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?
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!