Should you buy a working or show strain gundog?
Field or bench, work or show? Does it really matter?
Many of our working gundog breeds today, have been firmly divided into two distinct strains.
One strain ‘field/working’ bred by the working gundog community, and the other ‘show/bench’ bred by the show dog community.
These distinctions are most marked in our spaniel breeds, especially the cocker, but are also becoming increasingly apparent in the nation’s favourite gundog: the labrador retriever.
Why the divergence?
This divergence between working and show dogs has occured because of lack of mixing between the two communities, and the different requirements of each.
The gene pool of field, or working, stock is normally kept separate from the gene pool of show or bench animals. And with some good reasons.
There are pros and cons to buying from working stock
Gundogs from working lines are usually descended from dogs that have been successful in competition. [wp_ad_camp_1]Which means field trials.
The highest accolade a working bred gundog can achieve is Field Trial Champion.
Many gundog owners when choosing a stud dog for their working bitch will look for a FTCH. Many keen shooting men or women when looking for a gundog puppy will want to see plenty of FTCHs in the pedigree.
This is natural. But is it always a good thing?
Potential benefits of choosing working stock
A dog from working stock is likely to have a few special attributes that his show cousins may not have. He is likely (though not inevitably) going to be
- More athletic in build, lighter in weight and leaner
- Faster, a lot faster
- More interested in, and excited by, chasing moving objects
- More interested in, and better at, following scent of animals
- More interested in picking up and carrying things, more ‘mouthy’
- Quieter (less likely to whine or yap)
- More sensitive in nature (especially retrievers)
This all sound great, but is it? Here are the downsides
Potential problems with choosing working stock
A dog from working stock may
- Look less true to ‘type’ (labradors may lack the sculpted head and otter tail)
- Require more concentration, and faster reactions, from his owner due to the speed and enthusiasm with which he approaches life.
- Have a propensity for chasing birds, butterflies, leaves and even sunbeams (especially spaniels). Attributes that inexperienced owners might struggle with.
- Develop a deep enthusiasm for hunting the local wildlife (especially spaniels)
- Be more destructive and chew more than his show cousins
- May be more susceptible to nervousness and need more socialisation
None of these attributes is inevitable, nor are they a problem in the hands of an experienced gundog trainer, but in some cases, people buying working bred gundogs as predominantly pets, find themselves getting into difficulties.
Before you all rush to tell me how your dogs don’t fit into the above description, this is inevitably a generalisation and there will be big differences between different line of working dogs, and even between different individuals from those lines.
The main problem you need to be aware of when you bring a working bred gundog into your life is the potential for loss of control
Loss of control
Control issues are a real and sometimes devastating problem for inexperienced dog owners that take on a working gundog puppy, or rescue dog.
These issues tend to arise towards the end of the first year as the dog approaches maturity. And generally take the form of ‘running away’, and/or chasing rabbits, deer and other wildlife.
These problems are avoidable with the right information and management of the dog. But that management may involve more than some pet dog owners are willing to contribute.
Most people cope well
Despite the potential for problems, most people cope just fine with their working bred gundogs. Remember that the benefits of working genes are significant for anyone wanting to get involved with gundog fieldwork, obedience, agility or working trials.
When it comes to deciding between the two, you need to think about why you want this dog?
Pet gundog owners
Many pet gundog owners never have any intention of working their dogs on a shoot, or competing in agility or working trials. If your dog is intended solely as a companion, you may be more comfortable living with a show bred gundog.
If on the other hand you want to engage in any of the above activities with your dog, a working strain dog may be more suitable for your family.
More active gundog owners
Most working gundogs are also predominantly pets. But the role they are required to play requires attributes that can lead to much disappointment when those attributes are missing.
Retrieving and hunting instincts may be weak or absent in some show gundogs. You need to take this into account.
Working bred gundogs are generally quicker and keener to learn, and have instincts that you will find it difficult to do without if you want to get involved with gundog work or another active dog sport with your gundog.
Getting along with your working dog
The key to getting along with a working dog is supervision. Most problems arise due to lack of supervision outdoors.
If your idea of a good walk is to stroll along doing your own thing whilst your dog does his, you might find yourself struggling with your dog at some point.
If however, you are prepared to keep your dog under your supervision and to engage him in interesting activities during your outings together, you are unlikely to get into serious difficulties.
For more information on control issues you may find Losing control of your labrador and Help, my spaniel is out of control helpful
For more information of choosing a puppy check out this: Choosing a gundog puppy : which breed
Barriers are there to be broken
Remember that plenty of working bred gundogs make fantastic family pets. And there are plenty of people that are successfully working show bred gundogs in the shooting field.
Never let your dog’s genetic code define him. There are so many variables at work and despite the differences between them, all working and show bred gundogs are simply gundogs at heart.
How about you?
Does your working bred gundog fit well into your family life. Is your show bred gundog working in the field? Any regrets about your choice? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
A great article. I have a rescue show – strain cocker. He has a very low ball/dummy/retrieving drive but after a lot of work is a great little dog.
We “hunt” bits of hot dog sausage as a substitute for retrieving!
He works to 4 whistle commands;
Where am I – change direction
Look harder the sausage is nearby
I never realised cockers were prone to chasing sun beams – Jake goes bananas over sun beams, sunspots on the wall and shadows ‘ I just thought it was a learned entertainment at his former home where he was mostly left to his own devices 24/7
I can relax now – not totally nuts after all – following his instincts
BTW Loved “Total Recall” a great book
Thanks Nige for your kind comments, glad you like the book 🙂
Love this article! It’s made for our working Labrador! It describes him very accurately.
He has ALL the strong attributes of a working dog, he is such a hot head, such strong chasing instincts, he chews everything if Ieave him even the wood all on his kennel (they don’t even stay outside long only of I pop out!), he’s sensitive and despite always socialising him and taking him on many walks meeting other dogs he’s nervous and very over the top. He barks at noises, passing people, other dogs, barks for attention if left for 5 minutes in the kennel as he hates being apart from us.
It’s taking real hard work to train him now. He turned 1 in March this year, he was supposed to be my working dog but I honestly have found him incredibly hard to handle as a novice so my partner has been taking him on intense training sessions since before Christmas, everyday he goes out and works with him. He’s improving but it’s slow and it’s always two steps forward, one back. His recall is good until our other dog is up to something he’s interested in, he gets a sniff of something or spots something live and moving, it’s very difficult and luckily my partner trained our other spaniel and has the patience for our Labrador. It’s just funny this article came up because I was only saying the other day if I have another dog for myself I wouldn’t go for working strain. I love watching dogs work but I’m actually only an active person who enjoys gun training, I don’t actually go shooting or do any trials so I think next time I would go down the show route! Very good article though and is spot on for us! : )
Kate Ramsden says
Reading this , I think I must be one very very lucky owner indeed ! Sam has just about all the benefits of a working dog, is interested in moving objects but doesnt chase ( yet ) and none of the problems listed . Interesting that being quiet is on the list of pros , I think Sam has only ever barked a couple of times , we had actually begun to wonder if he could bark at all, until he saw his reflection in the greenhouse door ! I put it down to his lineage , have never owned such a calm laid back dog in my life and often wonder if the bubble is about to burst !
You are a lucky lady Kate, but part of it is highly likely to be the way you have handled Sam. You obviously have the right attitude, together with the right dog. 🙂