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In a recent article we looked at the different ‘categories’ or ‘types’ of gundog and gundog work.
In today’s article, we’re going to delve in a bit deeper and look at how the different breeds of gundog best match the needs of different individual gundog owners.
A good fit
Though many people chose a gundog based on what is locally available at the time, or on the physical appearance of the dog. A good fit between you and your dog will be more likely if you choose the category of gundog that is most closely suited to the type of activities you will be doing with your dog.
Let’s look at some fairly typical scenarios
Your way of life
Which of the following most closely resembles your lifestyle?
- New to shooting/non-shooter, interested in owning a gundog and perhaps in training for fieldwork
- Roughshooter, with a bit of occasional driven shooting thrown in
- Occasional shooter, mostly formal days, the dog will be mainly a pet
- Deerstalker, with a some other shooting on occasions
- Wildfowler, with some other shooting on occasions
New to (or not interested in) shooting
If you do not yet know much about the different styles of gundog work, and this is your first dog, you will find the journey a little easier if you choose one of the retriever breeds.
Retriever training is a lot of fun, and the most accessible aspect of the sport to those without shooting contacts. The retriever breeds from working lines, are generally easier for a novice to train
The keen rough shooting man or woman really does need a either a spaniel or an HPR to get the best from his sport.[wp_ad_camp_1]Which of the two depends on the type of countryside he will be hunting in, and of course on the type of dog he wants to share his home with.
Because of the scarcity of specialist HPR help, a spaniel may be a better choice for some novices.
On the other hand, spaniels are not without their problems (see The Trouble with Springers).
It is also true that many roughshooters use a Labrador for rough shooting, and many Labradors make a reasonably good job of hunting. If you are not sure of your ability to manage a spaniel, or prefer not to share your home with one, and are not attracted to one of the HPR breeds, then a Labrador or golden retriever may be a better choice.
A spaniel is not really at his best sitting around at home all day. And the tight controlled quartering pattern of a useful spaniel needs regular practice to keep it up to scratch.
If you don’t shoot very often, a retriever is a better choice, and is more suited to formal driven shooting where long periods of waiting about are involved.
A deerstalker’s dog needs to walk quietly at heel for long periods and to be an effective tracking dog. Some of our HPR breeds are excellent trackers and are very popular gundogs for a deerstalker. The German Wirehaired Pointer is quite a common choice for stalkers, but I have met several with temperament issues, so choose carefully.
It is worth bearing in mind that most retrievers and spaniels are also excellent tracking dogs. This is why they make such good drugs and explosives detection dogs. We use both retrievers and spaniels for tracking deer and they do a great job.
There are some non-gundog breeds which are quite fashionable amongst stalkers, including the Teckle, which is effectively a working bred wire-haired dachshund. But whilst these little dogs are undoubtedly good at tracking, they are not a multi-purpose dog, and some people find them difficult to train. Ask around before purchasing, you may find the Teckle owner is not as happy with his purchase as he had hoped.
Ultimately, your choice might be better based on what other sort of shooting you do, and whether or not you want the dog to live in your house with you, rather than on what is ‘defined’ as a traditional stalkers dog.
Without question the most suitable dog for the wildfowler is a retriever. Springer spaniels are sometimes used, but a spaniel is not as powerful a swimmer or as well insulated as the double coated Labrador retriever.
The ultimate wildfowler’s dog is arguably the Chesapeake Bay retriever. This is our most powerful retriever and extremely well insulated. A working Chesapeake is however not as easy to find, nor quite as easy to train, and may be very vocal. A Labrador is the more usual choice.
A personal decision
Of course choosing a dog is so much more than just weighing up the pros and cons. More than just a ‘balance sheet’, it is a very personal decision and sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Whatever you do, try to resist buying a pup, just because ‘a friend’s bitch has had a litter’.
Consider a Labrador
You can see why Labradors are such popular shooting dogs. They are outstanding retrievers, good at most other jobs, highly trainable, less ‘frantic’ in nature than spaniels, and make superb family dogs.
I recommend a Labrador for almost every novice gundog owner. They are very forgiving of mistakes, and an excellent choice for a first dog.
It is always tempting to try and be a bit different, but be aware of the pitfalls. Labradors are not the most popular gundog without very good reason. Many people who buy an unusual breed for their first dog, move on to a Labrador for their second. Also with good reason.
It isn’t easy to train your first gundog. Why make it more difficult for yourself?
Whatever breed you choose, do your research, avoid older puppies that have been passed on because the owner ‘couldn’t cope’ and when you have made your decision, take some sensible precautions when choosing the individual puppy.
How about you?
What was your first gundog? Did you find him difficult to train? Did you make a different choice the next time around? Drop your thoughts into the comments box below
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