You only have to go to the local park to see how popular gundog breeds are.
Gundogs have been bred for many generations to fulfil a role that involves working closely and cooperatively with their handler. They have been selected for an even temperament and trainability.
These qualities make for wonderful companions but they do not come without their challenges.
This page is intended to be a hub of information to help you understand more about your pet gundog.
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What is a pet gundog?
Although originally bred to work, many of these dogs are living in our homes as pets who will never do a day’s work in their life. Whether your puppy came from a gamekeeper or a family home, the role your puppy was originally bred to fulfil is hardwired. The strength of their genetic traits, energy levels and high intelligence is often underestimated.
There are four main categories of gundog work; becoming familiar with these roles will help you to understand, and better manage your pet gundog:
The Retriever’s job is to be steady next to their handler, to find shot game and retrieve it, all the time listening and responding to cues from their handler even at a great distance. Common Retriever breeds include Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Flat-coated Retrievers.
The Spaniel’s primary job is to hunt and flush game whilst quartering (moving quickly from side to side) close to their handler. Common Spaniel breeds include Springers and Cockers.
The Setter’s and Pointer’s job is to work at a distance from their handler finding game in open countryside. Once found, they should “point” so their handler can approach before the dog goes into flush the bird out. Common Setter and Pointer breeds include the Irish Setter, English Setter, and English Pointer.
The HPR’s are multiskilled dogs whose job is to hunt for game, “point”, and retrieve when instructed to do so. Common HPR breeds include the Hungarian Vizsla, German Pointer, and Weimaraner.
The problem with gundogs as pets
The working abilities of a gundog come from their breeding and genetics, training simply brings these natural instincts under control. So, regardless of who bred your dog or your intentions to keep them as a pet, their working abilities are innate. When these genetic traits are left to develop without appropriate guidance and direction, they can soon become difficult to walk off lead safely as they go “self-employed” – doing their job, without an employer! Even in the home, their impulsive nature and inability to tolerate frustration is often the cause of annoying, noisy, pushy, and even angry behaviour.
Bringing any puppy home is always unexpectedly hard work, no matter how many times you have done it before! But nothing can prepare you for your first pet gundog! For working families, often with lots of responsibilities and time-commitments, sharing your home with a pet gundog can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. It is these owners and dogs that the Gundog Activity Club was created for, because sadly, no matter how much we love our dogs and how hard we try to give them what they need, there just aren’t always enough hours in the day to fulfil them physically and mentally, between all of our other commitments.
Common mistakes with high-energy dogs
With a dog that seems to be constantly full of energy, the go-to solution is usually to increase their daily exercise.
There are a few problems with this:
Gundogs are bred to work all day so increasing their daily exercise will have very little effect. They may be ready for a power nap after a long walk but they’ll soon be ready to go again.
Repetitive ball throwing is a common strategy to maximise exercise in a short period of time creating ball-junkies who are permanently tense, irritable, restless and often unfriendly towards other dogs. Half an hour of excessive ball chasing may well tire your dog physically, but they will be left adrenaline-fuelled, making this approach counterproductive and potentially creating more problems.
Increasing exercise will also increase their stamina. You will be training an athlete who will need an ever-increasing amount of exercise to tire them out.
Excessive exercise may tire your dog physically, but mentally they will still be craving some stimulation.
High-energy dogs do not need to walk for miles every day. They need a reasonable amount of exercise and plenty of opportunities to stimulate their minds. Dogs are designed to solve problems and if they are bored and under-stimulated they will look for their own problems to solve, often bringing you a life of stress and frustration together.
7 signs your pet gundog needs more mental stimulation
Your dog can’t seem to settle, even after exercise. They might pace, whine, or not stay in their resting position for more than a few minutes at a time.
Your dog is chewing your skirting boards and T.V. wires, dissecting your favourite cushions, shredding his blankets, and just generally leaving a path of destruction everywhere he goes.
3. Excessive barking
Your dog spends his spare time watching out of the window barking at passers-by, dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, and anything else that moves.
Your dog pays a visit to your favourite flower bed every time he goes outside.
5. Stealing items
Your dog is always looking for something to get up to which is most likely not your favourite choice of activities but almost guaranteed to get a response. Does a game of chase with a pair of socks or tissues he pulled out of the bin sound like your typical night in?
6. Obsessive behaviours
Behaviours that are considered to be obsessive such as tail chasing and light chasing, can start when a dog is bored and needing something to do.
7. Being a pest
Your dog is pawing, whining and barking at you for attention. Or, if you have other pets in your home, they might be stirring up the whole house to entertain themselves – chasing the cat and constantly winding up his canine friend.