If there?s one thing that separates professional gundog handlers from the amateurs, it?s where their dogs live. Almost all serious gundog people house their dogs in kennels, while most amateurs (including me) have indoor dogs. There are, of course, exceptions ? anyone who read my recent article (Putting the family first, 18 May) about Chris Taylor, a past winner of the Spaniel Championship, will know that his spaniel FTCh Steadrock Sker sleeps in the kitchen at night.
There are two reasons why the professionals use kennels. The first is the obvious one. If you have lots of dogs, then it?s not usually practical to have them all living in the house. The second is the fact that a dog that lives in a kennel is much keener and more eager to please when it comes out for a training or working session than one that is sitting at your feet as you eat your breakfast.
Kennels come in all shapes and sizes. The most impressive I?ve seen was a purpose-built brick kennel complex with heated floors and lengthy runs outside. There was also a small kitchen, complete with freezer, for preparing the dogs? food, and a shower for washing dogs off after a hard day?s shooting. Such a complex wouldn?t give much change from £50,000.At the other extreme is the converted shed at the end of the garden, with a muddy run enclosed with chicken wire. You can put such a kennel together for around £100, but it is invariably an eyesore and not particularly practical.
If you are on a strict budget then a converted shed can make a satisfactory kennel, but it really needs insulating if it is going to be used all year round. In addition, it?s worth splashing out on a proper kennel run. Do consider a roof panel for the latter, as it will not only protect the run (and the dogs) from the weather, but also give added security. Expect to pay around £400 for a roofed 1.5m x 2.5m galvanised run.
Grass runs aren?t satisfactory as they don?t stay grassy for long. The run should have a proper concrete base, ideally with a slight slope to make it quick-draining when hosed off, plus its own drainage system. A tip I picked up from Ian Openshaw is to seal the concrete with impermeable epoxy resin. This banishes that dreadful dog-urine smell that permeates so many kennels, even those kept scrupulously clean.
If, like me, you?re not a handyman, then nothing beats buying a purpose-built kennel, though be sure to get proper foundations put in before the kennel is delivered. Most manufacturers can arrange to deliver both and erect their kennels, though assembly is usually relatively easy. I managed to take down and re-erect my kennel when I moved from Kent to Suffolk. As I baulk at the thought of putting together a self-assembly wardrobe, this is quite impressive.
Off-the-peg kennels from reputable manufacturers aren?t cheap, but you can be sure that they will not only prove durable and well-built, but will last for years. Sherlocks? double Park Kennel, for example, costs £1,295, plus VAT and delivery, but it does look good. Rival manufacturers charge similar amounts for kennels of equal quality. Reeves offers a worthwhile five per cent discount to BASC members, which is worth noting.
Some dogs are inveterate chewers whose one ambition in life is to destroy kennels. If you own such a hooligan, then before ordering your kennel, consult the manufacturer for advice. With the use of galvanised metal it is possible to build a kennel that is virtually indestructible to even the most determined chewer.
One point to consider is whether you need a run. Though my spaniels sleep in the house, I find a kennel invaluable for putting them in to dry off after a muddy walk, or when we don?t want them in the house for any reason. Because they are never shut in the kennel for lengthy periods, they don?t need a run to answer calls of nature. Incidentally, it?s worth house training every puppy, even if it?s initially destined for a life in a kennel.
Many trialling dogs find new homes once their competitive career is over and may end up living indoors. Security is another major consideration. A determined thief will be able to break into any kennel, given sufficient time, but professionally built kennels do offer a high degree of security as long as you always make sure that the doors are securely padlocked. I have been appalled at the poor security practised by experienced handlers who naively seem to think that no-one will ever steal their dogs.
Take every precaution you can against theft. Installing security lighting is a must, while CCTV is a remarkably affordable option these days. An outdoor wireless day/night colour camera costs less than £150, and provides an excellent way to keep an eye on your dogs at the same time. Erecting dummy CCTV cameras is also a good deterrent. Make sure, too, that your dogs are tattooed or micro-chipped so that they can be readily identified.
Housing dogs in a kennel is one thing, but ensuring their comfort is another. Dogs are like us in that they don?t like draughts, so snug, draught-free sleeping quarters are essential. Many people have strong ideas on bedding old blankets are not a good solution. I used wheat straw, though I?m assured that oat straw is the best, while barley straw should be avoided because of the spiky nature of the straw, which tends to cause problems. The advantage of straw is that it is cheap, easy to replace and offers good insulation. Shredded newspapers also work well.
Arguably the best bedding of all is Vetbed. There are lots of imitations around, but the original Vetbed is an exceptionally good product as it not only keeps the dog warm and comfortable, but is non-allergic, long-lasting, can be machine washed repeatedly and moisture wicks through it.