Training man’s best friends...

Darren Kirk out on a stroll with Labradors, Amber and Bailey, and Springer Spaniel, Otter. Pictures: scott merrylees
Darren Kirk out on a stroll with Labradors, Amber and Bailey, and Springer Spaniel, Otter. Pictures: scott merrylees
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“You only get out what you put in” is an oft-heard phrase and it is the maxim that gun dog man Darren Kirk of Norton, near Doncaster, lives by. The proof of his commitment is evident instantly when you see him with his exceptionally obedient dogs.

Darren took out two of his Labradors – Amber and Bailey – and a Springer Spaniel called Otter from his team of nine dogs to be photographed for our interview.

All three were almost glued to his legs as we walked down the country lane but just one word from Darren sent them running faster than you might see a greyhound at the nearby stadium in Askern. Darren then demonstrated their impressive obedience and retrieval talent in the field.

“It’s all about control and command. When we blow the whistle the dogs are meant to sit and then should only go when we tell them regardless of what is going on around. Our dogs listen, that’s the difference between a well trained dog and one that isn’t.”

Darren runs Kirkbourne Spaniels one of the UK’s largest gun dog clubs; he trains gun dog owners how to train and get the best out of their dogs; is head picker-up at Harewood House and next weekend will be in the middle of the arena at Driffield Country Fair demonstrating the art of gun dog training and explaining why his are trained to such a high standard.

“We’ve been at Driffield Country Fair since it started and attend around fifteen shows throughout the UK every year from as far apart as Kent to Scotland. The whole team of four trainers turns out and we take a party of about fifteen, including club members, to each event.

“We run working tests including timed gun dog scurries and at the end of our demonstration we encourage the public to bring their dogs into the ring. It can sometimes be quite challenging when you see a woman coming in with a dog that has a dickie-bow tie on and it proceeds to run around the arena trying to torment other owners and dogs, but it is worthwhile and we get a lot of enquiries about training afterwards. I will match any owner’s passion with my own as I want every dog to fulfil its potential.

“We’re open to everyone who wants to be able to train their dog properly, whether it is a pet that sleeps on the couch or on a bed at home and the owner just wants it to come back to him or her immediately when it is out in a park; or whether the owner is interested in getting involved in the sport. What happens quite often is that an owner will turn up saying they’re not really interested in anything to do with gun dogs but they would like them just as well trained.

“Once the dog is properly trained it’s often the case that the owner then asks whether they might be able to come on a shoot day and of course they can.

“We run classes that start with novice and then intermediate and advanced. Anyone can come with their young dog and tell us their aspirations for it. At around the intermediate stage I start seeing the dog’s real potential and I can tell the owner whether he or she has a really good dog.”

Darren runs training days at nearby Stubbs Hall Farm; and at Harewood House and Kilnwick over in the East Riding. His current team of gun dogs is made up of five Labradors, three Spaniels – one Cocker and two Springers – and a Dutch Herder that is used as a guard dog. He knows each of them inside out and tells me about the three in the field.

“Amber is the oldest at about six. I’ve had her from being a puppy and she was probably one of the worst to train. She was really naughty and went through a crazy stage. What I did was to put her on a lead and go for a walk. The way I see it is that you need to become friends with the dog.

“She’s brilliant now and probably one of the best I’ve ever had, it’s all down to the time and effort you put in. She’s a very pleasant dog and quite maternal.

“Bailey is a really big stocky feller of five years old. He had bad elbows and needed an operation to fix them. You’d never think he’d needed anything looking at him now. Otter is a liver and white Springer who comes from a great family line. She’s an excellent picker-up with me at Harewood.”