Gundogs Go for Wetlands

November is hunting season in many states. As I walked my bird-dog around the pond, she looked out across the water with curious longing: a flock of ducks, just specks with wings to my eye, skimmed the surface hundreds of yards away. Because I’m not a hunter, I didn’t think about her interest in the sport. She came from Arkansas, a young rescue dog. I don’t know anything about her past because she was found abandoned on the side of a busy highway; but I can guess. She’s a sensitive bird-dog, also called a gundog. When I researched the breed before adopting my pointer-mix (she’s also part-dachshund, making her small for a pointer—only 25 pounds), I learned that if there’s one place a gundog likes to be, it’s in a wetland. Sure enough, my Sophie-Bea is a water-loving dog. She loves to run along the trails around the ponds, prance and hop like a fox through the marshes and meadows near my home. When she catches a deer’s scent, she points her snout and stands absolutely still. Although I don’t take my dog hunting, most gundogs live for it.

So what makes a gundog? Of the three main types of hunting dogs, gundogs are the water-dogs, which include retrievers, pointers and setters. Hounds and terriers make up the other two hunting dog groups. Retrievers are good at swimming (most have webbed feet) and retrieving the downed prey (in most cases, waterfowl) and then returning it to the hunter. Pointers, considered the most intelligent of the gundogs, literally point to the prey by standing rigid and aiming their nose in the direction of the quarry. Setters are trained to crouch in front of the prey so that it can’t escape before the hunter traps it with a net. Any good bird-dog shows a hunter the location of prey and retrieves the downed birds. Bird-dog experts encourage dog owners to send the puppies through professional gundog training, which can take three or four months. They can start as young as 7 months old. The dogs learn how to lie still behind a duck blind, to flush waterfowl and to retrieve birds that have been shot.  Bird-dogs practice by retrieving decoys in the water in a variety of hunting situations and in both wetlands and uplands. Before adopting a gundog, a hunter must consider the climate, long-range or short-range hunting styles, temperament of the breed, intelligence, size, level of exercise needed (gundogs are usually high energy), male or female—with dominant or submissive traits found in both genders, and finally, trainability. The biggest question is what will the gundog be hunting? If, for example, the bird-dog will be hunting for geese, a larger dog like an Irish setter will be more accustomed to the cold water. Somehunters go into upland areas like prairies in addition to wetlands. For example, pointers are popular in pheasant hunts because they don’t startle the birds prematurely. To help choose the right gundog breed for a hunter, there are online questionnaires and quizzes Game and Fish Magazine has a good list of five easy steps for ensuring success with a bird-dog. Gundogs are the sensitive type:

While most gundogs are trained for hunting for waterfowl, others are trained for search and rescue.

There’s even a “Wetlands” themed formula among the natural dog food brands, called Taste of the Wild:

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