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Gundogs or Circus Dogs?
A controversial topic from the Wildfowling Magazine archives

A question I am often asked if the rarefied atmosphere of gundog field trials really does produce dogs which are suitable for the ordinary shooting man. Some correspondents have even suggested that trialling ruins good shooting dogs.

Despite the self-evident assertion that a gundog should work to the Guns, there is - in certain quarters at least - a fear that some rank perversion has overtaken the shooting community and that the prime task of the country's best pointers, spaniels and retrievers is to win awards in field trials. More important, perhaps, to pick up a Certificate of Merit than to pick up a wingtipped woodcock.

Yet, despite the distaste with which many wildfowlers are coming to regard the competitive gundog scene (in the same way as they look down their noses at clay pigeon shots), there can be little doubt that the general standard - or at least potential standard - of gundogs in Britain today owes much to the efforts of that strange band of breeders and trainers who have sought excellence primarily to secure those coveted letters "FTCh".

It is easy, of course, to be cynical; to dismiss the entire field trial business as an unnecessary, introspective, self-perpetuating, snobbish closed shop which has as little relevance to the real world of gundogs as a Grand Prix racing circuit has to the middle lane of the M25. Yet, even in that strained analogy, we make a fundamental mistake. No matter how little resemblance the sleek, supercharged racing machine may appear to bear to a normal family saloon, motor engineers would hastily concede that the production car owes much to safety and performance developments which originated at Silverstone or Le Mans.

Similarly, the superb strains of gundog which are readily available to the ordinary shooting man or women have evolved as a result of carefully selective breeding by the trialling fraternity. More than that, the standard of training which is nowadays necessary to achieve competitive success provides a pointer to the level of performance which should be within the grasp of every sporting enthusiast.

Yes, at the end of the day we must concede that the worth of the working gundog has been heightened by the efforts of those who seek glory in competitions. We may be tempted to laugh at their remoteness from the mainstream shooting world or mock the overt rivalry of their approach. We may even dismiss their dogs as pantomime performers. But, make no mistake, those of us who thrill to the beauty of a perfect retrieve or depend upon the efficiency of an effective spaniel would find such qualities harder to find were it not for the sterling efforts of those who breed and train dogs for trials and tests.