It is the question that divides professional gundog handlers from the amateurs, but should your gundog live in or out, asks Janet Menzies
Keeping a gundog in the kennel or the kitchen is the great debate between professional and amateur gundog handlers. Can a gundog that rules the house really be trained to the highest standard – or must they be kennelled? Janet Menzies investigates.
For those that have relented yet don’t allow bed-sharing, what is the best bed for gundogs? David Tomlinson considers the options, from straw to memory foam, in dog beds: sleeping like a dog. And you can be certain that kennels are beneath terriers. The small dogs have been ruling Britain’s stately homes for years. Read terriers at the top: small dogs in stately homes.
SHOULD YOUR GUNDOG LIVE IN OR OUT?
If there’s one thing that sets the professionals apart from the amateurs in the gundog world, it’s where their dogs sleep. The great majority of professional handlers kennel their dogs, a sensible choice if you have a lot of them. In contrast, most of us amateurs think it best that a gundog live in, sharing our houses with our dogs, if not our beds. A survey of 23,000 dog owners, reported in the Daily Telegraph, revealed that more than half allowed their dogs on their beds, a remarkable statistic. Quite how many working gundogs share their owners’ beds is another matter; not many, is my guess.
The advantages of keeping a dog in a kennel are many, which is why most the gundog-training books on my shelves recommend kennelling rather than keeping indoors. Guy Wallace, writing in The Versatile Gundog, urges his readers “to start as you mean to go on”, as soon as you bring the puppy home. He advises making the kennel comfortable and warm, even providing a hot-water bottle, but “if you bring the pup inside it will have won Round One and taught you to do its bidding!” Peter Moxon, in gundogs: Training and Field Trials, argues that for a puppy kept in kennels, “training spells will be the highlight of the puppy’s day and will therefore be eagerly awaited and much enjoyed. A dog which has been roaming about all day has not the same attitude to the training period.”
Many professionals insist that it’s almost impossible to train a gundog live in to the standard needed to win trials; it’s certainly true that the great majority of field-trial champions have been kennelled dogs. However, there are exceptions. Leading cocker-spaniel breeders Andrew and Fiona Robinson’s first champion, FTCh Wintergill Calypso, was a house dog. She won four open stakes, never lost a run-off and was never put out of a trial for a fault. She won more than 30 field-trial awards, nearly all of them for being placed in the top three. Their latest field-trial champion, Meadowsedge Shooting Star (Dizzy), has won four of the eight trials she has run in including three open stakes; she also lives in the house. The secret, according to Andrew Robinson, is not where the dog lives but how it is trained. A gundog live in needs the same attention from its owner.
My spaniels are unashamedly the gundog live in sort; they live in the kitchen but can come into the living room in the evening. They also accompany me to my office. I enjoy their companionship and like having them around. They do, however, have an outdoor kennel that they use every day, usually after exercise. The kennel is also useful if they are not wanted in the house for any reason, not everyone likes the company of dogs as much as I do. Joe Irving, in Training Spaniels, believes that “possibly the best solution is to get the best of both worlds by keeping the dog in a kennel but bringing him indoors frequently to ‘humanise’ him”. One essential for a house dog is being house trained, something that many kennel dogs are never taught. This, I believe, is a mistake. A surprising number of serious working gundogs persuade their owners to let them into the house when they retire but this in only possible if they have been house trained. Lack of house training is also a serious handicap if, for any reason, a dog needs to be rehomed.
My dogs frequently travel with me and the fact that they are not only gundog live in sorts, but can be trusted not to climb on furniture or even beds means that they are often welcomed into friends’ houses or can be left safely in hotel rooms. Such flexibility is important, as though they will happily spend the night in my vehicle they are safer in a hotel room than a distant car park. If you are starting off with a puppy and plan to keep it in the house, then make sure that you house it in a cage. Young dogs like having a base, or an indoor kennel, and by providing a cage you are giving a puppy security, as well as ensuring that it will not get into any sort of trouble. Make sure that the puppy knows its boundaries from the start: never let it sit on furniture, enter rooms or go on stairs if these are places where you don’t want it to go. Dogs are quick to learn their boundaries and most will respect them for the rest of their lives.
Dogs are also quick to adapt. My spaniels frequently stay with friends where the rules are different: both they and the resident dogs are allowed on certain sofas. They accept this as a matter of course but are well aware that such behaviour is strictly forbidden at home. When I discussed writing this article with a keen shooting friend, he said he agreed with my sentiments but added that his pair of cockers, usually kennelled at home, invariably sleep in his room when he is shooting away from home. Why the change in practice, I asked? “Well,” he admitted, “they do make very good hot-water bottles.”