What can you do to ensure you pick the right dog for your family? And what might go wrong when you’ve found him?

credit: Archant

Choosing the right breed of dog for you and your family is, in my opinion, probably the thing that requires the most thought when considering bringing a dog into your family. And unfortunately, many families make the wrong choice!

credit: Archant

Young, energetic, outdoor family, ideally suited to the gundog breeds. Right? Probably not! The problem with the gundog breeds is that they are hunting machines, particularly the spaniels, and energetic, outdoor families tend to want a dog that they can take for loads of really long walks.

This might sound idyllic, but the reality is that it is this partnership and lifestyle that produces problem gundogs that, when let off the lead, just clear off into the countryside hunting and chasing anything that moves. If you want an easygoing dog that you can just bumble along behind, choose a breed with much less prey drive in it. Even toy breeds have more energy than humans and can be fantastic companions and outdoor dogs.

Young gundogs need to be supervised and encouraged to look to you for fun, entertainment and leadership. Anything less will usually end up with your dog spending a lifetime on the lead for fear of it running off. Try this as a rule of thumb:

‘First 12 months on a lead, next 12 years off…

First 12 months off lead, next 12 years on.’

Which is right? Have a really good think about that one. For those of you that are struggling, the first one is better.

Planning a young gundog’s development requires just that: a plan, albeit a flexible one. In previous Sporting Shooter articles we’ve given some thought to socialising a youngster and a few of the methods and techniques that will help. This month I thought we could have a slightly more in-depth look at the importance of the retrieve, how valuable it is to keep a youngster enthusiastic and how we can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with it. I’m going to make a list of some of the main reasons the retrieve goes wrong.

Bad breeding

Your gundog is not really from good working stock, it was born with very little natural desire to retrieve and would really rather be doing something else. This is obviously a fairly major problem and is prevented by ensuring you find a puppy that is from really good working lines that have a strong desire to retrieve. If you have made this mistake all is not lost: you could look at teaching your dog the trained retrieve and hope that he gets hooked into it, or you could train him as a beating or line dog; this may well be the perfect career for a non-retriever.


The puppy runs out to the retrieve full of enthusiasm, picks it up and then either runs off or baits you to chase it. Possession, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’ – he just does not want to give his prize to you. Most puppies will do this at some point during training, and some wait until the first time they get game in their mouths before trying it on.

As with all training, prevention is better than cure, and whatever you do, don’t get involved in a game of chase: the puppy will win and you will end up frustrated, angry and sweaty, which will only serve to compound the problem. If you make sure you have a puppy that is really keen to go for the retrieve, the rest is easy.

Spend time on the floor with him encouraging the puppy to want to sit quietly on your lap. Do this without any dummies; just drop down, cross your legs and let the puppy nest himself down between your legs. You can do this whilst you’re watching Eastenders. You are now multi-tasking, and not only are you able to keep right up to speed with the latest developments on the soaps, but this comfort bond is good for the relationship between you and the dog. This will be really important for the future and will do wonders for your stress levels. We want the puppy to rush to you for a cuddle every time he sees you drop to the floor; condition him to do this before you start to throw things for him to retrieve. Get this bit right and then, just like magic, if you throw something for him whilst he’s sat on your lap he will rush out, pick it up and come and plonk himself back in your lap. It really is that easy if you do things in the right order.

Lack of interest

You throw the dummy, the puppy rushes out to the fall and then shows no interest in picking up the dummy. Now there are lots of things that we could do to improve this, but the fundamental problem here is that he is just not interested. Usually the cure for this lies in the general day-to-day management of the dog. Too much stimulation from other sources is the usual cause. Are you taking the puppy on long walks because someone told you that you need to give the puppy loads of free running exercise? Is the puppy spending lots of time playing football, chase, hide and seek or digging up and eating snails (eating snails is bad for dogs and young boys) in the garden with your children? Or are you simply trying to do too many retrieves with the puppy?

All of this stuff is a difficult one to call and I for one am not going to tell you whether or not the puppy should be out playing football with your children, because that’s what pet dogs are for. But if you want to train your puppy to be a top-quality gundog then you are going to have to call a family meeting and convince them that you need their help and co-operation with his training. Unfortunately the odds are stacked against you!

Here’s an easy starting list of things you need to plan:

1. Plan to make the time that you spend with your dog short, sweet and exciting.

2. Ensure the puppy is not mentally or physically worn out by the time you get to him. Use his kennel, crate or dog room to keep him safe when you are unable to supervise him. This will also acclimatise the puppy to spending time on his own. This is not punishment. Leave the puppy with something to chew and make sure he is warm, dry and comfortable.

3. Allow him free time, but supervise it: keep him close, give him five minutes to do his business then either put him away or do some training with him.

4. Let him relax in a small garden or outside exercise area. Charging round your garden chasing your daughter’s guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens or blackbirds is not good. Playing with other dogs is good.

Words: Howard Kirby

Pictures: Rebecca Green