Despite his many failings, mad dog Dutch was immensely charismatic. Handsome and charming, his misdemeanours from chicken rustling to sausage filching were always forgiven by everybody apart from one or two exceptionally cold-hearted gamekeepers. So it was disconcerting when we returned from a pool-side holiday to discover that instead of Dutch reclining on the sofa being fed chocolates, he had literally been put in the doghouse by the pleasant, retired couple who were home-sitting. There was a distinct chill in their greeting. It later transpired that relations between Dutch and the home-sitters had frozen rapidly when he jumped up to inflict his usual extreme form of affection and knocked out the ladys front tooth.
What to do with the dog when holidays come around remains a thorny issue for most households. The ideal, of course, is for you all dog, spouse, toddler, teenager, the goldfish to share a shooting break together. Sporting dukes just throw the dog in an airline-approved carrier, grab the pet passport and head off for their partridge-shoot in Spain. The Duke of Wellington always used to enjoy watching his little cocker (suitably crated) sailing majestically round on the luggage carousel at the end of a shooting trip. Or there is Scotland, with equally good sporting fun for you and your dog and less immigration hassle at the border.
But even in the most organised families, holiday planning is sometimes less than heavenly, and the day inevitably arrives when the dog is not wanted on voyage. What then? Should you pack him off to boarding kennels like Paddington Bear with a marmalade sandwich and a label reading, Please look after this labrador or should he stay home alone, inflicting various injuries on a succession of well-meaning callers with all the enthusiasm of a young Macaulay Culkin?
There are drawbacks to every solution I know, Ive tried them all. The first choice for most of us is to dump the dog on the nearest neighbour, friend or relative who will have it, promising vaguely to return the favour one day. With trialling dogs, this isnt really an option. No one will have them (well, certainly not twice), and you run out of friends rapidly. Indeed, if the dog has reached the highly tuned level of training we have been aiming at in this column, do you really want your neighbour giving it the chance to let off steam chasing newly released pheasant poults? And suppose you are pressed to return the favour next summer, babysitting next doors little shih tzu (or even their dog)?
One of the best ways is to link up with fellow shoot members and put together a rota for each others dogs. Avoid gamekeepers though, as they can be surprisingly non-dog orientated, and the late summer months are a particularly busy time in any case.
Another answer for the stay-at-home dog is to employ a live-in professional animal- or house-sitter. Although this option is considerably more expensive, it does have several plus points. If you have a Gerald Durrell-style household with not just dogs but horses, hens, cats and a sprinkling of hamsters, it works out quite cheap per animal. Also, you get the added benefit of having somebody in the house all the time for security. However, this can also be a minus. One year we got home to discover that our ridiculously elaborate gate entry phone had managed to record on the home answerphone (dont ask) a conversation between the young house-sitter and her tribe of friends, who were trying to gain entry in order to enjoy their planned pool-side cider binge.
There are several reputable and well-established animal- and house-sitters country-wide (see box). To get the best out of them it is important to build a relationship. Give plenty of information about the kind of sitter you need, and remember that the most experienced sitters get booked up early. Animal-sitters vary greatly in their skills. We had one who was a veterinary student and had house-trained our pup by the time we got back from bronzing in the Med. But many are unused to gundogs. You can return to find your dog has been allowed to run riot and has forgotten all his training with only days before the partridge season starts.
The perfect answer is to send your dog to a professional gundog trainer while you are away. You can relax on the lounger and bask in the knowledge that you will return with a tan and to a better-behaved dog. The snag is that few trainers take a dog for just a fortnight. For it to be worth their while (and yours) you need to be prepared to part with your faithful friend as soon as the season is over and get him back at the end of the summer holidays. If this suits you, get in touch with a professional trainer as soon as the trialling season has peaked in January. There are many web-based directories of trainers (try the Gundog Club), but word of mouth is usually the best way to find a reliable trainer. When you see a dog whose work you admire, introduce yourself to its handler and you should find he or she is clued up about the local training network.
Those of us whose dog is already beyond training (in one way or another) could consider boarding kennels. Today most are more like five-star hotels than the barrack blocks of the bad old days. You can be sure your dog will not have any opportunities for getting into trouble and that he will cared for round the clock. Visit a few kennels before making your choice. You want to see boisterous, happy, barking dogs and immaculate accommodation. Be suspicious of quiet, sedentary dogs and lots of vacancies.
There are so many different models for boarding that you should be able to find something that suits even a dog that doesnt take well to kennels. Some agencies will match individual dogs to hand-picked, private landladies who take only one or two dogs at a time into their homes. This can be a great solution for a less confident dog although it is a bit humiliating to have to drag it away when the time comes to go home.
Lastly, travelling with your dog is gradually becoming easier. Most working dogs are used to being in the back of a vehicle so the journey isnt a problem, though a proper pen and good ventilation are essential the footwell is not an option for holiday travel.
In theory, going abroad shouldnt be an issue, but the Pet Travel Scheme, allowing pets in and out of the UK, is very complicated. Check exactly what is required for the country you plan on visiting, and leave plenty of time for whatever vaccinations, veterinary certificates and so on may be needed. Start by visiting DEFRAs website (see box). If that gets too much, there is such a range of specialist dog-orientated UK holidays that every member of the family, whether canine or cussed, should be satisfied.
EVERY DOG HAS ITS HOLIDAY
How to get a passport
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) allows movement of dogs, cats and ferrets between the UK and most EU countries, and some non-EU; for full details visit
To be granted a passport the animal must be microchipped, rabies vaccinated, and blood tested but the procedure can be complicated, so call the Pet Travel Scheme Helpline on 0870 241 1710.
Travelling with the dog
For safety and comfort on longer journeys it is important to use a purpose-built transport cage in the vehicle. Lintran has a huge selection, while
Canine Kennels provides airline-approved boxes and fold-flat cages that can be used in the house or your car.
If your dog stays in the back of the vehicle few hotels will turn you away. There are several websites listing venues and holidays specifically for dogs and their owners: The Woof Guide; Holidays for Dogs; Dogs Invited; Dogs Holidays.
The Animal Aunts agency provides a live-in animal-sitting and home-sitting service. Aunts have varying expertise, from serious, professional animal trainers to dog-loving amateurs. Call 01730 821529 for a full quote or visit the website.
Alternatively, contact the National Association of Registered Petsitters on 0870 3500543 or visit its website.
Boarding-kennel standards can vary, so go by word of mouth or ask a local professional gundog trainer or the Animal Boarding Advice Bureau (01606 891303). The alternative is Home From Home where a carer looks after a dog in his or her own home. For information call 020 8320 1065 or visit the website.