Gleneagles has had a major facelift but you can still go there for expert gundog training. Rosalyn Wikeley learns a lesson or two…
With a grand new refurbishment this year in a bid to revive its roaring 1920s heyday, Gleneagles has boldly reclaimed its former glory. And as any bona fide country sportsperson will delight in, its offering, from shooting to fishing and riding to falconry, remains unsurpassed. It is also here that keen shots, dreading taking an unruly hound to a shoot, with visions of premature bolting or worse, getting lost in the moors, can receive decades’ worth of gundog wisdom through their programme of dog training.
Emma Ford, director and co-owner of The British School of Falconry (in which the gundog school sits) gives us the lowdown on how it works.
Broken down into three stages, from beginner to expert, owners use the school’s own dogs, with instructors taking them through the motions which are can then be implemented at home.
Focuses on retrieves, introducing the ‘sit!’ and ‘stay!’ command, heelwork and the recall. A rooky error for most dog owners, Emma discloses, is overusing ‘heel!’, ‘people forget to use the word ‘no!’. Gundogs mainly comprise labradors, cocker and springer spaniels but she insists that every dog can be trained. As Emma reminds us, all dogs are 98.8 per cent wolf and are hardwired to retrieve food for the pack. Owners must harness this instinct, starting from the beginning by never scolding a gundog puppy for retrieving an item, even if it’s an expensive shoe, and instigating the command ‘sit!’ by gently pushing down on their bottom with lots of praise. ‘Affection and approval are integral to gundog training,’ Emma insists, ‘and should be used generously.’ ‘Always use a whistle for commands,’ says Emma, ‘you don’t want to be yelling in the field’.
Starts to get more serious, introducing directional control, learning how to work with the dog on blind retrieve, drive (running out at a pace when it’s time to retrieve), not switching game, and hunting when the owner has no idea where the game has fallen. And as for naughty dogs switching game, ‘Shout “no!”! if they pick up another one and they’ll soon learn.’
For the ‘big dogs’. This 45-minute class looks at Directional ‘remote handling’, the ‘three card trick’, introducing jumping, water and crossing water. ‘Remote handling is tricky as your dog needs to figure they are not always right, they need to learn to listen to you even when they are working a long way off.’ It’s a trust exercise taught with a whistle and hand signals. Dogs at Gleneagles are introduced to water on a shallow pond above Laich Loch, and whistled back repeatedly until they’ve got it.
Emma stresses that gundogs make good pets, but their natural desire to retrieve must be understood. ‘If owners can manage and channel these instincts better, it can greatly improve the relationship between the pair.’ Gleneagles gundog School facilities this, and can also help refine owners’ shooting skills with exceptional facilities and training, fully preparing them for the field.
Gun Dog Lessons Start from £97. Double rooms from £275 B&B