Chudleys

Gundogs – In association with Chudleys.

Today’s gundogs are the products of selective breeding over centuries.

Ancient Egyptian frescoes depict hunting dogs – possibly the forbears of greyhounds, salukis or basenjis.

As different types of hunting developed – from duck hunting, game hunting and deer hunting – so the different breeds of dogs developed to match the different landscapes and quarry.

Dogs bred to hunt deer needed to be fast, strong, and obedient with plenty of stamina. Dogs needed for water work needed to be able to spend time in water, be strong swimmers and have a water resilient coat. Dogs for flushing game needed high energy and excellent smell.

English springer spaniels

English springers are arguably the most versatile breed of gundog

Over time, dogs were bred to fulfil these needs which came to define the four categories of gundog breeds; retrievers, spaniels, HPR breeds, setters and pointers.

Which are the most popular gundogs today?

2019 Kennel Club figures showed the Labrador coming out top in the gundog category with 35, 000 registrations. The cocker spaniel was next with 21,000 registrations, the springer spaniel 8683, golden retriever 8422 and the vizsla 2771.

Edwardian gundogs

Shooting rabbits in the early 1900s

How gundogs have changed in the past 200 years

An Edwardian shooting gent would recognise today’s gundogs but would be impressed at the diverse and extensive breeds now available.  Can you imagine an Edwardian shooting party turning up on the grouse moor and seeing a group of keepers with HPRs by their sides? And what would they make of a Lagotto Romagnola or a Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever sitting at a peg?

The shooting companion for the gentleman Gun, most often seen in photographs from the end of the 19th century, resembles closely the flatcoated retriever of today, and in the early field trials of the 20th century it was the most popular choice.

Within a couple of decades, more changes were becoming obvious. This was probably due to the success of the then recently recognised Labrador retriever.

In days gone by, spaniels were almost one breed before being split into their different strains.

These strains gradually developed into the different breeds of today, the smallest being registered as a cocker spaniel and its larger cousin an English springer spaniel.

The field spaniel of the 1800s was long and low, reputedly developed from crosses between the Sussex and the old-fashioned cocker of Devon or Wales.  By the mid-1920s the spaniels we see today,  much shorter and taller on the leg, were becoming established.

So, if an Edwardian shooting gent was to be transported on to a 21st-century driven gameshoot he would be pleasantly surprised. He would be impressed by the quality of working and the standard to which our gundogs are now trained. If, however, you took that same gentleman to watch a Labrador or golden retriever he would probably ask what breed they were.

German shorthaired pointers

Selective breeding created the gundogs we know today

Gundogs in action

During the Iraq war gundogs were used as tracker and patrol dogs. Captain Ric Cole told Shooting Times that gundog breeds are ideal for this type of work: “Suitable dogs tend to be gundogs, in particular Labradors and springer spaniels because of their keen sense of smell and enthusiasm.”

The dogs are known as “force multipliers” as the work of one dog is equivalent to the workload of four soldiers.

Hungarian wire-haired vizsla

A Hungarian wirehaired vizsla on a grouse moor: the breed is showing its value as a dual-purpose dog

How gundogs are used in other countries

Various breeds of gundogs are used and trained very differently in different countries. One of our staff photographers was in Norway and commented: “A lady brought three very smart-looking Irish setters to be photographed and I was quite surprised that they not only hunted as hard as any spaniel, but they were also required to retrieve any shot game. I have not had much experience with pointers or setters in the UK, but I do know that generally their job is to hunt and point any game and then when it is shot a retriever will be sent to collect the bird.”

Another contributor reports that he has a friend who goes out to Sweden every year to shoot ptarmigan over a group of Weimaraners. He is constantly amazed at the dog’s stamina and ability to hunt all day in really hard terrain – quite often with little success in finding what is a very elusive bird.

For those of you that haven’t experienced the American style of spaniel hunting, this is the difference between their style and ours. In the UK we require our spaniels to stop to the flush and/or drop to shot. This will hopefully give us the chance to get a clean shot at the target without the dog getting in the way.  In the United States, even top-trialling spaniels will leap up for the birds as they are flushed, an undesirable trait over here.

That said, there is nothing better than to watch gundogs flush a bird, watch it fly away and mark it down if you are a good enough shot.

Why don’t gundogs wear collars?

You won’t see a working dog with a collar due to the risk that it will get caught up on a branch or in a hedge, with the risk of choking the dog.

Dog in camouflage

A well-trained gundog is a wonderful thing

How much does a gundog cost?

Any gundog that is well bred, hip and eye tested (or at least from health-tested parents) and can be demonstrated to prove it has achieved a good standard of basic training should be at least £1,500 or even more. This is assuming the gundog is not gun-shy.

Buying a gundog from proper working stock is essential for physical soundness, which is covered by the British Veterinary Association/Kennel Club (KC) health schemes, but also for temperament and trainability.

Seek advice from breeders, particularly those that have achieved the highest accolade of field trial champion (FTCh) in competition.

Make sure you ask all the right questions of the breeder and all the KC registration documents are available before buying.

Labradors in pickup

disease from foxes

What diseases could my dog pick up from foxes?

Disease from foxes All dogs, including gundogs can get the following disease from foxes: Sarcoptic mange Lungworm Rabies Dogs and foxes do suffer from the same diseases, though, of which the most worrying is rabies. We have been rabies-free in Britain for 98 years — since quarantine for dogs was…

English springer spaniels

A useful guide to gundog vocabulary

If you’re relatively new to the gundog world (or maybe even something of an old hand) there may well be abbreviations and gundog commands that aren’t very familiar. After all, there are different gundog commands for the different gundog breeds, which confuses things further. To help, we’ve compiled the list…

gundog in crate in car

What really happens to stolen gundogs?

The social media post has become all too familiar: a picture of a dog, an appeal, a phone number, the details of the crime. The comments, too, are depressingly recognisable — promises to share, pictures of similar-looking dogs found online, condolences. Gundog theft has become part of the way of…

dog drinking water from bottle

Why you shouldn’t let your dog drink from puddles

Q: I have often found my dog drinking from puddles. Is this source of water for dogs safe? Are there any risks and should I prevent her from doing this? A: Rainwater itself is relatively clean, but when it forms puddles it can be contaminated by dirt, leaves, animal droppings,…

Raw chicken wings for dogs

Why raw chicken wings are perfect for dogs

Raw chicken wings for dogs are ideal It’s often claimed that chicken bones are brittle, liable to splinter and are thus dangerous for a dog to eat. That’s certainly true of cooked chicken bones, but raw chicken bones are rubbery and make ideal food for a dog whose digestive system…

Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Is a cavalier King Charles spaniel a gundog at heart?

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that inside many a cavalier King Charles spaniel there’s a cocker spaniel trying to get out. So I wasn’t really surprised when I read the following story sent to me by Debbie Grounds in response for my request for stories of 
non-gundog breeds that…

Sprocker spaniel

Just why is the “sprocker spaniel” becoming so popular?

Sprocker spaniels – the lowdown Sprockers have masses of energy and need to be kept busy They are intelligent dogs and easy to train – but keep training consistent. They like to know what their owners want from them Sprockers need to know who is the ‘alpha’ in the household…

working cocker spaniel

Which breed would suit you better – a springer or a cocker spaniel?

So you’ve decided to take on a spaniel. Springer vs cocker spaniel – the differences Springers have a size advantage over working cocker spaniels Cocker spaniels have a better engine and more staying power than springers Cockers are thought to be ‘prettier’ than springer spaniels and come in more colours…

cocker spaniel with pheasant

We’re all cocker hoop

If you were planning to buy a puppy to train as a rough-shooting and beating dog, which would you get, a springer or cocker? It’s a question I was asked recently by a reader. My correspondent added that he had never owned a dog before and that it would be…

What dogs see, hear and smell

What do dogs see when being trained to retrieve?

A dog’s eyesight is far better than ours, especially where movement and contrast is concerned. It is useful to know and understand how a dog sees colour as we can use this to our advantage in training. How dogs see colour Dogs see colour in a very different way to…

cocker spaniel

Should there be random DNA tests for cocker spaniels?

You may recall sprockergate, the scandal that shook the cocker trialling world a couple of years ago. What brought the story into the tabloids was the accusation that HM The Queen owned a dog, competing in cocker trials, that was allegedly a sprocker (English springer and cocker cross). A sprocker…

cocker spaniel waiting

All about the cocker spaniel

Look around the shooting field today and you’d be correct in thinking that the cocker spaniel and the springer spaniel are two of the most popular gundog breeds. But the spaniel’s heritage stretches back centuries. It is one of the oldest “type of hunting dog” and was originally bred to…

working cocker spaniel

Would a working cocker spaniel be right for you?

Once upon a time everybody had a black Labrador. Then chocolate Labradors arrived on the scene. Now fox red Labs are de rigeur it would seem. Mind you, the dog that you’re likely to see in the field just about everywhere now is a working cocker spaniel. Not so long…