How your dog can have its day

With The Field’s Gun­dog Awards 2017 ap­proach­ing its dead­line, David Tom­lin­son re­minds us of the fun and drama of shar­ing a day’s shoot­ing with your dog

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Shoot­ing with­out a dog is like eat­ing straw­ber­ries with­out cream. Yes, quite pos­si­ble, and lots of peo­ple do it but they are miss­ing an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent. Come home from a day’s shoot­ing and tell your wife about the won­der­ful high pheas­ants you shot and she will feign in­ter­est; tell her how your spaniel beat all the picker-ups’ dogs to find a run­ning par­tridge and she will lis­ten with in­ter­est.

I’ve shot over, or with, my own spaniels for more than 30 years. In the early, dog-free days I was de­pen­dent on other peo­ple’s dogs to find my birds. When I at last got a spaniel my shoot­ing was trans­formed. not only did I en­joy the shoot­ing more (ev­ery bird shot was a re­trieve for my dog) but the day be­came so much more fun. on my walk-one, stand-one Satur­day syn­di­cate I gave up the stand­ing be­cause my spaniel didn’t like (wasn’t able?) to stay still for more than two min­utes at a time. Re­sult: we both got lots of ex­er­cise and came home happy but ex­hausted.

how­ever, it wasn’t un­til the me­morable Box­ing Day shoot when I for­got my gun that I re­alised how much I en­joyed work­ing the dog. (There are a num­ber of rea­sons why I for­got my gun that day, fore­most among them be­ing the fact that my mother-in-law had vol­un­teered to join the beat­ing line; I couldn’t for­get the dog as she would get into the car even if un­in­vited.) Unen­cum­bered by seven pounds of steel and wal­nut, I was able to de­vote full at­ten­tion to the dog and, be­tween us, we had a great day.

one of the prob­lems with be­ing a gun­dog writer is that peo­ple ex­pect you to have per­fectly trained dogs. My dogs have never been per­fectly trained. on one oc­ca­sion I was in­vited to a day’s rough-shoot­ing over clum­ber spaniels in Sus­sex. “Do bring your dogs,” my host added gen­er­ously. I was plan­ning to write about the day, so as well as two springers and a gun I also had a cam­era with long lens. I did get some rea­son­able pic­tures and shot three or four birds but I saw lit­tle of my dogs. They had a ter­rific time as they knew I was con­cen­trat­ing on other things.

Last sea­son I went on an ex­cel­lent small shoot where the en­tire pick­ing-up team, all han­dling labradors, were lead­ing field tri­allers. Don’t let any­one tell you that tri­alling dogs can’t pick up, for th­ese dogs were bril­liant, their han­dlers quiet, ef­fi­cient and un­ob­tru­sive. how­ever, they were all so good that the day lacked the ca­nine dra­mas one gets so used to. not a dog ig­nored the whis­tle – to be hon­est, they hardly needed whistling. In fact, not a sin­gle dog put a paw wrong all day. Bril­liant, yes, but some­how lack­ing in colour and ex­cite­ment.

It’s with the less-than-per­fect gun­dogs in mind (such as my one re­main­ing spaniel, now aged 11 and slow­ing down a bit) that

The Field has launched The Field Gun­dog Awards 2017, to be awarded on 31 Au­gust at the Burgh­ley horse Tri­als. If you’re an “av­er­age” gun­dog owner, there’s a good chance that you have a hound that’s a po­ten­tial win­ner or you might know of one that you would like to nom­i­nate; so I urge you to scru­ti­nise the classes and get en­ter­ing. The Awards are like the cur­rent hon­ours sys­tem, for they do de­pend on peo­ple putting for­ward their sug­ges­tions for those who de­serve recog­ni­tion.

Cast your mind back to last sea­son: did you wit­ness any ex­cep­tional re­trieves? If so, don’t hes­i­tate to en­ter. Years ago I was rough-shoot­ing in northamp­ton­shire when a puppy of mine per­formed a bril­liant re­trieve of a cock pheas­ant from the mid­dle of the River nene, beat­ing both her mother and her un­cle, the lat­ter a se­ri­ously good gun­dog. It would have been a re­trieve wor­thy of nom­i­na­tion. Sadly, that was the pin­na­cle of her brief ca­reer, though she did pro­duce some tal­ented off­spring.

There are in­di­vid­ual awards, too, for out­stand­ing work by spaniels, point­ers and rare breeds, as well as the best fam­ily gun­dog. The lat­ter, I pre­dict, will be a dog that loves chil­dren as much as re­triev­ing game and works hap­pily for any mem­ber of the fam­ily.

There’s an award for the best am­a­teur picker-up, surely the cat­e­gory that is likely to gain the most nom­i­na­tions as there’s likely to be just such a per­son on your shoot. The best picker-ups don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a truck full of dogs, just one or two trusted com­pan­ions, but they are hard-work­ing, un­ob­tru­sive, kind to their dog(s) and never poach birds. There’s noth­ing in the rules to say that you can’t nom­i­nate more than one.

how­ever, there’s one cat­e­gory that might well at­tract even more nom­i­na­tions: the naugh­ti­est gun­dog. You had bet­ter be care­ful here – nom­i­nate your host’s dog and you might never get in­vited again. on the other hand, most own­ers of naughty dogs are aware of their an­i­mal’s faults and they’ll prob­a­bly be quite proud to be nom­i­nated – and even more chuffed should they win.

If you’re an ‘av­er­age’ gun­dog owner, there’s a good chance that you have a po­ten­tial win­ner

En­ter at www.the­field.co.uk/gun­dog-awards

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