This week’s epic podcast focuses on a couple of myths about gundog breeds. Joanne Perrot, founder of The Ladies Working Dog Group, is joined by Claire Denyer of Family Dog Services, Jemma Martin of Whistle and Wag Dog Training and Samantha Thorneycroft-Taylor of Languedoc Gundogs.

There’s a very commonplace saying in the gundog world; “Labrador’s are born half trained, and Spaniel’s leave the world half trained”. If you’re the proud owner of either of these fabulous breeds I’m almost sure that you’ll be nodding along.. or will you..?

How it started.

When the saying came about, and even up until 10-15 years ago, the saying held a lot of truth – Labrador’s, certainly from working stock, were incredibly biddable, reliable, focused and eager to both learn and please.

There were three distinctive ‘types’ of Labrador; the show line, the working line and the trialling line, each bred for a specific purpose and job role.

Spaniel’s were generally higher energy, leaning towards fizzy, always on the go but they too had a willingness to do the job – just at 100 miles an hour!

A spaniel’s ‘type’ was fairly easily discernible by their stature; if we look at the Springer Spaniel for a moment, those from working stock tended to look stockier and well built across the shoulder with a fairly heavy set hind quarters giving them the stamina to easily work a full day on the beating line. The trialling Springer was often a leaner and leggier looking dog, built for speed and flashiness, often working in shorter bursts.

A Cocker Spaniel, of working pedigree, was not too dissimilar in stature from that of a working Springer, just a little smaller – let’s not forget that originally, the way to distinguish a Cocker and a Springer was the overall size (the Cocker was smaller).

Let’s delve a bit deeper..

In recent years those ‘types’ and the lines in the pedigrees have somewhat merged. The working and trialling line Labrador have, for a large part, become one which has led to a leaner looking dog with a much finer head and body structure.

There are still dogs available that are more like their predecessors but it can be a tricky task to find them at times.

The original ‘heavy set, solid’ Springer Spaniel are very few and far between now, with the majority being more akin to an ice skater than a rugby player. They usually have slightly longer legs, a finer waistline and a more delicate looking head (believe it or not, especially when you’ve witnessed them crashing through heavy undergrowth with eagerness to locate and flush, or retrieve, game).

When looking at the working lines of the Cocker Spaniel we have witnessed several changes, the most noticeable being when they became much much smaller – some almost the same size as a large pheasant. More recently still they have seemingly increased in size again but not to anywhere near the same degree as before.

And it doesn’t stop there. It’s not only the appearance of our dog’s that has changed – their mentality has too and many of our beloved companions these days are more spritely, highly driven, more hard-wired to perform a job role and to perform it well.

If we believed Spaniel’s to be fizzy in previous generations, nowadays they can be like a crate of champagne that’s just experienced an earthquake!

The first thing to consider is your ‘end goal’ for your puppy; are you looking for

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So what should we consider when looking for a puppy?

a family pet that may accompany you on a handful of days during the shooting season, or are you needing a full time shoot companion working several days a week for almost half of the year?

Next should be being totally honest about your own experience and abilities when it comes to training your new puppy through its first formative weeks/months right through to it’s adult life.

If you are looking for the former then a puppy with a very red five generation pedigree (the red depicting Field Trial Winners and Field Trial Champions), is unfortunately probably not the right fit. A calmer, home bred puppy is far more likely to fulfill your dreams and bring you a better partnership.

A more experienced owner with a desire to work their dog frequently, or to bring them on to trial standard may find a home bred dog a little lacking in the that special ‘something’ and so should understandably be seeking out that aforementioned red pedigree – this, more often than not, brings a pacey, flashy dog that will compliment the job role well.

Wrong dog in the wrong home?

Some of, what are frequently deemed as, ‘behavioural problems’ in dogs nowadays can be attributed to the dog in question not getting adequate fulfilment of it’s genetic instincts. An ‘out of control’ spaniel that never settles, shreds everything in sight, and does laps of the living room furniture could well be frustrated and lacking in purpose.

That’s not to say that an owner is purposefully doing a disservice to their family member, but perhaps that an initial lack of understanding about what the breed, and the lines within that breed, actually need to keep them sane, sensible, and satiated.

Final Thoughts…

Be sure to research your breed of choice thoroughly, and the varying lineages within that breed before falling in love with your potential next puppy.

Consider your own experience, along with your support network, your access to trainer’s, and how much time you’re going to be able to dedicate to the training of your puppy, your adolescent dog, and your adult dog.

Do remember however that every dog is unique and there will always be exceptions to the rule; not every Collie will be driven to work livestock, just as there may be a pup in a field trial bred litter who is unexpectedly laid back and more than happy to slouch in-front of the log fire for several hours a day, rather than join his siblings out in the working environment.

Whatever you get, have fun and enjoy your time together; learning, working, and nurturing the most rewarding partnership.


What’s Your Gundog Goddess Style?

Who’s ready for some extra fun? Discover your unique approach to training with our “Which Gundog Goddess Are You?” quiz. You don’t want to miss this one

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