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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
If you enjoyed this article, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
Chris B says
My first dog was a springer bitch and boy did I have some hard times on shoot days ( rough shooting)
On the training field we had great results and could perform most exercises very well ,but once she got the scent and was out of my eye sight it was nose rules. On one occasion I lost her for some time and had to go look for her. I found her knocked out close to a fallen tree. I could only assume she was in hot persuit of some critter which made for its escape under a tree and she followed into the tree. Any way lovely dog and friend but her nose ruled her brain.
My next dog couldn’t have been more different . By chance I was approached by a pal who’s springer bitch had been by mistake been covered by a black lab the result being a cross which some people now call Springadors.
This little bitch is now 12 and has been the perfect all round dog. She has been loyal strong and affective in all aspects of rough shooting. She was easy to train pleasure to be with on a shoot day.
As a first dog I would recommend a Springador bitch and advise keep the training lite and fun, but most of all make friends wth your dog, be kind but firm and the rest should follow.
I’m now on my second Springador (10 weeks old) and all is going to plan so hopefully no major issues in the future.
Still on my first and yes he is a labrador. He’s great in the house and good with our little girl who came along when he was one. We’re still very much a work in progress and that’s with a pretty easy going, biddable lab. I’m definitely glad we chose a lab for our first dog but I think in the long term I’d like to have a pair of dogs and possibly a combination….lab and a spaniel maybe 🙂
We started with a sprocker (springer X cocker) she’s a brilliant little worker but has taken lots of training to get her to do certain things, she’s not hardy and needed a lot of encouragement to work in hedgerows and she won’t tear through trash unless forced and if she knows there’s not much in there she practically refuses. She’s very sensitive and in some ways that helps because she’s keen to please and hates being told off and in other ways it’s hard work because she isn’t so hardy and the kind of rough work we want her to do we’ve had to try and toughen her up a bit. Our 2nd dog is a male Labrador from strong working stock. He is showing signs of good potential as he’s very hardy, does the hunting, flushing out, retrieving with great enthusiasm, he’s also great at tearing through trash and will go into hedges un-scathed or bothered. You can also tell him off and when he next goes off he’s back to work happily. He’s still young though and although it’s good he has very strong hunting/working instincts it’s also making life hard as he’s working ALL the time and at the moment keeps going to far, too enthusiastically and also at times loses focus on us and runs off after game or rabbits, he’s only just turned one and we know he will come good but he’s very boisterous and enthusiastic at the moment. He will eventually be a very good all rounder and he’s great in the home, he has his walk then comes home and happily settles, where as the sprocker is a nightmare, she never settles. She’s up and down, round and round, very hard to tire her out or keep her happy. She always wants more!
I say Labradors are the best but my partner thinks spaniels are!! It’s all down to personal choice : )
My first gundog was a Labrador cross SPCA special – as he grew and developed we reckon he had Vizsla in there too. He was an incredible dog; he forgot more about hunting than I am ever likely to know. Everything he did was absolutely silent and instinctive, I had to learn his signs and his mannerisms in the bush and the mai-mai (duck blind). He communicated using his tail, ears and head, and not once was he wrong about a point. I’d have another one tomorrow – compact, strong, quiet, forgiving of my mistakes, clever, fast, tireless, and loved sitting beside you surveying the ground around him. He also had a most expressive and comical way of contorting his face in disgust when I failed to shoot what he guided me to……