Out of season activities

Are you having trouble finding things to keep your dog busy during the time away from the shooting field? Well, then, I think I have a solution. At game fairs, country shows and fêtes, you may find gundog scurries and fun have-a-go events that can be an exciting and relaxing activity for you and your gundog. Not only that, it’s just as much fun for the owner as there’s no competitive pressure and, quite often, there are some great prizes to be won. Now you might be thinking that the scurries are more suited to pet dogs but they are open to everyone. The great thing is that you can treat the scurries as training. The focus is on how you wish to utilise the activity to benefit you and your dog.

I entered a scurry at a local fair when I was about nine and every year since then I have taken part in scurries all over England with my trained working gundog. I also compete in working tests, which can be highly competitive and can sometimes put a strain on the bond between you and your dog, so participating in something fun and light-hearted gives you the opportunity to relax with your dog.

There are also many gundog training clubs that run weekday evening and weekend training sessions. Becoming a member of one of these is a great way to network and socialise and possibly pick up some more work on shoots during the season, especially if the people running the sessions see that you have an obedient working dog.

Scurries are a great way to keep your dog fit and active during the summer. Quite often we have found that, when the shooting season starts, many dogs that come beating and picking up have not been kept up to scratch with their fitness or training out of the shooting season. Many don’t realise it takes the dogs some time to build the fitness they need for a full day in the shooting field.

My scurry tips are as follows:

The key thing is to keep your dog delivering to hand. Some dogs competing in scurries get back to their owner and spit the dummy out onto the ground, but this a bad habit and should not be encouraged. You should ensure your dog delivers the dummy to hand, as if it was a bird. In working tests it is a serious penalty if your dog drops the dummy on the ground.

Another idea that is also tethered to the scurry community is that you have to keep your dog between your legs and hold it steady before letting it go. I see this as a potential distraction and it does nothing to help the dog’s speed or agility. Keeping your dog by your side during the activity is your best bet, maintaining that consistency that carries through to the game shooting season. You don’t need a fully trained dog to take part in scurries or have-a-go events – people running these events have a great deal of knowledge and can help and advise you on the day.

Quite often, when you’re at the scurries you will come across those who shout and scream at their dogs. You shouldn’t have to resort to shouting at your dog during a fun event. It shows a lack of control. You can use the whistle or controlled verbal commands such as “back”, “out”, “lost there” or “over”, which we all use in the shooting field. There’s no need to change how you handle your dogs during a test.

Remember, it’s about having fun. Don’t get too competitive; laugh and let your dog enjoy the day out! This may sound like a cliché but winning really doesn’t matter – participation and teamwork, that’s what counts.

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