We have changed some of the kennels over to our new block of stables. Incorporated into this is an office homely section to practice house training for puppies. We are now able to take younger pups if that’s necessary. We now have vacancies for a limited number of One to One lessons during the week. They will be particularly useful to anyone with a new pup. Our proven training methods can get results with surprisingly few lessons. Why not book one and see the difference. Remember you only get one chance to train a dog properly. Although we spend most of our time fixing older dogs with problem behaviour, I much prefer helping people get it right from the word go.
No magic Bullet
Shooting Times – Stephen Bulled/David Tomlinson
It’s not often that a Doberman manages to slip into Shooting Times, and the dog shown here with trainer Stephen Bulled is certainly the first to appear in this column. He’s neither a gun nor guard dog, but simply a hyperactive pet that had been brought to Stephen for calming and training. For though Stephen is a professional dog trainer with a passion for gundogs, his success at working with difficult animals ensures that his kennels receive a great variety of breeds during the year.
Jazz the Doberman had arrived in Stephen’s kennels just a few minutes before me, so I was able to watch Stephen’s technique for not only introducing a new dog to the kennel, but also appraising its temperament. “When a new dog comes in I always ask its owner whether it’s good with other dogs, but the trouble is you can’t always believe what you’re told. I once had a pair of Dalmatians come in that I was assured were safe, but they were killers, so you have to be very careful. “
“I usually let a new dog out into the run with a couple of my resident bitches, and if that goes well, then I will introduce a few more of the dogs I have here. As you can see, Jazz is fine, and it’s obvious that he’s enjoying meeting and inter-reacting with the residents. It’s funny how the breeds differ. Spaniels, for example, I don’t regard as very doggy dogs. As a rule they’re not too bothered about meeting other dogs, and they’d much rather be out hunting than sniffing noses.”
Stephen was brought up on a council estate not far from Croydon, hardly the most auspicious start for a gundog trainer. He always wanted a dog, and after years of pestering his parents they finally gave in when he was 11, giving him a golden retriever. “I took the dog to training classes run by police-dog handlers. On Sundays they did exercises that were similar to police-dog trials, and that’s how I first got interested in working with dogs. However, the real catalyst for making dogs my career was watching a television programme featuring Bill Meldrum, who was then the Queen’s gundog trainer, and the Labrador Sandringham Sidney. When I watched it I thought ‘that’s it!’, so I packed up the sixth form there and then.”Of course, getting a job that involved working with dogs proved impossible, forcing Stephen to end up working as roofer, though in his spare time he trained and worked lurchers. However, he decided that what he really wanted to do was to become a gamekeeper. He was a keen reader of ST, so looked through the previous two years’ issues and noted all the estates that had advertised for keepers. He then handwrote more than 200 letters asking if any of them had a vacancy for a trainee.
He did get more than half-a-dozen offers, one of which was from Lord Middleton’s Birdsall Estate in North Yorkshire, which agreed to take him on as a YTS (youth training scheme) student. He still recalls the excitement of catching the train to Yorkshire, being met at the station by the estate secretary driving a Range Rover, then being taken on a tour of Birdsall’s 12,000 acres by the headkeeper. The YTS contract was for six months: Stephen stayed for four years.
Working at Birdsall established his ability to train dogs, and his next move was back south to work at the Metropolitan Police Dog Training Centre at Keston in Kent. He stayed here for 10 years, ending up running the breeding programme. But when married Laura and his son Tom was born in 1992, he decided it was time to make the break and work for himself, training dogs.
Seventeen years on he is still doing the same thing at his Family business The Halliloo Dog School, based near Woldingham in Surrey, though the job has changed as Stephen’s reputation has grown. His first love remains training gundogs, but he works with every breed you can think of, for he has acquired a reputation as a dog whisperer, though that’s not something that Stephen would ever dream of calling himself. There’s no doubt that he does have an uncanny knack of sorting out problem dogs. “Many of the dogs that I take in for training are really out of balance and have forgotten how to be proper dogs. By coming here and being around normal dogs they become re-adjusted to life.
“Many people bring their dog here thinking I have the magic bullet, but there isn’t one. Almost all their dogs’ behavioural problems are because they haven’t been trained and managed properly in the first place. Most people want to bring their dogs in for the minimum amount of time possible: two weeks is standard. I then encourage them to come back for one-to-one training, which most people do. Gundog people are usually looking for a quick fix, too. They have usually messed up the dog, perhaps by taking it shooting to early, so they want me to turn it around as quickly as possible.”
The fact that Stephen does so well in so little time says a great deal about his ability to empathise with his canine subjects. He took out Jazz the Doberman to give me a demonstration. Within minutes Jazz was calm and relaxed on the lead, and it was difficult to believe that this dog was reputedly hyper-active and that his owners found it difficult to control him.
Over the years I’ve met many dog handlers and trainers, and there’s no doubt that the best of them have a certain affinity with dogs that most of us simply haven’t got, however hard we try. Stephen definitely has the ability to connect with his subjects in an almost telepathic way, though he told me that all dogs will respond if they are handled in the right way – just keep them calm and give gentle praise.
After Jazz had been put away Stephen demonstrated a couple of his working gundogs. Breeze, aged five, is the sort of English springer most spaniel enthusiasts dream of owning. A good-looking liver and white bitch, she hunts with passion, retrieves with flair, but is happy to sit at the busiest peg and not move an inch. “If you watch Breeze you’ll notice she never takes her eyes off me, except when I’ve asked her to do something.” It was true, she didn’t. “With a shooting spaniel you want to establish the retrieve strongly before starting on the hunting, which is the complete opposite to training a trialling spaniel. Most shooting people want a retrieving springer that can hunt, rather than a pure hunting machine that can retrieve.”
In contrast to the mature Breeze, Groovy is a small, compact yellow Labrador bitch of only nine months. She is, however, fast and eager to please. If all goes well she looks likely to become a scurry specialist, a sport that Stephen thoroughly enjoys, and which takes him to the Countryman Fairs during the summer. “The scurries are all against the stop watch, but the dog mustn’t go until told. To win you need a dog that’s very fast and completely steady. It’s great fun and totally honest. When you lose you know that you’ve been beaten by the better dog, not something that can always be said in trialling.”