Should you punish your dog? #Crufts controversy

Do you smack, correct or punish a gundog when you are training it? Do you train only with rewards and treats? Is a working dog like a gundog a different proposition to a pet dog?

Instructors do ‘not use or promote any aversive training methods or techniques’
The Kennel Club

Opinion is divided – and nowhere more sharply divided than over the actions of Christopher Upton, a gundog trainer from Cornwall who runs Corleone Gundogs. He maintains his methods work and are honest. Others say he is too harsh. He has been the subject of an online campaign that garnered 240,000 signatures against him. But many agree with his methods.

Working dogs are a vital part of any shoot day. There is something special about seeing a dog work well – controlled, directed, but also having the drive to find that bird in heavy cover or in water. But what does it take to get to this point?

There are controversies about working dog training: do you train with reward only or correction? Can you train a gundog without correction? When does punishment become animal cruelty?

Christopher  has been a dog trainer for more 30 years. He has trained hundreds of dogs in that time. However, his methods for training are controversial. He has a YouTube channel where he has uploaded thousands of videos showing how he trains his many dogs. Unquestionably, Christopher’s methods work. But do they damage the dog?

When disciplining his gundogs, Christopher uses methods that others do not agree with. He believes that to get a dog that’s under pressure in the field to obey you, you need to be able to discipline it.

Gilly Nickols has been a gundog trainer for as long as Christopher. She uses different methods to those used by Christopher. Gilly likes to train using only hand and voice. She believes that at least one of Christopher’s videos show unacceptable training methods.

Then there is the way that the internet has turned on Christopher. The problems started when he set up a closed Facebook group hosting his videos, but they were leaked by members of the group. His critics edited these videos and reuploaded them, showing only the dog correction and detailing what they thought were wrong. He is accused of slapping and swinging a dog by the ears. Since the online onslaught against him began, Christopher has been involved in legal proceedings. He had his guns taken away, and had to go to court where he easily them back. He has been referred to the RSPCA. There was also the online petition against him, which 240,000 people signed.

There is no consensus on training techniques. The Kennel Club’s code of practice for accredited instructors says there is to be no ‘aversive’ training, so does not support Christopher’s position. Christopher does not support the KC’s position and, as a result, refuses to apply for accreditation from them.

We asked BASC if they recommend ‘corrective’ for training gundogs. BASC’s head of game and deer management Glynn Evans has no view on it, adding that training sessions should be ‘enjoyable for both you and your dog’.

Training sessions should be ‘enjoyable for both you and your dog’

Christopher has been in the social media spotlight over this issue for years. The films posted about him and the online petition sparked an abusive exchange online culminating in Christopher ringing one of his abusers and challenging them. He uses offensive language. Click here to listen to it.

Do you smack a dog or don’t you? Do you join a campaign against people who smack their dogs or don’t you? These are emotional subjects, and the claim and counterclaim between Christopher and his abusers are not over yet.

There are plenty of methods and techniques employed by owners and professional gundog trainers. They all want results on the field – how they achieve those results appears to be very different.