Steadiness: The Basis of All Gundog Work
by Joe Law
21 January 2011

Steadiness in a gundog is a vital component, not just in his genetic make up but also in the way in which he is trained. In the Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials for Gundogs it states: “The function of a retriever is to seek fallen game when ordered to do so. It should sit quietly in the hide, walk at heel, or assume any station designated by the handler until sent to retrieve. When ordered to do so a dog should retrieve quickly and briskly without unduly disturbing too much ground.”
Steadiness means the dog does not move, nor make a sound when the game is shot at and does not move nor make a sound when the game falls. This will not need repeated commands from the handler; in fact a great gundog needs no command at all to be steady!! Consider if you will, you’re out hunting with a couple of guys when a rabbit is flushed offering a clear shot. Now just about the last thing you want to see when you’re aiming your shotgun at that rabbit is the dog’s ears appearing in your peripheral vision. Putting it plainly steadiness is vital for the safety of a dog under real hunting conditions. Also, for those competing in Gundog Trials where multiple articles may be cast it is very important that the dog remains steady while concentrating on the fall and only retrieves the articles in the correct order when sent by the handler.

Teaching your dog to be steady begins early and is a simple extension of a stay command. Begin with the dog beside you on lead and on a sit, give the stay command and then have someone throw a dummy. If the dog attempts to break it won’t get far as it is on lead. Put it back into the sit position and then when the dog is sitting calmly send the dog for the retrieve. Repeat this process several times over a few days and you should start to see your dog waiting for the command to retrieve. Don’t rush to off lead work, because if the dog gets the reward of getting the retrieve it has just been rewarded for breaking. When you think you are ready for off lead work instruct your thrower assistant to be prepared to pick up the dummy if the dog breaks.

Steadiness to the flush is a simple extension of your whistle stop. Again it is preferable that the dog is on lead just to make sure that chasing of the game does not reward the dog. When game is flushed, blow your whistle stop, if the dog stops reward with lavish praise and then hunt on. If the dog is listening to the whistle, you can have someone else shoot at the game, this allows you to concentrate totally on your dog. Please remember a dog is not a machine and it is very exciting when game flushes and this can trigger a natural chase response from your dog. It’s your job to clearly show the dog that chasing is not allowed.

The final part of steadiness is steady to shot. A previous article dealt with the introduction of your dog to shot and this process will now need to be revised and combined with the above exercises. Remember, steadiness is essential in a gundog and is the basis of all gundog work. Furthermore, as steadiness is part training and part genetics both breeders and trainers of gundogs should realise the importance of steadiness and have it as an objective in their programs.

Photo by Lara Sedgmen

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Dogs NSW magazine, September 2010.

This page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc. (Affiliated with Dogs NSW)