Naughty gundogs can cause endless merriment, providing you are not the owner. Could yours win an award, asks David Tomlinson?

Naughty gundogs add great entertainment to a shoot day, especially when they do not belong to you. Could your wicked companion win the Naughtiest Gundog in The Field Gundog Awards, wonders David Tomlinson.

For more on naughty gundogs, discover how working your own dog can make – or unmake – a shoot day, read naughty gundogs: I’ve gotcha!

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Judging The Field’s annual Gundog Awards is always interesting, invariably highly entertaining and sometimes just downright difficult. Perhaps the trickiest class is that for the naughtiest gundog, as here one has to be careful to differentiate between the genuinely naughty but honest dog, and the badly trained hooligan that isn’t so much being naughty as downright disobedient.

For example, anyone who has been shooting is likely to have met the ‘two-counties spaniel’. It’s the dog whose master (or mistress) is in one county while the dog itself is in the next. Having lived on the Suffolk/Norfolk border for the past 15 years I can confirm that such dogs do exist. They are not so much naughty as out of control.

Most of us only have to look at our own dog or dogs to be reminded of episodes of bad behaviour that might be defined as naughtiness. One of my spaniels hardly put a paw wrong as a puppy. She didn’t chew shoes, destroy beds or bark at horses but she did develop an intense obsession for rope-slip leads and, given half a chance, would bite the lead in half when nobody was looking. She was extraordinarily quick at doing this and could accomplish the deed in a matter of seconds, quite surprising for a dog that later proved to be a soft-mouthed retriever. In her first year she destroyed nine leads before suddenly losing interest in them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I should have replaced the rope leads with the much tougher nylon variety.

Another spaniel, at the age of two, suddenly discovered that she could run faster than me. She would come back from a walk, sit obediently waiting to be put on her lead, before giving me what became known as ‘The Look’. Like all dogs, she had subtle but distinctly recognisable facial expressions, and The Look was a clear indication that she was about to bolt. As the loop of the lead approached she would be off as fast as a greyhound out of a trap. There was no stopping, let alone catching, her.

Curiously, and perhaps fortunately, she never bolted anywhere away from home. However, living here she was surrounded by fields full of game and on the worst and most memorable occasion she spent 15 minutes harrying hares, flushing pheasants and panicking rabbits with me following in hot pursuit.


I have a theory that a spaniel’s head has a valve system, and when the nose is working the ears stop. She certainly ignored my increasingly desperate and breathless blasts on the stop whistle as she galloped on, swapping furred for feathered quarry with gay abandon. Eventually she became so hot that she paused to cool off in a pond. Having had her fun she was happy to be caught.

Such behaviour was not so much naughty as insolent, and though it only happened on three or four occasions it was sufficient for me to lose confidence in her. She was a bit like a teenager, testing me to the limit. She eventually became such a placid dog it was hard to believe she could have been such a tearaway.

Many dogs can resist everything except temptation, especially when the temptress is a hare. I remember one occasion, while spectating at a pointer and setter trial, when a field trial champion and former winner of the Champion Stake (the pointer equivalent of Wimbledon) had a glorious if unsuccessful course of a hare. I found it refreshing to see that even the best-trained dog can enjoy the occasional lapse.

Genuinely naughty dogs invariably do things that make us laugh. I once met an impeccably trained labrador that never really needed to be put on a lead. However, given the opportunity he would abandon his owner and sit hopefully next to another gun who was by far the best shot in the syndicate. The dog had clearly worked out that there was a much better prospect of a retrieve here than if he stayed with his own master.

Black labradors can get away with a lot because there are usually several on a shoot and they all look the same. I can’t believe they are actually aware of it but some do seem to take advantage and enjoy the confusion. On one shoot I came across two labs that were litter brothers but had different owners. They seemed to take great delight in swapping places during the day, so much so that their owners had to make doubly sure they took the right dog home.

If all dogs were perfect and never did anything naughty the shooting field would be a much duller place. It’s the naughty dogs that make us laugh, but there’s no doubt that you can laugh longer and louder if the naughty dog doesn’t belong to you.

If you have a naughty dog, then do enter it into The Field awards – winning a prize may be the best thing it ever does.