Gundog training: Having just lost my old labrador, I have decided to get a new one from a rescue scheme because it seems to have dogs bred from working stock. Is this a sensible thing to do and, if so, are there any dangers I need to be aware of?
Jeremy Hunt says: A commendable move on your part, albeit one potentially fraught with issues. Unfortunately, many dogs that find themselves being re-homed through rescue schemes – and I am referring to those run specifically for labradors – have some baggage. It’s invariably not their fault and all too often these are labradors that have become too time-consuming for their owners – and end up spending much of their puppyhoods alone in cages. This is particularly distressing for dogs bred from working lines, where confinement and lack of stimulation can have long-lasting adverse effects.
Your first priority is to find a dog of an age at which he will hopefully respond well to being trained as a gundog, be that for shooting or picking-up. I would suggest dogs around 12 months old fit this criteria, although it could be possible to reach a certain standard of gundog training with an older animal depending on its breeding and what has happened to it in the past.
Some dogs who end up in rescue schemes still have all their paperwork with them, so check up on the breeding if you can – it may appear to be working-bred but if you can verify that, it helps. It is unlikely any dog in a rescue scheme will have had any hip or eye-testing done, so that’s just going to be a gamble you’ve got to take.
Temperament is a key factor when choosing a dog, especially a rescue animal, so take dummies to the first meeting to see how he reacts to potential gundog training.
Find out as much about the rescue dog’s history as possible so you can identify any areas of his upbringing that may cause you serious problems later. Here are some important questions to ask before even thinking about starting your gundog training: Has he been socialised with other dogs? Is he happy around other people? Has his history made him anxious and, if so, will that make gundog training more difficult and possibly lead to a “squeaker” on a shoot day? Will he be able to cope with the sound of gunshot?
Temperament is a top priority but equally you need to ascertain if he is a dog who will respond well to you, and not be one whose unsettled past undermines all attempts to train him. The first months of a young dog’s life influence everything that follows, so there may be issues he has that won’t become immediately obvious. Use your experience as one who has owned a working labrador already to make an honest evaluation of any rescue dogs you consider.