My Hunt for a Gundog (Part One)

Merry Christmas! As I begin this post, I should remind the three people reading it that dogs are, of course, for life – not just for the shooting season.

Mary Bloom, via VetStreet.com

Photo by Mary Bloom via VetStreet.com

I find myself in a bit of a quandary. In all honesty, I’ve been in it for some time. I’m looking for a new dog, and have been since the summer. At the moment I can only take on one mutt, so I have to choose wisely, which is taking me much longer than I’d anticipated. I shall share my journey with you – and please use the comments section if you’d like to add your thoughts!

Puppy, part-trained, or trained? Honestly, I shouldn’t take on a puppy! I’m somewhat out of practice when it comes to training dogs, and ideally I would like one that can serve me next season (as I am currently without a canine companion). I fear I must consider trained to be the best option…

What do I want the dog to do…? This seems an eminently sensible place to begin! I could think about all the gundogs under the sun, but without knowing what I want to do with mine I have nothing to measure them against. I will admit that I am looking for the elusive perfect all-rounder, so I’m quite sure there will have to be a compromise somewhere. I want a dog that can sit at a peg or retrieve on a driven day – preferably without creating a scene (the last thing I want as an agent!) It would also be great if it can do some rough and walked-up shooting – and the ability to point on a grouse moor would be the icing on the cake.

Oh yes, and of course, he or she must be a good companion in the field and in-front of the fire!

Lab, or spaniel, or something else? So, I want a steady peg dog. Surely, therefore, I want a trusty labrador? However, will it be much use in undergrowth if I want it to push a bird to me on a walked-up day? Or will it, more likely, be sitting at my feet wondering why I want it to jump into such an inhospitable space? In all likelihood, it’ll just be thinking of eating. It is a labrador after-all…

Then there is the cocker spaniel. This is where my heart lies. I love their energy and zeal. Plus, there really is something about the way a cocker spaniel cocks it head as it looks at you – all dogs are adorable in their own way, but the cocker spaniel has mastered the art-form! Also on the cocker’s side is the fact that they just want to work, and will think nothing of burrowing into a thick undergrowth to flush me a bird. However… there is always a “however”… I can no more imagine a cocker sitting quietly at a peg than I can imagine myself looking at a bottle of Lagavulin without pouring a glass… I’ll love my cocker, though I’m sure my clients would prefer a slightly more dignified reception!

The new dog on the list is the Hungarian viszla (including the wirehaired variety). From what I have read, they are a truly remarkable HPR. An excellent all-rounder – very good retriever, excellent at hunting, and a jolly good close in pointer to boot. Though I have only seen a couple on the peg, they have seemed well-behaved, but a couple of people have suggested I have seen the best of them…

Scratching my head… So, I’m still left scratching my head! I think that, given what I will be doing the most of, I should seriously consider a lab. They are perfect for a peg dog. However, they do seem rather underwhelming in the other departments (apart from lying in front of a fire). Perhaps I’m being somewhat harsh on the country’s favourite gundog? By being so unquestionably good at sitting still and retrieving, do we undervalue its attributes elsewhere? I’d be interested in your thoughts. Until I’d discovered a bit more about the viszla, my head was pretty set on the labrador.

Part Two – the update… I’ll let you know how my various sources of advice are confusing me (or clarifying things for me!)