Yorkshire rural community urged to consider rehoming rescue dogs for their next working animal

Many dogs looking for a new home could be transformed through country pursuits, says BASC. Picture - Matt Kidd.Many dogs looking for a new home could be transformed through country pursuits, says BASC. Picture - Matt Kidd.
Many dogs looking for a new home could be transformed through country pursuits, says BASC. Picture - Matt Kidd.
The working gundog is a legend of the countryside, writes Felicity Tickridge-Marshall from BASC, and a vital member of the farming community in Yorkshire.

Although it is spaniel or Labrador which perhaps first comes to mind when you think of a gundog, any number of breeds bring their talents to the fore to excel in the field in their own way.

Essentially, the word ‘gundog’ is a broad term used to describe any dog whose job is generally associated with game shooting. They differ in size, shape and temperament – varying from the highly charged to the very laid back. The job of a gundog includes working through cover to find game, and retrieving shot birds in the field to ensure that all quarry is accounted for – allowing it to then enter the food chain.

Gundog breeds are many and diverse in their specialisms, incorporating everything from flat-coated retrievers, to Irish water spaniels, to Chesapeake Bay retrievers, to cocker spaniels, to cross-breeds, and a host of other canine powerhouses in between. Each one, like people, has its own unique characteristics and personality, and it is down to their human handler to get the best out of their dog through careful training, time and building a partnership that is like no other.

A new route of entry

Many gundog owners will source a new addition to their household as a puppy. As is the case with other stock such as horses and cattle, lineage and pedigree are important in dogs. But is there another route of entry for potential working dogs who may have had a less illustrious start in life?

Every year in the UK, more than 100,000 dogs end up in rescue or rehoming shelters. Sadly, abandonment is not a new problem, but it is one that is increasing in its intensity and severity. The predicted tidal wave of dogs being given up post-pandemic seems to be coming to fruition.

In addition to statistics, anecdotal evidence demonstrating the need for good homes for a diverse population of dogs, is everywhere. Social media is awash with content from rescue and rehoming charities looking to raise awareness and connect dogs with their future families.

Within the array of those being relinquished are many who have the potential to find a new life as a working gundog. This is not a new concept for some, however if it’s something that has never occurred to you, let me give you an example.

When I was a teenager, my dad, who always had a number of dogs (some working, some of the more ornamental variety, but all much loved) saw an advert from a rehoming centre in London for a number of springer spaniels in need of new homes.

Having passed the charity’s checks of the time, dad made the journey to the centre, and brought home with him an 18-month-old liver and white spaniel called Jim. Jim (renamed Bramble) had lived his existence thus far in a high-rise block of flats near Battersea, before being abandoned.

For the first six months of his new life in the countryside, he was a handful. He’d clearly never known so much space and to run and run was the sole purpose of his every day. Gradually, he became accustomed to the fact that the space wasn’t going anywhere, and he could calm a little, which in turn allowed him to respond to dad’s training. Defying all odds, Bramble became an exceptional gundog and lived out a happy and fulfilled working life.

Consider a rescue

There are two strands to rehoming a gundog breed, those who are looking for a working dog, and those who are looking for a pet dog but like gundog breeds.

If you’re looking for a working dog, going down the rehoming route is a rewarding and commendable option. While there are no hard and fast rules, dogs aged two years and under give you the best chance of being able to train an untrained dog, or to gradually chip away at acquired behavioural issues. However, that is not to say that an older dog cannot also learn the job and enjoy life in the field, too.

If you are searching for a pet dog and a gundog breed is on your radar, be prepared for an intelligent animal who needs lots of mental stimulation and exercise, particularly if they are young in years. Gundog breeds are predisposed to working in the field and so, even if you have no interest in shooting, taking your dog along to gundog training or general obedience classes can be an excellent way of occupying their brain and building the bond between you at the same time. The Kennel Club’s website offers a club search function to help you get started.

If you’re looking for help and advice on any gundog issue, you can find this on BASC’s website, where you can also find out about BASC gundog membership and insurance.

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