The elite school for gundogs in Aughton
PUBLISHED: 16:05 05 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:24 20 February 2013
Everyone from a heroic police woman to an orthapaedic surgeon benefit from Adrian Slater's special school for gundogs near Ormskirk. Amanda Griffiths reports Photography by John Cocks
I thought I was in for a day with the county set, all posh tweeds, cut glass accents and jaw-droppingly expensive Purdy shotguns. Instead, Im standing in the middle of what seems like the worlds flattest field with a group of perfectly normal dog owners. There are no woods, no guns and not a nervous pheasant in sight.
True, most of the hounds are your usual gundog breeds - labradors, spaniels and pointers - but the owners are an eclectic bunch including a surgeon, teachers, a heroic policewoman and her ten-year-old step-daughter. The majority have no intention of taking their dogs within miles of a shotgun cartridge.
One or two, including the man in charge, Adrian Slater, of Kipperridge Gun Dogs, do work their dogs at shoots but the reason why they are all here in chilly Aughton is to use gundog training methods to teach their pets discipline, agility and obedience. Adrians wife Caroline runs a puppy training group called K92000 and many of the dogs here are her graduates.
The session starts with the group 43gathered in a circle. Adrian and his helper throw a dummy into the air imitating the crack sound of gunshot and bird calls as it falls. The dogs remain eagle-eyed waiting to see who will be given the call to retrieve it.
After this test of obedience, they walk the length of the field, simulating a shoot and giving the dogs more chances to retrieve the dummies. After a quick tea break, the group moves into a second field with jumps to test the animals agility while being sent to retrieve.
Its a fun, social occasion where owners and dogs work together and no one feels the nip in the air as they bound across the field, provided by North West Turf. Its about having confidence their dogs will behave in company and that they will return when called. How many times have you chuckled to yourself as a red-faced, bellowing pet owner is studiously ignored by his or her defiant dog?
Theres no-one more qualified to teach these skills than Adrian Slater. He has been working with dogs since he was a small boy, getting his first labrador as a reward for passing the 11-plus. He was content with throwing tennis balls for it until the day he watched a television programme about the Queens kennels at Sandringham. He was hooked.
Im self-taught, I made mistakes with a lot of dogs, but they were my mistakes and I learnt from them. You cant blame the dog, he says. I also learned by watching other people. I would go to gundog trials and instead of watching the dog I would be watching the handler.
At the age of 26, I entered my first trial and got third place. I was an engineer by trade and was working and training dogs in my spare time. When I was made redundant I did a few odd jobs, including making dog food for a while, but in 1999 I started doing this full time.
Adrian has never looked back. Hes qualified for the England team at the CLA Game Fair for nine consecutive years and last year he and Caroline were invited to do a gundog demonstration at Crufts in front of 6,000 people in the main arena. They also hosted the gundog display at the CLA Game Fair.
For the people taking part in these sessions its really to get the best out of their dogs, says Adrian. Gundog training is the hardest you will do because its so different when youre on a shoot. A dog has to be 100 per cent solid. In the group session they dont get too many retrieves each but they can practice that in their own time its about the dog behaving in company.
Katie Jones, a police dog handler in the Lancashire force, adds: Its definitely not something for the country set. Im from Wigan so am a town girl at heart. Katie, who takes part in the sessions with husband, Ian, and stepdaughter also named Katie, won a national bravery award after being shot in a robbery three years ago.
Four raiders in balaclavas threatened staff at gunpoint at the Hospitality Inn at Bamber Bridge on New Years Eve. As the gang tried to escape with 12,000 they were confronted by Katie and a colleague. One of the gang shot her in the leg.
Katie, now recovered and representing the charity Hounds for Heroes, says: After the shooting I spent six weeks sat at home with my first lab who basically sat on the coach with me and kept me company. If it wasnt for him I dont think I would have dealt with things in the way I did.
This is a big family thing for us but its also helped me with work as well. Gundog training is completely different to police dog training but there are a couple of aspects that are very similar, in particular teaching them their left from right. You basically get the same results by different methods but Ive started using the gundog method with the police dogs and find it works much better for me.
Rob Gillies is an orthopaedic knee surgeon and a pointer owner who trained his dogs at K92000 in Lydiate. Its not elitist, its affordable, not just for the privileged few. Shooting might be I cant comment on that - but the training certainly isnt. People come from all walks of life and turn up in the same sort of gear.
You would never guess what people did for a living just by looking at them. The challenge of it is one of the best and most enjoyable things the dogs all have their bad days, You meet a lot of nice people and learn from them and it gets you out in the open air and away from the intensity of work. The other nice thing is the camaraderie.
The main thing is its fun, says Joanne Dainty who runs a public relations agency in Liverpool. And you never know whats going to happen. One morning a man came running across the field from nowhere shouting he was being chased.
We said not to worry because there was a couple of police officers in the group and he turned and ran in the opposite direction. It turned out he
was being chased by the police for stealing a bike. Poor bloke, he must
of thought of all the fields to choose, why this one!
The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Lancashire Life
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