It matters not what type of shooting or hunting you take part in. The one certainty is that it will involve a dog at some stage. Why? Because they are bred to do it, they love it and the pleasure they give us while doing it is immeasurable. What is not to like about that? The adage “there are no bad dogs, just owners” is pretty much true. If a dog is trained and looked after properly, they will remain loyal and give outstanding value on your investment.
Many shooting folks will accept criticism of themselves, their children and even their partners. However, the moment you step across the ‘dog criticism red line’ be warned. The owner’s reaction is guaranteed. Dogs are emotive, this is especially true in Field Trialling where the stakes and rewards can be high. A field trial champion will be in great demand in the future so is a valuable asset.
This article is not an in-depth scientific study of what type of dog is best for what task. The majority of people reading this will have much more experience of training and working dogs than I. Instead, it is designed to provide general guidance in an effort to attract more people to our way of life, which is much needed.
In an attempt to take the emotion out of this article the choice of breed will depend on what task you want the dog to do as well as your preference based on nothing other than what you like! What type of shooting will you be doing? Many people involved in game pursuits do not shoot at all! They work their dogs for the pleasure of it, whether it is beating, picking up or finding dead, or occasionally wounded, quarry. Think about what you want your dog to do, this will affect your choice of breed.
As a rule, if you intend to beat with your dog think about the ground you will be working over. If it is really thin cover then a larger breed is going to struggle. Likewise, if it is large fields of cover crops you can use whatever breed you wish. The beating world has historically been ruled by the spaniel; Springer, Cocker and now Sprockers. As mentioned at the beginning they are bred for it and love it. Whatever variant of spaniel you chose, if it is trained and looked after properly, they will seldom let you down and there is nothing better than having very tired dogs at the end of the day.
The job of picking up requires somewhat more finesse than being on the beating team. Driven shoots have teams of pickers up who do not leave a bird behind, as every bird needs to be treated with respect. On these days a lot of guns do not like dogs running around the gun line during the drive. Each estate has its own rules, others quietly go about their business during the drive to save time afterwards. Here the Labradors generally rule the roost, most are soft mouthed with a good temperament and will retrieve birds to hand time and time again.
On a syndicate or rough day out, you will see all sorts of breeds, colours and variants of dogs doing all manner of things, sometimes well but other times not so well! We have all been that person whose dog decides to forget all the training and simply ‘chase that bird’! Unfortunately, some dogs consistently behave badly which ruins the day for everybody else. These dogs have to be kept on a lead until the shooting is over, it’s that simple. However, to watch a dog of whatever breed find and bring back a shot bird makes all the training worthwhile.
If your dog is going to be a working dog (not a pet) it still requires the same love and respect as any partner. It still needs somewhere dry to sleep, to be fed properly, exercised and of course be trained to do the task you want it to do.
On the other hand, if you have a dog that spends most of its time lounging on its bed in your warm centrally heated house (lucky dog) the same rules apply. You are responsible for that dog. Ensure your family know the key commands that the dog has been trained to understand so they use the same ones. If not, it’s like somebody speaking to us in a foreign language, we will not understand.
We all think we are good dog trainers; we are not! Unless you train dogs for a living please just follow these simple rules.
- Do not try and train your dog too early. It is true that dogs learn pretty quickly that the boss is at the other end of the lead. But to try and teach a puppy how to retrieve and work to the whistle too early is like asking a 2-year-old child to drive a car.
- Get the dog into a routine of exercise and feeding. Use simple commands while on the lead.
- Make plenty of noise at feeding time, bashing metal bowls together while the dog is excited gets them used to it.
- Never try and fire a shotgun next to a puppy, it will almost certainly scare it for life!
- Take advice from dog trainers, you may even want a professional trainer to do the training for you, if so ask around.
- Three words should always be at the forefront of your mind when trying to train a dog. Patience, Time and Consistency at all stages of training are critical.
- Socialise your dog with other dogs at shoots and in public places (on a lead to begin with) to allow it to experience different sights, smells and behaviours.
- Always exercise your dog for a short while before training to get the ‘steam’ out of its legs. Once you blow your whistle it must know play time is over and it’s time for work.
- Training sessions should be short but often
While taking on a dog is a big commitment do not let this frighten you. We are a nation of dog lovers and if you choose to work your dog, which I hope you do, there are plenty of places to find help. There are numerous films, on-line advice forums as well as plenty of good old-fashioned books on the subject.
At the end of the day it depends on so many factors including the breed of dog, it’s temperament and your ability and availability. It is important to have somewhere quiet for you to devote quality time to it.
A Dogs Life
Dogs enhance all of our lives, whether working dogs or pets. They teach children responsibility and empathy for animals. They give us much more than we give them. They are always pleased to see us and are ever loyal. I defy anybody not to smile after a bad day at work coming home to a dog who cannot wait to lick your hand and show you how much it has missed you. The breed is irrelevant, it’s the bond between human and dog that has been with us for thousands of years. They ultimately give us loyalty, companionship and happiness.