Breeding British gundogs
The UK has long been known as the “stockyard of the world”, a tag which recognises our skills as breeders of pedigree livestock of all types. Going back centuries, the skills applied to breeding livestock in fields and stackyards inevitably spilled over into the way working dogs were bred.
The earliest keepers would bring their inherent and yet rudimentary understanding of breeding and selection and apply it to the dogs they cared for and whose job was to find game, flush it and hopefully return with it. It is safe to assume that even the earliest spaniels, imported from Spain more than 500 years ago, would have been selected and improved over generations.
For the big sporting estates, there is no doubt that the way in which their gundogs were managed and bred was hugely significant. Dogs had to be functional, they had to work and there had to be plenty of them.
The remarkable video above was filmed on a large estate in Scotland in 1932. It clearly demonstrates just how important gundogs were becoming and why it was deemed necessary to run kennels of this size.
In the UK there was such a passion for gundogs and so much natural ability for clever breeding and selection that new breeds were inevitable. Breeds such as the short-legged, liver-coated Sussex spaniel developed at Rosehill Park near Hastings almost 200 years ago.
There was even an initial cross between the Sussex and the cocker. The result produced the field spaniel, a lovely breed which may now only rarely be seen in the shooting field and has been ignored for too long.
At the end of the 18th century the first Clumber spaniels arrived from France. The dogs were presented to the Duke of Newcastle and took their name from his estate at Clumber Park.
The Labrador retriever, initially imported as a dog to retrieve birds from water, was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1903. This breed’s versatility and trainability was seized upon by UK gundog trainers from the earliest days of its arrival.
The Labrador is still the world’s most popular dog — 150,000 puppies are registered annually with the American Kennel Club — and it is to the UK that devotees worldwide return to secure the very best genetics in terms of working ability.
There has been a continual stream of gundog breeds heading to Britain’s shores over the years, mainly from Europe.
The German short-haired pointer and its wire-haired and long-haired variants as well as the Hungarian vizsla, the Weimaraner, the Italian spinone, the Munsterlander and the Brittany have all gained passionate supporters whose efforts continue to strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading nation of gundog breeders.