The History of Pointing Dogs Part 2: Progress
The French revolution began in 1789. When it was Over 11 years later, Napoleon was in power and nearly every aspect of French life, including hunting and dog breeding, had changed forever. Some of the changes were positive. The revolution had given the average French citizen the right to hunt. But for the dogs kept in the kennels of aristocrats, the revolution spelled disaster. Many were slaughtered outright and others were stolen, but most were simply released to roam the countryside.
...Braques and Spaniels, reared with the greatest care in the castle kennels, became the property of the first comer. They were sent wandering through the country like wolves and foxes, and they interbred. Great brachs, beautiful spaniels, grey-hounds and sheep- dogs—all these wandering bands of the canine race were fused in a mixture, in a maze impossible to follow...6
For many years after the French Revolution, dog breeding on the continent was a complete free-for-all. There were no breeds, as we know them today. There were only general types of dogs —short, long and rough-haired — basically landraces that had developed in isolated areas. But there were no breed standards, no tests or trials and no long-term breeding plans. Hunters simply mixed and matched their dogs as they saw fit. And, for the most part, they were quite satisfied with what they had.
They often have perfect dogs because they hunt a lot and they kill a lot but the breed of dog is not important... ninety-nine out of a hundred would not hesitate to cross a good short-haired dog with a good long-haired bitch, of any breed of Épagneul or Griffon.7
It took many decades after the revolution for order to come to dog breeding on the continent. When a systematic approach was finally adopted in the 1880s, breeders made rapid progress. And they were spurred on by what can only be described as a British canine invasion.
In 1567 the first dog encyclopedia was published in England. In De Canibus Britannicis, author John Caius describes a new kind of dog that had recently come to England from France.
.... they are speckled all over with white and black, which mingled colors incline to a marble blue, which beautify their skins and afford a seemly show of comeliness.
He goes on to describe, “the dogge called the Setter”:
...when he has found the bird, he keeps sure and fast silence, he stays his steps and will proceed no further, and with a close, covert, watching eye, lays his belly to the ground and so creeps forward like a worm... this kind of dog is called Index, Setter, being indeed a name most consonant and agreeable to his quality.
A century and an half later, short-haired pointing dogs from Spain, Portugal and France were brought to the British isles by soldiers returning from the War of Spanish Succession. Most of the dogs were apparently large and slow-moving, but some were said to be smaller and faster. They quickly found a home in the kennels of British sportsmen, who set about breeding and modifying them to suite their tastes. Soon, as Arkwright wrote, “nearly every family of position had its own breed of Pointers”.
In the 1780s, the work of the English agriculturalist Robert Bakewell led to a major leap forward in agricultural production and the breeding of livestock. When applied to hunting dogs, his techniques quickly led to improvements in all areas of performance and appearance. And breeders, spurred on by the desire to one-up their peers, used the techniques to quickly develop lines of outstanding dogs. In his wonderful book "Pointers and Setters", Derry Argue wrote:
If the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the ages of discovery, this was the great age of innovation and competition... The country gentleman was now expected to keep stables of English thoroughbreds, carriages, packs of hounds, hundreds of game cocks out at walk, and kennels of fighting dogs, fox hounds, and pointers and setters all matched for type and color. This was life with style. To keep up with his neighbors he strove to keep better dogs, to acquire a better shotgun and to shoot more birds.8
By the mid-1800s, benefiting from years of political stability, increasing industrialization and modern breeding methods, the British were light-years ahead of everyone else. Their Pointers and setters were faster, further ranging and, above all, far more uniform in their looks and abilities than all others. They were, in the language of the day, “highly bred” and when they began to appear on the European mainland after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, it was as if a bomb went off in the Continental hunting scene.
Hunters from France to Hungary, from Spain to Denmark soon fell in love with the elegant British dogs. Many turned their backs on their native breeds while others rushed to breed their dogs to the first Pointer or setter they could get their hands on. But some wanted nothing at all to do with the new imports, fearing that they were simply unmanageable. Even more interesting was the reaction of the English when they first encountered the Continental pointing dogs.
There is, however, one thing which cannot escape notice the very first time one shoots in company with French sportsmen, and that is their dogs. There is no medium class of animals with them; they are either good or bad, broken or unbroken, eminently useful or worse than useless. The latter form the more numerous class, of course. As for the good ones, they are pre-eminently useful, and it is astonishing what they can do.9
Some so-called German Pointers are, however, perfect monsters in size. I have seen one which was as big as a small donkey. When this fellow came past you at a trot he shook the very ground, at least I used to say so to his owner. 10
The different hunting styles of the Continental dogs were, of course, reflective of traditions of the countries in which they were developed.
The French nation loves sport, or rather the pursuit and capture of animals, passionately. It is, however, true that my countrymen shoot for the pot rather than for sport, and will as a rule overlook a fault in their dog so long as a wounded partridge or hare does not get away...11
In his sport the average German does not belie his Teutonic origin and his close relationship to his English brother. Sport for him is not for show or for the pot, as with some Oriental and other races. Like Englishmen, he is refined in his pleasure, not cruel to animals, a thorough sportsman, who loves his sport for its own sake.12
Game and hunting techniques also influenced how dogs were bred and used on the Continent and it was becoming increasingly clear that the average Continental hunter was different from the average English sportsman. More often than not, he was a middle-class professional or even a member of the working class and, to him, the best dogs were those that could do a variety of tasks.
Partridges are found nearly everywhere, their distribution following about the same rules as hare. They are shot in August and September. ...driving in the English way is not unknown but the regular German way is to walk them up with dogs, generally one dog to every gun, that acts as pointer and retriever alike. English pointers and retrievers were largely introduced thirty or forty years ago but as the average German hunter is not, like his col- league in England, rich enough to keep a variety of dogs and men, and as the grounds as a rule are less extensive, sportsmen tried to train them for both purposes, but had good results in rare cases only. French griffons and poodle pointers (sic) have answered better, but best of all is the old German heavy close-haired dog crossed with English pointer blood. The old dog was rather slow but very intelligent, and the cross improved his staying powers, endurance, and scent. ...In summer he must act as a bloodhound on the trail of a wounded roe, retrieve ducks in the water and act as a spaniel for woodcock and snipe. In September he must take no notice whatever of hares and retrieve them without noticing partridges. This is no tall story; quantities of dogs do it, and all well-trained ones should do it. 13
Many of the English accounts also point out how little concern the average Continental hunter had for pure breeding.
In fact, the French pay very little attention to the breed of their dogs, as a walk or ride through any large town will at once satisfy you, and I could find more mongrel-bred ones in one day, in the town of Calais, than could be found in England in seven days.14
French sportsman and dog expert, Adolphe De la Rue, actually witnessed the very beginning of the widespread and indiscriminate period of crossbreeding in France that would lead to the development of entirely new breeds, and threaten others with extinction.
I remember that it was on one of the opening days, so noisy and numerous, that I saw for the first time a large black pointing dog of the kind that appeared in France in 1814 with the English army. The dog was so highly regarded that his owner did not know who to answer first. All of his neighbors had the dog cover their bitches, even if the bitches were épagneuls. Based on what I saw, I can conclude that these thoughtless crosses were taking place more or less everywhere, a dog of a foreign breed would appear, everyone would take a liking to it and want one of its kind. 15
As the number of dogs bred on the continent rose, quality declined. It seems that the main goal of many breeders was to produce as many pups as possible, as quickly as possible.
I knew a forester that had a dog and a bitch, they were adequate, brother and sister; he told me that he had sold in a single year, two litters from them, each with eleven pups, at the age of two months.16
Even worse, a seemingly endless number of “rediscovered” breeds kept cropping up. After judging a dog show in Paris in 1884, Ernest Bellecroix published a plea for reason:
Last year we were crushed under a completely unexpected number of classes. In all the species, native or foreign, new breeds, until now unknown, were discovered. ...there were 145 classes! ... Of all these different classifications, which one is the proper one? We have no idea. Therefore...we request that the Society that has the difficult task of improving the breeds of dogs determines these breeds once and for all and clearly defines their characteristics. Even the owners of dogs sometimes had no idea what kind of dogs they owned or bred and often would enter them into the wrong class at a dog show or field trial. 17
Several years later, an even harsher review was published. It illustrates just how extreme some of the opposition to the native breeds had become. Describing what he’d seen at the 1891 dog show in Paris, a Mr. Des Mureaux wrote:
We are shown an animal, usually horrible, and we are told: Here is the last specimen of an admirable breed, unfortunately wiped out —if only it were!—and that it should be reconstituted. I therefore... propose to offer a dose of strychnine to every one of these ugly four- legged beasts and I would give a prize to the first one to disappear.18
Fortunately, not everyone was ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. Influential personalities like James de Coninck in France, Ferdinando Delor in Italy, and above all, Hegewald and Oberländer in Germany, spearheaded a sort of countermovement to the anglophilia running rampant among hunters on the continent. They realized that for all the speed, endurance and style of the British dogs, they were not perfect. What breed is? For some types of game and terrain, the native breeds were much better suited. But the greatest source of motivation may have been growing nationalism and a renewed interest in the traditional ways of hunting. Many hunters were beginning to realize, just in time, that their native breeds were a vital part of their nation’s sporting heritage and deserved their attention.
When I asked Wilhelm Heinrich, a friend and fellow gundog history buff in Germany about Hegewald he wrote:
In 1871, when the unity that many generations of Germans had waited and fought for had finally been achieved, Hegewald was in a perfect position to bring this “national awakening” into the hunting and dog scene. There were similar protagonists in the arts, industry, and science. In the hunting and dog scene, Hegewald was the man. His writings perfectly capture the spirit of the “New Germany” with its rapidly increasing economic and military power. He wrote from 1880 to about 1900; mainly articles in various newspapers and magazines. His writings where a mix of romanticism and nationalism and stories about the “German forest and forester” and the “ennoblement of the blood toward a noble German dog”. Through them, he captured the imagination of the young second German Empire.
These men also realized that if the old breeds were to survive, and new ones created, they had to find a way to identify the best individuals among them to use as breeding stock. The first system they adopted was based on the British concept of head-to-head competition in the show ring and open field.
6 Frederick George Aflalo, ed., Sport in Europe, 127
7 A. de La Rue, Mis de Cherville, Ernest Bellecroix, Les Chiens d’Arrêt Français et Anglais, 40
8 Derry Argue, Pointers and Setters, 35
9 Lewis Clements, Shooting, Yachting and Sea-Fishing Trips, at Home and on the Continent, Volume 1, 302
10 Lewis Clements, Shooting, Yachting and Sea-Fishing Trips, at Home and on the Continent, Volume 2, 93 13 Ibid.,
11 Frederick George Aflalo, ed., Sport in Europe, 125
12 Ibid., 147
13 Ibid., 161
14 Nimrod (Charles James Apperley), The New Sporting Magazine, (Volume 5, 1833): 9
15 A. de La Rue, Mis de Cherville, Ernest Bellecroix, Les Chiens d’Arrêt Français et Anglais, 31
16 Ibid., 44
17 Ernest Bellecroix, Le Chenil (May 1, 1884)
18 Mr. Des Mureaux, Le Chenil (June 4, 1891)