Social distancing and dog training

I think many gundog owners and trainers would agree that dog training during the lockdown has been quite a challenge.

I help my mother run her dog training business and in particular the media side of things. For example, I update her website, and where possible, take photographs to add to the social media accounts. Because I’m around a lot more, I was able to see how much dog training during the lockdown had to change and adapt to be able to continue. 

As a media student, I need to continue to develop my photography skills. I’ve especially enjoyed documenting water work; I will talk about this a bit later on. My college requested we remain creative and work on various projects during the lockdown. By helping my mother, I could remain at a safe distance, stay motivated and continue improving my skills.

Lockdown – perfect time to raise a pup?

We’ve seen an increase of people buying pups during the lockdown. So, much of my mother’s work has been done remotely, assisting with puppy training via telephone or video/Zoom calls. Now that the lockdown has been eased, we could start garden visits too. It quickly became obvious that many new owners didn’t realise that, while the lockdown might’ve seemed like the best time to buy a puppy, it does have its dangers.

You must remember that the increased time at home with the new puppy could have a negative impact on its behaviour. Once you return to work, the dog will suddenly find itself home alone and could develop separation anxiety. This could be excessive barking, howling or being destructive.

If you decided to get a puppy during the lockdown, make sure to teach it to stay home alone. Pretend that you are going to work as normal. You could, for example, work in a locked room where the puppy can’t see you. It can be very distressing for a pup to grow up expecting its owner to be home all the time and then for this to suddenly change.

Dog training during the lockdown

In the later stages of the lockdown, my mum was able to hold socially distanced training sessions. Initially, this was done for private landowners to train their dogs. Then, she was able to organise training for groups of three dogs, hiring private ground to train on. This was to ensure there was no public access to follow governments guidelines.

Training dogs in water

Water training has been very popular due to exceptionally sunny weather. People who were planning to work their dogs in working tests this year try their best to keep up all forms of training in the hope that they may just get one test this year or work their dogs on game shoots later in the year.

It’s very important to get your gundog used to water at quite an early age. During our training sessions, it was very noticeable that many of the younger dogs were already reluctant to enter the water. Most tests and shoots have some water which gundogs must retrieve dummies or birds from or over. 

From personal experience, if you are planning to enter the tests or work your dog on a shoot, I recommend you get your dog used to water. You need to train your dog to retrieve from the other side of the water too. 

Be prepared for anything

I fell into this trap in one of the first tests I entered a few years ago. My gundog was an excellent water dog. She would launch confidently for retrieves in water every time. But many of the places we trained did not give me a chance to get her to retrieve from the other side. 

So, she got into the habit of entering the water and only hunting the water and the nearby reeds for the dummy. She was not used to retrieving dummies from the other side. It took a great deal of work to teach her the command “get over” (which was my command for her to get out onto land). If you get an opportunity to train with an experienced gundog trainer in the water, take it! It really is worth spending time training your dog to work in the water.

How to train a dog to retrieve from water?

A useful exercise is teaching your dog to ignore distractions in the water. This can be easily set up. 

The dog can be sent on a seen retrieve and on its way back, a dummy on a long line can be thrown into the water. The handler should encourage the dog to continue with the initial retrieve and ignore the new dummy. If the dog goes for the distraction, the dummy can be quickly and easily pulled away to ensure the dog never catches it. This is a good exercise to develop the recall and obedience in the water.

Keep them steady!

Steadiness at the water’s edge can also be assisted by the dummy on a long line. Ask the dog to sit steady and throw the dummy in. Your dog should mark the retrieve but remain by your side. 

The dog can then be turned to mark a retrieve on land and if it goes for the water, the dummy on the line can be quickly pulled out so that the dog fails to retrieve it. You can then redirect the dog to the land retrieve.

All these exercises are best done with an experienced trainer at first. Then, once you know exactly what to do, you can get a family member or a friend to assist you. 

A word of caution

If you want to compete or pick up at shoots, remember that water work is important. But remember not to overdo it. 

I know we have time for dog training during the lockdown but take it easy. Dogs that are not used to working in water, especially when it’s cold, can suffer from a limber or rudder tail, or can even catch a cold. 

Limber tail is caused by the overuse of the tail in cold water, causing a strain or a sprain. It is painful for the dog and can be easily avoided. You need to keep your dog dry and warm and limit the exercises to a minimum during recovery, which shouldn’t take longer than a few days. 

Vets can prescribe anti-inflammatory medication if the dog is suffering. I think that prevention is better than cure though! So, if your dog was swimming in cold water and then must travel home, make sure it’s dry and kept warm.

Finally, it’s also hugely beneficial to carry a first aid kit with you and to have basic first aid for dogs knowledge! You never know what might happen in the end.

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