We answer your questions about common problems with aging gundogs.
Q: How can I stop my dog from crunching birds?
Jayne Coley: If this is an older dog and it’s happening on a regular basis, there is very little you can do as this behaviour often becomes a habit. It may be caused by any one, or a combination, of the following factors: the dog being badly spurred by a wounded cock bird, anxiety, excitement/exuberance, having game snatched out of his mouth by another dog or possessiveness.
However, if this is a young dog’s first season out shooting, damaging birds can occur as a result of inexperience and getting over-excited. To minimise this happening you should do your homework the season before you take him out in the shooting field. During that time introduce your dog to retrieving game when he is a puppy, quietly practicing at home, using as many different types of birds as you can get your hands on.
Q: My nine-year-old bitch has always been a reliable and efficient retriever and we have enjoyed a great working relationship but she has developed selective hearing. Is this just a function of advancing years or can I do something to stop it?
Laura Hill: It is a possibility that your ageing dog has started to lose her hearing, if she has had a lot of exposure to shots on the peg, or if she has a build-up of ear wax due to ear mites, allergies or infection. If you suspect this is the case, you should seek veterinary advice.
However, if the deterioration you describe is sporadic or selective then it is more likely that it is behaviour acquired through experience. At her age, she will have learnt the procedure for shoot day, and what is required of her, and will be well versed in the routines, meaning that the input that she requires from you is now minimal. She may feel she can get on with it without your intervention. You can redress this balance by working on more ‘blind’ retrieves where she will need your help if she is to find the bird.
Likewise, around the house, she will be used to your routines and your conversations with family members and other pets, so she will have learnt to ‘filter out’ most of what you are saying. Try to cut out some of your chatter, and when you are communicating with her be clear and definite. Reward her responses so that she feels it is worthwhile paying attention to you.