This week brings an amazing podcast that’s well worth a listen by all dog owners, not just gundog owners.Emma Liddell (our LWDG Mindset Coach) joins Joanne Perrot, founder of the Ladies Working Dog Group, to discuss the purpose of a dog.
Diving Straight In
So, when we ask “what is my dog’s purpose?”, we’re not asking what is the point of your dog – we’re looking at what you and your dog need to do in order to feel fulfilled..
Today’s working dogs are often multi-purpose; they’re both a valued member of the team on the shoot field, and a cherished member of the family within the home.
There is also a long list of purposes, or job roles, that we may wish our dogs to perform. These range from a gamekeeper’s right hand ‘man’, a beating dog, a picking up dog, or a peg dog right through to being a service dog, a medical dog, a search & rescue dog, a livestock dog, or a protection dog.
Expectation Vs Reality
When looking for a puppy to train for working within the shooting environment, you will likely have a preferred breed in mind, you’ll have an understanding of that breeds innate behaviours, be looking for a litter from parents whom have working experience, and might even be lucky enough to have met (and seen) at least one of those parents working on your local shoot.
We often go into (gun)dog ownership with a load of expectations, we expect that our dogs will:
• Be incredibly well trained
• Have good manners
• Ignore distractions
• Walk nicely on a lead
• Fulfil the job-role of working on a shoot
However, this doesn’t always go to plan!
Training takes time..
Every dog must be trained at a pace that works for them; rush through things and the foundations won’t be solid enough, go too slowly and the dog becomes under-stimulated.
Sometimes through lack of education and sometimes from being a particularly spirited individual, dogs are not always naturally born good mannered – they won’t mean any malice by jumping all over you with muddy paws, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
Not many dogs are born knowing how to walk politely on a lead, and heelwork is a frequent cause of anguish for many dog owners. Once mastered, this skill is one to keep for life!
Then, once all of the foundational training has been implemented, it’s time to further the education and move onto more job specific training – and, sadly, not all gundog bred puppies have the drive of their family members so you’re expectations of having a working gundog, and the reality a couple of years later may not match..
Emma Liddell tells of how she’d always dreamed of working a gundog with her bird of prey so when she was able to offer a home to her first rescue dog she jumped at the chance.
When the time came to introduce the bird and the dog, it quickly became clear that her hawk did not like her dog, and that them working together in partnership was unlikely to happen.
Whilst this was devastating for Emma at the time, she refused to let it deter her and she soon focused her goals on training her dog to fulfil a different purpose.
What makes a Gundog, a ‘Gundog’?
Is it their breeding? Is it their trainability, or their talent at work?
Personally I think it’s all of those things, and/or a mix of those things. Given that all dogs’ are unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses, you may have a dog from some pretty impressive breeding that actually has no desire to work alongside a gun. This, in my opinion, can be termed a gundog based on it’s lineage.
Or you may have a dog that’s about as far removed from gundog breeding as you can imagine but that, for whatever reason, it shows special talent for flushing birds in the beating line or retrieving game once it’s shot. This is also a gundog in it’s own right, based on it’s abilities.
In this respect, the ‘ultimate’ “gundog” would be one that has both the breeding, and the work ethic – but that doesn’t necessarily make it superior to the other two.
Does a Dog, of Gundog Breeding, Have to Work on the Shoot Field?
No! You can own a gundog that never experiences a shoot day, easily 25% of my clients never have the intention of actually working their dog in the shooting environment. But, they undertake the gundog training in order to fulfill their best friend’s natural instincts which, in turn, benefits the relationship.
The ‘purpose’ of the dog in this instance is probably more to give companionship and fulfilment to its owner, but the owner is ensuring their dogs needs are also being met.
In year’s past you would largely see Spaniel’s working the beating line, and Labrador’s standing behind the guns, or on peg. More recently we have become better at understanding that with a dogs’ unique personality and strengths, we don’t necessarily need to stick to this stereotype – a Labrador can make an amazing beating companion, and a Spaniel can be more than capable of retrieving game.
To Wrap Up
Not everything always works out just as we planned, and that is ok!
A Gundog is a Gundog regardless of breed.
A dog is a dog with a purpose if they are gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from the role they are carrying out.
Whatever purpose your dog ends up with is a good one providing you are both happy and healthy, with a relationship built upon rules, boundaries and mutual trust.
Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and a fabulously dog-filled 2024, xx
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