This article was first published in 1988 and was given to attendees at the Pointer and Setter Training Days held on Dartmoor. This training information is as useful and relevant today as it was then!
I thought it might be helpful to make a list of some of the basic training and the frame of mind we should approach it. Over the weekend we shall talk and discuss many interesting things and it is so easy to forget the important items when you get home. Training to start at 6 months is perfectly right for the professionals and experienced handlers. For the true keen beginner it is best to start earlier I think about 8 weeks is the right time. I can see hands thrown up in horror, the puppy at that time is looking for a replacement for his litter and dam and is prepared to latch on to his new owner. Remember you are a pack leader, and just a dog that walks on his hind legs. The pup and then the adult wants a pack leader, so be one, remember that every dog or bitch has an ambition to demote you and take your place. Don’t try and put human thoughts into the dog’s actions, you are doing a disservice to the dog; your expectations will be so high that you will be disappointed. What do we teach our young pups: To come when he is called, at this age it is not difficult as he usually wants to come and please the boss, when he does, give him great praise. If he doesn’t come, you are faster than he is. The most important section of training the "Sit, Hup, Down” the word doesn’t matter but your determination does. It is the drop that will get you out of trouble, chasing sheep, sharp drop, down goes your dog, you are out of trouble! By the time your Gordon is adult this should be a condition reflex. You start this training at your feet, but as soon as the dog knows what you mean, you start dropping at first a foot away then two feet so by the time he is adult 2-300 yards away is easy.
THIS IS THE ONLY GUNDOG ORDER THAT HAS TO BE COUNTERMANDED. THE DROP MEANS STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING TURN AND FACE ME I WANT TO TELL YOU SOMETHING AND DON’T MOVE TILL I TELL YOU.
As you can see there is no room for the word stay. When a group of handlers are having a chat put your dogs on a lead, many people will tell the dog to sit and then go on talking up gets the dog and wanders off, and bang goes a fraction of your good work.
When training and handling the main virtue of the handler is: CONCENTRATION there is no time to let your mind wander the pup will beat you. Puppies have limited concentration time say 5-10 minutes, some even less, push your pup beyond its limits and confusion will be the result. Let the pup relax and later on you can give him another short lesson. Remember no dog is born trained, or is trained tomorrow, or remains trained, they have to be kept up to the mark. Try to listen to yourself, this is difficult as in our anxiety for the pup to complete the lesson correctly we repeat orders over and over again. Without taking action. The point of obedience is the point at which you are prepared to take action. I allow 2 or 3 requests then I draw my pup's attention to the fact I am speaking to it! Don’t give an order that you haven’t time to see through. You can train your dog to be obedient or disobedient. If you do not see the orders through your pup will think that sometimes you do mean it, and sometimes you don’t, so really orders don't matter. A dog is not disobedient until you have given the order and he has not obeyed it.
So I repeat DON'T GIVE THAT ORDER IF YOU HAVE NO TIME. Never ASK a pup or adult to do anything. ORDERS must be crisp and strong so there is no doubt in your dog’s mind that you mean it. As soon as the pup obeys, plenty of PRAISE. You will find that in time you give more praise than scolding. Your voice is the best training aid you have, you play it like an instrument, it is the tone in which the orders are given, that tells the dog so much. Try to finish your training session on a good note, something your pup does well. To the handler, have a positive approach to training and handling. Expect your dog to do things right, and be a bit put out when he doesn't.
When you start your pup on its training programme get it clearly in your mind it will take 2 years to obtain the finished dog, perfectly trained, this applies especially to Gordons, as in my opinion they are slow to mature. Taking the long view removes the pressure from the trainer and allows him or her to enjoy small regular well learned progress, while keeping the eye on the vision of the well trained dog. That adult should fill you with pride as he quarters his ground in fine style and speed, casting some 150 yards to 200 yards to left and right searching for that elusive scent of game. You the handler confident in the knowledge that a quick blast on your whistle will bring that galloping dog to a dramatic halt. The first time your galloping dog stops, a little uncertain at the first trace of scent, his flews quivering as he savours that scent, all this time his body will be stiffening into a real point or sett. You the handler will hurry to his side, controlling your excitement and making sure you do not cross between the dog and his quarry, talking, praising and your whistle at the ready, should be start moving forward before you get to his side. On this first occasion slip your lead quietly over his head, ask him to move forward to flush his game. Once again your drop comes into play as the birds flush and fly away.
Now is the time to sit quietly and really enjoy the moment and know those hours of training have been worthwhile.