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How can I stop my gundog eating game?

Is there anything you can do to stop a dog eating game?

gundog steals

What can you do if your gundog eats game instead of returning it to you and leaving it intact. A reader wrote to me recently saying: “Twice last season my labrador ate 
a brace of partridges laid to cool in the back of the pickup. The dog, a six-year-old, had never done this before. Would it help if I gave him a good feed after the shoot to last him 
on the trip back home?”

Why a gundog eats game

I thought for a while before replying. My advice was: Avoid leaving the birds in the pickup with your dog, or put them in a container so that he can’t get to them. If there is a chance he ate them out of hunger then give him half of his dinner once he is settled, to take the edge off his appetite for the trip home.

When you get home give him the rest – it’s never a good idea to feed a dog a large meal after strenuous exercise. (Read more advice on when you should feed your gundog.)  You might also find it useful to read how to look after a gundog after a shoot day.

small cocker spaniel

Shooting Times contributor David Tomlinson notes: “We often talk about dogs being natural retrievers, but the truth is that there can frequently be a tension between the dog’s instinct to return the shot game to its handler, and its natural desire to devour the bird on the spot.

In his excellent book, Dogwatching, zoologist Desmond Morris explains: “Retrievers that rush after shot prey and bring them back to their human companions are borrowing an element from lupine hunting. Wild wolves will return to the den with food offerings for she-wolves that are whelping, or for cubs that are too young to take part in the hunt. This helpful food-sharing tendency is the one that has been exploited by generations of dog-breeders to produce the selfless retrieving of the modern gundog.”

Labrador drinking

A hungry gundog may not be able to resist temptation

Hunger creates temptation

Anyone who has been around working gundogs for some time will have stories of dogs that snacked rather than retrieved. I recall picking-up with a handler who kept his dogs very lean. On one occasion, one of his dogs failed to reappear after being sent for a retrieve. A quick search revealed it to be munching merrily on a pheasant. We kept this quiet from the keeper, but I’m sure the dog was simply hungry and temptation overcame it.

Incidentally, hard mouth and eating birds are two different problems. (Read more on hard mouthed gundogs.)