(Photographs: Harry Lessman)

1. Fitness! 

If you don’t prepare your athlete, don’t expect them to be able to perform to their best. Make sure you have your dog fit enough to cope with what you will be asking of them. Retrieving runners is short burst of fast activity, so make sure you give your dogs plenty of speed work for short durations and see how they improve their recovery time between retrieves. Working them on hills will also help this process. Likewise, sweeping over the pegs at the end of the drive is about endurance, so build their hunting time up over a number of weeks until your first day.

2. Have you got your brakes and steering sorted?

There is nothing worse for a keeper than seeing his next drive ruined by out of control dogs. As part of your pre-season training, ensure your dog is securely stopping on the whistle and understands your commands clearly. Even dogs who pick up a lot during the season need reminders about their commands. Rugby players don’t stop practicing just because they may have won the Premiership last season.

gundog hand signals

3. First timers. 

If it’s your first time taking your dog on game, try and buddy up with a friend who has a good role model to watch. Dogs learn a lot by observing others – something we can underestimate! That said, you don’t want to be stood next to a dog pinging off the planet with excitement when you want your dog to take things calmly and in his stride. This step should not be missed as it’s a big day for your young dog – don’t undo all the work you have put in getting him ready for his first outing.

4. Homework  

If you are new to the shoot, make sure you find out how transport is going to be arranged for the day. Will you be taking your own car or hopping aboard the beater's wagon or Gunbus? If you are taking a young dog out for its first time, a ride in something unknown or unfamiliar can bring their world down around their ears. If you are travelling in a different vehicle to normal on the day, try and familiarise them with the vehicle before the day. You will be amazed at how many dogs we see worried or scared by the unknown on a shoot day.


5. How are your eyes?

You have spent the summer getting your dogs ready for the season, but how match-fit are you? Marking birds in a drive is essential, but we can all be rusty! Try marking 15 tennis balls into long grass in a random order and fetching them yourself. It’s amazing how it can help sharpen up your marking skills. Your keeper will thank you!