Popularity. It's complicated.

Portuguese Pointer
As I alluded to in my last blog post, the term 'rare' is sometimes used by breeders to suggest that their breed is exotic and therefore superior to the run-of-the-mill breeds. But breeders of more common gundogs sometimes use the term 'popular' to promote their breed; the implication being that 'A million owners can't be wrong'.

Picardy Spaniel
But it turns out that the factors contributing to a breed's rarity or popularity are actually quite complicated. If we really want to understand why a breed is the way it is today, we have to look at history, geography, politics, breed clubs, registries and a bunch of other things, most of which are totally unrelated to how it actually performs in the field as a hunting dog.

Sometimes it comes down to a breed being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. Take the Picardy Spaniel for example. It is a superb gundog with great looks and temperament.  It really should be more popular around the world. Unfortunately the breed was developed in a part of northern France that was ground zero for two world wars. Obviously, building a strong population of hunting dogs and attracting the attention of the gundog world is not easy when you are just trying to survive the next artillery barrage. 

Cesky Fousek
The Cesky Fousek on the other hand is very popular...in the Czech Republic. But outside of its native land, it is almost completely unknown. Obviously 50 years of cold war and an iron curtain are not exactly conducive to gaining world-wide recognition for a gundog breed.  

But much of Germany was also turned to rubble during the wars, and half of it also lay behind an iron curtain for much of the 20th century. So why are German breeds like the GSP, GWP, Weim, Munsterlander and Pudelpointer now so popular in many parts of the world? Well it turns out that when hundreds of thousands of Allied servicemen and women are stationed in a foreign country, they tend to notice the local gundog breeds. And when local breeders, desperate to get back on their feet after years of war realize they have a very eager market for their dogs...well, you do the math. 

English Setter
And then there is the fact that once a breed gains a certain level of popularity, momentum based on a sort of herd mentality develops. Chances are, if you are a Czech hunter, you've seen plenty of Cesky Fouseks. Your best buddy probably has one and so do a lot of other hunters in your neck of the woods. So naturally, when you decide to get a gundog for yourself, your first thought is probably to get one just like your buddy's or just like the ones you see in the field all the time. 

I mean, do you really think all those guys and gals you see hunting with Labs or GSP's in the States really took the time to check out the pros and cons of dozens of other breeds before they got their first dog? Fat chance. The vast majority of dog owners can't even name more than three breeds of hunting dogs. Personally, I didn't do a whole lot of shopping around when I chose my breed (Weims). I just happened to see a really good one in the hunting field when I was younger and it stuck in my mind. When I finally got a house and a yard, guess what I got? Yup, the kind of dog I remembered seeing in the field years earlier. 

Large Munsterlander
Think about your own area. There are probably one or two breeds that are way more popular than all the others. But why is that?  My hunch is that they are a reflection of the momentum they've managed to build over the years. And chances are, that momentum is there to stay. The popular breeds in your area will probably remain quite popular and continue to build momentum.

But what would happen if a few top notch breeder/trainer/testers started working with one of the less popular breeds in your neck of the woods? And what if they started achieving FC and VC titles on a bunch of their dogs and what if they formed a really solid club, promoted the breed's virtues and began to place lots of pups in really good hunting homes? My guess is that over time, there would be a new 'most popular breed' in your area. As they say; nothing succeeds like success. Just ask the GSP and Brittany people who had, at one time, breeds that were not even on the radar in North America.

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


  1. Great post, Craig. If you look at the ads in Field & Stream in the early 50s, you get a very interesting illustration of what you are talking about -- the exotic continental breeds brought back by GIs. I was struck especially by the number of ads for Weims, for example. Personally, I will be really happy if the vizsla never gets more popular!


  2. It seems that you have found the truth in much around the pointing dog. You always writes like it comes from the hunter's heart. Your articles are a great inspiration and I send a respektfuld greeting from a Danish hunter with a pointing dog.