Meet the team: Iona McKechnieJanuary 10, 2019
Iona McKechnie, Gundog Instructor at the British School of Falconry
18-year-old Iona first joined the team as a volunteer over two years ago. Hooked from day one, she fell in love with the art of gundog handling and knew she could never do a regular desk job. From the moment I arrived, I knew I wanted to do this job – as soon as a full-time vacancy came up, I seized the opportunity with both hands. I grew up on a farm near Gleneagles – surrounded by dogs, cats, goats, chickens and horses – so I’ve always loved animals and knew as a child that I wanted to work with them in some capacity. I love the positive energy dogs emit and I feel so lucky to have that energy around me while I’m working. I’m also an outdoor person and I would hate to be stuck inside, so this job keeps me fit and happy.
My day starts at 8.00am, when I head to the kennels to see our 14 gundogs. The first thing I do is let them out for a run in the paddock – but not before I’ve given each of them a good morning cuddle! We then clean out the kennels and get ready for a busy day ahead. Location-wise, it’s a dog’s heaven here, with long grass and high heather for them to run around in. The wildlife is incredible; when you’re out with the dogs you’ll often see herds of deer and birds of prey – an environment in which our gundogs are totally at home.
I’m also a falconry instructor, so I get to work with very different, but equally inspiring, animals every day.
We offer a range of handling lessons for guests, from introductory lessons, which cover different retrieves and commands, to field craft, where the guests give the dogs a series of retrieves over jumps and obstacles, like those encountered in the shooting field. We also offer trial sessions, where we _re a training dummy into moorland using an automatic launcher, and the dog has to head into the heather to find it.
Our guests love these hands-on experiences because they get to see what dogs are capable of doing. Many have their own dogs at home and tell us, “I didn’t know dogs could do this”. Once they’ve worked with our dogs and they’ve experienced correct training methods, the guests are keen to achieve a lot more with their own pet dogs – so it gives them confidence and it’s really rewarding for us to see.
When we’re not teaching, we’re usually out walking the dogs or working on their commands and retrieving skills. In the summer months, we take them for regular swims in the loch. Labradors are naturals in the water, so they absolutely love diving in for a splash and a cool-down. It’s important for the dogs to have some down time like this – when they’re not responding to commands – so they get opportunities for running free, having fun, playing together and exploring the grounds, which is also important for their development.
Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with the animals and pets at home, and I’m also a passionate amateur photographer. I’ve never had lessons; I’m self-taught and just try to capture the animals in the moment. When I see a photo opportunity with an animal, I take it – and I get plenty of those opportunities in this job!