Skip to main content


Dog Welfare

Training the Gun Dog with Phil Wagland

By Dec 2March 19th, 2018No Comments

Phil Wagland is well known throughout the gun dog world as a trainer and competitor, also organising and running events for the North Midland Area of the United Retriever Club. Here courtesy of sponsor performance dog food experts Alpha Feeds, Phil provides valuable tips on training the gun dog.

What breeds do you recommend for a gun dog?

It is very much down to personal preference and the objective and end result of having a dog. Owners should ask themselves; is it a shooting dog, a picking up dog or a beater that I need? Also consider whether test or trial competitions would be involved.

There are four sub-groups which are most admired: Pointers and Setters, Spaniels, HPRs and Retrievers. Within these groups there are one or two key breeds which have proven ability. The other minority breeds can be quite variable in their success rates.

Recently people like to be different and go for the minority breeds to stand out, but the safest option is to go for the key breeds of proven ability. The main breed I work with is the Labrador, followed by the Golden Retriever. The minority breeds in this group include: the Flat-coated Retriever, the Chesapeake and one of the rarest in the group is the Curly-coated Retriever.

What do you look for in terms of character, temperament?

Character will vary with the different breeds. Depending on whether you want a quiet or lively dog will help you make your decision while you also need to consider the living arrangements (home or kennel). Will the dog be on its own or with several other dogs and will there be children around – these are all questions you need to ask.

Good temperament is always a prime concern which means a dog being able to live with people and other dogs in a friendly way.

Trainability is another aspect of the dogs’ character which should be valued; therefore emphasis must be on the working lines of the breed. For Labrador, Golden Retriever, Springer or Cocker Spaniel it is essential to go to the blood lines of the working dogs, not a pedigree which has a history of competing in the world of showing.

Where would you normally source a gun dog puppy?

The best advice I can give is to know the owner of the bitch and see the dog in both play and working scenarios. Knowledge of the dog used at the stud would also be advantageous.

It can also be useful to watch a dog at a shoot or trial as this will allow you to see how the owner/handler works and if they treat and train the dog in a way that you approve of.

If you are unable to do the above the next best tip is to contact someone associated with the breed, possibly through a gun dog training club. A personal approach will usually be better than just using the internet or a Kennel Club list. Newspaper and websites are ill-advised because they may lead to puppy farms.

What age would you recommend starting training?

The training starts with the mother of the puppies at the early stages. From eight weeks on, owners should teach the basics like: simple obedience when giving food, being put in a cage, visiting a vet etc. These are all valuable experiences for the dog and helps aid your bond with the puppy.

At three months of age the puppy should be getting over its injections and lead training can be integrated. Your lead training can include pavement walks to get the puppy used to meeting people and cars. Countryside walks will also help achieve appropriate behaviour.

Obedience or good citizen training at four-months-old will help acclimatise your dog to meeting other dogs and people as well and this is another part of the training I would encourage.

Some simple gun dog training should to be introduced at six-months-old (not rushing too much into retrieving) and then end by attending a gun dog training class or club. The first couple of weeks will be more for socialisation and emphasis on basic obedience.

What are the First 5 Steps to Starting Training?

  1. Seek help or advice if an owner is unsure on where to start. Equipment to start with would be a lead and a whistle.
  2. Keeping the dog’s relationship strong to you. Avoid circumstances that could hinder your bond with your dog.
  3. Spend time on the basics. There is no need to rush because if you do, it could undo your hard work on the basics.
  4. Learn to read your dog. Understand what its strengths and weaknesses are to be able to draw out the natural working dog which is the secret to success.
  5. Make the training fun! Your dog should enjoy the training and working together.

Where should they be in their progress by six months?

At six months a young gun dog should just about have the basics mastered but they may still be liable to make a few mistakes. They should still be able to play like a puppy on occasions and it is important that owners realise dogs vary in their learning pattern with some slow and some quick learners.


Where should they be after their first year?

The basics of obedience, heeling smartly and being steady should be mastered by this age.

Retrievers in particular will be competent at marking seen dummies, simple blind retrieves and pick up and deliver game or dummies. In competitions they will be able to compete in Puppy Gundog Working Tests, which are designed for dogs up to 18-months-old.

Novice Tests will come after the year due to them not being ready for the field trials at that age. If owners do take a young dog picking-up or shooting, make sure it is under controlled conditions.

Do you know in the early days if you have a potential Field Trial Champion?

Experienced trainers can see potential, but it has happened in cases where it doesn’t come through. Slow developers sometimes have proved to be better than the early starter given time.

How do you keep the young dog keen and willing to learn?

Changing locations, different ground, water, obstacles, different cover all help in keeping the training fun and different. This not only heightens their senses but keeps the dogs interest up.

Training with a group of friends can also help you as an owner by taking on ideas and advice.

If things do go wrong in a training hour, simplify the task, reattempt and go back to basics or call it a day with playtime, love and affection. Go back to it another day avoiding the same mistake.

When it comes to health and vitality what food do you recommend?

We are very fortunate to have sponsorship from Alpha Feeds and the dogs always look fantastic.

Alpha Sensitive Extra with duck and rice is nutritionally formulated to meet the needs of adult dogs with a sensitive digestive system.

Hypo-allergenic and wheat gluten free, the feed also contains Fish Meal and Linseed to provide essential Omega 3 Oils which aid a healthy skin and coat.

With no artificial colours or flavours added and prebiotics to help promote digestive health, dogs really thrive on the food.

The protein level is 25%, making it highly suitable for hard working dogs with delicate digestive systems.

For further information visit


For further information please contact Tim Smith at TSM on (01724) 784600.