Follow Howard Kirby’s checklist to ensure your dog will work well on the peg

So, what exactly is a peg dog? Well, it’s a dog that sits at your peg whilst you shoot and is then sent to retrieve game after the drive has finished. The peg dog can be any breed of dog, but it’s most commonly one of the retrieving breeds – a labrador is the most popular choice. To understand a little more, how about taking a look at a job advert for this highly trained companion?

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WANTED: Obedient, calm, loyal, good looking or beautiful (EU equal opportunities employer) first class peg dog.

Job description: To attend shoot days throughout the UK. The candidate will need to be available 365 days of the year and able to be on duty with just a minute’s notice. You must be prepared to travel in the boot of your owner’s car and there will be occasions in which you will be required to sleep overnight in the vehicle.

Your qualifications/experience: You will be required to be police with a first class knowledge of canine shoot etiquette. You will be enthusiastic but not overly so. A calm, focussed and steady demeanour will complement your amazing self-control and athletic prowess. You will be fully conversant with all the qualities expected of a first class peg dog, including total steadiness, an excellent ability to mark the fall of birds, first class detrieving and delivery to hand. You will of course be expected to interpret and react to what you are being told to do via a series of whistle blasts, arm waving and shouting from a handler that sounds and looks like a half-wit breakdancer on speed. At no point should you answer back, in spite of the verbal abuse you might be subjected to. When not required for shoot days you will be exected to be the perfect house guest.

Remuneration package: The right candidate will be offered a job for life to include all board, lodging and medical care. You will be privileged to work in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world and play a major part in a most fantastic and rewarding sport.

** The employer operates an equal opportunities policy; this position is open to all canines/breed types. However, candidates that are not native to the UK and do not have the word ‘retriever’ in their breed may find that they will not be required for an interview.

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Now that we know what’s required, let’s take a look at what we can do to ensure that our peg dog becomes the envy of our shooting companions.

It goes without saying that a long time before you even begin to consider taking your dog on a shoot day, you will have had to ensure that you have established the basics. You must think carefully and be very grown up when assessing whether or not your dog is ready. Here’s a progress list and checklist to see if your dog is ready:

- The dog will be steady when you throw a dummy, a ball or cold game around it – and steady does not mean when you hold onto its collar or tie it to a tree or your belt.

- A shot should have your dog alert, looking around and hoping to see the fall of a bird before glancing back at you in the hope that you will send him for a retrieve. A shot should not see your dog lurch forward, shaking and whining. If he does this he will definitely run in and is neither ready or is ever likely to be; you will need to take a big step back in his training. You have accidentally cooked this dog up and he is now over-excited by a shot, assuming he must rush off and find a bird immediately. The dog is neither stupid nor bad; you have trained him to launch into a retrieving mindset the moment the shot is fired. This will be difficult to correct but it is possible, though you will need to enlist the help of a really experienced trainer to sort it out. Remember: a peg dog may well need to sit for periods of up to an hour, during which time a large number of shots will be fired, birds shot and game moved past the seated dog: this is a big ask.

- When sent for a retrieve, the dog should be under control. He should collect the first bird he finds or is handled to, whereupon he must come straight back to you, ignoring all other distractions, birds, dogs, people, livestock and leg cocking – he should come straight to you without deviation. If he does any of the above when in training on dummies, cold or hot game, it will be much worse on a shoot day.

- His mouth should be good and ideally he will deliver to hand. If the dog is rough, plays with or tries to eat the dummy or retrieve, this will require considerable time and effort to correct.

There is more that we could add to this checklist of requirements to ensure your dog is ready for the peg, but let’s now assume that someone who knows what they’re talking about thinks your dog is ready to go. Next month we will go through a whole raft of etiquette and handling dos and don’ts to help you to produce the peg dog all shooting people dream about! (Assuming you’re not dreaming about the Guns On Pegs calendar, that is.)

In the meantime, we are well into the shooting season and you are about to ignore the advice of your trainer and take Troy on his first day’s shooting. Think long and hard before you do and consider the Mullenscote rhyme I’ve written to help you along the way: “Sit your dog on the peg before it’s ready and it will spend its lifetime being unsteady.”