Training gun dogs and spending time out with them is one of the biggest joys of a day’s shooting. Having the right dog by your side that’s been well trained will always make a memorable hunt. However, not all breeds make effective gun dogs. But there are many dogs that can be trained up to make great hunting buddies and fantastic family pets.
Gun dogs are a type of dog that have long helped hunters to find and retrieve game, usually birds or rabbits. Trained gun dogs play an important part in ensuring a successful hunt.
Which dogs are most suited for hunting?
Gun dogs have been bred to assist in retrieving game for the table. They do this in different ways. Some find game that has been shot. Meanwhile other gun dog breeds specialise in finding live game and flushing it out for the gun. Others do a combination of these roles. There are a number of hunting dog breeds that make excellent gun dogs.
Here are five of the most popular:
The Springer Spaniel
For many people, the Springer Spaniel is the ideal gun dog and perfect for anyone who needs an all-rounder. This fun but hardy breed ticks all the requirements for gun dogs. It’s a natural hunter and retriever and enjoys working in cover and water. It has long been the go-to breed for hunting.
The Cocker Spaniel
The Springer Spaniel faces competition from the working Cocker Spaniel. Just like the Springer, it’s speedy, with boundless energy and always willing to please and its small size can come in very useful, especially when it comes to fitting through small holes in fences. These dogs are full of character and very loving, making them great family pets too.
The Labrador Retriever
Most retrievers make fantastic hunting dogs. But the Labrador Retriever might just rank the highest. Their endless energy combined with a cold-weather coat and an eagerness to do anything to retrieve your kill for you, makes them an appealing gun dog. The Labrador Retriever is great for any type of small game. Just make sure your lab doesn’t eat the bird themselves if feeling hungry.
The Golden Retriever
Another popular retriever breed, Golden Retrievers are very popular family dogs but also make fantastic small-game hunters. These high energy pups are a perfect breed for running around with the children while also doubling as a great hunting companion for the parents.
The Pointer’s thin coat makes it not so effective at hunting big game in cooler temperatures. But during warmer weather, this sporting breed is the perfect companion for finding and bagging game birds across a wide shooting field. There are a number of pointer breeds that all make great gun dogs, such as the English Pointer, the German Shorthaired Pointer and the German Wirehaired Pointer.
How to train gun dogs?
Gun dogs by nature love to run after and retrieve toys. They like to follow scent trails and find hidden objects. Gun dog training sessions can be a lot of fun and as these dogs are bright and reactive, they are among the easiest dogs to teach. Training is about getting across clear instructions that are so definite and clearly understood that they are followed without hesitation.
Training a puppy for hunting
Formal gun dog training can begin when a puppy is around seven months old. But from the first day of having the puppy you should be establishing a partnership and rapport with the dog. Within the first six months you should focus on building up a close relationship with the dog so that all they want to do is be with you. They must also learn good manners, be responsive to you and trust you completely.
Learning to retrieve
Puppies that have established a strong bond with their owner and given the chance to retrieve, will generally be proud to come back to return the prize to their owner. They’ve returned to you because they are doing what they were essentially bred to do and you are the reason they are doing it. Retrieving should be honed into the skills of game finding, skilful retrieving and delivering.
Using the stop whistle
Getting a young dog to start responding to a whistle is important in early training. Don’t expect a pup to stop instantly when you blow the whistle. But you do want to be able to attract their attention with the whistle. This is how you will establish the first stages of establishing control and the basis of being able to regain control if things were to go wrong.
Can gun dogs make good family pets?
Gun dogs are social creatures and love playing with their human family. But they are often very happy to entertain themselves. Particularly with a chew toy or spending hours happily investigating smells in the garden. They generally get along with other dogs and cats in the household. They are typically full of life and love being outside but also spending time with their family and will greet guests with great enthusiasm and even bringing them gifts of a toy or soggy slipper.
The importance of gun dogs in hunting
Gun dogs have a crucial role in hunting and have long been used to catch and retrieve game for our table. Having the right dog by your side will make a memorable and successful hunt. But while they may disciplined and highly-trained hunters and retrievers, these dogs are also loving and playful animals that make wonderful family pets.
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