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

hearing loss in older dogs

How to help an older dog suffering from deafness

Q: Our old gundog is starting to become deaf, probably due to his age. Is there anything to help hearing loss in older dogs? A: Certainly the most common 
form of deafness in dogs is age-related hearing loss (ARHL). Most dogs experience some degree of ARHL as they get older. Unfortunately,…

pork pie

Why gundogs shouldn’t eat pork pies

Pancreatitis in dogs can be serious. I received a salutary tale from 
reader and regular correspondent Arthur Moore, who had just returned from walking Hadrian’s Wall with his 
wife Ann and daughter Jocasta, plus 
two English springers, Ella, aged 10, 
and Nina, aged two. “We walked the wall, day on…

Labrador gundog

How to help a dog with arthritis

“My eight year old Labrador is a bit slow to get going now and is usually lame by lunchtime, when I rug her up and put her in the vehicle. She seems a bit young to call it a day. How can you help a dog with arthritis?” Many working…

black Labrador puppy

Health checks you must carry out before breeding Labradors

Q: “I am considering breeding from my 
young Labrador bitch but have to confess 
to being overwhelmed by all the advice 
I am getting. Any thoughts?” Thoughts on breeding Labradors A: First I would say that breeding from your only dog can be fraught and is not entirely without risk.…

Keeping gundogs safe

What can you do to keep your gundogs safe from being stolen?

It was a sobering experience. The grinder buzzed, sparks flew and in a few seconds the padlocks parted. A friend knocked on my door one morning. He had lost his workshop keys. He had started on one hardened steel lock with a hacksaw and after a lot of cutting had…

gun-shy puppy

Is a gun-shy dog a lost cause?

There’s probably no greater disaster that can 
befall the gundog trainer than to discover that their talented new puppy is gun-shy. Is being gun-shy inherited? Many breeders maintain that 
gun-shyness is hereditary, which 
I’m not convinced about, but 
I certainly wouldn’t take the risk of breeding from a seriously gun-shy…

black Labrador puppy

How can I find the right Labrador puppy these days?

Q: I have been struggling to find a Labrador puppy because there seems to have been a big demand for them as pets during lockdown. 
 I have been advised to wait a while because it’s expected that a lot of young dogs will need to be rehomed in the…

Fly-fishing

How to tie fishing flies with dog hair

The Roman author and teacher Claudius Aelianus is credited with being the first to record the use of artificial flies in angling. Writing towards the end of the second century, he described the practices of Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River comprehensively: “They have planned a snare for the fish,…

gundog training for water work

How to train your gundog for water work

Gundog training for water work needs to be done carefully and with thought; it is all too easy to end up with problems such as dropping retrieves, shaking and even refusal to enter water. It is a matter of choice whether you train your dog to retrieve from water, but…

springer spaniel puppy

My spaniel has horrible waxy ears. What can I do about it?

Q: My spaniel has horrible waxy ears. No amount of cleaning seems to make a difference. Any suggestions? I’m worried they may lead to more spaniel ear problems. A: Neil says: Yes, stop what you are doing. You are probably making the situation worse. We need to go back to…

dog in sun

How to keep gundogs cool in hot weather

Q: With a young dog in training this summer, have you some advice on the best ways to keep dogs cool in hot weather? A: The advice on how to keep dogs cool in hot weather is 
so important. Here’s what to do. Keep dogs cool by providing a cool…

puppy with tennis ball

Are tennis balls dangerous to dogs?

Q: My dog trainer has advised me to use tennis balls to train my Labrador to hunt and retrieve but I’ve heard there are risks from balls. Are tennis balls dangerous to dogs? What are your thoughts on this issue? Tennis ball risks When dogs play with balls there is the…

English springer spaniel

The history of spaniels

If you want to wind up your cocker spaniel-owning friends, just tell them that their dogs are springers. They may argue otherwise but, technically, it’s true. History of the spaniel All spaniels are springers, as the term was originally used to separate those dogs that set game (setters) from those…

protecting your dog's ears from grass seeds

How can I protect my dog’s ears from grass seeds?

Grass seeds can easily become lodged in a dog’s ears or paws. Grass seeds are a particular problem for spaniels As the hay fever season fades away, 
so the grass-seed season takes over. The first affects me (though not as much as it used to), while the second is a…

beware over-exercising a puppy

The risks of over-exercising a puppy

Q: We have recently acquired a new puppy. Both parents were hip and elbow tested and found to be clear and I’ve been told by the breeder to be careful about over-exercising a puppy while he is young because it could damage his joints. 
I want to start training this…