Dixie was always up for anything. A small dog, she seemed to be on constant vigil in the event that someone grabbed a gun and headed to the door. In the woodlots, she was a holy terror on quarry from rabbits to grouse. Dixie proved tireless in the search for game and an absolute pleasure to hunt with on many occasions. Unfortunately, the chances of finding another dog just like Dixie are slim. You see, Dixie was a mutt.
When they prepared her kind, they lost the recipe. As best as I could figure, there was a dash of terrier and maybe a pinch of collie or shepherd in the mix. She was short on looks to be sure, but with desire and biddability like hers, those cosmetic imperfections were easy to overlook.
Let me be absolutely clear here, the best way to increase your odds of getting that perfect gun dog is to purchase a pup from the best breeder you can find. Consistently sound gundogs are carefully bred. However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that many dogs of questionable lineage not only provide game for the table, but make great sport of it to boot.
To understand how and why these mutts defy conventional (if somewhat close-minded) thinking, we have to look at what makes them so willing to please. First off, most dogs thrive under a steady and benevolent leader. The confidence you show as you raise your dog is more often than not mirrored in your dog. Universally, the best behaved dogs, including gun dogs, understand their place in the family or pack. Our actions, whether they involve the dog directly or indirectly, have a profound impact on the dog’s psyche.
It’s the well-balanced dog that shows the greatest desire to please their owners — the foundation of all great dogs regardless of their pedigree. A dog like this wants to learn, and most importantly, obey. Teaching it basic commands, such as “sit” and “here” (provided the commands are administered fairly and consistently) is a relatively easy task. Combine this obedient and psychologically well-balanced dog with the fact that most dogs are hard-wired to hunt — sniff, search, run, and chase — and it’s easy to see how dogs with a wide variety of historical backgrounds, structure and appearance, and lineage can and do occasionally make great hunting dogs.
Purebred gun dogs have been historically bred to hone a particular skill set or ability. If you are looking for a classic point on upland game, or a retriever that will produce and handle several blind retrieves in a morning, my advice is to stack the odds in your favour by choosing a pup or “started” dog from a qualified breeder. That said, any dog is a long term commitment, one we should all take seriously.
A dog’s life
So, if you find yourself with a dog that’s a little short on pedigree, take that couch warmer out and give it a whirl. The worse that can happen is you’ll enrich your dog’s life, and quite possibly, you’ll find yourself with some good company in the field.
Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2015 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.