I recently read this article in the Shooting Gazette by Sally Moon about anthropomorphism (putting human emotions and feelings into animals) and gundogs. Moon explains how she never thought she would be guilty of anthropomorphising her dogs, but one older dog that she has had caught her out and she began putting human emotions onto him, and put it down to their strong partnership. Smudge, as her dog is called, was very eager to please, and this had been the basis for their bond.

This got me thinking of the relationship I have with our family English Springer Spaniel, Bramble. He’s always been a pet before a gundog, and maybe this is why he seems so much a part of the family. But I like to think that Bramble and I have a strong bond, and would have that bond regardless of whether he was an incredible gundog or an over-sized lap dog.

Bramble isn’t the best at being a gundog. This is no fault of his: he’s got the breeding, the hyper-sensitive nose, the spiralling tail and the willingness to throw himself into each and every bramble bush at top speed, but he hasn’t had any formal gundog training, and he’s our first family dog so when we picked up a bouncy little bundle of fur that was at the time smaller than our cat from a family breeder down in Somerset, we didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for.

The first shooting season was a nightmare, and I can think the only reason we weren’t asked to leave the small syndicate shoot that my dad and I were beating for was because perhaps the members thought they might be able to help us make him a bit more… manageable. While he would happily come running back to us on walks, we would often spend half an hour searching for him at the end of a drive!


At six and a half he has settled down a lot now. He goes like a bullet from a gun when he’s first let off the lead, but, and this is key, he does realise when the drive finishes and allows himself to be caught. Don’t expect him to pay any attention to anyone at any point in between though.

But we communicate, Bram and I. We have an understanding. He knows I won’t be too bothered as long as he comes back at the end, and doesn’t retrieve birds and then drop them back into the wood (possibly the most embarrassing moment of my life). I know that while he’ll do anything I ask at home for yet another gravy bone, the atmosphere of the shoot day is all too much for him and he’ll do pretty much as he pleases.

The original syndicate came to an end when the land was sold, but Bramble is still happily beating every other weekend during the season at another local shoot. And he gets away with it here because, despite everything, he’s still better behaved than the gamekeepers dog.

Regardless of Bramble’s lunacy, I still don’t believe that anthropomorphism is a bad thing with gundogs. It allows you to have a very human bond with an animal, and can produce some great teams. I don’t think we’re soft on Bramble because of it; he doesn’t get excessive treats and he’ll get a stern telling off if he misbehaves. Is it one of those long-standing traditions that is losing its place in modern society?

Bramble trying his best to look handsome!

I’d love to hear what you think on the matter, so please use the comments section below to voice your ideas, whether they agree or disagree with this post!



  1. I absolutely agree with you. Without emotional attachment, the bond between guide dog and handler is not as powerful. If I treated Bailey as a pure mobility object, I would never have developed the partnership between him and I that kept me safe for seven and a half years. I believe dogs have emotions to. I definitely knew Bailey was sad recently when he was sick, if I didn’t have an emotional bond with him, I might not have noticed such things. Some dog relationships rely on that emotional connection and although it’s not always necessary, I think it’s nice to have. :) Mj

  2. I’ve never owned a dog (unfortunately for me) but I do think that it is a very special bond that develops between dog and owner. However, I do think dogs need to know they are dogs, and not people. And by this I am referring to those who treat their dogs -literally- like they are humans. I’m talking about the extreme cases where people allow their dogs to take over their sofas, beds, tables, or where people dress their dogs in clothes and give them cake!

    1. Well, he might have a little nibble now and again ;-) But I agree with you there, Bramble isn’t allowed on the beds or the sofa apart from one which is his and he looks disapproving if you sit on it! Apart from on Sunday morning when mum lets him sit and read the paper with her in bed! He has to sit and wait for his dinner, isn’t fed from the table and has to wait for any scraps of meat we want to give him afterwards to be put in his bowl and told he can have it (he’ll sit and look at you if you don’t say ‘have it’!)

    2. Aw bless!! No that all sounds normal. I’m thinking of the cases on Victoria whatshername’s show, where the dogs won’t let the people sit on the sofa :)

    3. Yeah, that’s extreme! We practice things like taking Bramble’s toys off him and things that are his, so he knows we are in charge! He isn’t happy about that haha would never bite though, just sits on things and turns rock solid!

  3. I think the extremes are the dangerous place: treating your dog (or any animal really) like a baby/human or treating them as unfeeling black boxes. I specialise in animal emotion and behaviour, and working on a welfare project right now, it is so much easier to optimise the balance by reigning in a overly anthropomorphic person than converting hearts of stone. Also, a lot of what owners see is real (eg minor behaviour or posture changes that relate to pain), and using human-centric language doesn’t take away from noticing and acting on it. I think the true key underlying everything is consistency: always let your animal know where the boundaries are, and by never wavering, they know where they stand.

    Bramble sounds like a happy dug indeed :)

  4. Animals definitely have emotions too! We just have to remember that at the end of the day they’re still animals and not let them rule the roost just because they look sad.
    Your Bramble sounds a lot like Cookie! We’re still not brave enough to let her off-leash in the woods because we’re certain she’ll pick up a trail and be gone for evermore! Our French friends have suggested that we leave her off on a trek with their hunting dog Chips, they think she might take her lead from her…
    Any thoughts?

    1. Well you won’t know until you try it! Although if she’s that distracted by smells I can’t see Chips being much to keep her with you unless she plays a lot with Chips? Take something really yummy, like sausages and give her a bit before you let her off and then keep calling her back and giving her treats :-)

  5. Chips hunts all the time when she’s out, but she comes back when she’s called. They think that the two might hunt together with Cookie picking up on CHips’ good behaviour.
    We’ve tried the yummy treats thing. It works up to a point, but once she gets on the trail of something she’d OCD and nothing distracts her.
    Crazy doggie!

    1. Yeah, to be honest Bramble was the same and the only way was to let him get it out of his system and now he has settled down a lot. Only this method involves hours of searching for your dog…

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