Among the canine charities are many looking to rehome gundog breeds; you might not get a field-trial champion, says David Tomlinson, but you could end up with one (or more) great dogs

There are many good dogs out there looking for good homes, but some of them have gundog training. You may not get a field trial champion, as David Tomlinson explains, but it is possible to rescue a gundog that proves excellent in the field.

If you are looking to welcome an older gundog into your home rather than a pup, read rehoming an older gundog for our advice.


Some years ago I was beating with my spaniel on a local farmer’s shoot – an informal, twice-a-season affair – when my eye was caught by an exceptionally well-behaved English springer, working for one of the guns. The spaniel was rock steady during the drive, ignoring galloping hares and falling pheasants, but went off like a rocket when asked to retrieve, collecting and delivering birds with style. I was sufficiently impressed to ask the dog’s owner, a man in his early thirties, about his spaniel and how he had managed to train it to such a high standard.

“Oh, I didn’t train him,” admitted the owner. “Bertie came ready trained. He’s a six-year-old gamekeeper’s dog; his owner was made redundant so lost both his job and his cottage. He had half-a-dozen dogs and could only keep one, so I took Bertie on. This is his first season with me but he’s been brilliant from the start. He’s my first-ever working gundog and he’s transformed the pleasure I get from my shooting.”

Bertie’s owner was fortunate in taking on such a well-trained dog, while Bertie was lucky to be rehomed by a keen shooting man, but it underlined the potential of rescue dogs. There’s a dedicated rescue and rehoming charity for virtually every gundog breed, a reminder of how many dogs need to be rehomed. And while rarer breeds may have only a single rehoming organisation, others, such as labradors and spaniels, have many, so there’s likely to be one in your area.

Viewing the rehoming charity websites is either depressing or uplifting, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, it’s upsetting that so many dogs need rehoming, usually through no fault of their own; on the other, it’s heart warming that so many people care and are prepared to put so much effort into finding new homes for them.


Of course, there aren’t many perfectly trained gundogs out there in need of a new home but there are some, as Bertie’s story reveals. There are many dogs that need a new home because their owner couldn’t cope with them but there are others that are in the same plight because of the death of their owner, illness, divorce or (as in Bertie’s case) redundancy. Certainly some dogs have been mentally or even physically scarred by their earlier life and have behavioural problems as a result but many others are well-trained, well-balanced animals that simply need a new home.

While there are some rehoming charities that are reluctant to see dogs go to a working home, there are others that welcome new owners who are planning to work the dog, especially if it has received gundog training in its earlier life. If you are considering rehoming a gundog breed, then one of your first questions to the charity should be its policy on this subject. Most charities go to great lengths to match a dog correctly to its new home – if dog breeders were equally fussy about who they sold puppies to there would be far fewer dogs needing rehoming.

I have only bred a few litters, all English springer spaniels, and I did my utmost to ensure that the puppies went to suitable homes. As far as I know, I only failed once, when a couple with young children found they couldn’t cope with a particularly naughty, strong-willed dog. However, they took it upon themselves to rehome him and he went on to become a police sniffer dog – a job for which he was well suited, as he was a bold and confident animal.

All rehoming charities, without exception, interview would-be adopters carefully and the usual requirement is to register your interest first and you will then be contacted when a suitable dog comes up. You can be sure to be asked a number of pertinent questions, ranging from whether you have owned dogs before to whether you will be able to afford on-going veterinary bills. Other questions you are likely to be asked are whether you live in town or country, how big your garden is and how high its fence. Is the dog to live inside or outside and are you prepared to give it the necessary exercise?


Most dogs that come up for rescue will have been born and bred in this country but a number of charities bring in gundogs from overseas. Vizslamentés UK Rescue Trust, for example, operates in Hungary and between a quarter and a third of the vizslas it rescues come to new homes in the UK. Settusfree specialises in rescuing English setters abandoned or misused in southern and eastern Europe. Most of these are shooting dogs; in these countries it’s not unusual for dogs to be abandoned at the end of the hunting season.

For many people, having a rescue dog becomes a way of life and they would never consider buying a puppy again. An internet search is the best way to start looking for a dog that needs rehoming but, be warned, there are an awful lot of soulful-looking dogs just looking for a fresh start in life.