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What makes a Gundog?

Written by Holly Marsden @clumberdudewaffle


“He’s not a proper gundog.” A phrase I have heard a number of times from various dissenting voices directed at our dog, Waffle. Waffle isn’t KC registered, he isn’t purebred, he isn’t a FTCH, he isn’t a dog with a 14-syllable name. He is simply Waffle, our pet dog. Affectionately known as Waff. If you haven’t met him before, you could be forgiven for thinking Waffle is a Cockapoo (forgiven but not forgotten!)


He isn’t – he’s much rarer. I’ll give you a second to guess his breeds. -


What have you gone for? I’ll put you out of your misery. No prizes for guessing “some sort of doodle”! Waffle is a Clumberdoodle – his dam is a working Clumber Spaniel and his sire is an apricot Miniature Poodle. He is 15.4kg of muscle, energy, an independent streak a mile long and an affectionate streak even longer. He is my pride and joy, my baby boy, my soul dog. Waffle is also a gundog. Well…gundog in training.


When we first brought Waffle home, I was overwhelmed very quickly by the demands of dog guardianship. I searched high and low for trainers to help us direct his energy and ability into something beneficial for both us and him, finally settling on a local positive reinforcement gundog trainer. I messaged her and asked if Waffle would be allowed to train as a gundog, as he was a mixed breed – I knew enough already to know that mixes were not often welcomed in the gundog world. I was pleasantly surprised when the answer came back as “of course, I’d love to have him!” We set off on this training journey having less than no idea what I was doing. Amazingly, we have been surrounded by likeminded owners, who were hoping to train their pooches to be pets first and foremost, but to harness their natural abilities and breed specific traits. I love it. I love being part of a group, of being with people who wanted to achieve with their dog, who wanted to provide them with the most enriched life they could. Who weren’t necessarily from the ‘gundog world’ either. Most weeks it’s more like therapy than training. I’m hooked. Saying that, I quickly noticed that the other dogs around us were pedigrees, often bred from bloodlines going back to the time of King Arthur (I jest but not far off), with at least one FTCH in their lineage. They were Cocker Spaniels, Springers,

Labradors, GSPs, Vizslas – although to be fair there were a couple of Sprockers too! These dogs had been bred to be gundogs, whether their owners were intending to work them or not. They seemed to pick things up so much faster than us, things came naturally to them whereas for Waff and I, it felt uphill all the time. Obviously, everyone has different battles and different flaws, but I often glanced around at the others doing their exercises and felt deflated. Waff is a smart boy, too smart sometimes, who is high energy and has drive – most of the time. With a full Spaniel their nose may go down and their ears switch off, but you can target their natural willingness to work and use that to develop your bond. As Waff is only half Spaniel, and an independent Clumber spaniel at that, we often miss that natural willingness to work with you. It is tangled with his Poodle side; the Poodle in him makes him incredibly intelligent, super affectionate and also guess what? Poodles have an independent streak too. So, two breeds who have intelligence and independence; great combo for self-employment, not great for working as a team.



I found when I was trying to teach him things, he would do a couple of reps and then wander off, lose interest and reward himself with the environment. He didn’t need me. He didn’t want to work with me. I found the training hard work and sometimes at sessions I would wonder if it was worth it; we didn’t have to do this, we had chosen to. Why were we punishing ourselves? I would look down at my little fluffball. Could we do this? Was this the right place for us? Would we fit in in the gundog world? Was this the right thing for Waffle? Were we having fun?

I’ve never been one to shirk a challenge, and a doodle in the gundog world? That is on heck of a challenge. So, we got stuck in and worked our backsides off – both Waff, my fiancé and me. We put the time and effort in; did the homework, did the swearing, did the buying of all the gear whilst having no idea. I am the owner of training vest now, instead of a Tesco’s carrier bag. I filmed our training sessions at home, out in the field, on walks. I assessed, I tweaked, I tried again. Waff grew up, matured, is working his way steadily (and sometimes infuriatingly) through the adolescent stage. And do you know what? We are smashing it. We have so far completed puppy gundog, foundation gundog and Grade 1 gundog with the intention of taking the assessment in July. We have already signed up for Grade 2 as well, to complete over the summer! I have joined a number of gundog groups and found likeminded female guardians to meet up and train with. It’s been so wholesome. It’s been eye opening. It’s been brilliant. On the flip side though, we have had people look down on us. The gundog world can still be very traditional and patriarchal; I would argue it sometimes struggles to innovate and adapt, to move with the times. For as welcoming and warm as the vast majority of people have been to us, shout out to Girls With Gundogs here, there have been a few who have sneered at our doodle. “He isn’t a proper gundog”, “You’re diluting the breed”, “He won’t be able to go on a shoot”, “He’ll never have the drive or stamina for a worker”; I’ve heard all these. I’ve rolled my eyes at many more.


Waffle, as a cross breed, isn’t allowed to compete in Field or Working Trials either, which I find slightly absurd to this day – but that is a rant for another day! I think we have been proving these people wrong, day in and day out, with our level of training and dedication and the way Waff has taken to this as he’s grown and matured. My dream is one day to attend a shoot, to stand at peg with these sleek KC beauties and work my floofy doodle mutt alongside them. To prove that he can do it. We can do it. That he is a “proper gundog”. Whatever that means.






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