Léo's First Rooster

What to do for the next 99 days waiting until the hunting season opens? How about writing about our adventures from seasons past? Here is a story written by my beautiful wife Lisa Trottier about our pup Léo's first pheasant hunt:

As we do every year, we go to North Dakota to hunt pheasants. Last year we took Uma, our 13-year-old Pont-Audemer spaniel who still loves to hunt, and Leo, our 10-month-old Picardy spaniel. And I should mention that just seeing a Ponto and a Picardy on the same hunting grounds in North America is already a feat in itself!

Since Uma is now getting on in years and it was Léo's first hunting season, we weren't really expecting much. The main goal was to have fun with Uma and get Léo into some birds. Where we hunt, all the pheasants are wild. The are usually found in or near cat tails that surround the many ponds scattered across the huge fields of harvested grain.

We arrived in North Dakota in late afternoon after a 600 km road trip. We decided to let the dogs out to stretch their legs in a field that looked like it would be easy enough for a pup to run and hunt in. After twenty minutes of zooming around the field Leo caught scent of something and headed towards the reeds. I hear: "Point" so I rush to get into position.

Then Craig says: "Leo is on an awesome point, but I think the pheasant is running. I will see if he will do the 'coulé' (a technique that we had not yet taught Léo to do. In English is it called 'drawing on' and means getting a dog to cautiously follow a running bird after the bird has been pointed, but then tries to run off. The goal is to stay close enough so the bird doesn't sneak away yet far enough so that the bird hunkers down again for a point instead of flushing.)

I hear Craig say "coule.... coule..." (in English we'd say easy... easy..) but I can't see anything except his head and shoulders above the cat tails, about thirty yards away.

I keep watching and get into a better position. Once again I hear "Point!" and a few seconds later a big rooster comes cackling out from cover.

I shoulder my side-by-side and using my best Quebecois slang say "tu vas nulle part mon maudit!" (You ain't going nowhere bad boy!). I pull the trigger and the rooster crumples ... into the water!

Leo had never seen a pheasant, never pointed a pheasant or ever done the 'coulé' on a pheasant. Would he fetch one from water ...?

I could see the bird in the middle of the pond, but I couldn't see Leo since he was still in the reeds. But I heard Craig say "apporte!" (fetch!) and then "splash!" Leo leaped into the pond and was swimming like an otter. He rushed to the bird, grabbed it in his mouth, turned back and delivered it to hand. With huge smiles on our faces, we stood there, completely amazed and proud of our puppy!

We decided to finished the day on that note and headed back toward the truck. On our way, I said to Craig, "I'm so happy that I was able to make a good shot on Leo's first pheasant."

Surprised, Craig asked, "You shot?"

Me: "Well, yes!"

Craig: "I shot too, didn't you hear me?"

Me: "Not at all"

Craig: "Well I guess we shot at the exact same time."

We both thought that we were the one to hit the bird. But how could we find out for sure?

It turns out that it was pretty easy. You see, I was shooting copper-plated shot and Craig was shooting bismuth shot that has no copper-plating. So all we had to do was clean the bird and take a look at what kind of shot was in it.

Back at the hotel, we carefully inspected the big fat rooster. The verdict was a slam-dunk. Every single pellet we found was copper-plated. There wasn't a bit of bismuth in the bird at all.

So the honour of shooting Leo's first pheasant was all mine! Of course it took a lot of great teamwork, so it goes without saying that we were both absolutely delighted with the happy ending of Leo's first ever pheasant hunt. 





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Version française

Voici une petite histoire qui remonte à l'automne dernier alors que nous chassions, comme chaque année, le faisan au Dakota du Nord. Nous avions avec nous Uma, notre épagneule de Pont-Audemer de 13 ans qui aime toujours autant chasser, et Léo, notre épagneul picard de 10 mois. Il faut dire que trouver un Ponto et un Picard sur un même terrain de chasse en Amérique du Nord est déjà un exploit en soi!

Comme Uma est d'un âge vénérable et que Léo, le petit dernier, en était à sa première saison de chasse, nous avions des attentes raisonnables. L'important était surtout de mettre notre chiot en présence de gibier, en l'occurrence, cette fois-ci, de faisans. Là où nous chassons, les faisans sont naturels. Ils se tiennent normalement dans les roseaux autour des étangs épars dans d'immenses champs de blés ou autre moissonnés.

C'était la fin de l'après-midi et nous venions tout juste d'arriver après avoir fait 600 km de route et, pour dégourdir les pattes de nos chiens, nous avons choisi un champ ouvert qui nous paraissait assez facile pour un chiot. Après une vingtaine de minutes de quête vive et passionnée, Léo en levant la tête se dirige vers les roseaux. J'entends : «arrêt!» Je me mets alors en position en attendant la suite.

Craig annonce : «Léo fait un arrêt superbe, mais je crois que le faisan piète. Je vais essayer de le faire couler» (ce que Léo ne connaît pas encore…). J'entends : «Coule, coule». Je ne vois rien sauf les épaules et la tête de Craig qui avance d'une trentaine de mètres. Je suis aux aguets. Là encore : «arrêt!» Et après quelques secondes, un beau faisan glapit en émergeant des roseaux. J'épaule mon juxta en me disant : «toi, mon gros faisan, tu vas nulle part!» Et je tire un coup. L'oiseau tombe comme une roche… dans l'eau!

Jusque-là, Léo n'avait jamais chassé le faisan. Il n'avait donc jamais fait d'arrêt sur faisan. Il n'avait jamais fait la coulée non plus. Et maintenant, un rapport à l'eau…? Je voyais le faisan au beau milieu de l'étang, mais je ne pouvais pas voir Léo. J'ai entendu : «apporte», puis «plouf»! Léo nageait comme une loutre. Il s'est précipité vers l'oiseau, l'a pris dans sa gueule et l'a rapporté comme un pro. Avec un immense sourire accroché aux lèvres, nous étions totalement éblouis et fiers de notre chiot!

Nous avons terminé la journée sur cette bonne note et en allant vers la camionnette, j'ai dit à Craig : «Je suis tellement heureuse d'avoir pu tirer, et juste, sur le premier faisan de Léo». Craig me dit : «tu as tiré?» J'ai répondu : «ben oui!» Il me dit : «moi aussi j'ai tiré, tu ne m'as pas entendu?» J'ai répondu : « ben non! on a dû tirer en même temps». Craig était persuadé que c'était lui qui avait eu le faisan, et moi j'étais convaincue que c'était moi. Alors, comment le savoir?

Or, contrairement à Craig, je tire des grenailles couvertes d'une couche de cuivre. En préparant l'oiseau, nous n'avons trouvé que de la grenaille couverte de cuivre et pas une seule bille non couverte. C'est donc moi qui ai eu l'honneur de tirer le premier faisan de Léo! Mais en fait, quel beau travail d'équipe! Il va sans dire que nous étions tous les deux ravis.



More Shades of Grey for the Weimaraner

When I check the stats on hits to this blog, my posts about Weimaraners consistently rank at the top of the list, especially if they deal with the breed's coat colour. This morning I received a comment on one of the posts that posed a couple of questions that I felt deserved more than just a few lines to answer. So I decided to write an entire article in reply. 

Souris-Manon. The Grandest of the Grand Old Ladies!

Here is the comment:

I just got a Weimaraner that is all white/blonde in color. He came from a litter of nine in which 4 were his color, 4 were silver and 1 was blue. The Sire was silver and the dam was blue. I performed a DNA test to confirm that he is indeed a purebred weim and the results came back as 100%! However, despite having scientific evidence backing my boys purebred status, I have all sorts of weim breeders on Facebook getting very nasty with me when I post a pic on the weim site of my boy...they claim that I have been duped and am naive to think that he is purebred and that DNA tests aren't always right. Could you please tell me exactly what occurred scientifically for my boy to be born the color he is...is it the same occurrence genetically as the piebald weims? Thanks.

And here is my long-winded reply:

Congratulations on the new pup! I am sure he is a sweet-heart and that you'll have a ton of fun with him. And welcome to the world of the Weimaraner where, as you are finding out, things tend to get a bit heated when non-standard colours are discussed.

I am not a geneticist so I cannot tell you with any degree of scientific accuracy how your boy's coat colour came to be. And I am sure that even a canine geneticist would not be able to help you without doing some pretty extensive testing of your pup and a whole bunch of its relatives. So the only option for us here is to look at the possibilities and then place odds on how likely they are to be true.


Souris-Manon and Quell each pointing a woodcock (and I missed both birds!)

Could it be a gene mutation like the one that I wrote about here?  

Maybe. 

Genes mutate all the time and clearly, Dr. Epplen's research showed that in at least one case, a de novo (new) mutation in a Weim pup did indeed result in a purebred Weimaraner with a grey and white (piebald) coat. So could it happen again? Sure, there is a one in a million (or billion or something) chance of it occurring again...in a single pup. But in 4 pups? Well that would make the odds one in a million (or billion or something) to the fourth power. In other words, about the same odds as me landing a hot date with Beyonce. So I don't think that the coat on your pup and its three siblings is related to the same kind of genetic mutation event that caused the piebald coat in Dr. Epplen's study.

Could it be due to a throwback to the old days? Does the (real) history of the Weim offer any clues about how your dog's coat colour could occur? 

Maybe.

Today, we all know that there is only one officially accepted Weimaraner colour (silver-grey) but it was not really standardized until later on. Reading the literature from the first phase of the Weim's development, from about 1880 to just before the first world war (1914), we can see that there was actually quite a bit of discussion about what the 'correct' colour for the breed should be. In the early years the most common non-standard colours discussed were white, yellow and yellow-red. For example, here is what the breed standard in 1884 said:

White markings are common in most dogs, on the chest and toes. It is however, desirable to eliminate these in breeding. Yellow burned (tan markings) dogs are to be discarded completely. 

By 1935 however, it seems that those markings were still there.

...the reddish-yellow shade on the head or legs, which nowadays occurs seldom, to be regarded as a fault; however a Weimaraner with reddish-yellow coloring should not receive more than 'good' when tested...if outstanding for hunting purposes, he should not be excluded from breeding

Clearly, genes for yellow or yellow-red where part of the genetic make-up of the Weim's coat, at least in the early days. So could your pup's coat colour be due to a one-in-a-billion chance of old, rare yellow genes suddenly aligning in it's DNA? Maybe. But I doubt it.

You see, the yellow and yellow red shades discussed in the old literature involved markings in the coat, specifically on the head and legs. Those markings are in fact still with us today. Although very, very rare, they are called "dobe" markings (as in Doberman) and they look like this:


Not my photo. This could actually
be a Doberman x Weim mix.
Used for illustration purposes only.
Your dog seems to be self-coloured (ie: the entire coat is all one colour, not 'marked' with a different colours on the head, legs and chest). So if the yellow or yellow red genes that were in the background of the Weim are responsible for your pup's coat colour, then they would have had to not only lay dormant for over a century and then, by pure luck, happen to find the right combination to appear, but they would also have to mutate in some way and go from just 'markings' to affecting the entire coat....of four pups! Is it possible? Maybe (I am not a geneticist) but I would put the odds at around a gajillion-gajillion to one.

So, if we eliminate the possibility of a mutation and of a throwback to the early days (and I think we can in both cases), what else could result in such a coat?

Occam's razor would lead us to the very real possibility that the genes responsible for your pup's coat were introduced by an external source at some point in the past. In other words, somewhere in your dog's ancestry, there is at least one non-Weim ancestor that brought in the genes for the white/blond coat your pup has.

Where, when and how could this happen? I have no idea. What I do know is there is no such thing as a 'pure' breed. All breeds have a bit of this and a bit of that in them. That is how they were created and every now and then, by accident or on purpose under the light of the moon, a bit more of this or bit more of that gets added into the mix.
AAAOOOOO!!!!!

You said that one of the parents is a blue Weim. They are handsome dogs, I've written about them here. And it is pretty well accepted nowadays that the blue coat is the result of a bit of this or that getting into the breed in the US (the most common theory is that is was from a Doberman). So we know that there is at least one source of 'outside' genetic material in your pup. As an aside, it has been estimated by the owner of the Weimaraner pedigree data base that 99.9% of Weims in the world today have the original 'blue' weim somewhere in their pedigree as well.

But could there be another source of outside genes, ones that could lead to a white/blond coat? Of course. In fact, I believe that the vast majority of all the Weims out there with non-standard colors (and even some with the standard color) are the result of something happening behind the woodshed in the past. Gene mutations like the one described by Dr. Epplen are extremely rare. Cross breeding (accidental or otherwise) is not.

But what about the pedigrees of our dogs? What about the records that show they are pure?

Dr. Epplen, the same fellow who did the DNA article on the piebald weim published another study on Weims that (among other things) looked into the accuracy of the Weimaraner pedigree information stored in Germany. The results indicated that:
Tracing patri- and matrilineages, several entries in the Weimaraner stud book cannot be reconciled with the male-only, Y chromosomal neither the female-only, mt inheritance patterns, respectively.
In other words, the pedigree record in the homeland of the breed, where there is a system with the most rigorous checks and balances and the most tightly controlled stud book on the planet is not 100% accurate. So how accurate is the pedigree information outside of Germany, in free-wheeling North America were there are far fewer rules, no breed wardens and a much stronger tradition of 'anything goes'?  Pedigrees are not perfect. Some are accurate, some less so, and some are pure fiction.

But what about the DNA breed testing results that say he is a purebred Weim? 

I am not sure what breed DNA testing service you used, but I assume it was one of the many such services that are now being sold online and through vet clinics. I don't want to go into all the details here, and it really is quite a rabbit hole to go down if you google it, so I will just link to an article written by a guy who does not pull his punches when it comes to such things, Terrierman, in which he says:
Breed DNA tests are not too different from Gypsy Fortune telling, Fortune Cookies, the I-Ching, Numerology and Tarot Card reading. 
Unfortunately, unlike DNA parentage tests which can tell you with near 100% accuracy who your pup's mother and father are, tests for breed-specific DNA markers are generally not nearly as reliable and are not really designed to determine if a dog is purebred or not. They are mainly designed to narrow down the ancestry of mixed-breed dogs and in almost all cases where purebred samples are sent in, the result are the same: yup! your dog is what you say it is.

Felix in neoprene at the Libau marsh on opening day, 1999.

Bottom line: As a guy on the sidelines who just wants everyone to have a dog that puts a smile on their his or her face, here is what I think is going on.
1. You have a very cute pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.
2. Anyone who says nasty things about you or your pup is not worth your time or attention.
3. The most likely explanation for your pup's white/blond coat is that genes from outside the breed were introduced into its lineage at some point in the relatively recent past. Your pup is therefore probably not a 'purebred' Weimaraner and only you can decide how much that actually matters.

Me and the Amazing Maisey.
Personally, I don't think it matters at all and I get the feeling that it will not really change the way you feel about your pup. He deserves, and I am sure he will receive, 100% of your love and devotion.

The only issue you may have in regards to his lack of 'purity' is if you feel that you were defrauded by the breeder. I have no idea where you got the pup or under what circumstances, but if you were specifically told in no uncertain terms that your pup is 100% purebred and guaranteed to be from purebred parents and grandparents etc., well then you may have grounds for a complaint. But remember, the breeder may believe that the parents are purebred because that is what the person they got them from told them...and so on down the line.

In reality, without video evidence or a written confession, it would be impossible to determine exactly how and where the outside gene event happened and who knew about it at the time. So tread very carefully in that regard. It might not be worth picking a fight with anyone at this point. The most important thing is that you now have a pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.

Where I would speak out and where I would have deep concerns is if you see any effort by anyone out there to launch some sort of super duper, rare, cool new white/blond colour of Weimaraner. It is not because the colour is unattractive - your pup is super cute and will be a stunning adult. And it is not because the white/blond dogs themselves are bad or undeserving of loving homes - your pup should be the light of your life. But as you are finding out, the Weim world (and the entire purebred dog world) can be an unforgiving place, and you can go insane by tilting at its windmills. So any effort to launch a new designer colour of Weim is guaranteed to end in misery for everyone involved.

Here is my advice: 
  • Love your pup. 
  • Take care of your pup. 
  • Give him the fantastic life he deserves and forget about what nasty people have to say. Your pup doesn't give a rat's ass about them, why should you?


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

www.dogwilling.ca










Kent Bismuth Ammo Delivers!

Bismuth ammo and Darne shotguns, a match made in heaven!
Full disclosure: I am NOT an expert when it comes to shotguns, shotgun ammo, ballistics and the art of wing shooting. I shoot a few rounds of clays every summer and pattern my guns and chokes once in a blue moon. Beyond that, I just take the same guns to the field every year and feed them the best ammo I can afford. So the following review of Kent's new Bismuth cartridges is the opinion of a hunter who just wants his gun to go boom! when he pulls the trigger so that some delicious game will end up on his dinner plate... nothing more, nothing less.

Lisa and her Pont-Audemer Spaniel "Uma" with three 
Manitoba woodcock taken with 20 gauge Kent Bismuth #6s

A while ago I wrote about my desire to go completely lead free for all my hunting and my journey down the rabbit hole of trying to find lead-free, non-steel ammo for my beloved Darne shotguns.
I updated one of the posts with the following great news:
Owners of vintage guns rejoice! ... Kent Cartridge recently announced "the rebirth of an old favorite" by introducing their new Bismuth Premium Shotshells

Just before the season opened, I managed to get my hands on a good supply of the new Kent ammo in 12 and 20 gauge loads. Since then, my wife and I have been using it exclusively. We've taken snipe, woodcock, ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse and a few ducks and geese. My wife even shot a scotch double* ON GEESE with her 20 gauge loaded with #5s! I wrote about that amazing shot and posted some photos here. (*two birds with one shot) 

In terms of performance, I could not tell the difference between Bismuth loads and lead loads. Now before you get your bloomers in a bunch and start rattling off newtonian physics equations let me qualify my statement by saying it applies to me, to my guns, in the areas I hunt, on the game I pursue. As with all things related to shotguns and shotgun ammo, your mileage, as they say, may vary.

My hit/miss/crumple/wound ratio was nearly identical this year compared to last. For example, on a trip to North Dakota in 2015, I shot 14 pheasants with 16 shots (lead #5s). All but two dropped stone dead. This year, in the same general area under the same basic conditions and with the same gun I shot 15 roosters with 17 shots (bismuth). All but one crumpled, and that one did not go far.

(note: the above stats make me seem like some kind of superhero wing shooter. I am not. I am a terrible trap shooter, useless at skeet and barely on the scoreboard at 5-stand. The reason I bag a decent number of roosters with so few shots is because I am a very patient pheasant hunter with decent dogs. I pass up all birds that are not pointed, all birds beyond about 35 yards and only pull the trigger on birds I am pretty confident I will kill outright.)



Léo with his first ever Mallard.
Bird was taken with 20 gauge Kent Bismuth #5s
In terms of actual ballistics, as mentioned above, I can only confirm that the shells did indeed go boom! when I pulled the trigger and that birds did indeed crumple when my aim was true. If you want an expert opinion on the witchcraft of shotgun ballistics as they apply to Kent Bismuth loads look no further than gun guru Randy Wakeman to see what he has to say about them:
As a practical matter, assume that you want a minimum of 1.75 inches of ballistic gelatin penetration for pheasant. This cannot be exact, for gel penetration does not consider feathers, much less breaking bones. It is a comparative simulant for soft tissue only. 
If you are using #2 steel shot at 1400 fps, you are out of gas at 35 yards. With the lower recoil 1350 fps Kent Bismuth #4 load, you are good past 41 yards. #4 bismuth has better penetration at all ranges than #2 steel. 
In addition, a 1-1/4 ounce load of #4 bismuth has 24.5% more pellets than 1-1/4 ounces of #2 steel. If you are sick of the poor ballistic performance of steel (why wouldn't you be?) and can afford to pay twice the price for your shotgun shells, the new Kent Bismuth loads just made steel shot obsolete.  (full article here)
Lisa and Léo with Léo's first Teal
taken with 20 gauge Kent Bismuth #6s
The shells come in boxes of 10. I don't know who invented the classic 25-cartridge box, but I've always found that size to be a pain in the ass. The boxes are too big for a jacket pocket and if you want to put unused shells back into a 25-cartridge box it's like playing Jenga, with cold, wet fingers. Yes, it is a very minor point and yes, I know bismuth shells are sold in boxes of 10 to lessen the sticker shock, but it is nice to be able to just grab a box of shells, put it in your vest pocket and head to the woods.

The shot sizes are true American sizing and not one size smaller like some other loads from Europe
. Kent Bismuth #4s are the same size as any other American #4s. The other maker of bismuth ammo, Rio, apparently uses European shot sizes. So Rio's #4 shot is actually closer to American (and Kent's) #5 shot.  Kent shells are clearly marked and seem to be made of  high quality materials. Word on the web is that the hulls are Cheddites.

Léo with his first ever Canada goose.
This bird (nearly 15 lbs!!) was taken with one shot of 12 gauge Kent Bismuth #5s

Bottom line: I will go one further than Randy Wakeman and say that for me, the new Kent Bismuth loads have made steel AND LEAD shot obsolete. Furthermore, shooting bismuth shells allows me to focus more on the actual hunt. With a few boxes of #5s and #6s, I can use any gun I own to shoot any gamebird I pursue on private or public land no matter what the regulations are. No more swapping out ammo when going from lead-allowed to non-tox areas, no more sorting through different brands, sizes, and loads trying to get the perfect combination for geese in the morning, snipe in the afternoon and ducks at dusk. I am now lead-free in the field and thanks to Kent, when it comes to ammo, I am also worry-free.


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

www.dogwilling.ca

Sticking a Fork in 2016

If nothing else, 2016 was an interesting year.


Lesson learned:
1. Never look at puppy photos on Facebook too long or too often. Your will to resist WILL wilt.
2. Kent's new bismuth ammo ROCKS!
3. Less is more. 

Progress made:
1. My website got a new look.
2. I actually wrote a few pages for my next book (still about 300 to go...)
3. The Picardy Spaniel population of North America went from 1 to 7!

Setbacks and loses:
1. Souris-Manon passed over the rainbow bridge.
2. The snipe flight was non-existant.
3. We didn't get a deer.

Goals for next year:
1. Travel more (France here we come!)
2. Hunt more
3. Write more (and take more photos and more video)

Below are links to all the photo narratives I posted in 2016. Enjoy!


AUTUMN 2016 by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





Léo at One by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





Souris-Manon by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





Red River Run by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





SOON! by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





The Eagle Has Landed by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





Léo! by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure





WINTER by Dog Willing Publications on Exposure

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





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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

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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 in places 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