Puppy or part-trained? Which breed would be best? Our gundog guru, Graham Watkins, advises
Q: “I’m about to embark on acquiring my first gundog and I would like some advice as to what breed to buy and whether to get a puppy or a part or even fully-trained dog. Also, I’m not sure whether to keep it indoors or outside in a kennel and whether this will cause me any training issues?” Mr P Bagnall, Essex.
Expert advice on buying your first gundog
Taking on any animal needs careful thought and consideration and perhaps more so in the case of a gundog.
When you consider you are going to have to spend a significant amount of time and effort to get the dog trained to a level so that you can eventually take it into the shooting field, you need to make sure you get the right gundog breed for the kind of ground and shooting you plan to undertake with the dog.
Fiesta or Ferarri?
A common mistake that is quite often made by people buying their first gundog is that they think they have to have a pup with lots of Field Trial Champions in the pedigree, in truth they can end up with a dog that is just “too hot to handle”. It is a bit like someone that has just passed their driving test and they jump in a Ferrari when really they should be starting off driving a Fiesta.
What work is required of the dog?
Will it be used for beating, picking-up, shooting over, sitting at a peg or in a hide?
Another factor that should be considered is the kind of ground that you will be working the dog over. Long ranging dogs like the HPR breeds need big fields to really be effective, on the other hand areas of heavy cover may need a well-built springer.
Local gundog training
It is also worth researching what gundog trainers or clubs you have in your area as you will need expert help. At some point each gundog breed has different training requirements and, again, with the HPR breeds an experienced trainer is vitally important to get the best out of the dog.
If you decide to buy a trained dog, you should ask yourself why is the dog being sold. Very few “good dogs” are ever offered for sale. The dog may have hidden faults, such as being noisy when it is under pressure (sitting at a peg or during a drive when picking-up), it may have developed a hard mouth and damages game. Out of the game season it can be very difficult to fully test a dog before buying it.
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Make a shortlist of breeds
Whether you decide to buy a puppy or a full or part-trained dog, you will have to give the same considerations, such as what kind of work will you want the dog to undertake and what ground you will be working the dog over. Once you have thought about this you can then start to make a shortlist of what breeds may suit your needs. You should also remember that a gundog is not just for the shooting season, and for some people that may only be for three or four months of the year, so you will also have to give considerations as to what you are going to do with the dog for the rest of the year. There are many pitfalls to avoid when looking to buy a gundog.
At the end of the season you will normally find an increase in adverts for “trained gundogs”, this can be for several reasons. The first can be that trainers have had a dog out working for a season, so it can be advertised as “trained”. The second could be that the dog has developed a fault and the owner wants to move the dog on. Another not uncommon reason is that the owner has limited space and wants to bring on some younger dogs.
Be aware of adverts that say, “fully-trained – suitable for rough shooting” this can be gundog speak for “runs wild – out of control”. If you plan to use your new gundog for rough shooting please don’t think that it needs to be any less trained than any other gundog discipline. The dog needs to well-disciplined and under complete control or he will be flushing game well out of range and more than likely running in and preventing a safe shot.
If you do find a trained dog that you think will suit your requirements, insist on a full demonstration on both game and dummies. One problem with buying a dog out of the shooting season is that it is difficult for the seller to put it through its paces. I would insist on seeing the dog in a rabbit pen (no matter what the breed) to assess its steadiness. I would want to see a spaniel hunt and flush and all breeds retrieve while there is game and scent on the ground. Remember we are talking about a trained dog.
Ask to see the dog take both whistle and hand directions at a distance. Most importantly, check the dog’s brakes, it should be sharp on the stop whistle and I would want to see this in action, especially when there is temptation such as a flushed rabbit or bird. As you are a novice, I would take someone more experienced with you, so they can give you some advice and guidance, and they may be able to ask the owner some pertinent questions about the dog, too.
If you are fortunate enough to find a suitable trained dog, it is vitally important that you either arrange with the seller or an experienced local trainer to have some lessons. Make sure you get a list of both whistle and verbal commands, if possible video the demo so you can refer back to it. Take the time to learn about the dog and how to handle it and hopefully you will have a good shooting companion to take out into the field with you.