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The Gun Dog


An Introduction to and History of, the Gun Dog

Man and Gun Dog on Heather Moor

The relationship between man and dog dates back to antiquity and through the centuries and even millenia, our mutually beneficial relationship has provided humans with a skilled and capable hunting companion and dogs with a home and food. It has also allowed for the great diversity found in dog breeds as we have carefully selected their strongest features for hunting in a variety of conditions. 

Some dogs have been bred specifically for work in water (such as wildfowling) whilst other dogs are better suited to working on dry land and many perform well in both environments. 

Dogs hunt either by sight or scent. Sight hounds will visually pinpoint quarry and use their strength and speed to chase down their prey. These types of dog have excellent vision and typically have a long jaw and lengthy neck with a lean, muscular body and long, powerful legs; the essentials for chasing quarry. 

Scent hounds use their exceptional sense of smell to track down quarry, these are known as scent hounds and are perhaps the most well known type of hunting dog. These breeds tend to not have the speed or agility of the sight hounds as they do not need to keep quarry in sight. They are instead bred for endurance. They can follow a scent for many miles, even across running water. Scent hounds generally have large noses and long ears. With the development of new tools and weapons for use in hunting, their role altered slightly. Breeds such as the St Bernard help to track down people in mountain rescue. 

Other dogs, particularly terriers, have been bred to hunt and kill vermin such as mice, rats, rabbits and foxes etc, which threatened livestock and crops. 

Through history, different breeds have been used to hunt different quarry. Their features have been maximised and exaggerated to aid them in hunting specific prey. Some examples include;

Fox Hounds - Fox hunting

Irish Wolfhound - Deer hunting

Spaniels - Game bird hunting

Retrievers - Duck and other game bird hunting

Whippets and Beagles - Rabbit and hare hunting

Golden Retrievers

Breeds and Qualities of Hunting Dogs

Certain breeds of dog have specific  qualities that make them very useful to huntsmen. The most popular types of dog are;


Their long attention spans mean that retrievers are easily trained and they are considered to be very obedient and inrelligent. They are most often used to retrieve game and water birds as their soft mouths do not damage the game and they are very capable swimmers. 


These dogs are named for the stance they take when approaching quarry. The dedicated dog will go ahead of the hunting party, using its sense of smell to track game and then use its body to 'point' in the direction of the quarry when sufficiently closed in. They are very versatile dogs and are able to master many hunting techniques. 


Named for their patient method of hunting, Setters follow a trail of scent to the quarry and then, instead of attacking, they keep the quarry trapped and await the hunter. 

Irish Setter


The smallest of the hunting dogs, their size makes them ideal for working where game may have fallen into dense brush. 


Their excellent sense of smell means they are ideal for tracking game, but they are also used by the police in investigations. 



Everyone has a different method of training their dog and there is no one right way to go about it. A few important, key points do flow through each method though and these are briefly described below.

Training begins as soon as you pick up your new puppy. Begin to introduce words such as 'come' by kneeling down and inviting the puppy to you. 'Sit' by holding the foodbowl in the air so that the dog is encouraged to sit down to look up at the bowl and 'stay' by putting the puppy on a spot, walking away from him and calmly and patiently returning him to his spot each time he moves. In each case patience and repetition of the command word are vital. Remember that the puppys attention span may not be very long so don't draw out lessons for too long and always reward him with praise, affection and even a treat for their good behaviour. 

Begin retriever training with  'play training', using balls or dummy toys. Starting indoors or on short grass throw the object and hold out your hand, pointing to the object and say 'Go back' as the puppy chases in. Hopefully the puppy will run straight back to you to show off it's new trophy. Put out your hand and say 'drop', remembering to give praise for the retrieve and good behaviour. Remember that at this stage it is about play and letting the puppy have fun whilst learning. The bond between you and the puppy is still developing so relax and have fun. 

At about five to six months old you can begin more formal training, introducing them to other people and dogs and retrieving in longer grass or under thicker cover. In more formal training you should keep the dog to heel, throw the object/ toy and keep the dog at heel until you cast him for the retrieval. Insist upon a good sit and present and reward them when this is done. 

The key to successful training is to take it slowly and patiently, to avoid confusing or stressing the dog. The same applies to the introduction to shoots. Introduce the dog to shoots gradually and allow them time to get used to the noise, people and activity.