Examples of some typical breeds in this group:
Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Springer Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Irish or English Setter, Weimaraner, Hungarian Vizsla, Italian Spinone
Your dog is this type if he:
Has a great willingness to run and retrieve balls and thrown toys. He love water and swimming, is keen to follow scent trails and to go searching for objects hidden around the home and garden. He also enjoys holding and carrying soft toys (often presented to you and your visitors when you arrive home), and loves playing with food-dispensing toys. He is especially quick to respond to reward-based training when food is used.
Exercise and play
Gundogs were originally bred to work with human hunters – to show the location of game (the setters), to flush it from undergrowth (the spaniels), and to bring it back (the retrievers). Some Gundogs perform more than one of these functions – for example, spaniels flush and then retrieve shot game, and some breeds in mainland Europe, such as the Hungarian Vizsla, German Pointer, Large Munsterlander, Italian Spinone and Weimaraner, are especially adept at multi-tasking, which allows them to flush, point and retrieve.
Developed to work in the field all day, and in all weathers, Gundogs possess boundless energy and love spending time in the great outdoors. Cold, wet weather will usually not deter them from wanting a good run around in the countryside, so they need active owners who can meet their exercise needs. As well as physical challenges, they also need lots of mental stimulation and thrive on human companionship.
Exercise should be varied and include on-lead walking in towns and along footpaths, with plenty of free-running and off-lead exploration in safe areas, such as dog-friendly beaches, woods, rivers, fields etc. Country dogs at heart, Gundogs love to investigate scents, flush wildlife and chase it. This means that appropriate training is vital, especially teaching a good ‘stop’ and recall. They often enjoy water, so remember to take dog towels with you when going for walks near lakes, rivers, ponds or muddy puddles.
If your dog enjoys water, then a child's paddling pool - a hard plastic one rather than an inflatable - will be hugely enjoyable for him. Throw floating toys in the pool for him, or just let him lie down and have a splash around. The pool should be shallow and all play should be supervised.
Gundogs are highly social and love playing with both their human family and other friendly dogs. But they are also content to amuse themselves, especially if food-dispensing toys and chews are involved, and will happily spend hours investigating new scents from passing wildlife in the garden.
Many Gundogs love their food, so it is important not to let them become obsessed with sniffing out possible food sources and scavenging. Ensure that waste bins are locked or out of reach as a food-obsessed Gundog will often consume anything vaguely edible. You can direct these dogs’ foraging instincts to less distasteful outlets by filling treat-dispensing toys that they have to roll, paw and nudge for their rewards. The harder they have to work, the better as they are unlikely to give up easily if there is food inside. Intelligence-testing puzzle toys, where the dog has to work out how to get to a treat by moving blocks, are also a great source of amusement.
When relaxing, Gundogs like to lie in the garden or in a comfortable dog bed inside the house and gnaw a chew-toy. Carrying around a soft toy and cuddling up with it to snooze is also a favourite past-time, particularly among breeds with soft mouths bred for retrieving. Rope toys are also great fun for these dogs, both for playing with their owners and with other dogs.
Playing with you
Gundogs love to work and play with their human family and friends and, provided they are socialised and trained properly, usually make fabulous family dogs with people of all ages.
Playing fetch-based games will be hugely appreciated after about 16 weeks of age, when their innate need and ability to retrieve has fully emerged. In fact, it is an essential part of good Gundog care to teach and encourage them to regularly find and retrieve different things in a variety of different environments, especially seeking out water. Once they are retrieving thrown items reliably, vary the game by throwing them when they are not looking, as this encourages them to seek out items using their other senses. This is a great skill to have if you drop your keys on a walk, or a child loses a toy or piece of clothing. You can also show your dog how to play ‘hide and seek’ on walks and ask him to find a member of the family who has first run off and hidden behind a tree or rock. This is an especially fun game to play if you have children in the family.
In wet weather, when free access to the garden might be limited, hide objects around the house for your Gundog to find. Put treat toys behind furniture when he isn’t looking and then ask him to go and find them. Gentle fetch games with soft items that won’t cause damage if thrown can also be played indoors and, as your dog’s repertoire grows, you can also ask him to bring you an increasing number of named items – for example: letters, your slippers, the TV remote control or your handbag.
Gundogs love learning tricks and since they are usually so social and food-motivated, they will usually learn to do whatever it takes to win praise and a treat very quickly.
Gundogs are people dogs, so it is no surprise that the majority of assistance dogs around the world are Gundogs or Gundog crosses; they love humans, are highly trainable and always eager to please.
Not surprisingly, these dogs form very close relationships with their human family and do not like being separated from them for too long. Your dog will enjoy lying at your feet in the evening and loves it best if he can rest in direct physical contact with you, including, if you allow it, lying on the sofa next to you with his head on your lap.
Gundogs are usually very attentive, and may like to follow you from room to room just to stay in your company. Many breeds in this group are particularly demonstrative, and will wag their tails excitedly to greet you on your return, even if you’ve only been outside for a couple of minutes to fetch some shopping from the car. A small downside to their sociability is that Gundogs often jump up to get your attention. Training from early puppyhood, with consistency between all family members and visitors, is therefore essential to prevent this behaviour and make greetings safer and more civilised before the dog grows into a larger, heavier adult.
Gundogs need to be part of all aspects of family life, not just walks and playtimes. Fortunately, they are highly trainable and so make well-socialised, well-trained and good-mannered adult pets that are manageable in all situations. Being left at home can often make them miserable, so train your Gundog how to behave and you’ll be able to take him just about everywhere.
For those times when you can’t take him with you, it is important to help him learn to cope with being left alone. Get him used to short periods of solitude from as early an age as possible, separating yourself from him in another room from time to time even when you are in the house. Provide a comfortable, den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a dog crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a favourite safe toy on his own. Put an old, worn jumper or T-shirt in with his bedding to act as a comforter. This should smell of you, so something from the laundry basket is preferable to a fresh, clean item of clothing. You could also install a plug-in pheromone diffuser near his bed for added reassurance, available from your vet or some pet stores. Always exercise your dog before you need to leave him alone in the house so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and then hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and work on to keep himself busy while you are away.
Touch is very important to Gundogs and grooming, stroking and gently massaging him will relax him and strengthen the bond between you. Getting him used to being touched and stroked from puppyhood ensures that he will view grooming as an enjoyable experience. It will also make it a lot easier to towel him down after a leap into a lake or a particularly wet, muddy walk.
Gundogs will usually get along with other dogs and cats in the family, provided they have been socialised and introduced to them from a young age. Outside of the family, they are typically full of life and love, greeting guests with enthusiasm and showing how welcome they are by bringing them a gift of a soggy slipper or a toy! They will also usually make lots of canine friends on walks.
Many Gundogs fall into the ‘live to eat’ rather than ‘eat to live’ category. If they are given their daily food allocation in one sitting, they will usually bolt it down in seconds, which means their day’s highlight is over with a long wait ahead for tomorrow’s meal. Therefore, it makes sense to spread your dog’s measured daily food allowance out so he has several ‘highlights’ throughout the day.
For example, twice a day scatter 20% of his dry food in the garden for him to seek out. This will take him far longer to find than if it were all delivered in a bowl, and encourages him to use his foraging skills to great effect and enjoyment. Another 30% can be put in treat-dispensing toys throughout the day, or hidden for him to find in the house and garden. About 10% can be used as training treats, while the remaining 20% can be split into two meals and presented in a bowl, morning and evening, so he recognises you as his parental food provider. If you feed wet food, break it up into 2-3 meals per day fed in different locations for him to locate. You can even make him earn his meals by training him to fetch his bowl on request for you.
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (see dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep him in ideal body condition [link to body condition video], don’t
worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided he has had his daily food allocation and you are feeding a complete diet, he will have all the nutrients and energy he needs to help him stay happy and healthy.