One man and his dogs

Rathcoole man Willie Thompson has been honoured for his work training gun dogs over the years, but he tells the Times he has his eye on the big prize.

Willie has been training dogs for more than 30 years, since he was around 10 years old.

Paul Pringle of The Great Game Fairs presents Willie Thompson with his award. INNT 28-605con

Paul Pringle of The Great Game Fairs presents Willie Thompson with his award. INNT 28-605con

He has been entering his dogs in competition for nearly 12 years and won every award going bar the big prize, The British Championship.

And recently the council worker was honoured by The Great Game Fairs of Ireland for his lifetime dedication to the breeding and training of working gun dogs.

He told the Times he takes a great deal of pleasure from training his four dogs - and his wife’s two pets.

“It’s all pleasure for me, there is a great deal of satisfaction,” he said.

“And you get close to them and they become your friends. My wife says it’s the dogs I’m married to.”

Willie gave the Times a demonstration of some of the skills he has taught his dogs, called Bones and Jack.

He told us: “Patience is the key. It takes 10 to 15 minutes a day and that’s it. There is no point doing too much, but you have to keep at it and repeat everything.

“People are always asking me how to train their dogs and nine times out of 10 it is the person that is at fault. They have the lifestyle, or don’t persist and then the dog becomes that way too.

“To the dogs, they think the training is a game, they don’t realise that they are being taught and they do enjoy it.

“You have to be strict with them, but they do come to learn.”

He added: “When I was young I learned from books - which I still turn to - and just talking to people about what techniques they use.

“The skills they learn, to people look like good tricks, but they are a lot more than just tricks, they are practical skills needed for hunting.”

Willie has competed in all the biggest competitions and next week will be travelling to England for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) for the Dog Trials.

And as captain of the Northern Ireland team, he recently returned victorious from the international competition in Shane’s Castle and donated all prize money to the Foyle Hospice and the Friends of Drumross charity.

Willie said: “Competition is fierce and the judging is very strict. If the dogs move slightly, or even make the smallest sounds when they are not supposed to, then they can be out of the competition.

“I’ve won everything in my time, but it’s the British Championship that I want to win. That’s the big one, but it’s tough to qualify and even tougher to win.

“But if I do ever win it, then I’ll be happy.”