Gundogs

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Introduction

Your dog is this type if he:
Has a great willingness run and retrieve balls and thrown toys. He loves water and swimming, is keen to follow scent trails and has a willingness to go searching for objects hidden around the home and garden. He also enjoys holding and carrying soft toys (often presented to owners and visitors at greetings), and loves playing with food-dispensing toys. He is especially quick to respond to reward-based training when food is used.

Exercise and play

Gundogs were bred to work with human hunters – to indicate game (the setters), to flush it out from undergrowth (the spaniels), and to retrieve it (the retrievers). Of course, it made sense if the dogs could perform several functions, so some breeds have been developed to fulfil several roles – for example, spaniels flushing and then retrieving shot game. The breeds in mainland Europe were especially adept at multi-tasking, developed to hunt, point and retrieve (e.g. Hungarian Vizsla, German Pointer, Large Munsterlander, Italian Spinone and the Weimaraner).

 

Developed to work in the field all day in all weathers, Gundogs are tireless and love the great outdoors. Cold, wet weather will usually not deter them from wanting a good romp in the countryside, so they need active owners who are prepared to exercise them every day without fail. Good-quality weather-proof walking gear is therefore a must. They also need lots of mental as well as physical challenges, and thrive on human companionship.

Exercise should be varied and include on-leash walking in towns and along footpaths, and plenty of free-running and off-leash exploration in safe areas such as dog-friendly beaches, woods, rivers, fields etc. Country dogs at heart, Gundogs love to investigate scents, flush wildlife and chase it, so training, especially recall, is vital. They often enjoy water, so remember to take dog towels with you in the car when driving to walks near lakes, rivers, ponds or even muddy puddles, or your car will smell of damp dog forever.

If your dog enjoys water, then a child's paddling pool (preferably a hard plastic one rather than an inflatable) can provide a domestic outlet. Throwing floating toys in the pool for him to recover, or even just letting him lie down, splash around and cool himself off is great fun on a warm day. The pool should be shallow and all play should be supervised.

Independent play

Gundogs are highly social and love playing with either their human family or other friendly dogs, but they are also happy to amuse themselves when necessary, especially if food-dispensing toys and chews are involved, and will happily investigate new scents from passing wildlife in the garden for hours.

Many Gundogs love their food; indeed all food, everywhere, at all times. So be careful not to let them become obsessed with sniffing out possible food sources and scavenging wherever they can. Ensuring that waste bins are locked or out of reach is essential, as a food-obsessed Gundog will happily eat anything vaguely edible, however rotten. You can direct these dogs’ foraging instincts to less distasteful outlets by filling treat-dispensing toys that they have to roll, paw and nudge for their rewards. The harder they have to work the better, as they are unlikely to give up easily if there is food inside. Intelligence-testing puzzle toys where the dog has to work out how to get to a treat by moving certain blocks, will also be a good, time-consuming option.

When relaxing, Gundogs like to lie in the garden or in a comfortable bed inside the house and gnaw a chew-toy. Carrying around a soft toy and cuddling up with it to snooze is also a favourite, particularly with breeds with soft mouths used for retrieving. Rope toys are also great fun for these dogs both for playing with their owners and other dogs.

Play with owner

Gundogs love to work and play with their human family and friends and, provided they are socialised and trained properly, usually make fabulous family dogs with people of all ages.

Playing fetch games will be hugely appreciated after 16 weeks of age or thereabouts, when the genetic motor patterns of retrieval fully kick in. In fact, it is an essential part of good care for Gundogs to teach and then encourage them to find and retrieve things regularly on demand in a variety of environments, including water. Once they are retrieving thrown items reliably, vary the game by throwing items when they are not looking, forcing them to seek out the item using their senses. This is a great skill to have if you drop your keys on a walk, or a child loses a toy or an item of clothing. You can also show your dog how to play ‘hide and seek’ on walks and ask him to find a member of the family who has first run off and hidden behind a tree or rock. Children love this game – almost as much as dogs.

In wet weather, when free access to the garden might be limited, hide objects around the house for your Gundog to find. Put treat toys behind furniture when he isn’t looking and then ask him to go and find his toy. Gentle fetch games with soft items that won’t cause damage if thrown can be played indoors, and, as your dog’s repertoire grows, you can also ask him to bring you an increasing number of named items – for example, the post, your slippers, the TV remote control or your handbag.

Gundogs love learning tricks. Since they are usually so social and food-motivated, they will learn to do whatever it takes to win praise and a treat.

A canine hobby sport is very much recommended for this type of dog if he isn’t regularly employed as a working Gundog, something beyond basic obedience training and which will satisfy your dog’s need for mental and physical exercise. Recommended sports include agility (an obstacle course for dogs), competitive obedience, heelwork to music (dancing with your dog), rally-O (a fun obedience course), or flyball (a relay race over jumps, triggering and catching a tennis ball and returning back to the start for the next dog to start the run). Some dogs in this group also enjoy Canicross too.

Emotional bonding

Gundogs are people dogs. It is no surprise that the majority of assistance dogs around the world are Gundogs or Gundog crosses – they love humans and are highly trainable and eager to please.

Not surprisingly, these dogs form very close relationships with their human family and do not like being separated from them for too long. Your dog will enjoy lying at your feet in the evening, and loves it best if he can rest in direct physical contact with you, including, if you allow it, lying on the sofa next to you with his head on your lap. He will also enjoy a chew to occupy his jaws and if you give him a rubber toy stuffed with goodies that he has to lick, chew and bite to get at, he will be especially happy.

Gundogs are usually very attentive, and will follow you from room to room just to stay in your company. Many breeds in this group are very demonstrative, wagging their tails excitedly when you return from being away, even if you’ve only been outside for a couple of minutes to fetch some shopping from the car. If you think this effusive, energetic, constant adoration might annoy you, perhaps a dog from a more independent group, such as Sighthounds, would suit you better.

A small downside to all this wonderful sociability is that Gundogs often jump up to get your attention. Training from early puppyhood, with consistency between all family members and visitors, is therefore essential to prevent this behaviour and make all greetings more civilised and safer before the dog grows into a larger, heavier adult.

Gundogs need to be part of all aspects of family life, not just walks and playtimes. Fortunately, they are highly trainable, so make well-socialised, well-trained and good-mannered adult pets who will be manageable in all situations. Being left at home will make them miserable, especially if they feel they’re missing out, so train your Gundog how to behave and you’ll be able to take him just about everywhere.

For those times when you can’t, it is important to ensure your dog can cope with being left alone. Accustom him to short periods of solitude from as early an age as possible, separating yourself from him in another room from time to time even when you are in the house.

Provide a comfy, den-like, indoor kennel (sometimes called a dog crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a favourite toy on his own. Put an old, worn jumper or T-shirt in with his bedding to act as a comfort; it should smell of you, so something from the laundry basket is preferable to a fresh, clean item of clothing. You could also install a plug-in pheromone diffuser for added reassurance, available from your vet or better pet stores. These allegedly release synthetic ‘appeasing pheromones’, which are said to mimic those given off by a mother dog when suckling her pups to calm and comfort them. Always exercise your dog before you need to leave him alone in the house so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and then hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and work on to keep himself busy while you are away.

Dogs in this group usually have short or medium-length water-resistant coats, but the group also includes some significant shedders. Regular grooming will help to remove dead hair from your dog’s coat before it is shed on your floors, clothes and furniture, and will also enable you to check your dog for briars in his fur or changes to his body, skin or coat. Touch is important to this type of dog, and grooming, stroking and gently massaging him will be very relaxing and strengthen the bond between you. Getting him used to being touched all over from puppyhood ensures he will view grooming as an enjoyable experience. It will also make it a lot easier to towel him down after a leap into a lake or a particularly wet, muddy walk.

Gundogs are usually sociable with other dogs and cats in the family, provided they have been socialised and introduced to them from a young age. Outside of the family, they are usually full of life and love, greeting guests with enthusiasm and often showing how welcome they are by bringing them a gift of a soggy slipper or a toy. They will also usually make lots of dog friends on walks.

Nutrition and health

Many Gundogs are in the ‘live to eat’ rather than ‘eat to live’ category. Given their daily food allocation in one sitting, they will usually bolt it down in seconds, meaning that the highlight of their day will be over and they will be waiting a long, long time for the next day’s meal. It makes sense, therefore to spread your dog’s measured daily ration out so he has several ‘highlights’ throughout each day. 

Twice a day, scatter 20% of his food in the garden for him to nose out. This will take him far longer to find than if it were all delivered in a bowl and he will use his foraging skills to great effect and enjoyment. Another 30% can be put in treat-dispensing toys throughout the day or hidden for him to find in the house and garden. About 10% can be used as training treats, and the remaining 20% can be split into two meals and presented in a bowl, morning and evening, so he sees you as his parental food provider. You can even make him earn this, though, by training him to fetch his bowl for you.

Key Facts: Gundogs

Your dog is this type if he:
Has a great willingness run and retrieve balls and thrown toys. He loves water and swimming, is keen to follow scent trails and has a willingness to go searching for objects hidden around the home and garden. He also enjoys holding and carrying soft toys (often presented to owners and visitors at greetings), and loves playing with food-dispensing toys. He is especially quick to respond to reward-based training when food is used.

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