Where should your gun dog be when not in the field?

Kennel by Ben Samuelson

Kennel or kitchen? It all depends what you have a dog for. If you are the sort of chap who confirms the commonly held French supposition that we Brits keep a dog for companionship and a wife to protect one’s property against intruders, then by all means allow your dog to share your house.

It may well be that you don’t mind a dog covering your furniture in hair, pinching any food that is left unguarded and waiting for the first visit of your potential mother-in-law to express its disapproval loudly and forcefully by means of an attack of flatulence of a medically unfeasible magnitude.

Despite all this, it has to be said that, when presented with the sight of a contented labrador snoring in front of the Aga, I could almost be convinced. But then you go shooting, and you see how difficult it is to have a gundog that is part of the family, sharing your bed, your food and the attention of your kids that doesn’t cause each day’s shooting to be enormously stressful. How many guns (and dare I say it, beaters and pickers-up?) do you waste your pity on as every drive is punctuated by a succession of bellows, each louder until the RSM from Pirbright drops round to complain about the noise?

I’m afraid that it’s really rather simple. There comes a tipping point when the more latitude you give your house dog day-in, day-out, the more it gets ideas above its station and will do exactly as it pleases. If this means running in like an ill-trained backbencher, then that’s what it will do. If it means picking up your neighbour’s birds and re-distributing them around the line, then that’s what it will do. If it means howling at the peg like a drunken secretary trying to sing a Mariah Carey song in a karaoke bar, then I am very much afraid that’s exactly what it will do.

If you wish your dog to behave, it has to be really pleased to see you. As Mrs S always says, this means that it really should live in an outbuilding, be fed plain food once a day and never be allowed to share your bed. At least, I think she’s talking about the dog.

Kitchen by Giles Catchpole

Let us be frank; I am not a gundog owner. I am an occasional shooter who owns a dog. And there is a world of difference between the two. A gundog is a working dog. Much as a hound is a working dog. And hounds, as we all know, live in kennels. With other hounds – and that is the key, in my view. Hounds – and by extension, working gundogs – live communally. They have company. They thrive in company. They are social animals. Even hounds are farmed out to homes as puppies to be walked and played with and fussed and socialised before returning to kennels for more formal training.

My dog is not a hound. He is a pet who, on a few days a year – a season – gets to do what he does naturally to the extent that I have managed to train him to do it. Or restrain him from doing it. For the rest of the year all he gets is me. He gets fed and watered and walked and a good deal of my company. But he doesn’t have many mates. He doesn’t get to talk dog. It is, I am sure, why he is perfectly happy to go to kennels from time to time; because he gets to hang out with other dogs and muck about and do some dog stuff.

And so he lives in the house with me. Not in the kitchen, and not upstairs either, and definitely not on the furniture, but in my study he has a corner that is his space. And his alone. Dogs need boundaries and they need their dog-cave like a chap needs a gun-room. Or a shed. Or a club. If he wants to be with me he can come and find me – he is lying under my desk as I write – but if he wants to be by himself he can go to his place. And I can send him to his place should the need arise.

That, of course, is the rational explanation. The real reason is that I rely on his company probably far more than he does on mine. If he was outside in a kennel, the house would be a colder and emptier space, and I would miss his presence and his company something chronic. So I would be spending most of the time in the kennel too. And that would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it?

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