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Keeping your gun dog happy

Gun dogs are bright, happy and responsive dogs that can usually be easily-trained and make fantastic family pets.

Gun dogs, sometimes called ‘bird dogs’, are a type of dog that traditionally helped hunters to find and retrieve game – usually birds and rabbits. There are three main types of gun dogs: retrievers, setters and flushing dogs.

Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Irish and English Setters, Weimaraners, Hungarian Vizslas and Italian Spinones are all examples of gun dogs – and if you can give them the time they need to keep active and stimulated, they all make fantastic pets!

White labrador

Typical gun dog behaviour

Gun dogs love running after and retrieving toys, not to mention a splash around in a lake or river! They’re keen to follow scent trails, enjoy seeking out objects hidden around the house and are fond of holding and carrying soft toys, which they’ll often proudly present to you or your visitors. Gun dogs are bright, reactive animals, so they’re among the easiest dogs to train.

Exercise and play

Black and white dog panting

Gun dogs have been bred to work all day outside in all types of weather, so they have boundless energy and love spending time in the great outdoors. Even the coldest, wettest weather won’t deter them from a good run around a field! Because of this, gun dogs need active owners. As well as physical challenges, they need lots of mental stimulation and thrive on human companionship.

Gun dogs love variety, so exercise should include on-lead walking in towns and along footpaths, plus plenty of free-running and exploration in safe areas – this is why training is important. They’re country dogs at heart, so the more trees, bushes and brambles they can sniff out, the better. If they spot a body of water, you can be almost certain they’ll try to have a paddle, so remember to carry a dog towel on walks near lakes, ponds and even puddles!

If your dog particularly enjoys water, why not treat them to their own paddling pool in the garden? Just make sure it’s the hard plastic type, and not an easily-chewable inflatable one.

Puppy chewing rope

Gun dogs are social creatures and they love playing with their human family and other friendly dogs, but they’re also quite content amusing themselves – especially if chew toys are involved – and will happily spend hours investigating smells in the garden.

Gun dogs also love their food, so be mindful of their scavenging nature when it comes to leaving edible items out, or where you keep your bins. If your dog has a tendency to chow down on things that they shouldn’t, try giving them a few treat-dispensing toys that they have to nudge, roll and paw for their reward. The more challenging, the better, as they’re unlikely to give up easily if there’s food inside!

When they’re relaxing, gun dogs are happiest snoozing in the garden or on a comfy dog bed, casually gnawing on a safe chew toy. Carrying around a soft toy and cuddling up with it is also a favourite pastime, 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.

Gun dogs love playing with their human family, and providing they’re socialised properly, make brilliant family pets.

They love playing fetch-based games, especially after the age of 16 weeks when their in-built need to retrieve has fully emerged. In fact, these types of games are an essential part of good gun dog care. Once they’re able to retrieve items reliably, vary the game by throwing toys for them when they’re not looking, as this encourages them to seek out items using their other senses – a very handy skill if you drop your keys on a walk or a child loses a beloved toy.

If access to the garden is limited, say during bad weather or if you’re in the middle of a renovation project, hide objects around the house for your gun dog to find – for example, hide toys and treats behind furniture when they’re not looking and ask them to find them. Gentle fetch games with soft items can also be played indoors, and as your dog’s skill set grows you can ask them to bring you named items, too, such as letters, your slippers, the TV remote or even a handbag!

Gun dogs love learning new tricks, and they’ll usually learn to do whatever it takes to win praise and a treat very quickly.

Dog leaping
Puppy chewing rope

Gun dogs love human companionship, so it’s no surprise that the majority of assistance dogs around the world are gun dogs or gun dog crosses.

Your gun dog will enjoy lying by your feet, or better yet, on your lap if you will allow it. They’re very attentive and affectionate and don’t like to be separated from the owners for long. You may find that your pet follows you from room to room just to stay in your company, or greet you excitedly even if you’ve just been away for a few minutes. This does mean they have a tendency to jump up to get your attention, but consistent training from puppyhood can help to prevent this.

Touch is very important to gun dogs, and grooming, stroking and gentle massage will help them to relax and strengthen the bond between you. Getting them used to being touched from puppyhood also means they’ll view grooming as an enjoyable experience, and it’ll make it much easier to towel them off after a leap into a lake!

Gun dogs 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! Expect them to make lots of canine friends on walks, too.

Gun dogs love playing with their human family, and providing they’re socialised properly, make brilliant family pets.

They love playing fetch-based games, especially after the age of 16 weeks when their in-built need to retrieve has fully emerged. In fact, these types of games are an essential part of good gun dog care. Once they’re able to retrieve items reliably, vary the game by throwing toys for them when they’re not looking, as this encourages them to seek out items using their other senses – a very handy skill if you drop your keys on a walk or a child loses a beloved toy.

If access to the garden is limited, say during bad weather or if you’re in the middle of a renovation project, hide objects around the house for your gun dog to find – for example, hide toys and treats behind furniture when they’re not looking and ask them to find them. Gentle fetch games with soft items can also be played indoors, and as your dog’s skill set grows you can ask them to bring you named items, too, such as letters, your slippers, the TV remote or even a handbag!

Gun dogs love learning new tricks, and they’ll usually learn to do whatever it takes to win praise and a treat very quickly.

Gun dogs tend to love their food and so typically fall into the ‘live to eat’ rather than ‘eat to live’ category! As such, it’s important that their food is distributed evenly throughout the day – put out a day’s worth of food in one sitting and they’ll bolt it down in seconds.

Twice a day, you might like to scatter 20% of their dry food in the garden for them to seek out. This will take them far longer to find than if it were all delivered in a bowl, and encourages them to use their foraging skills. Another 30% can be put in treat-dispensing toys throughout the day, or hidden for them 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 they recognise you as the parental food provider. If you feed your gun dog wet food, break it up into two or three meals per day fed in different locations for them to find. You can even make them earn their meals by training them to fetch their bowl on request for you.

As long as you follow daily feeding guidelines (which can be found on your dog food packaging) and monitor your dog’s weight, don’t worry if the amount you end up putting in their bowl seems small. Providing your dog has their daily food allocation and you’re giving them a complete diet, they’ll have all the nutrients they need to stay happy and healthy.

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If you’d like more information on caring for your Gun Dog or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM

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