Less is More.


UPDATE: Leo earned a perfect score of 112/112!


This weekend I will be running my new pup Léo in a NAVHDA Natural Ability test hosted by the Red River Chapter near Fargo. Born last December, he will be too old to run next summer – the age limit is 16 months – so I am running him at 8 months of age before he's ever really hunted and without any formal training by me. But that's OK, in keeping with his French heritage, I'm following the take it easy and 'less is more' philosophy of bringing a bird dog along. So on test day, my goal is to just have fun, cross my fingers and hope for the best.


For those unfamiliar with the test, here is what's involved. (From the NAVHDA website, with my notes added):

The Natural Ability Test is organized into four main segments:

1) Field Phase - Each dog is hunted for a minimum of 20 minutes and is evaluated on:

  • Use of Nose
  • Search
  • Pointing
  • Desire
  • Cooperation
  • Gun Shyness
During this phase you walk through a field in more or less the same way you would if you were out hunting (or rough shooting as my UK friends call it).  While you 'hunt' with your dog, one judge walks with you while two others (and one or two apprentices) follow further behind.

A few minutes into the run, a gunner further back fires a blank from a shotgun, twice. The judges want to see if the shot affects the dog in a negative way. So far Leo has shown no reaction to gunfire other than to look over towards the sound, if that. So I think he will be fine in that regard, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to 'hunting' in a field with a half dozen people around. I've only ever run him by myself, but I'm pretty sure he will just ignore the others and have fun searching for game.

Prior to each dog's turn pen-raised birds, usually Chukar partridge, are placed in the field. If all goes well, the dog finds some birds and points them. Unlike the higher levels of NAVHDA testing, in NA tests, the dog does not have to wait until the handler flushes the bird. As long as it points for a few seconds, it should get a decent pointing score. 

Léo seems to have a strong natural point. I've seen him point rabbits in the city and the occasional song bird in the field. I worked him on planted pigeons a couple of times and he pointed them well. He has even shown a tendency to back (honour) other dogs on point. But Léo hasn't been exposed to game birds yet. We avoided wild birds over the summer since they were nesting or had young chicks and I don't have access to pen-raised Chukars. So when we hit the field in the NA test, I will just cross my  fingers and hope that Léo's instincts kick in when he comes across birds.

Another thing judges look for during this phase is how well the dog hunts with and for the handler. They want to see a certain amount of independence from the dog, but don't want it to take off for the horizon. Then again, they don't really want to see the dog amble about mere meters from the handler either.  Ideally, the dog will hunt at a suitable range for hunting according to the the conditions of the day; not too far, not too close. It should also show a decent amount of drive and respond to commands (if any) given by the handler.

When I take Léo out to the fields around here, he runs at a medium to fast gallop, holds his head just above the shoulder line, and makes casts out to about 75 yard. But, as mentioned, he hasn't really been on game birds before. So I wouldn't be surprised if he opens up even more once he realizes that there are birds in the field. He may even fall slightly deaf to my whistle or commands. So my plan is to just keep my yapper shut and hope that he doesn't disappear over the horizon on a bird-fueled bender.


 
2) Tracking Phase - The dog is given an opportunity to track a flightless running pheasant or chukar.
During this phase, one pheasant for each dog is placed in a field and coaxed into running downwind for about 50 yards. The dog is then brought to where the bird was first released so that it can (hopefully) follow the track to the bird. If the dog does follow the track and manages to find the bird, it can point it or fetch it up. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't really have to find the bird to get a good score. What the judges want to evaluate is how well the dog can actually follow a track.

In theory, this should be a relatively easy job for a well-bred gundog. The bird should leave a decent scent trail behind it and the dog should be able to follow it fairly well. But there are tons of variables involved, from the humidity (or lack thereof) of the air and grass, to the length of the cover, to how far and fast the bird went, so no matter how much prep you do for this phase, or how well your dog did in any practice tracks you've done, it is always a complete crap shoot on test day.

I've done exactly zero prep for this phase with Léo. I might get one practice track in this weekend if I can find a pheasant, but in all likelihood, the track at the test will be Léo's first. And I don't really know how it will go. Léo loves to run and he runs with a high head. So he may follow the trail for a bit, but then decide that it's best to just go into field search mode instead of track mode. Or he may track it perfectly well. I've seen him follow a rabbit track for over 100 yards, so I know he has some tracking instincts. In any case, just as in the field search portion, I will cross my fingers and hope for the best.

3) Water Phase - The dog is tested for its willingness to swim.
The only problem I have with Léo and water is getting him OUT of it! So I am pretty sure he will do well in this portion of the test.





4) Judgment of Physical Characteristics.
The following are judged throughout the Natural Ability Test:
  • Use of Nose
  • Desire to Work
  • Cooperation
  • Physical Attributes
No game is shot, and no retrieves are required during the Natural Ability Test.

From what I can tell, Léo has very good nose and his desire for work and cooperation are excellent. He really is an outstanding pup in every way. He's super easy to live with, friendly, loves to hunt and cuddle, and is pretty darn handsome as well. We are really pleased with him and look forward to many hunting seasons with him.

But for now, I need to pack my bags and then do some stretches for my fingers...they will be crossed all weekend!







On Range


Hunting dogs are generally categorized according to the job they are expected to do and the manner in which they should do it. Thus the retrieving breeds; Labradors, Chesapeakes, Golden, Flat and Curly Coats, are used to do what their name would imply. They retrieve shot game to the hunter. While there may be some debate about the finer points of the expected performance, there is no disagreement about the basic task: the dog must leave the hunter, make its way to the downed game, pick it up and bring it back.

The flushing spaniels, Springers, Cockers, Clumbers, Sussex, Welsh and Field are selected, bred and trained to search for game and force it to flight within gun range of the hunter. They are expected to retrieve downed game as well. Here again there may be some disagreement regarding the exact manner in which the dog should work, but the basics are not in dispute. The dog must seek and flush game within range of the gun and retrieve what is shot.


Pointing breeds however, do not enjoy such a consensus of opinion when it comes to how they should do their job. Other than agreeing that the dog should find and point game, everything else, from searching to retrieving, to tracking, to pace, and gate, even to the posture the dog assumes while pointing can be, and usually is, the subject of heated debate among pointing dog enthusiasts.


This is one of the principle reasons that there are so many more breeds of pointing dogs than there are retrievers or flushing spaniels. Different pointing breeds have been developed to perform similar tasks but in sometimes very different ways. Furthermore, many breeds can now be subdivided into different strains with field performance characteristics so dissimilar that they can almost be considered different breeds altogether.

The one area that stands above all others as a source of endless debate, especially in America, is the question of range. Since a pointing dog’s main purpose in the field is to find game, point it and, hopefully, hold the game there until the hunter arrives, it can work at distances beyond the range of a shotgun. So the question then becomes, how far is too far?

Traditionally, all of the Continental breeds were selected and trained to hunt only slightly further out than flushing dogs, about 50 or 60 meters at the most. Nowadays, a few breeds are still supposed to have that sort of range, but most are expected to run somewhat wider than that, at least some of the time. What’s more, over the last 50 years, bigger and faster running strains within most breeds have been developed. In fact, in some breeds, there are now lines of dogs that approach the speed and range of English Pointers and English Setters.


Be that as it may, I have come up with a chart that illustrates the typical range for each of the Continental pointing breeds, but we need to keep the following things in mind when consulting it.

THE BEST RANGE IS THE ONE THAT SUITS YOU: One of the most common sources of frustration among pointing dog owners is a mismatch between the range the hunter would like his dog to run at, and the range the dog’s genes tell it to run at. Most experts agree that a pointing dog’s range is largely an inherited trait. There are methods that can be employed to modify this range making a wide-ranging dog work closer or, more difficultly, making a close-working dog range further out—but in general the distance from the handler at which the dog is most comfortable hunting is mainly determined by its genes. So, finding a breed that has the kind of range you are comfortable with, and is suitable for the game and terrain you hunt, is very important.

THESE ARE BALLPARK FIGURES: The chart is not based on anything close to a scientific survey. Some of the distances given are based on the preferred ranges stated in the breed’s published work standard, but most are based on nothing more than the breed’s reputation or the generally accepted norm as expressed to me by the breeders and owners I have spoken to.

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS: There are outliers in every breed. Some may run way bigger than the average, and others may work closer in. In many breeds, this applies to various strains and lines that may show significant differences in range. That is why the chart shows a wider spectrum of ranges for some breeds.


“HORSES FOR COURSES”: Generally speaking, within any given breed, breeders who select their stock for field trials tend to produce dogs that are toward the bigger running end of the spectrum. Other breeders may seek to produce closer-working dogs suitable for different types of terrain or game.


TO THE FRONT OR SIDE TO SIDE: In some countries, dogs are expected to run in a windshield wiper pattern in front of the hunter. In that case, the distances given would indicate how far the dog usually ranges out to one side or the other. In other countries, dogs are encouraged to “seek objectives”. They should run to areas of cover that are likely to hold birds no matter where they may be, to the left, to the right, or out in front.

DOGS ADJUST THEIR RANGE: The distances given reflect the usual range for the breed when hunting in open fields. Most dogs will adjust their range when working in tighter cover. The same dog that ranges out to over 300 meters across a stubble field for grey partridges might not go beyond 40 or 50 meters in the alder thickets in pursuit of woodcock. And yes, as mentioned above, a dog’s range can be adjusted. But it is easier to teach a wide-running dog to stay closer than it is to make a close working dog work further out





Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca

Happy Father's Day!


Me, my dad, Félix and CJ, circa 2000

In honour of Father's day, and because I just happen to have the best father in the world, I thought I would share a book of photos that I made for my dad on his 80th birthday three years ago. All the photos are either of him or taken by him. And in case you are wondering, yes, at almost 83 he is still going strong. In fact he now has more hair than me, and none of it is grey!!!

Happy Father's Day Dad!


An American in France.

Bill Kelley is a man on a mission. The goal of his Cache d'Or Bretons kennel is to produce Epagneul Bretons (French Brittanies) in the United States equal to the finest found in France. So, every year he travels from his home in Maryland to France to learn about the breed, run his dogs in typical French terrain, walk with judges at field trials and learn about the finer points of conformation from the best show judges in the country. 

As a fellow francophile, I have much in common with Bill. I've spent a lot of time in France watching French dogs do their thing. But I've never actually met an American there or spoken to one that has dedicated so much time learning about the French system. So I was interested to hear Bill's thoughts about the French field trial scene and the dogs they produce and asked him a few questions.



Can you tell me how an American such as yourself got involved with field trials all they way across the ocean? After forty years of pointing dogs, I decided to get my first Epagneul Breton.  At that time, I didn't even know that a French Brittany was an Epagneul Breton! Like a lot of people, I was attracted to the "close-working" gun dog- and the tri-color coat. I wanted an orange/white female and the breeder (Kevin Pack at Carolina Brittanies) only had a black/white male. I took him.  So glad I did. When I looked at Cache's (Vulcan du Talon de Gourdon) pedigree, I noticed their were lots of red letters for champions. Having started my bird dog life in AF horseback trials with an English Setter, I knew what our field champions did, but had no clue as to what champions in France were required to do. The more I researched, the more I realized the only way to understand was to go to France and see for myself.

I have been fortunate since my time in the breed to have some very fine mentors, chief among them is Pierre Willems, former member of the CEB France committee and owner of the world-famous Hameau de Sorny kennel. Through Pierre, I made my first trip to France more than a decade ago. I was permitted to walk the trial with Judge Jean Moussour.  Understand, in French trials, there is no gallery as one would see in the US. Only the judge, landowner's guide, and handler are typically in the field.

Several days in the winter wheat of Vimpelles showed me I knew very little of what an EB was made to do- BUT I was anxious to learn! I did not know it then, but I was watching some of the finest EBs ever to hit the ground in France. The hunting and pointing was intense.  The rules were formidable and unforgiving. It was a real challenge- and one that I believe has helped form the EB into the breed it is today.


Tell me about your first experience(s) there, what was it like to compete in such a different scene and how steep was the learning curve? My experience in French FTs has been limited to walking with judges. I have entered one of my dogs in a TAN in France (which in my observation is significantly different than those run in the US.  see below.) We did well, passing the TAN and being recognized by the judge, a top French trainer/handler, as "the best dog I've seen today." In the French system, part of a judge's training is to work side-by-side with a judge. In terms of learning, this is far better than running a dog.

A handler get to only see their dog. When one is with the judge through the day, you have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the rues and what a judge wants to see. Through the years I have had the privilege of walking field trials with several of the top judges in France. Each time is a wonderful experience. These judges are real dog men. They understand the demands of a working breed and the needs of the hunter who walks behind the dog.

Dog people are dog people, no matter the language or culture. I am fortunate to have some fluency in French, so that has been helpful. However, the common bond of loving good dogs and good dog work transcends any possible divide. The learning curve was steep at first, has smoothed out a bit, but I am still learning. What I have found is summer up in a saying one of my mentors has used- "When the student is ready, a teacher will be found." What wisdom. It's all about our willingness to learn. EVERY person I have met in the French dog world has been exceptionally welcoming and willing to share. It has been an amazing relationship.



What are some of the most important (or interesting or both) things you've learnt about field trials in Europe? The most interesting thing I've learned is that just as in the US, there is no such thing as "a field trial." While all the French/FCI trials are on foot, the game and terrain are as varied as Europe itself.  While the typical trial in France is the spring trial in winter wheat on wild partridge, there are equally popular autumn, shoot to retrieve, trials on released pheasants. There are also niche trials on wild snipe, woodcock, and mountain birds. Each has its unique requirements of both dog and handler. FT in France are serious business. Most dogs are handled by professionals whose livelihood depends in the success of their dogs. In addition, there is a circuit of trials held several days each week, not just on weekends. Dogs that come through this process successfully certainly have proven their merit for future breeding.


What do your American colleagues think about your competing over there? As for my American colleagues, I hope things are changing. As far as I know, there are only a handful of Americans who have run trials in Europe. Typically, they go to France with dogs they purchased and were trained on the Continent. In addition, the demands of "the game" make it difficult for US dogs to be successful on new game, new terrain, and new rules. The limited success US folks have found has been in autumn trials on released pheasants- something that more approaches our conditions.

Overall, I find that the American EB community's attitude can be summed-up in a quote from one of their club officer's at the CEB France National show several years ago- "I came all the way to France and I didn't learn anything." See the quote above about a "ready student." Within the past month, two officers of the US club have gone to France and run one of their dogs. Hopefully, they were "ready students." I often hear people talk about how much they love the EB. I wonder if they understand the process (the French process) that created the breed they love. I fear that like many other things, the realities of time and distance lead to changes and alterations from the original . The expectations are different here - lower, in my opinion. I have seen US EB TANs and trials. What goes here would never go in France. For example, I saw an EB run a TAN here. After two attempts to find scent, the dog was put on a check-cord and handled onto the bird. It flash-pointed for a moment and moved on.  It passed. This would never go in France.

As for myself or others competing in France, I think most Americans are simply uninterested. We tend to be be quite provincial and think that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world. Unfortunately, I am afraid this attitude will lead to the diminution of the breed. I am convinced that if we want to maintain and improve the quality of the EB in the US, we MUST have a stronger relationship with our firends in France.  After all, they are the creators and guardians of the breed.

What are some myths about the european field trial and hunting scene that you've had to dispell? The best way I can sum up the"myths" of the French hunting scene is to recount my landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip to France.  As we descended, all I could see were fields and woods. Little villages and towns, here and there, but mostly green. Where did Paris go? What happened to the Eiffel Tower? Like most folks, I think, my perception of France was a busy, urban, cosmopolitain place. It is that, of course, but so much more.

The landscape of France is vast and agrarian. The land is much more covered with field and woods. Spawling development in contained. Places to hunt, while typically organized for hunting clubs abound. Wild game, at least as compared to Eastern US, is abundant. Many French people hunt - and it is an important part of their culture. It is important to remember that for centuries hunting was the privilege of the ruling class. Poaching was a possible death sentence. Somehow, it appears that the French still understand these roots of our sport and strongly resist efforts to change the traditions they've developed. Mind you, neckties are not required when hunting in France as in the UK, but the French hunting traditions are strong. Frenchmen are proud to show you their Darnes and take you to the sporting goods stores. As you can tell, my appreciation for and affinity with the French culture is strong. I've learned a lot from my French friends and my life is richer for the experiences and relationships.

My best advice for any American who loves their EB and wants the breed to prosper is to get over their fears and insecurities about the langauge barrier and visit France, see their trials, and shows, and get to know the wonderful people responsible for giving us the dogs we love so much.


Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca



The Picardy Spaniel: What's What and Who's Who.

In a previous post I wrote the following about an excellent Picardy Spaniel that Lisa and I saw in a field trial in France.
Watching Aramis run, I realized that the Picardy Spaniel would probably thrive in the US and Canada. Speaking to Lisa after the trial, I said that it would be perfect for many North American hunters since, among all the French pointing breeds, it is probably the best suited to NAVHDA testing and to the kind of mixed-bag hunting we do. She replied: I think you are right. It’s a shame that the Picardy is such a well-kept secret. But if you write about dogs like Aramis, the secret won’t last very long!
Photo: Sarah Caldecott
Well I am happy to say that the secret may finally be getting out. In addition to a club for the breed and a number of breeders in France, there is now a Picardy club in the UK and Holland and breeders in Germany, Austria, England and Finland. This summer, the Picardy Spaniel population of Canada is set to double -- from one to two -- when we welcome our new pup Leo from the UK and there will soon be several more pups coming to in North America and even a litter or two on the ground in the next couple of years.

So I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about the current state of the breed, as of February, 2016.

Photo: Claire Josse
THE GOOD: The Picardy is a hidden gem among gundogs. Created by hunters, for hunters, it is still an artisanal breed. The vast majority of Picardy Spaniels look like they are supposed to look and hunt the way they are supposed to hunt. There are no large kennels breeding dozens of litters per year, no trucks full of Picardies on the major field trial circuit or show-only breeders seeking blue ribbons in the ring. Picardy Spaniels are still bred the old-fashioned way; mainly in the homes of hunters who produce a litter or two every couple of years from their personal hunting companions.

Like all breeds, there is some hip dysplasia, and eye issues like ectropion are not unknown either. But in general, the average Picardy enjoys good health. Overall, the breed's gene pool is relatively wide and inbreeding coefficients are usually not particularly high in most litters, even if it may seem that way on paper (see below).


THE NOT-SO-GOOD:
The overall population of Picardy Spaniels is very low and that means the dreaded popular sire syndrome can occur more easily and have a stronger negative effect. Have a look at the graph I drew up showing the registration stats from the French kennel club. It shows that while the breed has gained ground over the last 45 years it still averages less than 100 registrations per year. Of course there are dogs that are not registered, but even if we include them, the number of Picardy Spaniels whelped in France has probably never been more than 200 pups in any given year.


Outside of France, stats are harder to come by, but my guess is that an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped places in like Germany, the Netherlands and Austria each year. So if the average life span of a Picardy is 9 years and there are say, 125 pups whelped per year, that means the entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals right now.

Testing rates for hip dysplasia and other health concerns are also too low, especially in France. There are still too many breeders out there that just assume that their dogs are fine, then breed them without taking advantage of diagnostic tests now available.

Photo: Claire Josse
CHALLENGES: Even before the breed was fully formed, "foreign" blood (mainly English Setters) had made its way into French Spaniels all over France, and in particular, into the French Spaniel type dogs bred in Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. I wrote about one such case here. When the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized as an independent breed in the early 1900s, it was supposed to remain pure. But like every other French breed of épagneul, crosses to setters occurred. It is believed they happened between the wars and again in the 1980s and 90s and have probably occurred as recently as just a few years ago.

Over the years, some of the crosses were sanctioned by the club, others were not. In any case, no one denies that if a Picardy could talk, it would have a slight English accent. And in some ways, that is a good thing. Limited and controlled doses of setter blood have helped widen the gene pool of the breed and given the average Picardy a bigger run, more point and better style.


But there have also been some drawbacks. It now seems that there may have been a few too many crosses in some lines and that breeders may have over-estimated their knowledge of basic genetics. In any case, there are some issues in the breed that need to be dealt with. For example, pups with so-called "lemon" colouring -- a coat like that of an orange and white setter -- have popped up in some lines. Breeders will now have to test their dogs to identify carriers of the gene to avoid "lemon" coats in the future. In addition, coats with a faded brown colour, very light or no tan points, lacking grey roan and/or having a lot of white are also occurring in some litters.  Another issue is that the overall build of some dogs is becoming more setter-like and there is a real fear that the versatility and practicality of the breed's continental hunting style may also be at risk.

So in some regards, the Picardy is facing a situation similar to that of the Korthals Griffon (although on a much smaller scale and with far less vitriol). Unwanted genetic material has made its way into the breed and it is now posing a challenge to breeders seeking to produce clean litters of pups that look and hunt like Picardy Spaniels. That said, I am actually optimistic that the breed will be just fine in the long run. The French tend to have a worldly, pragmatic view about these sorts of things. They are certainly much less puritanical about it than some of the more zealous purists in the US and UK where a similar situation would end up with torch carrying mobs looking for witches. No, in France there may be a bit of mud-slinging and hurt feelings, but in the end breeders of Picardy Spaniels, with the help of a growing community of supporters outside of France, will put the breed back on a more or less straight and narrow path and continue to breed some really good dogs.

Photo: Claire Josse
OPPORTUNITIES: I know I sound like a broken record, but I will say it again: the Picardy Spaniel should be better known, especially among North American hunters. It represents exactly the kind of dog many of us want: an easy-to-train, easy-to-live-with, naturally-talented upland birddog that is also an excellent water worker. And yes, Picardies can also blood track, hunt fur and fetch foxes. Just ask the increasing number of German and Austrian hunters that are getting into the breed.

And that, I believe is the biggest opportunity for the breed right now. There are exciting new horizons opening up for the Picardy Spaniel. After languishing in its native Picardy for too long, hunters from outside of France are bringing new energy and new ideas to the breed. And as they do, a renewed sense of pride and purpose is emerging among the creators and guardians of the breed, French hunters. They've had a real treasure on their hands for over a century, but needed a friendly reminder about just how precious it is. The Picardy Spaniel was a well-kept secret for too long. I'm happy to report that the world is finally finding out about it.



Here is a list of currently active breeders with links to their websites or Facebook page or email. If you are interested in getting a Picardy Spaniel pup, you may want to read my post about importing a pup from overseas first.

FRANCE
GERMANY
AUSTRIA
NETHERLANDS
ENGLAND

Photo: Claire Josse
And here is a brief overview of some of the more influential kennel names of the past and present that you will see in the pedigrees of most Picardy pups today.

DU VAL PICARD:
Mr. Loir no longer breeds, but his kennel was among the first to be established after World War II and his efforts were key in reviving the breed in the post-war years.

DU PRÉ DES AULNAIS: Mr. Demagny no longer breeds dogs, but was one of the first breeders of Picardy Spaniels, along with Mr. Lempereur, Mr. Charron and Mr. Mailly to focus on fields trials to raise the profile of the breed. Mr. Demagny's dogs Joconde, Only One, Tina, Excel and Iroo achieved great results in the field. Other kennels active on the field trial scene in that same period include du Bois Bruyant (Mr. Lecaille) and du Mont Galant (Mr. Charron).

DE LA VALLEE BROUTIN: Mr. Marc Lempereur's kennel is perhaps the most well known and prolific in France. Mr. Lempereur, along with Mr. Demagny and Mr. Charron were the first to bring the Picardy back to field trialing in the 1960s. Pacha de la Vallée Broutin, an excellent trial dog was the foundation of Mr. Lempereur's kennel and greatly improved the pointing talents and coat quality of the breed. Pacha's son Truffe dominated the field trial scene for Picardy Spaniels and was followed by other excellent descendants such as Astuce, Chipsie, Echo, Futile, Futée, Pandorre and other champions including the well-known dog Fax.

DES MARAIS DE SAINT HILAIREMr. Lemonnier was one of the rare breeders of Picardy Spaniels to successfully compete in woodcock and snipe trials. His dogs Roxane des Terres de Pitance, Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Candy des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Comtesse des Marais de Saint Hilaire and Coyotte des Marais de Saint Hilaire established the excellent reputation of the kennel. Mr. Lemonier has produced a number of field trial champions but may no longer be breeding.

DES TERRES DE PITANCE:
Mr. Joël Mailly started his kennel with Catch de la Vallée Broutin et Farah at the beginning of the 1980's. Since then, his small family-run kennel has produced field trial champions and field pointed dogs in every generation. Dogs such as Jaffa, Jeff, Milord, Rambo, Roxane, Vénus, and his latest dog Gena are the stars of his kennel. Vénus is in fact one of the very few female Picardy Spaniels to attain the title of spring-time field trial champion.

DES ETANGS ENSOLEILLÉS: Only produced one or two litters and is best known for Theo des Étangs Ensoleillés, an excellent dog used by Mr. Mailly.

DE LA VALLEE DE BOUCHON: Sébastien Roze continues to breed the occasional litter for the kennel founded by his late father, Dominique. Sébastien often participates in Saint Hubert events (shoot to retrieve trials) and typically gets excellent ratings for his dogs at the national breed show.

DU MARAIS DE LA MALVOISINE: William Brutelle's kennel has produced several high-profile Picardy Spaniels in recent years. Dogs such as Archimède du Marais de la MalvoisineAxel de la Malvoisine and Astro de la Malvoisine earned the kennel a good reputation for producing excellent field trial and hunting dogs. Axel also earned a BICP (versatile dog test) championship title and other dogs from the kennel have won and placed in field trials in France and the Netherlands. Mr. Brutelle also breeds English Setters.

DU RIDEAU DE LA LOUVE:
Mr. Bruno Demoulin produced a number of excellent Picardy Spaniels including autumn and spring-time champion César du Rideau de la Louve and Natt du Rideau de la Louve, the first ever spring-time field trial champion Picardy Spaniel. Mr. Demoulin no longer breeds Picardy Spaniels and now focusses on breeding English Setters.


Photo: Julia Kauer





Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca

Long Distance Run Around


In a perfect world the pup of your dreams, from the breed of your dreams, would be whelped by an awesome breeder living just down the street. And when the happy day came for you to bring puppy home, all you'd need to do is walk half a block to get him. 

But this world is not perfect. 



The pup of your dreams, from a breed of your dreams, may actually spend the first 8+ weeks of its life far away from where you live. And that means you can't just walk down the street to get him. But if he's in your own country, getting a pup from a different city or state is fairly straight forward. There are no international borders or language barriers to deal with. And no matter how far away the breeder lives, you at least have the option of taking a road trip to go there or shipping him with a domestic airline.

But what happens when the pup is in another country, on the other side of the ocean? Obviously things are a bit more complicated, but not impossible. In fact, getting a pup from Europe is actually relatively easy, and best of all, it can lead to some incredible opportunities to make new friends and discover other cultures.

How do I know that? Because my wife and I have been there, done that, several times. And our lives are now richer for it. We've imported and help others import dogs from France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and helped breeders over here export dogs to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. So here are some tips and suggestions for getting a pup from overseas or, if you are a breeder, for shipping a pup overseas. They are based on our own experiences and those of some good friends who have also 'been there, done that'.

NOTE: If you are still trying to figure out which breed to get or haven't made contact with an overseas breeder, before you continue reading this post, you may want to read these posts about the 'rare' European breeds here and here.



MAKING CONNECTIONS

Before you do anything at all, you absolutely, positively MUST establish a connection based on mutual trust with folks on the ground over there. Look for contacts on breed club websites, Facebook groups or online lists of breeders. Connect via the breeder's website, by email or forums, bulletin boards, Facebook etc. or spend a buck or two on a long-distance phone call.

But whatever you do, make sure to look for HUNTERS who breed hunting dogs. Engage them on a hunter-to-hunter basis and see if you are on the same wavelength as they are. Don't worry too much about language barriers, they are no longer such a big deal. Google Translate is your friend!

Cindy Petkwitz, a breeder of Braque du Bourbonnais in Michigan says:
It takes time to build an open and honest relationship, but it is worth it. We've all heard stories of people just throwing money at a breeder or two, hoping to get a fantastic pup but ending up with a real dud. When you spend no time at all building a relationship and establishing a good reputation with breeders, you risk getting nothing but their cast-offs, the dogs they couldn't sell locally but are more than happy to 'dump' on the other side of the ocean.

I was lucky to get my first dog Jack. The breeder in France didn't really know me but I was at the right place at the right time. 8 years later, with all the time and effort I have put in, making connections, I am creating my own luck.

Sending photos of where and how you hunt is a great way to communicate with a breeder and establish trust. While you may not be able to communicate well due to a language barrier, as they say "a picture is worth a 1000 words". Sending photos of your hunting adventures shows them that you are a serious hunter and you have the same passion as they do. And it is usually super interesting for them to see how we hunt over here, so sending photos is a great way to get them interested in working with you.
Cortney Schaefer, a breeder of Deutsch Langhaars says:
It helps a lot to have a mutual friend to refer the breeders to if they have any questions. For example, I am friends with the chairman of the Deutsch Langhaar Verband in Germany. And of course all of the German breeders know him (or at least know of him). So when I contact breeders, I always encourage them to call the chairman if they have any questions about shipping puppies to America. Probably about half end up calling him. But I think they all like the piece of mind of a reference that they themselves know.

I might also mention that most Germans do not seem to check email nearly as often as Americans. And we all know how many scammers try to email people today. So if you can call the breeder rather than emailing them, that is always preferable. It is easier to trust someone calling you over someone emailing you. If you can't speak the language, have someone who can speak on your behalf. We have gotten some pups with Germany by just communicating through email, but most of our imports come after Hermann (our German-speaking president) calls the breeders to answer any final questions.

And finally, I would add that "tire-kicking" is very disrespectful to German breeders. If you contact the breeder, they assume that you are 100% committed to getting a puppy from them. I know it can be very exciting to start contacting breeders about puppies, but please don't contact a breeder unless you really plan to take one of their puppies. I'm not sure why the culture is definitely there, but it most certainly is.

When you do contact breeders, make sure to be completely open and honest in all your dealings and insist that they be too. Get references, check with people who may know your contact, even vaguely about their reputation and their dogs. Like American breeders, German breeders are most interested in placing their pups into hunting homes. So I have found it very helpful to immediately talk about the types of game that I hunt with my dogs and even include several good hunting photos. 
I have also found that German breeders are very interested in seeing their pups reach their full potential by being trained and run through tests. So it helps us a lot to talk about our testing experience and our desire to get the dogs certified for breeding. If you tell a breeder that you plan to run his pup through a VJP and HZP and get him certified for breeding, that goes a long way. If you can tell the breeder that you have already tested a dog and report his scores, that goes even further. So like us, they prefer sending their pups to experienced owners.
I should also add that "tire-kicking" is very disrespectful to German breeders. If you contact the breeder, they assume that you are 100% committed to getting a puppy from them. I know it can be very exciting to start contacting a bunch of breeders about puppies, but please don't contact a breeder unless you are fairly sure that you want to take one of their puppies. I'm not sure why that attitude is there, but it most certainly is.   

GETTING THE PUP


In my opinion, the best way, by far, to get a pup from overseas is to fly there yourself and pick it up from the breeder. Not only is is the most secure way for the pup, but the experience of a trip to Europe will stay with you forever and if you can arrange to go during hunting season and go for a hunt there, it will blow your mind. Yes, it will cost more, but you will get huge returns on the investment of time and money make for years to come. So sell a gun or two, eat nothing but Kraft Diner for six months, get a second job...do whatever you need to do to pay for a return flight and a week or two visit to Europe. Trust me, you will LOVE IT!

If you absolutely cannot or do not want to go, arrange for someone to bring the pup over for you. Ask around to see if a friend or relative, neighbour, work associate, basically anyone you know and trust is already planning to go there. If they are, offer them a few bucks to bring the pup back with them (and cover the cost for the pup's flight of course). A few years ago, a friend of mine reserved a pup in France. She was unable to go so pick it up herself so we looked into shipping it here. The cost turned out to be about the same as a return flight to Paris for a person. So I asked my sister if she'd like a free trip to Paris. She jumped at the opportunity and was more than happy to bring the pup back with her.

Another option is to invite the breeder to bring it over to you.
Again, this is a very secure way of getting the pup, and depending on where you live and where the breeder lives the cost of a round trip flight for the breeder (or for you if you go there) is not much more than shipping the pup one way via cargo.

What about having the pup shipped? This can be the least expensive way (still not cheap, and sometimes as much or even more than a round trip flight for a person), but it can also be the most stressful way for everyone involved. The breeder may have to travel a long way to get the pup to a major airport, the flight may not be direct, you may have to travel a ways to get to the nearest major airport etc. But if you are near a major hub and the breeder is too, and you can get a decent flight (hopefully direct) at a decent price, shipping via cargo can be a good option.
Some breeders will flat-out refuse to ship pups over here no matter what. They are anxious about putting a puppy on a plane overseas. I don't push them on this. Everyone has their limits with what they are comfortable with. But when I contact breeders now, I am quick to point out that we have successfully shipped many puppies with PetAir (www.petair.de) and that they have been easy to work with. They arrange the flights and can pick up the puppy at the breeder's door to deliver him to the airport. I have had a couple of breeders tell me that they were nervous about shipping overseas but felt more comfortable with it after visiting the PetAir website and speaking with their representatives. -- Cortney Schaefer


BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE?


Surprisingly, prices for pups in Europe are not much different than in North America, and sometimes less.
Of course, as they say "caveat emptor" (buyer beware), so watch out for really low prices or really high prices. Generally speaking you are looking at about a thousand US dollars for a young puppy of just about any breed. Yes, some will be higher, some lower, but none will be half price or double the price.
For years, we had some trouble getting people in our club to import puppies. People just assume that the process is difficult and expensive. It is a little more pricey, but it is a really easy process and well worth the effort. Most pups in Europe are cheaper than here.  The average DL price in Germany right now is 700-800 euros (about $825-$900 US dollars).  But then the shipping often doubles the price.  However, consider that buying a domestic DL pup right now is $1,100 plus about $450 for shipping.  So really, importing a pup is only a few hundred more than buying a domestic pup.  And there is a lot more selection because there are so many more litters over there.  So you can be more selective about gender, colour, or whelp date if you import a puppy. And then you just have to show up at the airport with your photo ID and the pup is yours! -- Cortney Schaefer
Finally, if you need help, just ask. I am happy to help out in any way I can and there are people in every club, in every breed that are willing to take the time to answer questions and help you get a good dog. After all, they are looking for good hunting homes for their hunting dogs. And the rarer breeds really could use a helping hand, especially from North American hunters.

Baltrum, 2001





Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca

Mystery Breed?

Charles Fernand de Condamy (1847-1913) was a well-known watercolour painter in France in the late 1800s.  If you do a google image search for his works, among all the wonderful painting of horses and hounds, is this shot of a dog on point.

Charles-Fernand de Condamy
What is unusual about the image is that it shows a dog with a curly coat, and there is only one breed of pointing dog that has such a coat, the Pont-Audemer Spaniel. But as far as I can tell, the painting does not have a title. At auction, it has been listed as an image of an Irish Water Spaniel and/or Pont-Audemer Spaniel. One auction site even listed it as a watercolour painting of a Poodle.

De Condamy's painting may have also inspired one of French sculptor Albert Laplanche's bronzes. Unfortunately the small statue is simply listed as "Chien à l'arrêt" (dog on point), so we still have no solid confirmation of what breed it is. So what breed could de Condamy's watercolour represent?


Chien à l'arrêt by Albert Laplanche


Well, I don't think it is a Poodle. Here is how de Condamy painted that breed.

And it is probably not an Irish Water Spaniel. After all, that breed doesn't point... or DOES IT? Have a look at this video. It is of an Irish Water Spaniel and a Boykin Spaniel hunting pheasants in Oregon.



I asked the owner of the Irish Water Spaniel about the dog in the video and this is what he told me:
Ah yes, the hesitation flush (aka the point). With my limited experience of hunting with only 3 IWS, my speculation has two parts. One is that IWS are somewhere on the continuum between a flusher and a pointer and as such, they can be trained to go either way depending on the individual dogs personality. 
Tooey is a very reserved dog and if prey is not running, her chase instinct gets confused and so she points while determining what to do next. My male Cooper was an opportunist, and if he saw a hint of a bird, he would do anything to trap the bird before it flushed (we always got several birds each year that never left the ground). But if he winded a bird but could not see it at first, he would lock up while his brain processed what to do next. My youngest male recently saw a pheasant deep in wild rose and locked up tight, in a classic pointer pose. But when he encounters a moving bird, his prey drive kicks in.

The second speculation is that as the dogs confidence grows with experience, the tendency to point or hesitate at the flush diminishes over time. Tooey hesitates less and less, and only if the bird is in sight but not moving will it cause a point before the flush (she failed a senior level hunt test for this behavior but has never failed to find a downed bird or an crippled runner). However, the hesitation flush, or temporary point, has been a blessing for my shooting. Just having a few moments to prepare for the shot has allowed me to connect with birds that I probably would have missed with an instant flush. Not good for hunt tests, but great for the average shooter who likes to eat birds. 

Now, let's compare that to what I wrote about our Ponto Uma in my book:
Uma lives to run and runs for fun. To her, pointing birds is great sport. But so is flushing and chasing them. When she was young, I tried to cure her of bumping and chasing in the same way I cured our Weimaraners. I took her to a field loaded with meadowlarks and let her chase for as long as she wanted. But it didn’t work. When our other dogs were young pups, they were given the same treatment but they quickly figured out that they could not catch the birds, so they stopped chasing them and started pointing. Not Uma. The more she bumped and chased, the more she enjoyed it. She was so driven to play this game, I was concerned that she would run till she dropped dead. Eventually, by adjusting my training methods, I managed to bring out her pointing instinct while discouraging her impulse to flush. Uma is now a very reliable pointer and even backs other dogs on her own. 
I now believe that what Uma showed me early on was the basic conflict in the genetic makeup of the breed. With training she learned to listen to her pointing instinct and ignore the urge to flush. However, it could have gone the other way. It would have been very easy to train her to work like a Springer Spaniel.

Be that as it may, my guess is that the dog in De Condamy's watercolour painting is indeed a Pont-Audemer Spaniel. The artist lived and hunted in the north of France were Pontos were relatively common in his day. It is very likely that he'd hunted over them and knew hunters who bred and owned Pontos. So, until and unless more evidence comes to light that indicates otherwise, we can enjoy the lovely painting as an extremely rare image of a Ponto on point from the 1880s.

Uma the Ponto on point!



Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca

Meanwhile in Picardy


The 1880s were a difficult time for the French pointing breeds. Nearly overwhelmed by a tsunami of Setters and Pointers, they were struggling to get their house in order. Lacking written breed standards, even official names for some breeds, judges had a hard time figuring out what was what in the show ring and how the various breeds should perform in the field. Even worse, a seemingly endless number of “rediscovered” breeds kept cropping up. After judging a dog show in Paris in 1884, Ernest Bellecroix published a plea for order.
Last year we were crushed under a completely unexpected number of classes. In all the species, native or foreign, new breeds, until now unknown, were discovered. There were 145 classes! Of all these different classifications, which one is the proper one? We have no idea. Therefore we request that the Society that has the difficult task of improving the breeds of dogs determines these breeds once and for all and clearly defines their characteristics.  Even the owners of dogs sometimes had no idea what kind of dogs they owned or bred and often would enter them into the wrong class at a dog show or field trial. 
Meanwhile in Picardy, many of the locally bred dogs were of the French Spaniel or Pont-Audemer Spaniel type. They were medium sized, long haired dogs with white and brown or white and black coats and were said to be excellent workers in the field and water. However by the 1880s it was increasingly obvious that a hefty dose of British blood had made its way into most kennels.

Nowadays, the official story of how and why that happened goes something like this: wealthy British sportsmen would travel to northern France to hunt in the fall but then leave their Setters and Pointers with the locals for the winter since there was a quarantine back home. While they were away, their dogs would occasionally get lucky and have a fling with a local pointing dog and voila, suddenly a bunch of 'setterized' épagneuls and 'pointerized' braques were seen running around.

As plausible as it sounds, I've always found that story to be a bit too convenient. First of all, the quarantine act didn't come into effect until 1901. So for most of the 1800s British hunters could come and go as they pleased with their dogs. And secondly, it is well documented that a lot of French hunters were captivated by the beauty and abilities of the British dogs and would seize upon any opportunity to breed their dogs to them.  French sportsman and dog expert, Adolphe De la Rue, actually witnessed the very beginning of the widespread and indiscriminate period of crossbreeding in France.
I remember that it was on one of the opening days, so noisy and numerous, that I saw for the first time a large black pointing dog
 of the kind that appeared in France in 1814 with the English army. The dog was so highly regarded that his owner did not know who to answer first. All of his neighbors had the dog cover their bitches, even if the bitches were épagneuls. Based on what I saw, I can conclude that these thoughtless crosses were taking place more or less everywhere, a dog of a foreign breed would appear, everyone would take a liking to it and want one of its kind. 
Clearly, the various setterized families of epagneuls in the north of France were not the results of happy accidents or illicit flings. They were intentionally created for the use and enjoyment of local hunters. In fact, there are even written records describing exactly how some of the families were created and in one case, an extraordinary colour illustration of what some of the first crosses may have looked like.

In an 1885 article published in Le Chenil a M. DE TOURIGNY wrote about tri-coloured dogs that were entered as French Spaniels in a number of shows and were awarded first place several times. (*translation mine, original French version below)

In 1883 at the Tuileries dog show two black and white spaniels with tan points were shown as French Spaniels. These two dogs, Odett and Kroumir 1 won first and second place in the class.

At the time, we criticized the decision, noting that these animals were not of the French Spaniel type; they were more like watered-down versions of English Setters, obviously the result of cross breeding or inadequate selection. This year, Odett was again shown with her son Kroumir II and five puppies, and won again. And yet we still failed to find any more of the French Spaniel type in Odett and her offspring this year than in 1883. 
Our criticism didn't seem to have any effect since Odett and her offspring are still registered as French dogs by the Kennel Club and are well on their way to creating a line of pseudo-French Spaniels. Recently, a portrait of Kroumir and Odett appeard in the Journal d'agriculture pratique with an explanation of their origins. Here it is verbatim:


In I855, Mr. Molon obtained a Setter from Scotland. It was entirely white with silky hair, very beautiful and remarkably good. He crossed that white Scottish dog with a beautiful black and white silky-haired bitch with bright tan markings on her cheeks and the same colour on the nose and paws. The bitch was from North America, where it had been bred by a captain, a friend of Mr. Molon. 
Later a bitch from this cross was bred to a beautiful Setter from England, with the same colour coat as the dog from North America and most probably belonging to the Laverack breed, although it was white with large black spots and bright tan markings above the eyes, cheeks and legs. However it did not have the same sort of undercoat as the Laveracks. It is through judicious inbreeding among the first crosses that Mr. Molon established his breed, which is now as beautiful and as good as Odett and Kroumir. 
From the foregoing we can only conclude that the alleged French Spaniels are in fact from various Setter crosses; yes, they have been in France for thirty years, but their origins are actually English. We will refrain from discussing their qualities or from criticizing Mr. Molon; he bred and kept good dogs and they did well. Ultimately he did what we recommend French breeders do: use good dogs where you can, but use authentic purebred Pointers and Setters and stick with them. 
But somehow the products of all these crosses have become French because they were born here and we've become used to them. But they are not now and never will be French breeds of dogs, and we wish to remind the Judges of upcoming exhibitions, and the Kennel Club, that we must require purebred dogs, and not accept the unfortunate mixes we now have on hand.  
M. DE TOURIGNY

Eventually the French pointing breeds did get their act together. Official standards were drawn up, clubs were formed and breeders learned how to keep their lines pure...more or less. Nowadays, the épagneul breeds of France are recognized for what they really are; national treasures, living works of art, created by dedicated French hunters from a bygone era.

Today, the Brittany and the French Spaniel are doing quite well, while others like the Picardy, Blue Picardy and (especially) the Pont-Audemer remain vulnerable. But in yet another twist to the story, the French breeds which were nearly wiped out by an invasion of British breeds 150 years ago now seem to be winning hearts in the UK.

British and Irish hunters are shooting over Griffons, braques and épangeuls in increasing numbers. There is even a club for the Picard, Blue and Pont-Audemer in the UK now and the first litters of Picardy and Blue Picardy pups were whelped this year. A litter of Pontos may soon follow. I guess the old saying 'what goes around, comes around' is true after all!


Stay tuned for more on the origins of the Picardy and Blue Picardy Spaniels. I've got some more great images and quotes from the sporting press of the late 1800s and early 1900s.


Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca







* En 1883 on pouvait voir à l'exposition de la terrasse des Tuileries deux chiens épagneuls blancs et noirs, légèrement marqués de feu, exposés comme Epagneuls français. Ces deux chiens, Odett et Kroumir 1 furent classés par le Jury premier et deuxième dans la classe des Epagneuls français.

11 nous souvient alors d'avoir critiqué celle décision, en faisant remarquer que ces animaux n'avaient aucun des caractères typiques des Epagneuls français; ils faisaient songer à une dégénérescence de Setters anglais, suite de croisements ou de sélection insuffisants.

Cette année, ladite Odett, de nouveau exposée avec son fils Kroumir 11 et cinq chiots, a obtenu le rappel de son premier prix de 1883 et le premier prix d'élevage, toujours pour Epagneuls français. Nous nous sommes permis encore de ne pas trouver davantage cette année qu'en 1883 dans Odett et dans ses produits le type de l'Epagueul français.

Critique bien platonique, assurément, puisque voici désormais Odett, et tous ses Kroumirs, inscrits comme chiens français sur la liste des origines de la Société canine et parcheminés à la patte, prêts à faire souche de prétendus Epagneuls français. Ces temps derniers, le portrait. d'Odett et de Kroumir a été reproduit dans le Journal d'agriculture pratique, et une notice explicative de la gravure donne l'origine des deux chiens et de leur race.

Nous reproduisons textuellement : « En I800, 31. M. de Molon se procure un Setter écossais, entièrement blanc, à poil soyeux, très beau et remarquablement bon. Il croise ce chien écossais blanc avec une magnifique chienne épagneule à poil soyeux mais noire et blanche avec feu très vif aux joues et mouchetée de même couleur sur le nez et les pattes. Cette lice était originaire de l'Amérique du Nord, d'où elle avait été ramenée par un capitaine de vaisseau, ami de M. de Molon.

Plus tard une lice issue de ce premier croisement fut donnée à un très beau Setter venant d'Angleterre, de la même robe que la chienne venant de l'Amérique du Nord et appartenant très probablement à la race Laverack, bien que ce chien blanc avec grandes taches noires et feu vif aux-yeux, aux joues et aux pattes, n'eût point le fond de la robe traitée comme la plupart des Laveracks.

C'est grâce à des alliances judicieuses in and in entre les produits de ces premiers croisements que M. de Molon est parvenu à constituer la race, absolument confirmée, aussi belle que bonne, représentée par Odett et Kroumir. Après ce qui précède la conclusion se tire d'elle-même. Les prétendus Epagneuls français ne sont que des chiens provenant de divers croisements de Setters ; ce sont donc bien et dûment des chiens anglais élevés depuis trente ans en France, mais réellement d'origine anglaise.

Nous nous garderons bien de discuter leurs qualités, ni de critiquer M. de Molon; il a reproduit et conservé des chiens qu'il trouvait bons et s'en est bien trouvé. En définitive il a fait ce que nous conseillons aux éleveurs français:,se contenter de prendre son bien où on le trouve, c'est-à-dire de recourir aux reproducteurs authentiquement de race pure — Pointers ou Setters — et s'en tenir là.

Mais les produits de ces élevages, devenus français par la naissance, par l'habitat, ne sont pas et ne seront jamais ce que. l'on appelle des chiens de race française, et nous signalons tant à l'attention des Jurys de nos expositions à venir, qu'à celle de la Société canine, la nécessité d'exiger la production des origines, et la regrettable anomalie que nous venons de constater pièces en main. DE TOURIGNY

NAVHDA ROCKS!!

Who goes to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a weekend in January? Crazy dog people like me, that's who!


The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association held its annual meeting in Sioux Falls this past weekend and it was a blast!! Not only did I get to meet a ton of great people and talk dogs over fine food and adult beverages, I was given the tremendous honour of delivering the keynote address!

Yes, you read that right. Me, a guy who might hold the record for the lowest passing score ever in a NAVHDA test was given a microphone and a soapbox in a room filled with the who's who of the NAVHDA world.



I did my best to keep the speech short and to the point (pun intended). I managed to cover about 500 years of pointing dog evolution and explained how NAVHDA is now absolutely crucial to their further evolution in North America. I concluded with the following thoughts:

The golden age of gundog creation ended about a hundred years ago. The modern age of gundog development came to an end in the early 2000s. And that means we are now in a new age, a post-modern age of gundogs and all the traditional structures that led to the creation and development of our dogs are in flux.*

We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world.

So dog breeds, breeders, breed clubs and registries all face a choice now. They can evolve, or wither on the vine. Currently some of the most influential structures in the canine world are paying the price for their reluctance or inability to evolve. Memberships are in free-fall, boards are floundering, wracked with internal conflict. 

And then there's NAVHDA, an organization well-positioned to actually thrive in this new knowledge-based society.  You see, in our high-tech global world, information and communication are king. They are the dominant driving forces behind just about every aspect of life. So for an association like NAVHDA, designed from the get-go to collect, store and share information, this new age might just turn out to be a new golden age.

After all, when we are in the fields with our dogs, we are following in the footsteps of Gaston Phebus. And every time we test a dog we pay homage to Hegewald and Oberlander, Solms and Korthals. But even as we honour the past, NAVHDA's main focus is, and always has been, firmly on the future. NAVHDA has but one real purpose: to help shape the future for hunters, breeders and their canine companions.


Prior to the main event, I gave a seminar about the Continental pointing breeds, using a number of photos and videos from this very blog. Here are links to some of the things I mentioned in the talk for those in attendance that would like to see them again:















And finally, thank you to everyone who purchased a copy of my book and my apologies to those that wished to purchase a copy but were unable to do so after all copies were sold. If you would like to order one, you can get it at the same price it was selling for at the meeting. 

Just go to this link and look for the coupon code box above and to the right of the BUY NOW button. Type in NAVHDA and instead of paying the usual $99.00, you will get the book for only $79 with free shipping!!






www.dogwilling.ca


* UPDATE: I've been asked to expand a bit on the idea of the various gundog eras I spoke about. I will do so in much more detail in my next book, Pointing Dogs,Volume Two: The British and Irish Breeds, but for now, here is a quick overview:

The National Bird Dog Championship, one of the greatest and oldest events in canine sport starts next Monday, Feb 8, 2016. First held in1896, the National Bird Dog Championship was a key player in what I think of as the golden age of gundogs. During that time, breeders, handlers, trainers and trialers all made great leaps of progress. Breed clubs and registries were formed, established breeds became more uniform and reached new heights of performance and most of the Continental breeds were created around that time. 

But all that ended just before the first World War as the British breeds began their long decline into near obscurity in their native lands and the creation of new breeds of pointing dogs ceased completely.

And that is when I feel we entered into the modern age, characterized by continued growth and development of the British breeds outside of the UK and the rapid expansion of various continental breeds throughout North America. It is the age of the GSP, the Brittany, the GWP, Pudelpointer etc. and the continued rise of the Pointer and Setter. It was an age when a growing middle class of Americans and Canadians swelled the field trial ranks, when new trials and trial formats were developed and new clubs, new registries, organizations flourished. And it was a time when news and marketing of the gundog scene relied on newspapers, magazines, books and to a lesser extent radio and TV.

But that age came to an end just after the advent of the Internet, around the early 2000s. Almost overnight, everything changed. Yes, we still have trials and tests and yes, our dogs continue to improve. But the average age of participants across the gundog world is creeping upward and many club membership numbers are in decline. Few, if any new clubs are being formed, few if any new trial venues or formats are being created and we no longer rely on the traditional media to spread the word, we rely on the Internet, just as you and I are doing right now. And as I said in my speech:

"We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world." And to me, that is what defines what I think of as the post-modern world of gundogs. It is smaller, faster, more knowledge-based and information dependant. It is an era in which we will probably see breakthroughs in canine genetics that will astonish us. I recently read a paper by a fellow I know in Germany. He and his team think they've found the area of dogs' genetic code that determines pointing behaviour (link below). Will we one day soon have genetically modified dogs like we know have genetically modified corn? I have no idea. But even posing a question like that 20 years ago would have been crazy. Nowadays, it is probably being studied by someone in a lab coat. We are beyond the modern age. We are now in a sort of post modern age for gundogs. Hang on to your hat, it's going to be an interesting ride!

*Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26401333









Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca