FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A rogue gene could explain Labs’ insatiable appetite
We already have genetic tests for a variety of afflictions that can affect Labradors, and we might have another one soon. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered a genetic variation in Labradors that, they suspect, makes some individuals obsessed with food. The research was led by Dr Eleanor Raffan, who said: “This is a common genetic variation in Labradors and it has a significant effect on those dogs that carry it, so it is likely that this explains why Labradors are more prone to being overweight than other breeds.”
The Cambridge researchers did warn, however, that any bid to get rid of the rogue gene might also get rid of the Labrador personality we all know and my dog set off with enthusiasm, soon disappearing from sight. For what seemed an age there was no sign of her. Then, just as I was starting to get worried, she appeared carrying a strong cock runner. It was the start of her long and successful career.
If you are picking-up for the first time, then BASC’S code of practice (https://basc.org.uk/cop/picking-up/) is essential reading. The five golden rules are so important that I will repeat them here:
1. Organisers of shoots must ensure there is adequate provision made for retrieving shot game.
2. Dogs used for picking-up must be trained, under control and responsive to your instructions.
3. Game is food. It must be handled appropriately to ensure that it reaches the table in the best condition. 4. Retrieve wounded game first.
5. All game must be retrieved as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.
Flouting the rules
There is nothing there that is the least bit contentious, but I’ve been around long enough to see all five rules ignored. I went once to an end-of-season day where none of the Guns had a dog yet there was only one picker-up with a single (and not very and love. Labradors with less interest in food might well become more difficult to train, as many Labradors — though not, I suspect, that many working gundogs — are trained using titbits.
I have never met a Labrador that wasn’t keen on its food. In contrast, I have come across a number of spaniels that weren’t too bothered about their dinner. I also have a friend with a pair of standard poodles that are so disinterested in food that they are left with a bowl of grub that is available to them all day. They simply have a munch when they feel so inclined.
The answer to fat Labradors is to give them less to eat to keep them trim, and to give them things to occupy them other than eating. I know a lot of Labradors that start the picking-up season looking, shall we say, slightly portly, but finish with the skinny-ribbed appearance of a greyhound. Show people traditionally liked well-upholstered dogs, and it was a general rule that if you took a skinny Labrador into the show ring good) Labrador. I’ve seen dogs that flout rule two rather too often, while one of my pet hates is seeing pickersup or Guns throwing birds to the ground or into the back of a vehicle. You wouldn’t do that with apples or tomatoes, so why do it with game?
It clearly makes sense from every point of view to retrieve wounded game first, but I have been on shoots where the pickers-up were instructed not to retrieve any birds, wounded you wouldn’t stand a chance of catching the judge’s eye.
Following the film
Exposed, the breed standard was amended. It now reads: “Chest of good width and depth, with well-sprung barrel ribs — this effect not to be produced by carrying excessive weight”. Perhaps if your dog is a little porky you can make the excuse that it has the gene that makes it food obsessed. or dead, during the drive. This is absolutely wrong. Imagine a situation where a footpath or road runs close to the shoot and you are being watched by someone who may not be an anti, but knows little about shooting. Ignoring a wounded bird is certain to appal any observer, but they are likely to be impressed if a well-trained dog speedily collects that bird.
Picking-up is a big subject, so
I will return to it next week.
SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE • 13
A well-trained and responsive picking-up dog is a must for any shoot