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English Springer Spaniel sitting on grass in autumn

Gundogs: Everything You Need to Know

12 min read

Gundog breeds are some of the most loving dogs you can wish for. They like to keep busy and are extremely friendly with all the family members, cats included. Here is what it's like having them as companions.

Gundog breeds are often described as the perfect family dog. They love children, cats and will get excited about seeing other dogs too. Originally bred to help their owners hunt game, these days they are a reliable and loving companion that will easily look for trouble if they are bored or lack enough exercise. If you're considering adding a gundog to the family, here are some of the things you need to know.

 

A gundog's job description

Being largely the preserve of the aristocratic shooting set, gundog breeds mostly come from around the UK and Europe, with a few US additions. As their name suggests, these dogs were bred to help those hunting game with guns - and do so in a variety of different ways.

Retrievers

These are the breeds who retrieve fallen game (usually birds, and often at long distances) and bring them back to their owner

Spaniels

These are the expert hunters of the gundog world and they will find game and flush it out for the guns. Modern working spaniels will retrieve to hand too.

Pointers and Setters

These are the dogs who locate game, usually at a longer distance than spaniels, and so will alert their owner to their presence by freezing so as not to alert them until the guns can get closer.

Hunt, point, retrieve dogs

These are multi-skilled dogs who can hunt, point and also retrieve.

These different jobs within the group means that there are a variety of different behaviours and personalities within gundogs, but they all have the same need for a lot of exercise in all weathers and plenty of stimulation.

 

The natural instincts of gundogs

Like all working breeds, they utilise their natural canine behaviours to do the jobs that humans developed them to do.

Gundog breeds are specialists in watching game and working with their owners to stalk or grab. A retriever shouldn't damage fallen game however and so individuals who were weak in the harder 'kill bite' part of the predatory behaviour were used to create these soft-mouthed breeds.

Owners should be aware that this predatory behaviour is self-rewarding for dogs, as hunting for food was originally part of a dog's survival instinct.

Brown and white Braque Francais standing in a field of flowers

Therefore, gundogs need an outlet for their hard-wired instinct in order to stay healthy and happy. This doesn't mean you need to take your dog hunting, and many owners would seriously object to that.

It does mean that these are hard-working dogs who relish having a job to do that involves owner interaction, controlled stalking, chasing/flushing and retrieving.

 

Gundogs' behaviour and personality

In order to do their job successfully, a gundog has certain key skills and characteristics.

Very active

A gundog needs to be able to work all day, every day and will work happily in all weathers, in often cold wet muddy conditions.

Extremely friendly and social

If not appropriately socialised and trained, gundogs can be over-friendly to the point of rude with other dogs. They have the ability to work in very close proximity to a variety of unknown dogs and people without so much as a grumble.

The perfect family dog

Gundogs are often considered perfect family dogs as they love people, children, other dogs - and even the cat!

Can easily become unruly

Gundogs can become boisterous and unruly if not given enough exercise or kept mentally stimulated. Their hard-wired retrieving behaviour may lead them to carrying your personal items around the house - and, if not channelled appropriately, chewing furniture or other items they may find.

Will eat anything...

Thanks to their love of food they can be prone to obesity if under-exercised or over-fed.

Good at cooperation

Gundogs need to be able to work with their owner in a very controlled way at specific tasks with distractions. Retrievers are also expected to give up their prize readily and happily. However, unless taught early on to give up their treasures using reward-based training methods, they can resource guard.

Self-controlled

Since etiquette in the field can be strict, gundogs are expected to be very self-contained while waiting around but be ready to leap into action the moment they are needed.

Temperamentally robust

Gundogs are not the sensitive type. Given their jobs involved helping humans hunt game, they are hardy dogs, both physically and mentally.

 

Is a gundog breed right for you?

Before you decide whether a gundog is the right companion in the household, here are a few things to consider.

The gundog owner checklist

You could be the perfect owner for a gundog if you:

Golden Retriever in the wood's surrounded by leaves being stroked
  • Love exercise and the great outdoors
  • Have plenty of time every day to exercise and train your dog
  • Enjoy getting out in all weathers
  • Like your dog to be very affectionate and demonstrative
  • Don't mind muddy pawprints all over your house
  • Wants dog who will want to be part of everything you do
  • Live in a rural location with a large garden or plenty of space

 

Bonding with your gundog

Gundogs 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 gundog 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 gun dog 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!

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!

Long walks in the countryside with the opportunity to sniff and explore is the perfect way to bond with your gundog. Giving them an outlet for their specialist behaviours via reward-based training classes with a trainer who understands gundogs is also a good idea for these breeds. These are dogs who love to be part of the family and are at their happiest when out and about with 'their people'.

Gundogs are canines on a mission. Explore the rest of the working dog breeds characteristics and discover what makes them such beloved companions.

 

Discover all the gundog breeds (as recognised by the Kennel Club, February 2020)