Dogs have been used as a hunting companion for many years since humans found dogs could be trained to locate, chase and collect prey, and it has started an enduring relationship between man and dog. Today, gundogs, hounds, terriers and other hunting gundog breeds are descended from these early canine friends, which makes them the oldest and original type of dog.
As people started to farm livestock, rather than choosing a nomadic life, hunting for day-to-day survival became a sport rather than a need for survival. Different types of hunting dogs have evolved, due to the various landscapes and prey associated with hunting and so dogs with different characteristics were required, leading to breeding to create these skills. For example, hunting in wetland required water-resistant coats and good stamina for spending long periods in water. For deer hunting, dogs needed to be fast with good stamina and all hunting dogs needed to be patient and obedient.
Large estates in Britain which would have their own hunts and shoots would keep estate kennels where dogs would be kept for fox hunting and game shooting. A gamekeeper would likely have been in charge of looking after the dogs; their breeding, health and training, and be entrusted with keeping the right kind of gundogs for the landscape of the estate.
Four sub-categories have emerged from breeding gundogs, which are:
Retrievers – Retrieving gundogs are bred solely to retrieve and are required to sit and ignore distractions until given the command.
Spaniels – Spaniels have been bred and expertly trained to hunt and flush game, which is helped by their high energy and intelligence.
Setters and pointers – Setters and pointer gundogs have been bred to seek out the hard to find game and freeze, indicating the location of the game.
Hunt, point and retrieve – Bred to be versatile, able to hunt, point and retrieve. A multi-tasking dog, they are increasingly popular today for game shooters and hunters who want all-rounded dogs which can be trained in several disciplines.
These sub-categories can be crossed over, such as training a retriever to flush game or pointers to retrieve. It depends on the owner or trainer and how capable they are at handling the dog in different skills. For HPR, which are big dogs with lots of energy, they can at times be too much to manage, so it is recommended for owners to go for a docile breed which is easy to train.
Gundogs which have been bred for show rather than sport provide an option for those who admire the various breeds but don’t intend to do hunting or game shooting. In recent years, several breeds have been bred for their appearance, and have lost their hunting instincts. When considering any dog breed, it is essential to speak with a reputable breeder about the breed you are interested in to determine its suitability with you. A good breeder is likely to want a successful dog and owner pairing and can provide expert knowledge about what breed and a particular dog which will be suited to your lifestyle.
It is not much of a surprise that gundog breeds have remained so popular over the years. They are dogs with high intelligence, are easy to train and also make for great family pets. Gundogs intuition and loyalty makes them excellent companions for the shooting field.
For more information on gundogs, take a look at some of our recent blog posts, from frequently asked questions to guides on different popular gundog breeds. We have also covered ways to prevent gundog theft and expert tips on gundog nutrition. Be sure to follow our social media channels to keep an eye on future posts about gundogs.
In addition to kitting your dog out with some essential gundog accessories, make sure you also have the correct kit for the field from shooting socks to gunslips.