My name is Emma Mather and I own Foxhope Gundogs and Taliory Dalmatians based in the North East. My start to the shooting world wasn’t quite as easy as “I’ve done it as a child” and as such, I’ve always been slightly jealous of those people.
I started off working with horses mainly and dabbled in birds of prey and finally gundogs. I bought a show dalmatian called Talia while working in the hunt service of a very respectable show breeder in Carlisle and began to show dog train. I had a lot of success with her in the ring, from ‘Best Puppy Bitch’ in a Breed-specific championship show to 3rd at Crufts.
I left hunt services and started a relationship with a farmer. He was less passionate about dogs than I was but had 2 gundogs himself. I loved training so much that I took the knowledge I learned from others and used his rough gundog and trained it to compete and pass a working test certificate which qualified him for the Working Gundog Class at Cruft’s. We went from a huge line up of 30 dogs, short listed to 6! I was so chuffed that I was able to take this rough gundog/farm dog into a busy ring to be poked and prodded by strangers, stand pretty and perform to a high standard to be short listed, he wasn’t even young at 5 years old.
I used to join my ex-partner throughout the shooting season on the beating line with only a flag – my Dalmatian Talia, wasn’t allowed! Throughout summer I would take his two gundogs, a couple of friends’ dogs and Talia out into the field for training. I always took her out so she wouldn’t feel left out, I only asked her to sit and stay while the other dogs did their work. Then one day I had thrown a number of dummies out for the dogs to retrieve one by one, by name. Talia had her eye on this one dummy yet to be collected, I thought “why not”, I sent Talia in the same way I would the Labradors and off she went, picked the dummy and brought it, not to hand but close, as if she had been doing it for years!
I wasn’t allowed to take her on the shoot as she wasn’t considered a proper “gundog” and would be an embarrassment! I asked if I could go to a local farm shoot for free with her if I promised she wouldn’t ruin the drives. I was given one chance for us to prove ourselves… she still goes to this shoot 3 years on! From the first day she went out she loved it! She never chased, if she did you could call her off, she would go through the thickest of cover (coming out a red, white and black dog, not that she ever cared) and if I took her to shows she would never be as happy as she was in the field.
From then on, she retired from showing, leaving it up to her son who has now gained his stud book number and junior warrant. Talia now enjoys life as a ‘Spotty Labrador’, an affectionate name given by a fellow gun dog trainer that never seemed to leave her! Talia’s out of season training is hard as if it isn’t in the field she will not entertain it! We tend to work on a lot of what she is used to and what she thinks of as training, watching and waiting until she feels like she needs to prove her position with the youngsters but put her in the field and she is a different dog! – keen and determined with no sign of lacking in drive. Don’t get me wrong you wouldn’t want her sitting in the grouse butt with you but she’s amazing on the moor and picking up pheasants.
There are a few people who don’t agree with Talia working on shoots, however, we have so many “gundog” types from Labradors to Labradors x Pointers to Labradors x Collies – where does the line get drawn? In my opinion, if the dog doesn’t ruin the drive and has manners with a degree of training why not have it work? It’s the 21st Century after all!
My start to working dogs wasn’t easy but the hard work was worth it and I feel so lucky now – I now have a full team of gundogs beating on the grouse 6 days a week, picking up pheasants, and being invited to work on to shoots on amazing estates around Northumberland. I live on a grouse moor with my fantastic partner, who supports me and my own team of gundogs which consist of 1 Springer, 1 Springador, 2 Dalmatians, and 5 Labradors.
I am living my dream and hope to be competing in Field Trials in summer next year (fingers crossed!) – this is only the beginning of Foxhope Gundogs!
Written by Emma Mather