Gun dogs, also known as bird dogs, are dog breeds developed to help duck and bird hunters locate and retrieve game. There are three primary classes of gundogs based upon their work method, divided into pointing breeds, flushing spaniels, and retrievers. Within these classes are several types of bird dogs or gun dogs, which include setters, water dogs, and flushing spaniels.
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Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are a gun dog that tolls for ducks and then, after the hunter shoots the birds, retrieves the hunter's game without damage to the bird. Some other dogs, such as pointing breeds and spaniels, routinely retrieve game but the primary function of tolling retrievers and other retrievers is non-slip retrieval. This is why retrievers are gun dogs bred for soft mouths and an eagerness to please, obey, and learn. A gun dog with a soft mouth means that the dog is willing to carry duck or game without damaging them. A hunting dog with a hard mouth has a serious fault, which is extremely difficult to correct. The problem with a hard-mouthed dog is that, when retrieving, the dog's mouth damages the bird or game so it not only looks unpresentable, it is often inedible and ruined.
The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, working as a gun dog, is trained to perform tasks such as Mark, Retrieve to Hand, Follow Hand Signals, Steady, Shake, and Quarter. When a hunter says "Mark" to his gundog, the retriever should look up to spot any incoming birds and then watch to see where the shot birds fall. "Return to Hand" is when a retriever holds the bird and drops it into the hunter's hand when told. Some hunters would rather have their dogs drop the birds at their feet. There is no right or wrong way as it is strictly a personal preference. "Follow Hand Signals" is just what it sounds like. Gun dogs must be able to follow the hunter's hand signals they give from a boat or land, when hunting downed waterfowl. This is a non-verbal way to guide the dog to the downed waterfowl.
Another group of gun dog breeds is a spaniel whose primary job is to help the hunter with bird hunting. Working within gun range, spaniels are steady to shot, have the ability to mark, and retrieve shot birds or game. A good nose and soft mouth are extremely valuable in a spaniel. They are adept at hunting waterfowl, rabbit, upland game birds, and other game. Spaniels have the ability to hunt successfully in a large variety of places such as the woods, marshlands, in briars, farmlands, along fencerows, woodlands, and open fields.
A well-trained, reliable, energetic, intelligent hunting dog is worth its weight in gold as a gun dog.
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