Over the centuries man has learnt to harness the natural instincts of the dog to hunt and work in a pack to his advantage.
Today we enjoy this team work in the sporting field using the following skills of our animals:-
- Hunting or ‘ flushing out ‘ the game.
- Picking up and retrieving the shot game to the handler.
- Hunting, then pointing out, flushing and retrieving all in one.
All of these skills are needed when attending both a formal shoot, where the dogs have to either work in a beating line to flush out the game or sit behind the guns to pick up the shot game. Alternatively whilst on a rough shoot, or walk up day, hey will use all the same skills.
Whilst I believe it is difficult to pigeon hole the types of breeds of dog and their ability, I will endeavour to illustrate the various breeds and their main uses.
The various spaniel breeds are known for their energy and instinct to hunt, working at great pace with noses to the ground, quartering in front of the handler through the toughest of ground cover. They will often seek out hidden game which would otherwise be undetected.
For the rough shooter who has to work to reveal his game or the beater who needs to flush game over the guns, there is probably no other breed equal to the spaniel.
The English Springer Spaniel comes in a variety of colours:-
Black and White, Liver and White or sometimes Tan.
They are highly active with an outgoing personality and if obtained from a good working line, are extremely trainable, giving them the versatility to be used also as a picking up dog.
The Cocker Spaniel comes also in a variety of colours.
They tend to be smaller than the ESS and some might say like a jack in the box on Ever Ready batteries. Their energy is boundless, but channelled well produces a hard working animal with flare and style when working in thick cover.
Perhaps not for the novice handler as training is notoriously hard. You cannot be too harsh on this breed as they are quite sensitive and they will definitely try your patience! However a well-trained cocker is a joy to work with in the field.
The Sprocker Spaniel in recent years has become a popular working dog.
A cross between the Springer and cocker spaniel it is not recognised by the Kennel Club and therefore cannot be entered into Kennel Club working or Field Trial tests. However, it is an excellent working gun dog with the same qualities as its cross breeding.
The Lesser known Welsh Springer has over the years been bred for its showing so they are not seen as much. There are however, a handful of dedicated breeders who still work them.
The Work Clumbers are again not seen as much. A strong dog who will work all day but lacks the drive and energy of the favourable springer or cocker.
Trained to sit next to the handler and wait until commanded to retrieve shot game.
The Labrador Retriever can be Yellow, Black, Red Fox and Chocolate in colour. I believe the past reputation of the Chocolate Labrador being unsteady is unfounded, as long as correct training begins at the start.
A short coated strong dog capable of carrying large game. They have a thick coat with a down beneath suitable for protection when working in water.
The Golden Retriever is also used. However, their long coats are a definite disadvantage when working in muddy fields and thick cover.
As a breed they are slow to mature, so a lot of patient training is required.
The Flat Coated Retriever is mainly Black in colour.
Not often seen on shoots as they tend to work slower and more methodically than the Labrador.
Having said that, I have a client who runs a Flat Coat on the picking up line and she can hold her own against the others. Once again it depends on the training the individual dog has been given and the amount of time committed to the dog.
POINTERS AND SETTERS
The English Pointers and Setters are mainly used on Grouse moorland where the dogs need to search for game over many acres of land. Hence they are long legged dogs capable of ranging out from the handler. Once game is found, they are trained to stand on point until the handler arrives who then commands the dog to flush the game so a shot can be taken.
They don’t tend to retrieve the game.
H.P.R BREEDS – Hunt, point and Retrieve
These dogs are trained like the pointers to hunt and point out game but in addition will also retrieve.
Examples of the H.P.R. breeds used are:-
Hungarian Vizla, Weimaraners, German short haired Pointers, German Wire haired Pointers, The Long Munsterlander, Brittany Spaniel and the Italian Spinone.
All of these breeds are genetically built to range from the handler so training is very different and not suitable for someone looking for a working dog to support them in say a walked up shoot day.
In conclusion on a personal level, it is my belief that dogs are individuals with very different personalities, even within the breeds. Some are more versatile than others and adapt to doing a variety of tasks. It is all about the training. I myself have two Springer Spaniels, both of the same parentage. One is intelligent, steady and strong. The other is fast, flighty and sensitive.
However, I can achieve the same level of ability with both of them because I adapted my training according to their individual needs.
The misconception that a working dog should be kept in kennels and not treated like a family pet is so untrue. Dogs are social pack animals who look to the pack leader (the Owner) for guidance.
Involving your dog in family life helps you to understand their personality and builds a strong bond which you then take out into the working field.
A happy and well-adjusted dog will work loyally for you, far better than one who is kept out in kennels and bought out only to go working.