The group of dogs known as gun dogs are made up of water dogs, pointers, retrievers, setters and spaniels, including breeds such as Labrador, Golden Retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers. These dogs were bred to assist with small game hunting. Different breeds would serve different purposes such as pointing to indicate the location of game, flushing game from scrub and retrieving game after it had been shot.
Gun dogs love to hold things in their mouths, and will often be found carrying a favourite toy. They should have a ‘soft’ mouth to bring small game back undamaged. However, this mouthy behaviour can cause problems such as picking up things in the house, mouthing clothes and body parts, and picking up objects on walks. In order to have a smooth relationship with your gun dog you will need to learn how to manage mouthy behaviour.
If your dog picks up something inappropriate do not chase them. Chasing can result in dogs learning to swallow objects and also creates a game with something that may be dangerous to them. Instead, praise your dog and go to the fridge and offer a small piece of cheese as a swap for the item. Yes, I can hear you saying, ‘isn’t that just rewarding my dog for bad behaviour?’ No, you are actually rewarding your dog for giving up something prized. Next time instead of taking an item and destroying (or consuming) it your dog will bring it to you for a swap with an instruction to ‘give’.
Never punish your dog for picking up any item otherwise you will find that they still have the urge to hold items but they will be more sneaky about it in the future. It would be unrealistic and unfair, not to mention exhausting, to try to stifle this behaviour. Your dog has no idea what is right and wrong, someone needs to teach him. Punishing your gun dog for carrying an object in their mouth is also counterproductive if you want your dog to retrieve.
However, you can use corrections to help with this behaviour. If you see your dog reach for an inappropriate item a stern ‘ah ah’ should be enough to stop them and will give you some time to redirect them to an appropriate item. Better than this, is to not leave tempting items lying around until your dog has developed some maturity. Keep doors shut, and use laundry hampers with lids to give your dog the best chance of success.
Mouthing on clothing and body parts is another regular concern for people with gun dogs. Gun dogs tend to engage in this behaviour when they are excited, this includes when you arrive home, when guests arrive and at dawn and dusk when dogs are at their busiest. Click here to watch my video on greeting guests calmly.
Encourage your dog to hold their own toys by having a toy in your hand at all times when interacting with your dog. Reward your dog for holding appropriate items with a game of chase or tug and you will find, rather than mouthing you during times of excitement, your dog will start bringing you toys. When you are too busy to play with your dog confine him with an edible treat so that he does not have the opportunity to practice inappropriate mouthing.
Daily walks, environment enrichment and time with other dogs will also go a long way to helping reduce the amount of inappropriate mouthing. Gun dogs have an enormous amount of stamina and energy. Your gun dog should be getting at least an hour off lead walk each day, this means they will spend lots of time interacting with other dogs and their environment. A tired gun dog is less likely to engage in inappropriate mouthing at home.
Enrich your dogs home time with edible chew toys and toys stuffed with food that he will have to work at. Get creative about providing your dog with something to do. Such interactive activities will release the need to chew and mouth on something far more appropriate than you and your belongings.
Play with other dogs is wonderful as it gives your dog an outlet for their mouthy behaviour. Dogs use their mouths in play all the time. Other dogs (far better than us) will teach your dog to inhibit their bite.
Gun dogs can be easily distracted, mainly due to their scenting abilities and need to carry items. Skills, taught early, such as ‘come’, ‘heel’ and ‘leave it’ will be important. The best way to teach ‘leave it’ is to hold a forbidden item in one hand and food in the other. When your dog shows an interest in the item say ‘leave it’ and offer the food. Over a few repetitions your dog will learn that ‘leave it’ means take your nose away from the item. You can proof this on walks with carefully laid items that you dog has to ‘leave’.
Gun dogs have always been my personal choice of dog. They are willing to learn and have a zest for life that I find so refreshing. You will need a good sense of humour to live with one of these dogs.