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  • Fieldsports Guide to Gundogs

The new recruit

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A bundle of energy, inquisitiveness and hope. Lock away your slippers and stock up on kitchen roll, the young pup has arrived.

Three weeks in and nothing below knee-level is safe. Tea towels, shoes, firewood, ornaments, even the 13-year-old terrier – who only just tolerates her – are kept out of reach. A glimmer of hope: she is beginning to recognise her own name. She is a puppy proper; exploring, investigating, experiencing things for the first time and chewing everything in her path. Everything is new and exciting – sounds, sights, smells, and the members of her pack.

It was an easy decision, but not one that I made lightly. “As soon as the circumstances allow,” I'd said. Two seasons had passed, dogless on the peg, alone in the hide and in the stand of beeches. A third winter might have been too much. The need for a new recruit was clear.

But the considerations are many. First, there's the breed. Matching one's requirements is a given, but that still leaves you with several options. Stick to what you know or go for something new? And what about that smart-looking spaniel of Derek's, nose like a bloodhound but of pedigree unknown. Are certificates the be all and end all? Opinions vary.

And then there's the gender. “Dogs are more head-strong than bitches,” we are told. Is this always the case, or a generalisation? There are badly-timed seasons and hormonal behaviour to consider... but then will the belligerent old terrier tolerate another male? Highly unlikely.

And what about lineage? Good working stock, Field Trial Champion, the best dog on the local rat ‘n' sparra or just a good old character and solid companion? The cost will vary enormously, of course, but it will be an investment in the long run, right?

And although it shouldn't matter, we are all biased when it comes to looks. Black, liver, white, lemon, ginger, red, leggy, thick-set, big head, docked tails... Everyone has their preferences, but you'll end up making your own choice. Besides, when you see the litter, all preconceptions go out of the window as you follow your heart, not your head. Just stay away from ‘those show types'.

Then you're faced with the monumental decision of picking a name. Traditional (boring?), themed (there's logic), colour or nature-inspired, unusual... Where do you start? “We can't call her Wigeon,” says the other half, “the dentist's daughter's dog is called Wigeon.” Does the dentist even have a daughter? And do you name her on day one, or do you wait a week for a little character
to show? A friend called her terrier Whisper and it turned out to be the noisiest ratter you've ever met. But you'll go through the options and imagine calling it in front of a wagon-load of Guns, beaters, pickers-up (why do you always envisage a bollocking?). 

Kennelled or in the house? And what about food – there's so much choice! Stick to what the young pup is familiar with – if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

We all know that the key is to stick to your guns, but will she break your resolve and end up on the sofa? The countless books and articles on the bedside table offer conflicting advice – which method to follow? After all, every dog is different.

Then there are the essentials: kitchen roll, patience and eyes in the back of your head. Definitely a cage inside, respite for the crotchety old Patterdale who needs a break from the bundle of ears and energy. Besides, he's hardly the best of role models.

Routine, authoritativeness and the ability to ignore howling in the early hours are all desirable. But is silence a blessing or an alarm? What is she up to? Thankfully, she does actually sleep. Occasionally. Everything at a hundred miles an hour, then flop, asleep.

Then there are inoculations, microchips and insurance, all necessary precautions and part of the bigger picture. 

A puppy is potential, hope, excitement, a friend in the making, a sporting companion for years to come. There will be moments in the field to remember, and she'll be there, sharing them. 

She has big boots to fill... 

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