Howard's dog Sid chasing his first win of the season
"A great start to the shooting and trialling season saw Chyknell Eagle of Mullenscote (Link) and Shallowoak West Sydnie of Mullenscote (Sid) both come home from trials with awards. I’m really pleased with Link's performance, as this was his first ever trial and he was just brilliant. I will continue to work hard chasing that 'oh so elusive' win but both dogs show the potential to do just that, so fingers crossed!
So many commitments
In fact crossing my fingers will simply not be good enough. Training a dog requires commitment, dedication and attention to detail. Training a dog to the standard of obedience, game-finding ability and fitness required to be competitive in a trial can become all-consuming. Trying to balance the day job, whilst fulfilling all those commitments - and making time to visit my girlfriend (who might just be next me as I write this) - can be really demanding on your time. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining, dog trainers all over the world spend their lives racing around to make time to indulge themselves in this all consuming pastime. And I’m in the privileged position of being able to combine both - lucky, lucky, lucky me.
When dog training is like eventing
Field trialling dogs is very similar to eventing horses, sometimes very frustrating as you are often all dressed up with nowhere to go. When entering a horse to run in an event, you know that your entry is one of the many going into the ballot system when the event is oversubscribed. The same is true when sending in an entry to run in a trial - most trials are run with sixteen dogs and handlers, more often than not the Field Trial Secretary receives as many as fifty entries.
A draw is then held and you hope and pray that you will be one of the first sixteen out of the draw. With two dogs absolutely on the boil I’m as frustrated as a very frustrated person having just had the results of two draws - when you see the stamp addressed envelope amongst your daily post you open the envelope with excitement and anticipation. In the last two draws I have been drawn number 41 and 43, grr!
Don’t rush the basics
We are midway through our latest six-week gundog training course; the courses are structured with a Bronze, Silver and Gold level allowing handlers to work their way up through the required elements, acquiring the skills and knowledge that they will need to train their dogs. True to form at this halfway point some handlers are looking a little stressed; today’s session saw really great dog work though.
Group training sessions require a delicate balance. Some young dogs are easily excited when around other people and dogs, and this overexcited behaviour can be difficult to mange. The great news is that with the right approach to training owners are able to take control and gradually teach these youngsters to calm down and learn how to relax and behave in the company of others. These early basic self-control lessons (dogs and handlers) are essential stages that - if neglected - will often result in restricting your dog's ability to grasp more advanced levels of training. It’s so easy to get carried away and rush early training, sometimes neglecting the basics.
"I’m writing this blog on Sunday evening while watching the X Factor. I have to confess I love this programme - all the naff auditions are hilarious to watch but I also love it when someone really talented turns up on stage.
It fascinates me that some people are amazingly talented and they're just out there, going about their normal lives, waiting for someone to notice them. I also wonder, is talent genetic or borne through dedication and hard work? It’s probably a bit of both.
One to watch
Either way, we are currently working with a young man called James Thatcher who would easily win The X Factor if they were looking to find the next star gundog handler.
James lives and breathes the countryside and his dogs, and he is fresh back from the Sandringham Game and Country Fair with an armful of trophies won in partnership with his Cocker bitch Boots.
James’s efforts and hard work are really paying dividends. All he needs to do is keep up the good work, keep training, and keep his mind on the dogs and not on the ladies, and he'll be a big success. Having said that, it never did me any harm...!
Still on the subject of success, congratulations to Tessa, Tracey and Lynda, who all presented themselves and their dogs for assessment at the end of our latest training course. Ladies - you were fabulous. It's always scary for me when pupils are being assessed, but they have been model pupils, hard-working, determined a little tempermental at times but it all came good.
We’re still on the road with three more shows to do, which makes for a busy September/October. The Shooting School is busy, Mullenscote Dog Training Centre is full on, with days out game shooting, beating, picking up and trialing. Bring it on!"
We took a seven hour drive to Westruther in Scotland last week to run Sid in a 16 dog 'Any Variety Spaniel' trial. A long way to go for a run, but I’ve been champing at the bit to get going and to be honest I love working my dogs on new ground. I was drawn number 10 and with the trial beingheld on the top of a heather and bracken covered Scottish hillside in full view of the action, Sid was wound up like a coiled spring by the time we were called forward.
I slipped off my coat and made myself known to the judge, who told me: “Take him off the lead, and I’d like you to just work this bit of bracken out please.” I clicked Sid off and he charged into the bracken like he’d been fired from a rocket launcher. I double pipped him on the whistle and the normally reliable Sid continued to thrash into the bracken with no intent of a response. ‘Flippin heck’, I thought, ‘We’re introuble here.’
A second more purposeful attempt on the whistle got a response, but unfortunately not the one I wanted. In his ten second burst of enthusiasm, he had lost his bearings, so when he flicked up his head and caught sight of a human being, he quartered straight back towards them... them being the judge and handler on the beat next to us.
I blasted the stop whistle, which brought Sid to a stop - at which point he realised his mistake and came thundering back to me. I saw the judges book come out of his pocket, and assumed we were in for an early bath, but the judge just made a small scribble in his book and pointed out that things would now need to be better! Some beautiful hunting with two perfect contact flushes followed by perfect retrieves meant that we stayed in and went on to put in a great second run. We were awarded a Certificate of Merit, which meant that we came home with a smile andraring to go again. Great Job, Sydnie.
Ruffling some feathers
On the way home we received an email asking us to do a demo at the International Bird of Prey Centre in Gloucestershire. The event was a Falconry Fair and, to be honest, I was a little nervous as the audience were really there to watch Falconry stuff not some motormouth Gun dog bloke. My nerves went through the roof when we arrived to discover that the Centre is owned and run by the internationally-renowned Jemima Parry-Jones, and that she was in the arena before me.
However, the audience were lovely and my dogs were ace, we did alright and we got some really great comments. Result!
We kept one of Ruby’s puppies back and Rush is now five months and, like all young Cocker pups, a bit mad. I took her out into some white grass yesterday and encouraged her to hunt for a ball - lovely, I like! A long way to go yet, but she looks very promising.
“The Glorious Twelfth has signified the start of 2011/2012 shooting season and to those of you lucky enough to be enjoying the excitement of the grouse moor, I am just so jealous! Trying to push my jealousy and coveting aside, I need to stay focussed as there is now only a few weeks to go before the partridge season begins.
Putting the dogs through their paces
We have managed to organise some dog training days in Devon and, along with a handful of fellow dog trainers, we are really looking forward to getting together and putting our dogs through their paces. It’s one thing to be pleased with training success at home but a whole different game once you get out there on the real thing. The company of other dogs, fellow handlers and all the entourage that accompanies a day’s shooting or trialling bring a whole raft of challenges that are only experienced on a full shoot day. A well trained dog is more often than not oblivious to other dogs around it but for some the first time they hunt a beat alongside another it will distract them.
Dogs that are steady at home will often get really hot with other dogs around so will need that extra work on the real thing.
Both the litter of Cocker and Labrador pups are now settled in their new homes so it’s much more peaceful here without the little devils but I do miss all the fun, games and trouble that they cause.
Stockmen and demos
Three days at Hatfield show this weekend and I’m really looking forward to it. Such great fun but hard work, we are doing two demos besides running a clinic. As always we are reliant on our dogs, Monty and Jake. Annie have all been on the road with Team Mullenscote for the first time this year and they have been fantastic. The Sprocker Jake has been a real crowd pleaser; it’s hard to put into words why but his attentive, focussed but energetic approach to his work mean that he has a flair about him that just draws your eye.
One of the highlights at Hatfield is the Stockmans Tent. Every evening, stockmen, traders and demonstrators gather in it for far too much alcohol and a sing along. I guess it’s kind of like a rave for country people. Believe me its brilliant, or perhaps I don’t get out enough?”
“Phew! Just come back from an action packed, non-stop week at the New Forest Show. The weather was superb and it felt like all of the 60 million residents of the UK had come to the show - it was packed. As always, the dogs were their usual fantastic selves and they loved the dawn to dusk attention that was lavished on them by visitors to our stand.
We only had to do two half hour demonstrations each day, and I know it makes me sound grumpy but, by the end of the three days, we all felt that if one more person asked us how to teach Rover to walk to heel that a week in therapy would be required.
An evening with Jose
One consolation was that H&C’s celebrity chef Jose L Souto was giving game cookery demonstrations at the show and we were delighted to be invited over to spend the evening around the campfire with Jose, his wife Charlotte and their family. Jose is so talented, he produced the most fantastic food for a dozen people with nothing more than a portable wok and some fantastic game meat. It reminded me of the days when I used to go to Bible Class and learned the biblical story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Having watched Jose’s game cooking demonstrations, he has inspired an interest in game cooking and I shall follow his blogs with interest.
New series of videos
We launched the second in our series of dog training DVDs titled Get On to an industry guest list at the Hawk Conservancy and to be quite honest the run up to the launch day was all consuming. Life continues to throw new experiences at me and the prospect of the launch was a little unnerving. Besides ensuring that everything ran like clockwork, I had to deliver a short speech and then prepare to deliver a gundog demonstration while the guests watched a promo of the new DVD. Organising the day and giving a gundog demo was a walk in the park. The speech and waiting for the critic’s opinion of the DVD can only be described as terrifying.
Rapidly approaching season
The shooting season is rapidly approaching and getting dogs trained and fit takes lots of my time, in fact there doesn’t really seem to be enough, although time is precious there continues to be huge amounts of personal satisfaction in seeing young dogs learn the job and gradually come up to the mark. A young cocker called Monty has got my eye at he moment, he has been a little slow at putting it all together but having worked him this afternoon, I think he is going to be really useful and competitive little dog.
If your going out shooting with your dog this year make sure you spend some time in the training field with him, ensure he is steady and that he is keen to respond to your whistle. There’s still plenty of time for you to put some real polish on both you and the dogs performance. Keep training!”
Work experience pupils got hands on experience with the puppies
“Country Shows, trips to Yorkshire dog training, puppies, work experience pupils and not to mention the day to day running of the dog training centre and shooting school have certainly kept us busy for the last few weeks.
The weather has been really good which in turn has meant that getting all of these things done has been so much easier. Although all this dry weather has meant that if, like me, you are a hay fever sufferer and the slightest puff of dust, pollen or animal fur turns you into a teary eyed, itchy, snuffling, miserable half-wit then it has not all been easy.
Wild rabbit training
I been really fortunate and had the opportunity to spend some time on the Yorkshire moors training the spaniels on wild rabbits, the terrain scenery and training alongside some of the best spaniel trainers in the world means that the ten hours of driving that the trip involves is well worth the effort. Living on chalk downland in Hampshire means that we are literally plagued by wild rabbits but in this part of the world the rabbit population live in burrows below ground so you very rarely get to achieve the contact flushes that Yorkshire offers. Out on the moors the rabbits sit out above ground in little ‘sets’ making for spaniel trainer’s heaven.
The other amazing thing is that my beloved son, Charlie, having made a full recovery from last year’s quad accident has passed his driving test and has been able to come with me and share the driving. This I reckon is spending quality time with him. Like any parent I love having Charlie around and to have him here working alongside me is just fantastic. Like all young male drivers there have been a few hairy moments when his testosterone has got the better of his judgement and I have screamed, “Charlie what the <beep> were you thinking about?”
We have had several apprentice dog trainers spend time with us over the last couple of months during which they sit in on our one to one lessons as observers. This helps them to gain the experience they will need for the future as they embark on a career in the dog training industry. Academic study is essential but hands on (it’s important that you don’t misunderstand me here) and shadowing other dog trainers is a brilliant way to learn the trade. Having these guys around serves to sharpen and reflect one’s own delivery which is never a bad thing!
Alongside the adult learners that we work with, we have a trickle of eight young people who will complete one to two weeks of work experience with us over the summer. With these guys we get a real cross section of people considering a career with animals: Vets, veterinary nurses, dog trainers, hunt servants - a few that thought it would be nice to pat the puppies and one that believed in his words, “I thought it would be a really good doss.” The bit that this fella had not banked on was that he would be working under the expert guidance of head trainer Annie Buckley, the said same lady that he was misguided enough to stand in front of with his hands in his pockets and spit on the floor while being given his welcome briefing. It goes without saying that the young man in question had anything but a week of dossing and always stands to attention when being spoken to by Annie. Ah, the youth of today. It’s rather odd that I should find myself mentoring young people, especially as I was anything but a model youth.
I’m writing this blog at 4am in the morning as I’m off to Yorkshire again today and while I don’t need to set off until 9am, I have woken up really early. You see I can’t sleep when I’m excited, at least some of my youthful qualities are still with me!”
It's all about babies this week! Gundog expert Howard Kirby made the video below to share his journey with Ruby, a working Cocker spaniel as she became a mum for the first time. Meet Ruby's puppies and watch their early days in the world and how Howard begins their training from birth.
“We’ve done three shows with Living Heritage over the last couple of months and they have been the most fantastic fun. Everything has gone really smoothly and of course, the stars of the show, the dogs, have been brilliant. Not always, I hasten to add because everything has gone exactly to plan and success with dog training is very much reliant on the handler’s ability to recognise and react quickly to things that are not going to plan.
Huge team effort
The fact that our time spent at shows in the arena has been such fun has is in no small way down to the huge team effort that goes into preparing for these events. The Dog Training Team here at Mullenscote work tirelessly to ensure that everything is planned and prepared for as many eventualities as possible. The canine team are being worked and trained throughout the year but preparation of the lorry and all of the equipment that we need at shows is never ending. Food, water, bedding, fuel, clothing, equipment and first aid for both dogs and humans need constant planning and attention.
The five Ps
The five Ps of ‘Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’ rings true right across our day to day lives and is an essential skill for a dog trainer. Not just day to day stuff, such as when, where and how will I exercise train and care for my dog, but understanding, knowing and being able to predict your dog’s response or behaviour to any given situation. Dog training experts seem to be at one with their dogs, in tune with them, almost with a canine brain. Don’t worry its nothing you can’t achieve yourself, yes -certain character traits suit the profile of the perfect dog trainer but primarily it’s about experience, being in and around dogs but while there studying, noticing and recording what they do.
This lack of experience is what makes dog training so difficult for some owners. Learning on the job is your only option. Remember, your pup grows up really fast, so don’t sit on your hands and wait for problems to arise; research, anticipate, spend time with dog trainers at classes and with people that are obviously good with their own dogs. Don’t always take your puppy to these classes so you can watch, listen and absorb the experience without distraction.
“This weather is just amazing. I know we need some rain but being warm and not having to wear a tonne of clothes is just brilliant. The warm weather has meant that we have been able to get Ruby’s puppies out into the socialisation pen. We have a pen on the main walkway into the clubhouse which means it is almost impossible to walk past without being beckoned to the pen by the little squeakers, perfect for the youngsters’ socialisation and it ensures that everyone enters the clubhouse wearing a canine induced smile.
These little Cocker pups have no idea just how posh they are; their sire is Field Trial Champion and 2004 Cocker Championship winner Chyknell Goldstar while their dam, Ruby, is an Open Field Trial Winner and was a superb contender in the 2011 championships. They are now a real handful, the moment you open a door or a gate they are out and round your heels like a swarm; they are so busy, cheeky and full of mischief. This early socialisation period is so important to young puppies and we do everything possible to ensure that their early experiences are ones that are positive and ensure that the pups start life full of confidence.
Great new class
Our latest dog training course is now into its second week, but between you and I, it is not uncommon to hear one of the trainers declare after the first session: “There is so much work to do with these guys.” That’s polite dog trainer speak for, “this lot are rubbish”. Well, this time the group are fantastic and the standard is so high - not just the level of achievement to date but the study and effort that has gone on over the last week is just awesome. Great job guys, keep it up.
Training dogs and people
We are flat out training dogs and the people that own them. It’s a bit of a cliché but you never stop learning. We are so lucky that we get to see and experience so many problem dog behaviours and the people and families for whom these behaviours become serious problems. If you are reading this blog and considering taking on a dog or puppy for the first time, please take advice as early as possible, ideally before you even choose the breed type. Get your breed right and you will have a friend and companion that is second to none, get it wrong and things could become difficult really quickly.”