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.
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.
In the meantime, if your dog isn’t ready and you are about to 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.”