I wanted to interview Natalie, at Ashtreeline about her knowledge on working gundog breeds. I work with a lot of owners who opt for gundog breeds as pets, and can fall foul of poor breeders, and dogs whose need to work make them too much for the average home. Natalie has a long background in working gundogs and was the perfect person to ask about what to look for in a good breeder, and how to decide what puppy to pick.
First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself, your background with dogs and your work.
My name is Natalie Broadbent, I have recently started by own business, Ashtreeline Canine. It’s a small business that’s passionate about ethical breeding, training and working gundogs and in the very near future I am very excited to say I will be offering Canine Pregnancy Scanning. It’s going really well so far, and I have received some great feedback which I’m really pleased about. I’ve accumulated a lot of canine experience over the years through ownership, junior handling, showing, working, training and breeding gundogs as well as studying my degree and teaching undergraduates so it’s great to be able to pass on this knowledge to those interested in using my dogs at stud or those who are new to, or interested, in the sport and need a little one to one help in training their gundogs. I currently own five Labradors and one Cocker spaniel; four of them regularly work on shoots and have been used for teaching and the other two are only young pups so we’re concentrating on their training and enjoying puppyhood at the moment.
Do you think selection of a working bred dog as a pet needs thought?
Yes, it certainly needs thought but that’s not to say that dogs bred from working lines can’t make good pets. It’s important to remember that a lot of dogs from working lines have been selectively bred for a particular purpose which makes them very good at working in their specific field. If we don’t let them express some of these behaviours that they have been bred for then it could lead to behavioural problems. I think if you are going to choose a working bred dog as a pet then certainly choose the right lines for your circumstances and/or be prepared to give them a ‘job’ and put some time into training them.
When it comes to buying a gundog puppy, what do you look for in the parents, breeder and/or puppies?
When it comes to buying or choosing a gundog puppy, I would always recommend doing your research beforehand (just like you would with any other type of puppy). It’s important to look at the parent’s temperament and working ability but also their health. Ideally breeders should be health testing their dogs for common hereditary diseases before choosing to breed them. The specific health tests conducted will depend on the breed of dog but for a Labrador you would want to check if they had been hip/elbow scored, eyes tested and DNA tested for diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (prcd-PRA), Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC), Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis (HNPK), Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM) and Skeletal Dysplasia 2 (SD2). When it comes to viewing the puppies, I would recommend looking at the type of environment they have been raised in and ask yourself a few questions such as; Is it clean? Have they been well cared for? Have they been socialised well? Does the breeder offer support and guidance? Looking at the puppies I would check to see they are socially well rounded, approaching with a wagging tail, alert and active. Don’t get me wrong some puppies will be a little bit shy in the first instance so take your time and let them get acquainted. I like to throw a toy and see how they respond, you may notice some of the puppies may have more drive to retrieve than others and something I would look out for when choosing a puppy for myself, I also like to pick those that like to observe and make eye contact. Choosing a male or female will generally depend on personal preference and perhaps the sex of any dogs you already own. Some people find females are easier to train than males but then you also have their seasons to contend with. Personally, I can’t say I have found a difference between the two providing you put the right training in.
Why are Labradors the breed for you?
For me, apart from being the best companions, they are just so adaptable, good-natured and hardworking. Adaptability has been an important factor for me, particularly over the last few years, my Labradors have needed to pick up one day, perhaps beat and pick up the next and then the following day they have been needed to teach undergraduate students but equally I need them to switch off and settle in the house in the evening or do very little on their rest days. Diversity in the Labrador’s role is evident by just looking at all the disciplines they have excelled in for years such as fisherman’s dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, working dogs, military dogs, drugs dogs and companions. On saying that though you do need to pick the right line/type of Labrador for some of these disciplines which is why I like to keep my own line of Labradors.
What would be your top 3 tips for anyone wanting to work a gundog?
- If it’s not an area you are familiar with then I would definitely recommend attending a shoot day to gain an understanding of the sport and what is expected of you and your dog(s). Choose a suitable breed or line for your desired discipline (beating, picking up or peg dog).
- Don’t set your dog up to fail, it will take time and patience to train a gundog. Consistency is key!
- Tailor the training to the individual dog – Not one method suits all dogs. If you are new to the discipline find a reputable trainer to seek guidance and support.