Dogged determination


Lucy Nolan was barking up the right tree when she turned her love of gundogs into a business. Tracie Beardsley meets Dorset’s only Accredited Pet Gundog Instructor

Lucy working with dog Penny during a training session
All images: Rob Nolan

My dog Will’s claim to fame is behaving so badly at gundog training he was expelled in week two. Perhaps he picked up that I wasn’t happy standing in a cold field early on a Sunday morning? Or perhaps he just didn’t like being bawled at by a woman, head-to-toe in Barbour, who made Windsor Davies’ Sgt Major Williams in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum sound as if he was whispering!
What Will and I needed was the calm and measured approach of Lucy Nolan, Dorset’s only Accredited Pet Gundog Instructor (APGI). At Lucy’s home, just outside of Dorchester, I’m enthusiastically greeted by her two bouncy working cocker spaniels, Bella and Penny. With a focused look and a quietly spoken command from Lucy, the notoriously exuberant dogs immediately sit.
It was her love of spaniels that ignited Lucy’s passion for gundogs. ‘They’ve been in my life since I was born,’ says Lucy. ‘I grew up playing with our family’s springer, Holly. She was my best playmate.’
Lucy’s dad, a keen deerstalker and game shooter, was a big influence. ‘I loved going on shoots with Dad and watching the dogs put through their paces. When life eventually allowed me to get my own spaniel, Bella, I wanted to take her on pheasant shoots so I worked with a gundog trainer to help me train her. I absolutely loved the training and soon friends started asking if I could help with their dogs.’

Lucy Nolan with dogs Bella and Penny ,who are mother and daughter.

It could have been as easy as that to set up her dog-training business. Alarmingly, the industry has no regulations nor governing bodies. ‘It’s scary,’ says Lucy. ‘People who do just a two-hour online dog training course and get a certificate can class themselves as trainers.
‘To class myself as a professional, it was really important to me to have proper qualifications, to have all the knowledge to back up the practical side. You wouldn’t even go to a hairdresser who had no qualifications!’
So began 18 months of intensive training of the highest standard with Lez Graham, canine behaviourist and author of The Pet Gundog series. Monthly assignments included canine anatomy and physiology, canine nutrition and the psychology of the gundog. There were also practical exercises in which Lucy worked Bella. She also attended workshops in Scotland, and all this alongside her already full-time job in property.

Lucy working with Otto, a Korthal Griffon, in a training session with his owner.

With the equivalent of two A-levels under her lead, Lucy launched Adhara Dog Training. The name is apt – Adhara is the second brightest star in the Great Dog constellation, Canis Major, and Lucy is married to astronomer and BV’s official stargazer columnist Rob Nolan.
The growth in gundog cross-breeds like cockapoos and springadors, alongside the perennially popular, more traditional, labradors and spaniels, has led to much demand. Lucy’s one-to-one and group training sessions are already fully booked until July.
‘I train a mix of people – those who work their dogs and those who’ve got working dogs as pets. With working breeds you must give them a job, otherwise they go self-employed and do their own thing! I’ve even been training a lady with two miniature wire-haired dachshunds. They now retrieve – albeit small things!’

Poppy the Springer Spaniel retrieving
Image: Charlotte Cranwell

She adds : ‘ I believe every dog is trainable, and every owner too … IF they’ll invest the time and do the homework. If you imagine a pie chart – five per cent is me as the trainer, and 95 per cent is down to the dog’s owner.
‘My latest success story is an owner and six-year-old spaniel I’ve been training for nine months. He pulled on the lead, jumped up and was thoroughly overstimulated. He’s so calm and well-behaved now – not just because of my training but because his owner has really invested the time.
‘I love helping people understand what makes their dogs tick.
With my own dogs, my passion is working them in the field during shooting season. I’m also a representative in the south for the Girls with Gundogs Club which is a supportive community for women with gundogs.’
So, can you teach an old dog new tricks? Is there hope for me and eight-year-old Will?
’The best time for training is as a puppy, as it’s a blank canvas, but it’s never too late. You’ve got to retrain new behaviours and extinguish those old behaviours, which is admittedly harder. It’s like speaking English all your life and now being told to speak French.’

Lucy sending Penny to retrieve – she’s so fast and keen, ‘that’s why she’s so blurry!’

Lucy assures me training methods like Will and I experienced have changed. ‘Old-school methods were harsh and based on fear. There’s more balance now, with positive reinforcement methods and using food and play as a reward.’
That may just tempt me and Will back into a training field!


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