Few subjects divide owners more convincingly than where gundogs should live. With thefts at an all-time high, David Tomlinson suggests putting safety first

Whether working dogs should live in or out in gundog kennels has always been a divisive subject. But now with thefts at an all-time high, safety must be put first, insists David Tomlinson.

For more on the debate that has always divided professionals and amateurs, read should your gundog live in or out?


Where’s the best place for your dog, or dogs, to live? In a kennel or in the house? It’s a subject that almost every owner of a sporting dog has a strong view on, though it’s a pity that we can’t canvas the opinions of the dogs themselves. Almost all professional gundog handlers favour kennels for the obvious reason that few want to share their homes with a dozen or more dogs. They will argue, too, that a kennelled dog is so happy to come out for the day that it’s anxious to please you, whereas the indoor dog isn’t so bothered.

I doubt if there have been many winners of the Retriever or Spaniel Championships that were indoor dogs. I have met a few field-trial champions that weren’t kennelled, but they are rare exceptions. A dog kennelled outdoors is almost certainly a proper working animal but one that lives indoors is probably better defined as a pet, even if it works two or three times a week during the season. It’s not unusual to meet dogs that spend the day in the house but sleep in their kennels. Their owners will assure you that this is what the dogs prefer, but I suspect that it’s more a case of what they have become accustomed to.

Most of my gundog-training books recommend kennelling dogs but not one mentions what is, in my opinion, the most compelling reason to house your dogs indoors: security. Dogs have always been stolen but, until relatively recently, it wasn’t a major concern. It is now, for gundog thefts are at an all-time high, a problem compounded by the fact that puppy prices are two or three times greater than they were a year ago. This time last year you could buy a springer puppy for £500 or a labrador for £850. Now, springer pups command at least £1,500, while a labrador puppy for under £2,500 looks cheap.

The great unsolved mystery of gundog thefts is what happens to the dogs that are stolen. I’ve never come across anyone who has been offered a cheap, fully-trained gundog of dubious origin, and I’m unaware of anyone being caught, let alone prosecuted, for selling on stolen gundogs. Current puppy prices suggest that thieves might well be stealing dogs to breed from, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that this is the case. One of the problems of dog theft is that it’s not something the police, let alone the courts, take much interest in. For most of us, our dogs are members of the family, and not for sale at any price. In the eyes of the law, a dog is simply a possession and, thus, of no more value than, say, a mobile phone. Because of this, investigation of dog theft is a low priority, for the police believe that they have much more important things to do than look for a stolen spaniel or looted labrador.


Last year, more than 140,000 people signed an online petition to have pet theft debated by MPs in Westminster, which they did in October. If you want, you can read the debate, which was reported in Hansard. There was considerable support among MPs for a change in the law. Tom Hunt, the Conservative member for Ipswich, opened the debate and spoke eloquently on the subject, pointing out that, “This is an easy thing that the Government can do to show that they are on the side of the public. We have cross-party consensus, so let us have some action.”

Frustratingly, Victoria Prentis, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DEFRA, said that the Government doesn’t believe “that the creation of a specific offence for pet theft, with a two-year custodial penalty, would really help much”.

Perhaps the dognappers need to get their hands on Dilyn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s terrier, to ensure that the Government does start to take dog theft seriously. Creating a specific offence of pet theft might not stop thieves nicking dogs, but it would at least be a move in the right direction. These days we never hear of families, it’s always loved ones. For many of us, that means our dogs.

Although I am the proud owner of a very smart, purpose-built kennel, it hasn’t had a dog in it for a long time and is currently full of gardening gear. For, functional though my kennel may be, there’s no way it can be made secure, even if the front door is padlocked. It would take a determined professional thief just a minute or two to break into it, which is as good a reason as any to let my dogs live in the house.

If you have no choice but to let your dogs live outside, then it’s essential to make their housing as thief-proof as possible. There can be few things worse than going out to check your dogs only to find the kennel door open and the occupants gone. I doubt if it is possible to make a wooden kennel truly thief-proof, while even a brick-built kennel will benefit from the advice of a security professional. You owe it to your dogs to make them as safe as possible. I like the company of my dogs, so they are more than welcome to live in the security of my house.