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Gun dog / family pet - what would you recommend?

(35 Posts)
eightytwenty Thu 17-Oct-13 17:30:12

I have agreed in principle to us getting a gun dog as my dh shoots during the season. However I would very much appreciate your advise about breed, timing and training...

About us - 3 dc, ds1 9 (scared of dogs), ds2 nearly 7 and dd1 nearly 3. I work from home most of the time so should be able to do do two short day time walls / 1 longer walk every day (the latter either over lunch or by dh before or after work). We have a large (for a city) garden and a park very close by.

What would you suggest in terms of:

- breed (dh thinking working cocker - but have read a few threads indicating they might not be the best breed for nervous kids & wonder whether they would need more exercise than we'd be looking to give)
- timing (I am saying not until dc3 is 4) - does that sound about right?
- training (dh wants it to be trained to the gun, which apparently takes a minimum of 12 weeks, so we'd miss the early puppy stage... But I'm not sure whether we'd get a dog that would then be house trained/ trained to the lead etc...

Neither of us have owned dogs before so want to do as much research as possible.


eightytwenty Wed 23-Oct-13 21:43:38

More brilliant information thank you.

It is rough shooting, with one weekend away where they go somewhere a bit smarter.

DramaAlpaca Mon 21-Oct-13 22:43:35

We have two working springers who are also house pets and trained to the lead. They are boisterous, but fine as long as they get lots of exercise, and they are good with children. I think our youngest was four when we got our first one.

DH does a lot of rough shooting, not organised shoots, and springers are perfect for this. We always get them as pups & they are firstly house trained, then given basic obedience training, and only when the dog has mastered this does he move on to specific gundog training. He doesn't start serious training to the gun until they are around two years of age, and he will take a young one out with an experienced one to help the young one learn. They are trained to whistles & hand signals. It is possible to teach this yourself very effectively using a book, consistency and a lot of patience.

I think the breed of dog you should get will depend on what type of shooting your DH will be doing. Springers are designed to flush game in the field and then bring it back to you, so are ideal for rough shooting. Labs, for example, are used more as retrievers during an organised shoot. Springers are better than cockers in really rough country (like where we live) as they have shorter ears & smoother hair - less likely to get tangled in briars!

Gorran Mon 21-Oct-13 22:23:39

Echo CrotchStitch. We have a lab (shock horror, a chocolate one - and she's shaping up to be a bloody good gundog, unheard of;-)) who is first and foremost a family pet, but my husband also shoots and just fancied gundog training. She's doing really well - but is only 18m and is yet to actually 'work' though has done scurries etc. Gundog training is very good fun if nothing else.

Ilovemydogandmydoglovesme Sun 20-Oct-13 17:41:51

Just rereading my post and I didn't make it clear that yes, you can start basic training as soon as possible but your dog won't be ready to work until it's a couple of years old. Sorry for any confusion.

CrotchStitch Sat 19-Oct-13 23:33:31

Oh also if you are planning on using the local park this will be entirely unsuitable for training a gundog puppy. You will need access to the sort of land the puppy will be expected to work on. Would your husband have the opportunity to use the syndicate land for training out of season?

CrotchStitch Sat 19-Oct-13 23:30:42

Some good advice given but some quite frankly dodgy advice as well IMO....
Your DH shoots in a syndicate and wants a gundog? Is this as a beating dog that can also pick up or a peg dog to retrieve only? In other words does he beat one drive and shoot the next or is he shooting all day and then beating another?
What and where does he shoot? Some breeds are unsuitable for certain terrains and shoots (I would love a pointer but our shoots have dense terrain and are too small for the long ranging hunting that a pointer is bred for so sadly, no pointers for me sad)
As mentioned above a working dog will not enter the field until a year old at the bare minimum. Our cockers learn from each other and are from good working lines so really need pointing in the right direction and polishing WRT what we require of them, the basics are already there but it still takes a lot if work to get to a point where you can trust them.
Sending a dog away is a mighty costly procedure an frankly only works if the handler has a good understanding of their dog in the first place as well as the willingness to listen to and learn from the trainer. Quite frankly unless you are filthy rich or require a dog to work impeccably at trials or one of the big prestigious shoots you are better buying several good books, going to regular training classes and having a crack at training the dog yourself with the occasional help of a professional trainer or club when appropriate.

As others have pointed out your situation is not ideal for the type of dog ownership you are proposing. Had you and DH considered having a pet dog that you then trained to accompany him on shoot days? IME this leads to a lot less pressure on you all (the dog included) means the dog is a family pet first and foremost and a gundog in the season. Quite frankly the number of days your DH would be able to shoot as a syndicate member is so small that having a designated gundog seems a little like overkill to me. Even show bred dogs with good training can make quite reasonable gundogs for someone in your DHs position.

Gingersstuff Fri 18-Oct-13 11:31:41

Does your husband work, OP, or will he have lots of spare time to work/train the dog? Because on re-reading your OP and seeing that you've never owned a dog before, I'm now thinking that:
working from home + 3 small kids (one of whom you will have to put a lot of work into to get over his fear of dogs) + new dog owner + plus high-maintainence working gun dog + city = a bit of a disaster really.
Honestly, any new dog owner - just pets, mind, not for working - always, ALWAYS underestimates how much work a puppy/young dog/rescue/any dog can be. It is seriously like having another baby on some ways. I would seriously have a good think about whether you can cope/have the time for this much upheaval. If it were me, I'd be going for a much more gentle intro to dog owning than the one you're currently planning.

Awks Fri 18-Oct-13 09:58:34

We've had 2 working cockers and our second one, Jarvis is nearly 5 months. Both our dogs have been gorgeous. Friendly, chilled, fun-loving. I think they are perfect family dogs. Our first one didnt make the grade as a gundog and we adopted him after that .

I work from home too and both dogs have been brilliant company. ours has 1 long off lead run a day and 1 on lead half hour walk (off lead if its not dark).

eightytwenty Fri 18-Oct-13 07:55:19

Not near the a3 sadly.

Had wondered about whether I could incorporate my exercise into the dogs exercise. I run and cycle, though the latter always looks terrifying for the rider and the dog (I even saw some crazy guy on a busy road with his dog attached to a lead!).

Guessing garden will be more for morning and night toileting than having a real run around.

blue2 Thu 17-Oct-13 22:43:23

Where are you based eighty? i would strongly suggest you train the dog yourself with a trainer, and not send it off for months to another trainer. It costs a bomb, and I've heard of some real disasters....

If you can get to Ripley, just off the A3, then I know just the lady for you. She'll train you (not the dog!!) on basic obedience up to one year old, then start to specialise in the gun dog side of things.

FWIW, we have a working cocker who is now 7. I guess it wasn't until she was about 3 that I felt confident working her, so its a long time to wait and to train. We let things slide in the summer, and about August, I start to walk her further and with the whistle etc

Look carefully into the background of any puppy - lots of ancestral Field Trial Champions in their bloodline will help. You need a dog whose marbles are in the right orbit from the word 'go'.

Vibbe Thu 17-Oct-13 22:36:14

My dad used to go hunting and has a working spaniel - she's 7 now.

My parents live in a city with large gardens - but the dog is hardly ever in the gardens. When she needs to go out, my parents will take her for a walk - to let her read the newspaper as my dad always said.

Exercise is and always has been a couple of hours a day. My dad goes to a local park to train retrieving. He takes her to the beach to retrieve in water. Cycles with her running next to the bike. Goes to different fields and areas where they do all kinds of training.
When my dad was hunting, there would be more due to the hunts.
She's been needing her walks every 6-8 hours, then the exercise on top.
On hunts, she'll be flushing and retrieving.

On top of the daily walks and exercise there's been the training and classes and all that. He got her as a puppy as that was what his hunting friends recommended. I think he enjoyed doing the training himself - he was so proud when he came home after the trials/tests.

She's a lovely dog who's always been treated as a family pet. She lives in the house and she wants to have her paw held when my dad's watching tv in the evening.
She's good with people, kids and other dogs.

She has run away once, but came back after 15-20 minutes. She's generally a velcro dog, so sticks to my dad's side.

Both of my parents work, and all kids have grown up and moved out. And they still find it hard to find time and energy for the dog. She will not just entertain herself in the garden and come in being ready for bed. If not exercised well, she'll find old newspapers and shred them into little pieces, take her food bowl, drag it into the living room and empty it on the floor, or just try to dig holes in the carpets. Or wander around the house like a ghost with nowhere to go.
My brother - who loves dogs and is used to having a dog - cannot dog sit her as he gets so stressed about her not being able to chill. I absolutely love the dog, but she is difficult, especially if not exercised enough.

I have a show cocker spaniel, and they've been dog sitting her for a couple of weeks. They were shocked that the energy levels of the two dogs are so different - my dog is much easier.
Personally, I wouldn't get a working dog unless I really had to - they really are a lot of work.

eightytwenty Thu 17-Oct-13 22:30:47

Gosh thanks for all the responses. Will need to print them out so I can digest fully.

I am a total ignoramus which is exactly why I want to do some research to make sure that the dog is right for us, that we are right for the dog and that we do the right thing by it.

Dh is on a syndicate for a walked up shoot - hence flushing birds out is important. But he also says that he would enjoy the working and training of the dog. He has some experience of working with friends dogs on shoots and has started his research into which trainers / how it works. Friends bought fully trained dogs but I didn't realise that they didn't start training immediately.

Being "trained to the gun" means (I think) a dog that obeys a set of specific whistles/ hand gestures to flush out birds from the ground cover or to retrieve them once shot.

We were offered a puppy from a perfect lab (with strong gun heritage) a few years ago but the timing wasn't right. We do want to be responsible.

Your points about exercising out of season is absolutely noted.

Don't think I've ever had so many responses to any of my posts before, and wasn't sure if I'd find anyone who even knew about this so am most grateful for all the suggestions!

And welcome more if anyone else has anything to add...

Ilovemydogandmydoglovesme Thu 17-Oct-13 22:03:45

Some people say pet dogs don't make good gun dogs because they're too used to you and they don't have the same keen desire to please that outdoor dogs have.

In my experience this is rubbish. My dog lives indoors with us and he's great. grin

frogwatcher42 Thu 17-Oct-13 21:54:10

I think a working dog can also be a family dog - certainly in my experience they can be.

There just have to be rules in place such as no pulling on things from the mouth during play etc. Keeping discipline all of the time - even when being played with by children such as making sit and wait before picking up a ball and fetching to a defined command.

A calm sensible breed would be best - you don't need a high energy dog if it is a gun dog and not a beating dog. If the dog stands with you while you shoot and then just retrieves (and beaters do the flushing out!) then it doesn't need huge levels of fitness. Two or three decent walks a day for an hour or so would surely be fine.

adriennemole Thu 17-Oct-13 21:46:55

We picked up our gorgeous 8 week old flat coated retriever puppy this week smile Her mum is a working gun dog.

daisydotandgertie Thu 17-Oct-13 20:55:55

In the nicest possible way, I don't think your DH has much of a clue about owning a dog which works.

I have Labradors and all are worked - we pick up during the shooting season. How much shooting does your DH do and what type? That will have a huge bearing on the breed of dog to choose.

A someone has said up thread, gundog training starts properly once rock solid obedience has been taught. Not a from puppyhood. You will have your dog at home from eight weeks old and you will have to train it to start with. Puppy training can be slanted towards the eventual skills a dog will need, but certainly obedience is the foundation stone of gundog work and is vital.

Many trainers will take your dog to teach it to work, but IME, the dog KNOWS what to do already. It has been bred for it after all. It's the owner who needs to learn how to operate the dog and the bond a handler develops with their dog while they train is invaluable. There is the option to buy a fully trained older dog, which means chucking money at it, and I don't think that is a terribly sensible route for a first time owner - a bit like a new driver buying a Ferrari.

In terms of a working dog living with a family and fitness levels I don't think that is such an issue. Mine have anywhere between one and two hours walking a day and I do build up their stamina for the season, but it's easy tbh.

TooOldForGlitter Thu 17-Oct-13 20:33:38

Can I ask what 'trained to the gun' means? No reason im just nosey interested.

Ilovemydogandmydoglovesme Thu 17-Oct-13 19:25:39

I have a working cocker. He is a nice size for the house and a very clever little dog in the field.

All this waiting till they're older nonsense is not good though. I've seen too many lovely dogs spoiled by letting them pick up lazy habits and then expecting them to be able to train and work. In my experience they need to start the basics as soon as they're physically able. A little bit of walking to heel, staying put, waiting for the command, basic obedience really and them you can move onto retrieving by sight, then looking for the retrieve, and directed retrieves. Then you can move onto distance control etc. and getting them used to loud bangs!

Gun dog work is very disciplined. No one wants a loopy dog that won't sit still, runs about, picks up other guns birds and plays with them. There is actually quite a lot of work involved in owning and training a gun dog, and it is all year round. You can't have it as a pet for eight months of the year and then expect to be able to take it out occasionally and it obey your every command.

That said, it is a very rewarding hobby. I love watching the dogs work on the shoots. But it is all year round, you will have to find some way of working your dog and keep his training up all the time. Even if you can't work him you can still take him out for a couple of hours for some dummy retrieval.

I thoroughly recommend it if you've got the time. Just make sure you find a recommended trainer, they are worth their weight in gold.

ihatethecold Thu 17-Oct-13 19:10:23

I have a vizsla who is 8 months old now, he was very easy to train and has a fantastic temperament but he is lively and needs lots of exercise
He gets 3 long walks a day. Spends a lot of it flushing out pheasants and rabbits.

You really do need the time.

Brilliant around kids, he is very popular when I take my dd10 to school everyday.

MissMarplesBloomers Thu 17-Oct-13 18:24:12

<Looks at Highly Intelligent Goldie>


Blonde, gorgeous,excellent family model, trains well (mostly) but she only has 2 brain cells & they only synapse occasionally.

I walk dogs (so no expert but have all sorts) & would say lab all the way if you want to train to the gun, if you can get them from puppy.

CMOTDibbler Thu 17-Oct-13 18:20:28

Where we live currently, theres a lot of people with gun dogs. And I really don't think that living in the city, 3 children, and working is a good combination thats going to work for anyone.
A gun dog, by nature, needs a lot of mental stimulation and training plus a great deal of physical exercise. And those that don't get it develop a lot of issues

GandalfsPointyHat Thu 17-Oct-13 18:19:15


We were/are looking into getting a GR, I have spoken to Dawn from Gaytonwood Gundogs (near Northampton) great advice, very friendly and approachable, give her a ring, google for their website.


BCBG Thu 17-Oct-13 18:14:03

In my first sentence I meant 'as opposed to a working breed simply kept as a pet..' sorry for any confusion

BCBG Thu 17-Oct-13 18:12:38

Not sure a city garden and a dh who shoots in season is compatible with owning a trained gun dog (as opposed to a working breed like labrador, working cocker etc). TotallyBursar is spot on - the fitness regime in the winter is essential for the dog to be able to work without injury. But in any case - meant in the politest possible way - I think that you and your Dh need to learn a little more about what it means to work a dog before trying to take one on. For a start, 'training to the gun' will not start in earnest until the dog is fully grown so around a year old. The dog will then be taken on by an experienced trainer for a number of weeks before your Dh joins the trainer to learn how to work his dog. Thereafter, the dog can be taken to shoots but it will take a lot of practiced, steady handling before your dog can flush or retrieve reliably and is steady in company. It takes a long time to train a dog well; the early training is just the initial groundwork. Incidentally, my dogs are steady and reliable workers, but they would hate the environment of a large urban park as they are used to flushing and searching.

You have three DCs who are also time consuming, and a working breed puppy will be equally demanding, if not more so for the first few months. In terms of breed I would recommend a labrador but find the best breeder you can - don't just buy blind from small ads. Labradors are great family dogs, 100% with children, are good dual purpose (i.e pet/working) dogs, and rarely if ever hyper. Their downsides are a tendency to shed and to be greedy.

I would suggest a Labrador - they have the nicest natures of any dog I know (which could help with the ds who is nervous around dogs). Lab-pointer crosses are supposed to be very good working/gun dogs - they have the soft mouths and lovely nature of the lab, with the speed, agility and intelligence of pointers.

We have a lab and a lab-pointer cross (both pets, not gun dogs), and they are both lovely family pets. The lab is a brown lab, and therefore not very bright, so I think she would make a useless working dog!

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