gundog is all about control, and avoiding bad habits in a puppy is a key factor in achieving this control.

The placid dog

The obedient show bred labrador, sleeping quietly at his owner’s feet in the pub,  sitting to cross the road, or trotting along at his owners heels through the fields without a lead on, is often deceptively dull.

He might might not win points in a field trial for speed and style.

But if he is willing to pick up and carry thing, and to bring them back to you, he is far more likely to be a success on a working shoot, than the working bred dog that lives next door and that has been running wild for the last twelve months

His crazy Labrador friend that has done a circuit of the entire forest within three minutes of being let off the lead.  Crazy friend of course, might have made a great gundog in the right hands, but he is probably not going to cut the mustard now.

The dog who runs on rocket fuel

So, just because your dog is a keen hunter, knows where every rabbit warren is,  and finds you all manner of dead things on a walk, does not mean he will make a great gundog.

If your dog has done a circuit of the forest within five minutes of setting off for a walk, and flushed every living thing along the way, this powerhouse of energy may be more than a liability than an asset in the shooting field, unless you are committed to learning fast and keeping him under control.

Staying in control

A basic foundation of obedience and self-control is what underpins the training of every working gundog, and this is what you should be aiming for.

Control issues are also one of the main problems that tend to arise when people keep working bred gun dogs as pets.  All that energy needs to be channelled.

Fortunately, gundog style training is a great way to achieve this and its  a great way to get started with pet dog training too.

How to get started with training your gundog

The first step is to manage your dog outdoors so that he is focused on you.  You need to build a relationship with your dog which established you as the centre of his world.

If your dog has begun to show an interest in chasing stuff you’ll need to nip that in the bud without delay.

A line and harness can help you to regain control and prevent your dog rehearsing bad behaviours, while you set about training him effectively

Next you need to get some basic obedience skills going in a range of outdoor situations

Once you have done all this, it is time to invest in some specialist training.  And that is where the Graded Training Scheme comes in

Graded Training and The Gundog Club

I set up the Gundog Club some years ago now, to help pet and working gundog owners succeed in training their dogs, using a step-by-step graded training scheme.

You can find out all about the scheme on the Gundog Club’s website.   The grades are non-competitive and help you progress from beginner to advanced in easy stages.

They are a lot of fun for pet and working dogs alike.

Finding an instructor

The majority of the gundog community is still fairly traditional in its approach to training dogs.  Therefore the majority of Gundog Club instructors (LINK)are not force free trainers, though many are happy to help those that want to train force free.


Have a chat with your local trainer before going along with your dog, that way you will know what to expect.  You may not be able to take food into your gundog training class, but it is still worth attending as there is so much that an instructor can do to help

There are some force free gundog specialists in the UK now, and if you are lucky to live near one, this can be very helpful

How about you?

Do you have a gundog breed?  Do you think your dog might make a working gundog, or have you thought about gundog style training.  Share your thoughts in the comments below

This website is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson

Pippa's book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs, and her Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to puppy care and early training

by Pippa Mattinson on August 9, 2015

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda August 14, 2015 at 10:55 am

A timely post , I have a very ‘busy’ 6 6mnth working cocker pup, living in a farm with lots of bunnies! Keeping her out of trouble is going to be a challenge and self discipline with training one of my biggest !( trying not to panic!!)


Pippa Mattinson August 18, 2015 at 8:46 am

Good luck with your training Amanda. 🙂


Billy August 15, 2015 at 9:53 pm

I have a 4 month old GSP and am looking to train him to work, although I don’t shoot myself I have friends who do. I’d be happy just seeing my dog working as he was bred to do. Are the graded training books suited to the HPR dogs or geared more towards labradors? Thanks


Pippa Mattinson August 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

The graded training books are for retrievers Billy. Much of what is in them (basic obedience and retrieving) applies to Spaniels and HPRs too, but you need specialist advice on hunting and pointing for your GSP


JulieT October 11, 2015 at 10:47 pm


“The obedient show bred labrador, sleeping quietly at his owner’s feet in the pub, sitting to cross the road, or trotting along at his owners heels through the fields without a lead on, is often deceptively dull.”

I have a 100% show line dog and have had to work my socks off to have a dog that lies at my feet, sleeping, in the pub. And to have him off lead in a smelly field! “Deceptively dull” can just mean a bloomin’ lot of training has been done! 🙂


anni October 20, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Hi Pippa,
Didn’t quite know where to raise the subject, but I have a 14 week Springer puppy, who is doing very well, training wise ect, however I have noted his poo is not quite right, he has had Gaurdia nd Cocidia? which have both been treated when i brought him home by my vet, still he has loose stools I have tried changing his food from Purina puppy to puppy premium from a local supplier, have you any suggestions as to how I may resolve this otherwise he is well and active plus happy.


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