“Good gundogs need to be enthusiastic, be keen to learn and to take instruction. A successful gundog in competitions needs to have excellent muscle and bone structure and be free of hereditary disease.”
- When did you start gundog training? And what inspired you to become a gundog trainer?
I trained my first gundog in 2000 when I was working as a gamekeeper in Herefordshire. My stepmother gave me an American breed of dog called a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and I really wanted a well-trained dog. I taught myself through reading books as well as getting tips from people.
I started competing at working tests, which take place in the spring and summer using dummies, and field trials, which coincides with the shooting season in the autumn and winter. This was a huge learning curve. As a novice with an unusual breed of dog, I found it frustrating as I kept being knocked out of the competitions.
In 2002 I was given a reasonably bred Labrador who was eight months old, and I started gundog training him. At 11 months old, he won his first test and at 19 months of age he won his first trial in Cornwall. This confirmed in my mind that I was a capable trainer and gave me confidence in my own abilities.
At around this time I joined the Fire Service, albeit continuing to train dogs in my spare time. While on duty, I was called out to a terrible tragic incident involving a suicide which had a profound impact on me. Consequently, I was signed off work suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I never returned to the Fire Service, and after that I turned my hobby of training gundogs into a business.
- Can you describe what gundog training involves, and are there particular breeds that work as a gundog?
In a nutshell, gundog training involves having your dog perform an operation in a field and the owner being in control. For example, retrieving a bird and bringing it back.
Gundog training is also an ideal way to keep your dog fit and mentally stimulated, doing what he was bred to do.
Gundogs are split into the following groups:
- Spaniels and hunters
- Pointers and retrievers.
These dogs flush out birds and retrieve them. There is also another category of gundogs consisting of setters and pointers, which are trained to go grouse hunting but don’t retrieve.
- Congratulations on being a finalist in the 2022 Great British Shooting Awards Gundog Trainer of the Year category. What does this award mean to you?
It’s great to make the short list as the award is to recognise the greatest contribution to the world of gundog trainers. It’s not often your skills get recognised as it is such a minority sport.
- Was it competitive to get to this stage? Have you received any other awards?
There are few recognition awards in the shooting industry which is why it is so exciting to be a finalist. Since I became a gundog trainer, I have won many awards (too many to mention) in both field trials and working tests.
- Have you always loved working with dogs and what qualities do a particularly obedient/successful gundog have?
I have always had a strong connection with dogs. Even though I was attacked by a Golden Retriever when I was 11 years old, that never put me off dogs. I nearly started doing sheep dog trailing as I love working with dogs but then went down the gundog training root.
Good gundogs need to be enthusiastic, be keen to learn and to take instruction. A successful gundog in competitions needs to have excellent muscle and bone structure and be free of hereditary disease. When we trial, we aim to improve the breeding stock much like they do in horse racing.
- Tell us about your beautiful Labrador Field Trial Champion Kestrelway Drake?
Drake, aged 9, retired last year – but he won everything! I was originally given Drake when he was 8 weeks old by a head gamekeeper. I knew that he had sparkle and I was onto something good with him, but he was a hard dog to train.
In 2016 and 2017 Drake qualified for the International Gundog League Championships. In 2018 and 2019, I represented England at the Anglesey Gundog International and on both occasions, he was the highest scoring dog. Drake became a field trial champion in 2017 – on average only eight retrievers a year obtain this title as they need to show consistence in winning over a period of time.
I also train a dog called Berryshot Bertie, known as Bertie, who is a client’s dog who has got one year left of competitions. In the last three years he has won many awards including winning the UGS All Aged finals Trial. Recently he and I obtained the coveted Field Trial Champion title. Plus, he qualified for the IGL retriever championship in2021 and was awarded a Diploma of Merit (5th place). Once he has stopped competing, he will go back to his owners.
- What other dogs do you keep?
We have Widgeon, son of Drake and half-brother of Bertie. He has won awards but not first place – he’s my shadow and follows me everywhere! We also have the celebrity chef’s James Martin’s Cocker Spaniel Cooper who lives half the year with me and half the year with James.
My wife has two Springer Spaniels, one of which is retired and the other she competes in gundog trials. She also has a Labrador called Pepper.
- Have you made any television appearances regarding gun dog training?
I have made quite a few television appearances such as ITV’s ‘Top 100 Dogs’. I have also been on quite a few of James Martin’s shows such as ‘James Martin’s Great British Adventures’, The Pet Show on ITV and I also appeared with James Martin on ITV’s This Morning programme. I have been on national radio and lots of podcasts. My gundog training was mentioned on a Podcast called ‘Chris Evans – How to Wow’. I’ve also been helping Matt Prior, the former England wicket keeper, train his dog Maxie.
I also write a lot of articles for various magazines about gundog training and do mini films for YouTube to help people train their dogs.
- Do you have a close affinity to Cowdray and the local West Sussex area? Whereabouts do you train?
I train on Cowdray land on the fields behind Benbow Pond called Broomhill. This is perfect terrain as it comprises of open farmland and tracks, woodland, lakes and ponds, heather and bracken. I also run a shoot in Fernhurst, West Sussex, which is on Cowdray land.
I have a strong connection to Cowdray. Shooting and gundogs are part of estate life and I feel privileged to be connected to and involved with Cowdray. When I hold shoot days or training groups, I always encourage clients to visit the Farm Shop & Café and to make use of everything the Estate has to offer. I now live on the Estate – you can’t be on the outside looking in, you must be on the inside working towards common goals.
My family has a close and long-standing affinity to Cowdray. My daughter works in the Café, and my father used to teach western riding – a style of horse riding which has evolved from ranching traditions. One year he did a demonstration at the Gold Cup which really impressed Lord John Cowdray.
- Were you married on the Estate?
We were married in the Chichester registry office and then photos were taken at Cowdray Ruins. Our main celebration took place at the White Horse at Easebourne in July last year. I met my wife on a shoot, and we just got on very well from the moment we met.
- What are you looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to hosting a Cowdray Gundog Challenge on Saturday 30th April. This will comprise of 10 teams and six tests with all proceeds going towards the charity Mind which is based in West Sussex. We have a team coming all the way from Switzerland!
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have any! But when I do I like to relax with a whisky or a glass of ale.
- Where is your favourite place to go on holiday?
The North part of Cornwall – I love Constantine Bay and Harlyn Bay. I love surfing,
- And outside work, what means the most to you?
My wife and family. I have a son, daughter and stepson and I love it when we get together for family BBQs. Family time is extremely important to me.
- What three famous people would you invite round to dinner?
The chef James Martin – I would ask him cook! And I would also like to invite the cricketeer Matt Prior. I work with both James and Matt, and they are great company. It would be quite an eclectic mix, but I would also love to invite Winston Churchill!
- What can’t you live without?
My wife! Her support is incredible. We are both feel passionately about gundog training and understand what’s involved in training and competing. We make a great team.
To find out more about gundog training with Jason, please visit:
Written by Matilda Reid.Back to News