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Should I choose a spaniel or a labrador?

A reader asks: I go rabbit and pigeon shooting and now intend to get a gundog. Can you advise?

spaniels and a labrador

Would a spaniel or a labrador suit you best?

Spaniel or a labrador? Most of us have heard the expression: “A labrador is born half-trained and a spaniel dies half-trained.”

Things to consider

Will you use the dog for beating, picking up or shooting? Labradors and spaniels each have their own talents

Spaniel puppies are very lively. Do you have time to train and work your chosen breed? (Read did I make a mistake getting a cocker spaniel?)

The talents of spaniels

A working cocker spaniel from good working stock is an ideal choice for the one-dog roughshooter. (Read more on rough shooting here.) A spaniel can be trained as a competent shooting companion, to sit in a pigeon hide, flush game and retrieve from prickly, thick cover.

However they will need time and patience to train. (Read more on training a springer spaniel.)

Think about your own personality too. With a spaniel comes a lot of hustle and bustle. Would you like that? Training a spaniel is hard work for a novice.

The talents of labradors

Labradors also make good rough shooting dogs but some of the top strains can be fast and need expert handlers. A working cocker is the better rough shooting dog.

As a labrador is a retrieving breed it will usually be used for driven or walked-up shooting, or picking up.

Spaniel or labrador?

If you ask any gundog to “multi-task” you should be prepared to allow them some leeway in their performance.

But whichever breed you choose, make sure you invest time and effort in training your working dog. Whatever breed you settle on, the very early stages of the dog’s training will be some of the most important lessons that it will learn and it is far better not to develop bad habits right from the start.


This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.