The decision to have a litter from your gundog bitch is not one to be take lightly. It's essential when choosing a stud dog to consider bloodlines, health and conformation. The casual mating with "the nice dog up the road" is too often a recipe for disaster.

Three years ago I decided to breed from my six-year-old yellow Labrador bitch. Extremely well bred, with good conformation and 35 field trial champions and 13 winners in her pedigree, she’s an outstanding worker, spending most of her time each season picking-up, and I wanted one of her offspring to work with her and carry on the line.

A good connection
Fortunately, I knew Margaret Allen, whose Tanderswell line and kennels have achieved distinction in the working gundog and field trial world. Her top dog, Cedar, a black Labrador with all the right credentials, clear eyes and a hip score of 3:4, was a potential suitor for Jodie, who scored 3:3 and also had clear eyes. I took her to Margaret who liked her, so pedigrees were examined and we introduced them. The result was eight healthy puppies – five yellow and three black. I kept a yellow dog, and the rest went to working homes.

Here’s how to ensure your breeding is as successful as my experience:

“An outstanding dog will be repeated in the pedigree for a reason”
Margaret Allen, Tanderswell Gundog Kennels: When choosing your stud dog, Margaret says temperament is paramount and you must ensure the dog has been tested for hereditary conditions that may affect the breed.

Labradors and other retrievers can have problems with hips, elbows and eyes. Margaret has her dogs X-rayed and scored for hips and elbows when they are just over a year old, and eyes are likewise tested for the first time at around the same age.

YYou can also DNA test retrievers and spaniels, which will show if an animal is a carrier of PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), EIC (Exercise Induced Collapse) and other conditions including CNM,
a general muscle weakness. With bloodlines, Margaret likes a dog to conform to the breed standard because they were drawn up by shooting people who knew what a good gundog should look like in terms of coat, conformation and build.

Margaret likes a degree of line breeding. She says: “An outstanding dog will be repeated in the pedigree for a reason and I don’t mind a splash of show blood if it comes from a line whose owners have trained the animal to a reasonable standard.

Its temperament must be bold, but not over the top. It should not be nervous, but sensitive dogs are easier to train; nor does it need to be over-affectionate. You want it active, athletic, with a good nose, a soft mouth, quiet, and to love retrieving.”

“It’s not just a case of putting two same-breed dogs together”
Simon (pictured) and Julie Tyers run Hawcroft Gundogs training kennels in Staffordshire. Simon has been training and handling gundogs for more than 30 years during his time as a gamekeeper and falconer. He specialises in working cocker spaniels and has bred and trained field trial champions and winners. He won the 2007 Cocker Championship with FTCh Timsgarry Barlow and again in 2008 with Barlow’s half- brother Timsgarry Valtos.

Simon and Julie Tyers say: “Having run one of the top stud kennels for many years, we take a great deal of time and consideration when either choosing a suitable stud dog for one of our own bitches, or when advising one of the many clients who wish to use one of our stud dogs. It’s not just a case of putting two dogs of the same breed together to produce a litter purely to make a little money (as is sometimes the case, especially with popular breeds such as the modern working cocker).

“Firstly we will always view the bitch’s pedigree then consider size and type, temperament, good points and, more importantly, any bad points or weaknesses. With this knowledge to hand we can then suggest the dog we feel is suitable. Breeding is about strengthening and improving the breed
and bloodlines, and also maintaining the true cocker size and style. Fortunately we have no serious health issues within the working cockers, and many offspring from our line have been eye tested and hip and elbow scored to satisfy many of the countries to which we export.

“When it comes to matching the right pedigree, then close line breeding is not always advisable, but to maintain the true type of cocker and to retain positive attributes, some similar lines are advisable. Field trial stud dogs have proved to be the best at what they are bred to do and some field trial champions should feature throughout the pedigree. Most breeders find that with good FTCh lines, their offspring are very intelligent, trainable and make wonderful shooting dogs and companions.”

“I’m a great believer in letting your eye be the judge”
Buccleuch English Springer Spaniels began when David Lisett joined the Buccleuch Group in 2004 and brought his springers with him. His three foundation bitches acquired in 1996 came from Ian Openshaw, Peter Richardson and John Edwards. These bitches led to a series of championship winners in Britain and Ireland. Sporting history was made in 2007 at the Irish Championship when first, second and third places were awarded to Annickview Breeze, Annickview Anna and Buccleuch Charm, all trained and handled by David.

David says: “When it comes to breeding you must be honest about the bitch you are breeding from and list all her positive and negative points. This will help when choosing a stud dog to enhance and embrace the points noted. Consider what type of puppy you are seeking to breed and what its main job will be. Note all the qualities you would like in a puppy, but keep your expectations in check.

“You should seek to breed a dog that has natural ability. If it has a natural flair when using its nose and the wind to find game, then that makes training much easier. A good temperament means the dog is more adaptable in training, especially when you make mistakes. Too soft a temperament can lead to all sorts of problems, especially if your dog gets confused during training. Too hard a temperament can lead to a dog being self-employed and unmanageable. The perfect dog should be intelligent, willing to please and work as part of a team.

“Spaniels should be able to work all day in any sort of cover and be athletic enough to jump walls, swim and be ready for more work the next day. As far as confirmation is concerned, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and colour or size never make a bad dog, as long as it is fit for purpose.

“When choosing a stud dog, I am a great believer in letting your eye be the judge. I tend to study potential stud dogs through Paul French’s championship DVDs. Dogs competing there are an indication that certain stud dogs are siring good progeny. I also go to view dogs running in field trials in a shooting environment. When looking at a spaniel pedigree I pay more attention to the mother’s side as I feel the bitch has more influence on the outcome of the mating.”

“If the dog’s a plodder, it will never run well”
Mick Canham’s renowned Stubblemere GSP kennels at Nairn, Ayrshire has produced several outstanding dogs from a line established in the 1990s. Currently he has four bitches in kennels, including FTCh Jhebron’s Nephrite of Stubblemere (Orca), who has won two open stakes and was awarded first place at the HPR Championship last season (the first HPR Championship to be run since 1996). His oldest dog is FTCh Stubblemere Black Magic (Magic), born in 2005 and who has been awarded three first and six second places in open stakes. His fourth and youngest bitch is Stubblemere Evanesco (Lyra). She is just over six months old, a daughter from Orca, and has recently started training.

Mick says: “As far as bloodlines go I feel strongly that we should breed from the very best examples of our dogs, both in terms of working capability and conformation. What do I look for in a dog to sire my bitches? First, I look for any weaknesses that may exist in the bitch and my priority is to seek strong attributes in the potential sire that will reduce any weakness in her. German shorthaired pointers should be able to cover the ground with pace, point game staunchly and retrieve from both land and water to hand.

“After looking for any possible health and temperament issues and ensuring that bitch and dog have both had reasonable health checks undertaken, my selection is first and foremost a dog that can run, hunt and point well. I think you can train most dogs to retrieve, but if the dog is a plodder you may never get it to run well. That is why I believe that trait is so important in the breeding.

“I have found it difficult to find the correct sire for my bitches in this country, so I have used the same dog from German lines, bred in Britain but trained and successfully trialled in Germany, to sire both Magic’s and Orca’s litters. This dog is KS Seehof Donan. He is a solid liver dog with a very strong run, a nice temperament and a good mouth. I also use all the information I can get before choosing a sire, including the Kennel Club’s Mate Select Tool. Magic and Donan’s puppies had an inbreeding coefficient of 1.4 and Orca and Donan’s puppies had a value of 0.8. The average breeding coefficient for GSPs is 6.1.”

“I’m reluctant to compromise on temperament”
Based in Leicestershire, Linda Partridge (pictured) and Derrick Capel of Flashmount Labradors are both International Kennel Club A Panel Judges for retrievers and have judged the International Gundog League Retriever Championship. They have owned several field trial champions and winners, and promote rigorous health testing of their stock. They strive to breed good-looking Labradors with correct conformation and sound, biddable temperaments.

In choosing a stud dog, Linda’s first consideration is an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the bitch from which she intends to breed. “It is unlikely,” she says, “that the same stud (even the most popular one of the day) would be the first choice for several of my bitches. I like to line breed, so the pedigree, working ability, temperament, conformation and health test results will all affect my decision.

“I look for a dog that is able and sensible enough to be allowed to work on its own initiative, without getting into too much trouble. I want pace and commitment without the blistering drive that is often difficult to contain.

“I’m reluctant to compromise on temperament and I like to live with easy, well-adjusted dogs. Hyperactive, nervous or aggressive dogs seldom give their best in competition or the shooting field and can be hard work to deal with day-to-day. I have shown horses, dogs and sheep, and always look for the best qualities when selecting a puppy. Health test results are another important contribution, but must be considered with all of the above; there is little merit in breeding healthy gundogs with poor working ability. Hips and elbows are now routinely screened under the British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club scheme. We are advised to test annually, though there is some dispute as to the hereditability of hereditary cataract – in Sweden and Germany, it’s no longer considered a failure under their eye schemes.

“I have seen Labradors affected with progressive retinal atrophy, centronuclear myopathy, exercise-induced collapse and dwarfism and know the heartbreak these conditions bring. If we have the means to avoid producing these conditions, do we not have a moral duty to use them?”