It’s the start of the shooting season and once again gundog owners and their dogs get out the dummies for a brush-up on various retrieval routines.
Not all gundogs, though, welcome dummy training and our spaniels, the Springers; Jessie and young Teazel, and the Clumbers; Barley and his daughter Holly, have little time for such exercises.
A dummy is a sausage like soft object meant to represent a pheasant, with a string attached, which is thrown into bits of makeshift cover. Several may be thrown and then the dog is directed to retrieve a particular dummy and present it straight into their owner’s hand.
Our dogs are mystified by this procedure. The dummy, as they point out, does not look like a pheasant. it does not smell like a pheasant, or sound like a pheasant, or fly like a pheasant, or feel like a pheasant, or even taste like a pheasant, so why on earth would any human want it brought back to them?!
The missus, always full of enthusiasm at the beginning of each season, and ever optimistic, never fails to give the spaniels a pre-season refresher course. This normally involves finding an empty corner of a field, flinging dummies out in various directions, and giving the dogs instructions using her dog whistle in the hope that each dog will retrieve the right dummy and bring it straight back to her.
In practice, things happen rather differently.
Jessie, on hearing the whistle, will invariably go charging off into the nearest hedge to find a real pheasant. Teazel will often actually retrieve the dummy, but then proceed to have a game with it, tossing it into the air and rolling around with it in her paws. Her skill is in keeping the dummy just out of reach of the missus. Holly, the newest recruit, really tries hard to do what she’s told, but is obviously puzzled by the whole procedure. Barley will retrieve the dummy initially, leaving it somewhere convenient for himself, but after that he will just lie down. This is the Clumber method of training a human to pick up their own dummies.