The long association between humans and dogs stretches back to the dawn of time when they first developed a working partnership to hunt for food. The skills of man advanced and certain dogs were favoured over others and, through the centuries, dogs were bred to enhance their instincts to fit specific roles.

Gundogs are types of hunting dogs developed to assist hunters in flushing, finding and retrieving game.

There are four categories of gundog: Retrievers, Spaniels, Setters and Pointers, and Hunt, Point and Retrieve (HPR) and within the groups there are many breeds to suit a country sports enthusiast, whether he or she is looking for day-long stamina, speed and strength, or patience and obedience.

There are thirty-eight breeds of gundog recognised by the Kennel Club. The versatility of the gundog breeds has grown, and many of them are being trained for other roles away from their traditional work.

Retrievers are bred to retrieve, usually game. They must be steady, and able to sit and ignore all distractions and respond to commands from their handler to retrieve either game or training dummies.

The seven retrieving breeds include Golden Retriever, Flatcoated,  Chesapeake Bay, Curly Coated, Nova Scotia and the Irish Water Spaniel (apparently it is classified as a spaniel in shows but referred to as a retriever when working). Perhaps the most well-known is the Labrador Retriever, one of the world’s most popular breeds due to their friendly nature, capability and adaptability. A well-loved working breed on a shoot day and also a highly valued family pet.

Lawrie Robertson has owned, trained labrador retrievers for more than fifty years, he has competed with them and worked them on shoot days, ‘you want a steady, reliable dog,’ said Lawrie.

"My gundogs have always been house pets so they have been around lots of different people in the home and outdoors, exposed to different places and situations, and other dogs and animals. This gave them a well-rounded life."

He credits putting a lot into the training of his labradors: "It’s great to see your dogs work and also feel confident in their abilities to do their job, and it is rewarding to see all your training pay off, when a bolting rabbit is shot and the dog sits and waits for my command. It’s that investment you have made in their training that pays you back time and time again with tight teamwork.”

Spaniels are bred to hunt and flush game. There are nine breeds of Spaniel listed on the Kennel Club website. The most popular breeds you will see working on a shoot day are springers, cockers, clumbers and sprockers (springer and cocker cross). They are high energy and have the capacity to work all day long. Spaniel owners cite their working dogs as committed grafters because they are ‘enthusiastic, honest and great workers because they always give their all’.

Peter Keyser is a lifelong English Springer Spaniel owner and enjoys working his four dogs on the grouse moors and picking up on partridge and pheasant days. Peter said:: ‘I find them great characters, and they are all different. They may not be the easiest but they are very fast and will cover the ground and are brilliant on the moor." Peter has made the most of the spaniel intelligence and flexibility and has used them for wildfowling and deer stalking.

Hunt, Point and Retrieve (HPR) breeds are known for their versatility and ability to match the skills of all the other gundog varieties and are able to hunt, point and retrieve. They include German Longhaired, Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers, Weimaraner, Hungarian Vizsla and Wirehaired Vizsla, Munsterlander, Italian Spinone, Bracco Italiano, Brittany, Slovakian Rough Haired Pointer and Korthals Griffon.

Ron Smith, Chairman of the central Scotland branch of the British Deer Society, and owner of Murphy, a Korthals Griffon, said: ‘Looking for a replacement for my GSP, I remembered seeing, at shoots and Game Fairs in France, a very popular H.P.R. – the “Griffon à poil dur Korthals.” 

After researching the French Korthals Club web site, we negotiated the purchase of ‘Murphy’. He turned out to be a very biddable dog and relatively easy to train.  His one early failing, his propensity to course any game – rabbit, hare or deer - took me some time to resolve but he is now rock steady on all running game. 

"He hunts and points well and is equally at home walking to heel while I am stalking or sitting quietly under a high seat for one or two hours. All in all a very versatile gundog."

Setters and Pointers are bred to find game and then freeze, pointing the direction of the game. They include English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter (aka, Irish Red Setter), Irish Red and White Setter, and Pointers (sometimes referred to as an English Pointer).

Richard MacNicol, trains and manages the Morness kennel of Pointers for Monsieur Laurent Hild, owner of the Tressady Estate in Sutherland. "The pointer is my preferred choice of bird dog, they kennel well together, are quiet, not barkers and are probably the easier to train of the bird dog breeds. They are very loyal and a wonderful sight to behold when they are working."

To show how adaptable dogs are, Sarah Mottram, who works alongside her gamekeeper husband on Hopetoun Estate, has a gundog called Panda, a Dalmatian: "I trained Panda from a pup just like I did with my other gundogs and have been taking her to shoots ever since beating and picking up. She has an incredible nose on her and has eye wiped (to collect a retrieve which another dog has failed to find) plenty of field trials and other gundogs dogs on a shoot day. Panda had endless stamina, and would run all day true to the history of Dalmatians of being carriage dogs. Panda is a talking point on a shoot, some guns call her a lab with spots!"