What Makes A Good Gundog Trainer?

Gary giving a talk about gundog training

How do you pick the right gundog trainer?

There are so many out there, how do you know if a trainer is good or not?

We feel it’s important to break training down into two parts: training the dog and training the handler. The best gundog trainers have the skills to do both.

Let’s start with training the dogs.

A good gundog trainer not only understands the species but also the breed. They understand how to communicate with the dog, in a way the dog already understands (to some degree) and knows how to read dogs.

It helps that the trainer has been on a shoot and has dogs that they have trained to a high standard. Having had experience working their own dogs on a shoot gives them a better understanding of what is expected. It’s one thing to be a dog trainer, but another thing to be a gundog trainer where the dog will be used for shooting etc. Does the trainer understand what the dog instinctively requires i.e. the need to hunt and retrieve etc? Once you’ve established those basics, you need to know if they understand the breed. Can they tell what switches the dog on and off? How much training can they handle based on the dogs, breed, age and willingness to learn? Do they understand the different training requirements of a cocker spaniel, springer spaniel or labrador for example?

Do they know different training techniques and styles so they can adapt to suit the dog?

What you’re looking for is, can they read the dog and get in the dog’s head. The way a dog ‘sees’ the world is different from humans. A good trainer will adapt accordingly to get the best out of the dog.

A trainer who knows how the dog uses the wind and scent, will know how to use them to help train your dog.

And because they know these things, they understand what is going on inside a dog’s head and can recreate the situations to give them the successful training needed.

One of our dogs on a shoot

One thing to avoid is a trainer who treats dogs like humans. What we mean by this is not to disrespect them, in fact, quite the reverse, respecting they are dogs and how they communicate and socialize as animals etc. Not respecting this can lead to confusion and communication issues and ultimately behavioural problems. Dogs can’t verbalise what’s going on. You can’t rationalise with a dog because they don’t understand long sentences. They understand commands. Dogs watch your physiology… a lot, and read you more than you think! The better gundog trainers understand this and feel comfortable with it.

Another thing to look for is when a trainer thinks the dog is trained. We hear about a lot of trainers getting the dog to offer a behaviour and thinking that’s job done, but it’s not.

A dog can understand the training and know what to do, but there’s a difference between that and the dog consistently offering the behaviour every time it’s asked. The better trainers know that part one of training is the dog learning the behaviour, and part two is embedding the behaviour to get consistency. Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it’ll happen every time!

When you’re happy with their knowledge, it’s time to consider the trainer’s personality.

Are they consistent with the dog? Are they clear? Are they calm? Do they control their own mood so that when a setback happens, they don’t get angry or frustrated? Can they be assertive when they need to be in a calm and controlled manner conducive to the dog’s temperament?

Does your gundog trainer explain what is happening in a way that you personally understand? Can they challenge you just enough to move you forward at a comfortable rate? Do they have the patience and persistence?

If you’re happy with their knowledge, training style, and personality, it’s time to look at the really difficult part.

Gary training in the field

There are some amazing gundog trainers, but can they also train people?

And you’re probably asking why it’s important. The trainer you work with will be there for an hour or 2 every few weeks. The person implementing the majority of the training is you.

So, the trainer has to be able to pass their knowledge on to you so that you can carry on the training away from their training grounds. People are as individual as dogs are. How one person learns is different to another. Good trainers not only adapt their training for the dog in front of them, but they also adapt how they train the owners.

They need to be able to pass the information on clearly and understandably. If you’re in a group session, do they talk through what they are seeing during 1:1 work? Are they asking you questions or just shouting instructions? Can they give you a plan that’s tailored to your skills and experience, as well as your dogs?

It seems like a lot to think about, but gundog training is a skill like no other. And ultimately, the better the trainer for both you and your dog, the better your results.

We’ll leave you with a saying from the gundog world…

A novice handler wants to work on intermediate skills. The intermediate handler wants work on advanced skills, but the advanced handler always focuses on the foundations.

The foundations we’ve spoken about here are the key to both good trainers and good training.

It helps that all of these things come naturally to us! And you can see it first hand by booking onto one of our training sessions here: Gundog Training Dates for 2024 – Fortiscorde Gundogs