The History of the Pointing Dog, Part 1: Origins

This question of genesis has sparked so many discussions that it would be presumptuous to claim that I could offer a decisive explanation. To venture into that subject would be, after all, to penetrate the realm of the impenetrable. — Jean Castaing

Bird dogs circa 1400 
On June 16th, 2009 American President Barack Obama appeared in a televised interview. About half way into the program, a fly began buzzing about his head as he was answering a question. Despite repeated attempts to scare it away, the very persistent fly eventually landed on the President’s hand. Ed Pilkington, writing in the next day’s edition of the English newspaper the Guardian, described Mr. Obama’s reaction:
His body went rigid and he cast his eyes down toward the fly that had settled on his left hand. At this point he looked swathed in the stillness that comes from absolute concentration...
Then, with lighting speed, the President swatted the fly and exclaimed, “I got the sucker!” Naturally, the rather humorous event was reported around the world. I saw it on the evening news and watched it again on Youtube the next day. But it wasn’t the swift presidential action that caught my attention. It was what Mr. Obama did immediately before he swatted the fly.

He paused.

He did exactly what you and I — and most other predators — do just before we pounce on our quarry.

We pause.

Thousands of years ago, hunters must have observed that same behavior in many of the animals around them, including their dogs. Eventually, they found a use for it. As new weapons and hunting techniques developed, a dog’s natural tendency to pause, and its willingness to be trained to remain motionless, became useful for certain kinds of hunting. 

So hunters began to train their dogs to stand or lay down in the presence of game, and then selected them for a longer and longer instinctive pause. Eventually, they developed dogs that would freeze and remain rigidly still, without a command, at the mere scent of game. They had created the pointing dog.

In ancient Greek and Roman times, people used many different types of hunting dogs, from powerfully built scent-hounds to sleek sight-hounds. Some authors have tried to argue that the Greeks, Romans and even the Egyptians also bred pointing dogs
to be used with hawks and falcons. But none of the claims has
ever withstood the scrutiny of expert analysis and nowhere in the ancient literature are there any unequivocal references to pointing dogs. After researching the question for many years, William Arkwright concluded that:
Egypt appears to have left no foreshadowing of a pointing dog
in her records, and the treatise on venery by Sid Mohamed Al Mangali (the tenth century), translated by M. Pharaon (1880) is taken up with hunting and hawking, without even a prophetic hint of the “partridge-dog”—though this author’s range is so wide as to embrace both ants and elephants! 1
Jean Castaing points out that the methods used by ancient hunters simply did not require a dog to pause before setting upon its quarry, so ancient hunters did not train or select their dogs to do so. And while the current evidence suggests that canis familiaris, the domestic dog, ultimately traces its origins to somewhere in Asia, it is telling that hunters there never developed a single breed of pointing dog. Even today, central Asian and middle eastern hunters who still practice the ancient forms of hunting with hawks and falcons do not use dogs to point game.

Most histories of pointing dogs naturally concentrate on where and when they first came to be. They generally support the conclusion that it was not until the end of the high middle ages that hunters in the region that is now parts of Italy, Spain and Southern France began to train their dogs to stand still or lay down in the presence of game. But to me, an even more intriguing question is why?

If we accept the premise that pointing dogs began to appear more or less simultaneously in various regions of southern Europe, we have to wonder what common motivator could have inspired hunters to begin training and eventually selecting their dogs to stop in the presence of game.

Some authors speculate that it was the growing popularity of hunting with falcons and hawks that led to the creation of the chiens d’oysel (dogs of the bird) mentioned by Gaston Phébus. But Phébus clearly states that those dogs were expected to flush game for the bird. He wrote that the chiens d’oysel, which he also called espaignolz...
... put up all manner of birds and animals, but their true calling is the partridge and the quail; a fine thing for a man with a good goshawk or falcon, lanner or saker, or for flushing small birds for the sparrow-hawk. (Emphasis added). 
It has also been speculated that the use of nets eventually led to the development of pointing dogs. But nets had been used to trap or snare game for thousands of years. They were nothing new in the 12th century and were generally not the sort of net that could be thrown. To capture birds, hunters would suspend large nets between trees or even narrow mountain passes and wait for the birds to fly into them.
In some areas of France, hunters still use the same techniques today. Smaller nets, light enough to be thrown by an individual or to be held between two people, were also used to capture birds but the practice was not common enough to explain why there was such a sudden interest in pointing dogs and why hunters would go to such lengths to train and select them.

Something else had to be going on at the time. As we shall see, it was the first in a series of profound changes in the social and political landscape of Europe that would eventually lead to the development of the pointing dog, as we know it today.

It may be hard to imagine now, but the concept of the “individual”, the cornerstone of our modern society, did not really emerge until the end of the Middle Ages. From the 12th to the 14th century, a sort of pre-industrial revolution occurred in Europe, and specialized classes of craftsmen and merchants were created. These men formed guilds and other enterprises that tended to emphasize the identity and specialization of their members. No longer was a man just a general labourer — he was a shoemaker, a baker, a lawyer, 
a banker. He was an individual. And, as such, he began to think beyond the immediate needs of the clan, toward his own needs 
and pleasures. 

In addition to this new way of thinking, craftsmen had also developed the financial resources that allowed them to not only pursue pleasures such as hunting, but to do so in a way that emphasized style and quality over efficiency and quantity. Mediaeval hunting literature makes this abundantly clear. The most influential treatises of the time were written by men who understood the importance of style, technique and honor in hunting. 

And even though they were written at a time when people were still mainly living off the land, they are filled with the same yearning for a deeper connection to the natural world that inspires hunters today. After all, hunting over a pointing dog is like fly-fishing: a supremely inefficient way of putting large quantities of meat on the table and essentially the pursuit of individual sportsmen. And that is, I believe, the key to understanding the genesis of the pointing dog. It was not created to help the individual hunter feed his family. It was created to help him achieve a deeper connection to the natural world. It continues to serve that purpose today.

But understanding why pointing dogs were developed does not answer the question of “how?” What methods did hunters use to train, and then select, dogs to stop in the presence of game? And what kind of dogs did they start with?

During the Middle Ages, there were many types of dogs available to southern European hunters: herding dogs, tracking dogs, sight-hounds, running hounds and, since pure breeding and closed stud books would not be invented for another five centuries, every conceivable mix among them. But none of those kinds of dogs had more than just a hint of pointing instinct. So hunters had to start with dogs that, as Castaing puts it, were predisposed to becoming pointing dogs

The most likely candidates came from among the running hounds and tracking hounds. Most illustrations from the Middle Ages show running hounds to be similar to the modern Harrier or Foxhound, but with shorter legs and a broader, flatter face. The tracking or trailing hounds were similar but usually larger with bigger heads and loose, hanging skin. Both types came in every color and hair type and usually hunted in packs. They were known for their excellent nose and their ability to run great distances without tiring—two essential qualities of modern pointing dogs.

Within each pack, certain individuals would be singled out for special care and training. They were called Lymers or Lyam Hounds (Limier in French, Leithund in German). The technique of using a Lymer was known as “harbouring”. A Lymer and its handler would be sent into the forest at dawn to track an individual animal, most often a large deer. Their job was to follow its trail, discover where it was browsing or resting and then report back to the chief huntsman. The deer would then be hunted by the pack. If the deer managed to escape, the Lymer was once again brought in to find its trail and the hunt would resume. 

In both form and function, Lymers had many things in common with modern pointing dogs. Old illustrations show that they looked similar to the modern Bracco Italiano and Burgos Pointer and they were said to have great endurance and an excellent nose. But most significantly, Lymers were selected to work alone, with an individual hunter and were often trained to stop and lay down in the presence of game as shown in the illustration on the right.

Jean Castaing and William Arkwright both conclude that all the shorthaired pointing Breeds, the braques, ultimately trace back to the Lymer. But what about the long-haired pointing dogs, the espaignolz? Where did they come from? In Le Livre de la Chasse, Gaston Phébus wrote that: There is a kind of dog called the chien d’oysel or espaignolz because it comes from Spain, however many there may be of them in other countries.

These lines seem to offer rock-solid evidence for a Spanish origin. But were the espaignolz and chiens d’oysel similar to the long-haired pointing dogs and épagneuls we have today? Based on the descriptions and illustrations in Le Livre de la Chasse the answer is: probably not. Phébus actually wrote that they should not be too hairy. And illustrations from the time show that many espaignolz and chiens d’oysel were actually short-haired. Paul Mégnin wrote that: 
The Spanish origin deduced from a sentence by Gaston Phébus needs to be examined with caution; it was not about long-haired spaniels, for in the Phébus manuscript found in the Mazarin Library are two miniatures representing chiens d’oysel or espaignolz, one is standing, the other semi crouched, but these are short-haired dogs with tufted tails. The chien d’oysel or espaignol is therefore not the source of our spaniel. 2
But if spaniels don’t have a Spanish origin, where did they come from? Jean Castaing believed that they might have developed from dogs that originally came from further north, were the colder climate would have favoured long-haired dogs. But he concedes that they were flushing dogs at first and must have been transformed into pointing dogs later, probably by hunters in the Mediterranean region.

No matter what their true origin, dogs that were used to find and indicate the location of game by standing still or lying down were, at first, trained to do so. Perhaps the earliest passage referring to how it was done is found in De Animalibus, written by Albertus Magnus (Albert the great) living in Padua, Italy in 1270:
The dogs, however, that are used for birds seem to have these (powers) more from training than from sense of smell, though they derive them from both. They are taught in this manner: they are first led round some caught partridges pretty often and at length by threats learn to go round and round them; but they get to find the partridge by scent, and thus at the beginning they set (ponunt) pretty often at the indications of the captive bird. 3

The best known books offering detailed instructions in the training of early pointing dogs are the 16th century Diálgolos de la Monteria written by an unknown author and Arte de Ballesteria y Monteria by Alonzo Martinez de Espinar. Both treatises reveal that dogs were not only trained to stand still to indicate the location
of game, but were very often trained to circle the game, almost like a Border Collie circles a herd of sheep. Dogs that stood still were called perros de punta (pointing dogs) and those that circled were called perros de vuelta (circling dogs, vuelta means “to turn round”). Since both techniques served to indicate where the birds or rabbits were hiding, Spanish hunters eventually adopted the term perros de muesta for all pointing dogs (“muesta” means “indication” or “sign”).
Dogs have three methods of pointing: some simply point, others only circle the game, and others again do both. ...Among these circling dogs there are two ways of showing game: one by going round it and never standing on point. ...there are others that go round and point with the wind indicating the game, and these are the best, as they plainly show the sportsman where the game is. 4
By the 16th century, pointing dogs had become fairly common in many regions. In fact, they became so popular in some places that more and more ordinances were issued to limit their use or prohibit it altogether. And their popularity only grew with the appearance of a new invention that allowed the hunter to shoot birds on the wing: the arquebuse. It ushered in a new era of hunting, an era in which the pointing dog would be perfected.

Prior to the invention of firearms small and light enough to be carried by a man and agile enough to be used to shoot birds on the wing, partridges and quail were usually shot on the ground by hunters armed with crossbows. This method required extremely well-trained dogs that may or may not have had any real instinct to point. When firearms were invented, dogs that were carefully trained to circle or point game were no longer a necessity; a flushing dog could be used.
They (partridges) are shot on the wing with an arquebuse and for that reason they do not exist in such numbers as formerly, nor are there any longer such pointing dogs (perros de muestra) to find them and point them with cleverness so great that large quantities of them could be killed with a cross bow. In those days the sportsmen were most dexterous, now such are wanting; for, as game is killed more easily, nobody wishes to waste time training his dogs as the man has not to shoot the partridges on the ground, and the only use he has for dogs is to flush the game and that takes no training, as the dog does it naturally. 5
While a flushing dog can be very effective, a pointing dog can cover more ground. It can also give a shooter more time to get ready for the shot. So it is not surprising that hunters continued to train dogs to point, even if it was no longer strictly necessary. And since they also continued to select for a longer, stronger pause, they eventually arrived at dogs that would point naturally, without any training at all.

As isolated populations of these new pointing dogs acquired unique combinations of characteristics that differentiated them from other populations, they became landraces. But the event that would ultimately lead to pointing dog breeds was another revolution. But this time, the revolution was a violent one. And it was followed by a century of chaotic, indiscriminate breeding that only came to an end when order was restored by outside forces.

1. William Arkwright, The Pointer and His Predecessors, 3
2. Quoted in Jean Castaing, Les Chiens d’Arrêt, 65
3. Quoted in William Arkwright, The Pointer and His Predecessors, 7-8
4. Ibid., 46-47
5. Ibid., 39-40


Breed of the Week: The Blue Picardy Spaniel

On Thursday, March 12, 1886 the following classified ad appeared in a French sporting journal:
For Sale: 20 Francs. 4 puppies born January 25, 1886, white and black épagneuls of the ancient breed of Artois. The father is the most handsome dog in the country. The breed has almost disappeared in France and is sorely missed by our old hunters. The mother is of the same breed. Mother and father out of hunting lines, solid point, on the plains, marsh or woods, hunting always in gun range. Contact M. Larivière, rifleman, Hesdin, Pas de Calais. 
In addition to being a rifleman, it seems that Mr. Larivière also had a knack for writing catchy ads. The puppies he was selling were not actually from an “ancient breed”, but were more likely the descendants of a general type of black and white épagneul that had been in France for centuries and were still being bred in some areas.

Ten year's after Mr. Larivière's ad for puppies appeared in the papers, a Dutchman —Henri, count of Bylandt— also wrote about a northern black spaniel in his book, Dogs of all Nations. Despite that, and a number of other references clearly establishing the existence of black and white épagneuls in northern France, black was not allowed for the various offshoots of the french Spaniel by any of the official standards drawn up in the early 1900s.

The reasons for this are not entirely clear but it is reasonable to assume that, like in other areas of Europe, black was considered “proof ” of crosses to English dogs and was seen as an impediment to establishing a truly homegrown breed. In any case, despite being out of standard, épagneuls with black and white coats were still bred by the hunters, mainly in the northern French regions of Picardie and Pas de Calais. Jean Castaing wrote that they were found “almost always” in the hands of snipe hunters in the valleys of the Somme, Canche and Authie, and that they probably came about by crossing French Spaniels to English and Gordon Setters.

In the 1920s efforts got underway to organize the black and white dogs into an officially recognized breed. A number of well-known personalities including Eugène Cuvellier and Léon Verrier, one of the country’s top dog trainers and a friend of Emmanuel Boulet, helped to stabilize and promote the black and white dogs from the north. But when a club for the brown, white and tan Picardy Spaniel was established in 1921, Blue Picardy Spaniels (as they were by then called) were not accepted. It wasn’t until 1938 that a standard was drawn up and the breed officially recognized. The issue that caused the delay seems to have been a disagreement among breeders concerning just how much of an English style the breed should have. 

Eventually, it was decided that the Blue Picardy should remain “Continental” in its look and performance and the standard was, according to the website for the current club, “corrected to eliminate all English character”. As we shall see, however, while the English character may have been eliminated from the standard, in reality the breed would eventually become the most Britannic of all the épagneuls.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, efforts to promote the Blue Picardy faltered. After the war, the breed almost disappeared. While the Brittany and to a certain extent some of the other varieties of épagneul managed to make progress, by the time Jean Castaing’s masterwork Les Chiens d’Arrêt was published in 1960, the breed was in dire straits. 
As for the Blue Picardy Spaniel, if it is still as it was intended to be, that is to say Continental in its form and character...after an effort by some breeders to maintain or reconstitute this variety during the first years that followed 1945 [it is] almost on the way to extinction.
Fortunately, the Blue Picardy survived due mainly to the efforts of Mr. Piras from Crotoy, who was virtually the only breeder still active after the war. Another breeder, Mr. Lemoing from central France, developed his own line of Blues and in 1973 participated in the first field trial for the breed, held at Malauzat. Until the 1990s, the Blue Picardy was more or less confined to northern France where it was mainly in the hands of hunters. It was essentially unknown in the rest of the world and consistently fell behind its cousin, the Picardy, in terms of the number of pups whelped each year. But the situation soon began to change. 

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the number of Blue Picardy pups whelped each year began to rise. This trend continued through the late 1990s and early 2000s. By 2003, for the first time ever, Blues outnumbered Picardies. In 2008 a record 296 Blue Picardy pups were whelped, nearly three times as many as were whelped just the year before and ten times as many as were whelped in the difficult years after the Second World War. Today, the breed continues to grow and seems to be on sound footing. But it is becoming increasing clear that much of the demand for Blue Picardies is from the pet/companion animal market. 

Some people are now concerned that the breed’s new found popularity may even threaten it as a gundog. Judging by the numbers of Blues entered in field events there does seem to be a trend developing: despite a much larger and growing population, far fewer Blues participate in field trials and hunt tests than Picardies. Nevertheless, there are still good numbers of talented, hard-hunting Blue Picardy Spaniels in France and there are now breeders in Canada and the Netherlands.

(Note: Since the Picardy and Blue Picardy have such similar hunting styles and abilities, the following information comes from bits of both chapters) 

Field Search
The usual pace is a medium gallop. While running, the head is normally held in line with the back but can be slightly higher or lower depending on the terrain. Range is close to medium but, like some of the other French breeds, the work standard allows for individuals of superior performance. I’ve seen one or two such dogs and they can range out fairly wide, at a fast gallop. Nevertheless, both breeds are still very Continental in action, typically ranging just beyond gun range at a medium, flowing gallop.

I spoke to former breed club president Joël Mailly about the Picardy Spaniel:
A Picardy hunts with you. They are very cooperative and will adapt to you and the terrain, ranging out or staying close, depending on what you want. If you are hunting in thick beet fields they will stay closer; if you are on open plains they will reach out. They adapt to the cover and will always hunt with you.
Blue Picardy breeder Bernard Piers adds that the Blue's search is: 
"...similar to the Picardy Spaniel’s. But the Blue is more feline in its movements. It has a more setter-like way of working. We say that if the two Picardy breeds were horses, the Blue would be a demi-sang [half-blood] and the Picardy a draft horse. But there are two schools of thought regarding the breed. Hunters typically want a close-working dog, one that works “to the gun”, maybe 50 meters or so on each side. And field trialers want their dogs to run further out and faster. It comes down to selection and training.
Both breeds have a lot of point that is said to develop fairly early. Relatively feline in their movement when scenting game, they point standing up and can be quite “stylish” for a Continental breed.
They tend to point fairly early. Some are natural backers. You can see the Setter influence, but they don’t have as much of the feline movement in their actions and they don’t lay down on point. They point standing up, very intensely. They are not too difficult to break to wing and shot. (Bernard Piers)
Picardies have a reputation for being soft-mouthed, natural retrievers. The retrieving instinct is said to develop early in most pups. The somewhat stronger character of the breed may also make it a good candidate for higher levels of retriever training where a certain amount of pressure may be required.

Like all the French pointing breeds, Picardies are perfectly capable of tracking a wounded bird or rabbit. But, as with all the French pointing breeds, blood trailing and tracking of big game are not considered part of their job description. Nevertheless several Picardies have been tested in Germany for their tracking ability and have earned excellent scores. 

Water Work
As can be expected of a breed developed in a region renowned for its waterfowl hunting, the Picardy Spaniel is a born water worker. In fact, it may be the best bet among all the French pointing breeds in that regard. Joël Mailly said: 
I can’t keep mine out of the water. Hunters in Picardy have always wanted dogs that love the water since they hunt a lot in the marshes. So we select our dogs to be good, strong swimmers and retrievers willing to work in very tough conditions. They are excellent dogs for waterfowlers. 
Bernard Piers told me that Blues are "... very good water workers, equal to the Picardy in that respect."

The first Blue Picardies I ever saw were nowhere near France. They were in a snowy field in the foothills of the rocky mountains south of Calgary, Canada. They were owned by Don Fath, one of a very few breeders of blues outside the their native land. I was there to learn as much as i could about the breed and to photograph them in action. What I learned from Don that day was confirmed in France: good Blues from proven hunting lines are very birdy gundogs whose overall look, gait and pointing style definitely reveal an English connection. Blue Picardy Spaniels are bigger boned than field-bred English Setters and have a more rough-and-tumble look to them. They don’t run as fast or far as Setters and they seem to be a bit more laid-back.

In France, I have seen several Blues, mainly in field trials. Most of them ran hard and fast, head held high, out to about 100 meters or so. Their points were solid and, from what the owners told me, they were all good retrievers and strong swimmers. I believe that the breed overall still has a lot of hunt in it. But it is clear, even to the casual observer, that over the last two decades much of the growth in the Blue’s numbers has been among pet and show homes.

Some breeders I’ve spoken to have expressed their concern over this trend; they understand the danger this presents to any hunting breed. Others feel that it is the only way the breed can grow; otherwise it may disappear. Personally, I think the breed may indeed be approaching a tipping point. The Blue’s undeniable beauty and affectionate personality make them ideal house pets. But their heritage is the hunt. It would be a shame to see the breed’s keen instincts diminish or disappear.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals


Breed of the Week: The Picardy Spaniel

In the classic book of dog breeds "Le Chien et Ses Races", Paul Mégnin wrote about a family of dogs he had seen in the 1880s at the home of a hunter in the Ardennes region of northeastern France. Mégnin called the dogs Épagneuls Français, (French Spaniels) but from the description he provides and from illustrations published a few years before, the dogs he described would today probably be called Épagneuls Picards -- Picardy Spaniels. the home of Mr. Lamy we met another family of very pure Épagneuls Français that had been kept in the family for 30 years and improved by selection only in terms of their search and endurance for work. These dogs, kept for the personal use of their owners and never bred for commercial purposes, were absolutely remarkable. They had a good nose; a solid, majestic point; and a fast search, but not the frantic search of English dogs. Their endurance was incredible, for with his dog, Do II, for example, Mr. Lamy hunted every day during the first month of the season for ten hours a day, on average, and that dog never tired. The ears of these dogs, although a good length, are perhaps a bit shorter than those of the French Spaniel from 80 years ago, and attached a little higher on the head. The tail is slightly curved like that of the old spaniel. The coat, grey-brown, is long and relatively course, like that of the old épagneul. The head is pretty and energetic, the nose is brown, the claws black, the bones strong. “These are not show dogs,” wrote their overly modest owner, but they are good dogs that do very well in this region where game is wily and scarce.

The dog Mégnin wrote about, Do II, was actually featured on the cover of the magazine L’Éleveur in 1890. But Do was listed as an Épagneul Ardennais (Ardennes Spaniel), and some of the dogs owned by Mr. Lamy had a different coat color from the traditional French Spaniel. "...the bitch belonging to Mr. J. Lamy of La Chapelle is white and orange, not white and chestnut, as the catalog says; she would have been more at home with the orange and white Setters." It seems that Mr. Lamy also bred Pont-Audemer Spaniels.
The pups announced for the end of April by Mr. Lamy’s Do II out of Cora I are not by Do II, Épagneul Français, but by dodo, Épagneul de Pontaudemer [sic] out of Cora 1, Épagneule Espagnole [Spanish Spaniel]. The similarity of the names caused the error in the announce- ment letter that was sent in. The price remains 40 francs each...
Many sources state that the first time a Picardy Spaniel was shown was in 1904 at an exhibition in Paris. But there are other reports from as early as 1890. An article in the June 12, 1890 edition of the magazine "Le Chenil" for example, mentions that  
"At Amiens, Mr. Rattel showed a very remarkable group of six Épagneuls Picards, grey-brown, with tan points. It is a very handsome group that did not win the first prize. Mr. Vadurel showed an Épagneul Français with brown spots that was certainly superior. The Épagneuls Picards of Mr. Rattel are very interesting to study. It is a nice lot where the fathers and mothers have a much better type than the young dogs, the latter having a topknot on the head and a smaller stature, indicating a cross with the Pont-Audemer."
These and other references clearly indicate that there were pointing dogs with long hair and grey-brown and tan coats in northern France well before 1900, and that they had a slightly different look and hunting style compared to the French Spaniels being bred elsewhere.

In 1907, as the French Spaniel began to subdivide into separate regional breeds, the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized. Its standard was drawn up in 1908 and has remained largely unchanged to this day. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the region of Picardy became ground zero for some of the most intense battles of the conflict. Incredibly, the Picardy Spaniel survived despite the absolute devastation of area. A breed club was formed in 1921, and in 1938 a black version of the breed, the Épagneul Bleu de Picardie (Blue Picardy Spaniel), was recognized as a separate and independent breed.

The Second World War proved even more difficult for the breed than the First. When it was over, the Picardy Spaniel had almost disappeared. Fortunately, a small group of breeders, led by former breed club president François Prin, united to save it. By the 1980s it was clear that their efforts had paid off. The number and quality of the dogs had improved considerably. Picardy Spaniels were winning field trials, dog shows and the admiration of more and more hunters, especially in the north of France. Today, the breed remains virtually unknown outside of France but enjoys a well-deserved reputation among French hunters as a solid gundog, well equipped for hunting in difficult conditions and terrain.

La Picardie is a beautiful part of France, but traveling through it means trying to come to terms with the fact that hundreds of thousands of young men fought and died there 95 years ago. Lisa’s grandfather was gravely wounded in picardy in 1917. many of his brothers-in-arms are still there, in graves marked by white crosses that are outnumbered only by the sprouts of winter wheat that now blanket the land.

I’ve seen Picardy Spaniels and Blue Picardies - a related breed to be featured here next week - run in field trials in northern France on a number of occasions. I admire both breeds and the way their breeders have managed to strike a good balance between power and speed in their lines. But when it comes to the Picardy Spaniel, one dog in particular stands out in my memory and has convinced me that the breed really deserves to be better known. 

Lisa and I saw him at a field trial on a bright, windy spring day in the Pas de Calais region of northern France. His name was Aramis. Waiting for his turn at the side of the field, he looked like a brawny rugby player before the big game. In the field he ran like a swift middle distance runner. It was an amazing sight. He absolutely flowed over the ground, head high, muscular legs propelling him through the knee-high wheat. To me he represented exactly what breeders in the region have been striving to produce for decades: tough, powerful dogs that are just as elegant in the field as they are tireless in the marsh.

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!

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals


More reviews!

I'm happy to say that not one, not two, but THREE new reviews for Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals have come out recently.

In the July/August issue of Shooting Sportsman a very high-end US firearms and field sports magazine, blogger and contributor Gregg Elliot submitted his review of the book calling it "Part history lesson, part guide and part love letter, Pointing Dogs is one of the finest books about hunting dogs that I've ever read". When I read that my head expanded so suddenly that I lost my  hat. But thanks for the props Gregg, I can always buy a new hat!

Another review that I am very proud of is found in a recent issue of Gun Dog Supreme, the news bulletin of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America. Written by Joan Bailey the author of Gun Dog Supreme, the review is awesome. Joan is a widely respected writer and over 50 years of experience breeding, hunting over and judging gundogs. So when she wrote: "It is an amazing book on many levels. It seems that this is a man who is living his passion and it comes through time and time again." I was extremely flattered but even happier to know that a true hunter who has also been living her passion too understood the incredible joy and satisfaction a project like this can bring.

Finally, I received a review from William (Sandy) Gunn who has written for a variety of national and international dog magazines and is described as "a Canadian hunter, a breeder, and an active field trial and conformation judge with experience behind pointing dogs on five continents under numerous performance evaluation systems."

Mr. Gunn also wrote a very positive review, and I will include it in its entirety below. After you read it, you will understand why I will not only need a new hat to cover my hugely swollen head, but I may even need to widen the door to my house just to get across the threshold!

"It has been a while since I’ve submitted a book review but Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals by Craig Koshyk and published by Dog Willing Publications of Winnipeg, Canada really does have something to offer the dog fancy that is available nowhere else. I am extremely proud that it is written by a Canadian and published in Canada and should soon be known throughout the world for the incomparable reference source it is.

What Craig Koshyk set out to do had been done by nobody before him, and is unlikely to ever be done again. His investment of time, more than a decade, and travel, throughout Continental Europe and North America, has achieved his goal of examining, photographing, and describing each of the continental pointing breeds in detail, and from firsthand experience with each at work in the field.

While Mr. Koshyk’s work is done from the perspective of a hunter, for hunters, it would be an extraordinary waste were it not to be read by anyone with the audacity to stand in the middle of a conformation ring and pronounce judgment as to the merits of the exhibits in his/her sporting group ring. The breed standards for each breed should be the blueprint from which judgment proceeds, but for a fleshing out of the standards and to give them meaning, now we have a text that can truly help, most especially with the less frequently seen breeds.

Even those of us who judge not only conformation but field trials and tests of pointing breeds, and have done so on multiple continents, are unlikely to have seen all of these breeds in the flesh and at work, but Mr. Koshyk has and he has recorded his observations in an orderly and very readable way with a high degree of conformity from one breed to another. One of my greatest pleasures in life has been hunting with and observing pointing breeds at work and I find myself being jealous of this remarkable accomplishment, and wishing I could have been along for the ride!

The scope of this work is truly amazing. When, at the outset, the author compared his research with that William Arkwright had undertaken at the very outset of shows and trials, but chronicling only one breed, the Pointer, I felt that he was perhaps guilty of self aggrandizing. Arkwright wrote the bible on the Pointer. As I proceeded through ‘The Continentals’ I soon realized that my impression was not only unfounded but unfair. Mr.Koshyk’s work IS the modern day ‘bible’ on the continental pointing breeds, and its comprehensiveness is remarkable.

If my use of superlatives is off-putting I apologize but, when you are able to read this yourselves, and please do not neglect to do so, you will find my descriptions not only accurate but understatement, such is the value of this book to the serious student of pointing breeds. Nothing can replace being present and experiencing the thrill of a great dog, of whatever breed, doing his thing with the scent of game birds filling his being with purpose but we can now live that experience vicariously through Craig Koshyk’s marvelous book of photos and word paintings.

If I had to be critical and presumed to be able to offer constructive criticism of such a book as this, it would be only that the font size leaves old eyes like mine wishing for relief through magnification. That said, the present 365 glossy pages would have used twice the paper and have become not only unwieldy but prohibitively expensive had larger fonts been used. Though there will never be a substitute for the presence of this beautiful book in ones greedy hands, or on ones bookshelf, it would be great if a digital version might one day be available." --William (Sandy) Gunn