Considering kennel or couch for your gun dog

by Tom Goldsmith | July 9, 2021
Chocolate-coloured mid-sized dog lays on a plush red chair inside a home gazing out the window.

There was a time in our collective recent history when the term “house dog” was common. This term implies that the dog has no purpose other than companionship for their owners and that they live within the confines of a house. The alternative was “outside dog,” again, not a term we hear much anymore, implying that the dog was a working dog with a sole purpose, like hunting. The question is how different are they really? Is a house dog capable of being a stellar gun dog? Conversely, is a kennel dog incapable of being a fine companion?

Couch potato

There is a prevailing train of thought that if a person is serious about owning a quality gun dog, it should be kept outside. The thinking, I guess, is that living in the house makes them soft? This has not been my experience. While I have hunted with and witnessed countless excellent dogs who would qualify for the “outside dog” moniker, I can confidently state that the best trained and bird-finding dog I have ever had the pleasure of shooting over was a confirmed couch potato. He would accompany his owner to work every day and sleep on a plush leather chair curiously set beside his travel kennel. His owner would train in an urban hydrofield behind the office. This dog was the owner’s single pet and lived in the house, hunted regularly, and was a veritable vacuum in the grouse and woodcock woods.

Comfortable canines

 I think I see where the mistaken belief that good gun dogs must be kept outside comes from. Follow me here. A potential hunter in search of a well-bred gun dog begins by looking to those who have a long and steady reputation of producing great dogs. This is a good place to start. They visit the breeders who are frequently on rural properties. The prospective puppy shoppers see these professional and elaborate kennels and think that replicating this is the path to success.

The reality is that serious breeders and trainers of quality gun dogs are very likely to be involved in campaigning their dog(s) in trials and hunt tests of some kind. Chances are pretty darn good that these individuals own several dogs and having quality and serviceable accommodations for their dogs outside just makes sense. Remember, these dogs will be tended to every day. They are not just warehoused in the yard or tied to a tree. They are enriched both physically and mentally and live very happy, fulfilled lives.

Problems occur when a dog owner, particularly one who lives in a more urban setting, endeavours to replicate that kind of housing in their own backyard. A single dog, when isolated from others, tends to get bored and begins any number of non-productive behaviours. Desperate to garner any attention and fight boredom, the dog starts digging or barking and howling. These behaviours draw the scorn of neighbours. Sadly, once the lid is lifted from this Pandora’s box of unwanted behaviours, they can be almost impossible to stop.

Head off bad habits

The good news is that with a few careful considerations regarding house training and basic obedience, housing the dog inside with you and your family is a good way to head off some of those bad habits. Having your dog live inside with you and your family is also a great way to socialize the pup and goes a long way to building a social, confident dog within his own pack. Any trainer would be happy to start field training with a dog that shows this kind of confidence and boldness towards the outside world. Given that kind of raw material to work with one needs only to provide plenty of time in the field training in a steady and consistent way to achieve the kind of dog anyone would be proud to own and hunt with. If that same dog happens to spend its off-time holding the sofa in place, then who are we to judge.

Tom has a long-held passion for dogs and hunting. He’s also an avid falconer and has been a contributing illustrator with OOD for over 20 years. Contact Tom at mail@oodmag.com

Originally published in the August 2020 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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