"It's important to keep training your gundogs": An Interview with Emma Hope-Smith

It’s a bright, cloudless day when we catch up with Emma, who manages to take a few minutes off from the shop floor. Known by all of us at Henmores for her love of fieldsports, Emma owns three working cocker spaniels (Leia, Kylo, and Jyn) who accompany her on shoot days. Having been a beater for two years, Emma recently took up shooting after obtaining a full gun license and is a British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) member.

For the unacquainted, a gundog is a dog trained to retrieve game for the gamekeeper or members of a shoot. Included in the Kennel Club list of gundogs are the Spaniel (Cocker, Sussex, and Field to name a few) German Short Haired Pointer, the Hungarian Vizla, and the beloved Labrador Retriever. You can find the comprehensive list here. Gundog breeds are known for their intelligence and tenacity, but still make excellent companions if you’re thinking of getting one as a pet in an active household (the Kennel Club states that gundog breeds as need more than 2 hours of exercise per day).

Henmores (H): So Emma, how often do you train your dogs?

Emma (E): I'm always training my dogs so it's an ongoing process. Even if you have an experienced gundog,  it's important to keep training them even when hunting season is over. Recall is probably one of the most crucial commands to master, as a dog could ruin a drive if they flush out all the birds in one go. When you shoot, you only have two shots. Also, an errant dog in the field is a health and safety risk.

H: What would you say were the key differences between a gundog and, say, a sighthound?

E: Their nose! Sighthounds, such as greyhounds and whippets were bred for their speed, whereas my dogs are always scenting.  If we’re working a hedge and need to flush a bird out, they know which direction to go in from based on the wind direction. Spaniels always hunt from the front (of you) and often move in a ‘zigzag’ pattern.

H: And the softness of the mouth, is that an inherent trait of the (gundog) breed?

E: No, you can get hard-mouthed dogs, but of course you can’t use them as the gamekeeper doesn’t want birds that are half-mauled!

H: What would you tell people who were looking to get and train a working gundog? What traits would you be looking for?

E: I know it can be a touchy subject, but I would look at a dog's pedigree. I have nothing against mixed breed dogs, but if I need a dog for a specific purpose such as shooting, I'd only choose a pedigree dog. With rescue dogs, or mixed breeds you just don't know what you're getting in terms of genetics or dam/sire performance history.  I did a lot of research to find a suitable stud for Leia (registered name Small Chocochip Vision), who comes from a line of Field Trial Champions (FTCh). Her 'boyfriend' was Sandford Gold Blend, and her great-grandsire was Sandford Black Mamba. I can trace the lineage of Leia's puppies back five generations, and I know they'll perform because it's been bred into them - they're proven dogs. With Kennel Club registered dogs, you can also do genetic (coherence) testing to ensure that the dogs aren't closely related to avoid inbreeding, or to check what the probability of health issues will be in the progeny.

H: Did you notice anything special about Leia's puppies?

E: They were all forward dogs: active and jumping up at 5 weeks old. I'd also bang the feed bowls to make sure they weren't afraid of loud noises. You can't have a working dog that's gun shy, obviously!

H: When would you start training a gundog?

E: It depends on the owner. Everyone's different- some people like to let their dogs be puppies and play until they're older at 8 months, and others start training right from the beginning. But regardless of your preference, it's always good to start them young.

H: If there was one thing you'd like people to know before training their own dogs, what would it be?

E: I'd say patience is definitely key! It can be frustrating and you'll have good and bad days, but it's so rewarding in the end.

Sandford Gundogs will be giving training demonstrations in our Henmores store on Sunday 10th March.

Looking for accessories for your beloved pup? Why not browse our online selection here? 

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