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Is this the best way of “dogging-in?”

What is dogging-in anyway? And which is the best breed for the job? Ellena Swift explains in Shooting Times

flying pheasant

Dogging-in keeps pheasants where you want them

Dogging-in means using a dog to push straying pheasants from the boundaries of a shoot back into the middle.

It’s a major job for keepers during October and can sometimes seem infuriating. Time-consuming and impossible without a dog.

My favourite breed for dogging-in may surprise you but it’s a decision I’ve made based on past experience.

Liam Bell, chairman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation comments: “Strange though it may seem, one of the hardest things to do when the weather is warm and there is plenty of food about is to actually get the birds in the drives. Dogging-in when they go the wrong way will help, but ours don’t generally pull in properly until the trees shed their leaves and the birds start to get hungry.”

More about dogging-in

  • It is the art of pushing wandering poults back to the 
more desirable areas of the shoot. It certainly is an art too
  • The dogging-in dog doing the job must work steadily, without picking any of the birds (known as pegging).
  • The most common breed of dog used by keepers is the spaniel,  renowned for its ability to hunt tightly to its handler, quarter and sit to flush.

However, my chosen breed for the job is the border collie.


The border collie’s natural instinct to herd whatever it sees makes it a superb dogging-in breed

Why the border collie is a good choice for dogging-in work

This is a breed whose entire existence revolves around its desire to herd, 
drive and move quarry.

It has little if no drive to 
retrieve and most will 
herd almost anything.

I often hear pet dog owners claiming their collie herds their children if they wander too far, and nearly everyone in the dog world will have seen or heard 
of a collie chasing car wheels.

Border collie at work dogging-in

Border collie at work dogging-in

So what makes the collie such 
a useful dogging-in companion?

  • While a spaniel will hunt hard and quarter, it will do so at a pace it dictates, normally fairly rapid.
  • A collie will move at the pace of whatever they are attempting to herd.
  • Therefore most birds being dogged-in by a collie will run rather than flush or fly. This means they are less likely to hop over the wrong hedge or fly the wrong way.
  • The other benefit to using a collie is the ability to send it away and work it back to you, meaning you can act as a team rather than you and the dog always having to work in the same direction.

Working tirelessly

My husband is keeper for two shoots. On both we have used a team of border collie and collie-crosses for almost six years for all the dogging-in and, more recently, beating work. They have proved invaluable, working tirelessly to drive and move the birds to where we want without ever pegging, or rushing, the birds.

By using this intelligent breed we avoid mass flushes, panicking birds and, ultimately, birds being pushed to the wrong place. It is also very easy to “dog” hedges and ditches with little input from the handler.

Ellena Swift with her dogs

Ellena Swift with her dogs

Desire to work

We are often questioned on the ability of the collie to tackle dense cover with birds sitting tight.

Spaniels are known for their fearlessness when it comes to heavy cover so you could be forgiven for thinking this is perhaps where the collie comes up short. But the collie’s desire to work is second to none and we have yet to see any of ours back off from any type of cover when moving birds. Even when nettles are at their hottest the collies will tackle anything.

The biggest potential problem 
of using them as a beating dog is gun-shyness. This is undeniably more common in the collie as a breed, but this is down to nurture rather than nature. If introduced to gunshot correctly, the collie will be as at home with a bang as any other dog. We shoot over all our collies, and have shot pigeons and rabbits from the quad bike while the dogs sit in the 
box without cause for concern.

Collies can be a massive asset to any keeper if trained correctly and have been proven to be the most intelligent breed many times, turning their paw to every discipline. Is it just a matter of time before more keepers start realising their potential?