What You Need to Know About Gun Dog Breed Registration
May 11, 2015
She was a city dog, and the closest she ever came in her early years to a flying creature was the occasional butterfly — even though the hot blood of the earliest bird dogs flowed in her. Her name was Chaps and she was half springer, half cocker.
Spanish pointers and spaniels are generally recognized as the earliest bird dogs, and if you 'fess up, almost every sporting breed developed since is an offshoot of those. In other words, every sporting breed developed over the past 500 or so years is the result of crossbreeding. Breed diversification, development, and improvement followed for a couple hundred years and it became increasingly obvious that some system of uniformity and regulation was imperative.
About 1876 a group of hunters got together to brag about their pointers and that grew into the American Kennel Club (AKC) a decade later. (The pointer still is the emblem of the organization.) The AKC has remained the leader of the pack, but the United Kennel Club is making a determined move to become the registry of choice.
Registration has given dog breeders a method of organization that the historically haphazard breeding scene lacked. To understand the tangle of sporting dogs, you need to delve into the history of hunters and their dogs. To the earliest bird hunters, the idea of wingshooting was laughable. Why shoot at one bird flying when you could ground swat a dozen? So a horse to hide behind as you sneaked up on a covey made more sense.
Or you could throw a net over them. Those pre-1660 bird hunters were after meat, not sport. Then along came Charles the Second, King of England, who had, during exile in France, picked up the peculiar enthusiasm of French nobility (they didn't worry about where their next meal was coming from) called "shooting flying."
The dog already had a role in bird hunting with the netters and other meat hunters. But Charles opened up the hunting world to a unique man-dog relationship. Sir Joe Hunter and Phideaux (remember the French connection) cooperated to put game in the bag.
When we moved to rural Missouri, Chaps found her calling — locating animals with bushy tails and alerting my father, armed with a single-shot Winchester .22. They came home with a limit of squirrels, super proud of their respective hunting talents. It didn't matter to either one that Chap's royal blood was diluted, making her ineligible to be registered with any of the various organizations.
Registry is a tangled story. One of the oldest of the registries is the AKC, which dates to 1879 when the National American Kennel Club opened its stud book to registration. That group morphed into the National Field Trial Association (already getting complicated). The present-day AKC dates to 1884, when a group of 10 American clubs and three Canadian breed clubs founded the AKC. The American Field says its Field Dog Stud Book is the oldest purebred dog registry in the U.S. with records dating to 1874.
Based on hunting dog registration, the UKC registry dates to 1898 and has become the largest of them all, registering dogs from all 50 states and 25 countries. More than 60 percent of its nearly 16,000 annually licensed events are tests of hunting ability, training and instinct. UKC focus has been on working dogs, not show dogs.
UKC has focused on non-pointing hunting dogs until recently, with the exception of pointing Labs.
"Within the last 10 years, the UKC has burst onto the pointing dog scene and currently recognizes Championship titles for three unique pointing dog programs, with more on the way," says Todd Kellam, UKC senior VP. "The UKC Field Trial program is designed to award pass/fail credit as deserved for all entries but also recognizes outstanding individual merit."
Of course, advocates of flushing dogs are just as passionate about their dogs as those who cherish pointing breeds. The one common thread is a dedication to pure bloodlines. Most registries discourage deviations from breed bloodline purity — although here's where it continues to get tricky. A closed stud book mandates that registered dogs be from a registered set of ancestors which weakens genetic vitality over time and can result in genetic-based disease.
Conversely, the open stud book allows some outcrossing usually in service dogs like police or herding animals. Outcrosses with other breeds supposedly results in a healthier dog. Overuse of one particular stud dog due to the desirability of the dog's working style or appearance can lead to a narrowing of genetic diversity, whether the breed uses an open stud book or a closed stud book.
Also, a registration certificate insures only that a dog was registered — that's it. For example if a registered Irish setter comes in heat, jumps the fence and has an erotic encounter with an English setter and puppies result, the Irish owner could succumb to his own temptation and submit a litter registration request. There are no registry cops to police fraudulent applications. The registry doesn't even know if the applicant actually owns the dog. DNA testing could prove blood sanctity, but how often does that happen?
Some breed clubs use DNA testing to ensure purity of bloodlines, but some rely on the breeder's word. "Even with DNA testing, there is no assurance that an application is legitimate unless the sire and dam of the dog being registered have also been DNA profiled," says Kellam. "Without DNA testing, no registry can ensure that a registration application is legitimate.
"The accuracy of dog breeding records has always been reliant on the integrity of the breeder. And it will be like that for a long time to come because no registry wants to risk requiring DNA profiling on all dogs because of the tremendous hit they would certainly take from those not willing to comply for whatever reason."
Kellam adds, "Many owners choose to DNA profile all of their dogs as a means of assuring potential puppy buyers that their dogs are out of the advertised sire and dam. Additionally, registries may require that dogs are only eligible to participate in events if they are DNA profiled. So slowly, dog owners are voluntarily learning the benefits of DNA profiling."
Some crossbreeds have become popular in their own right — goldendoodles and Labradoodles come to mind. Our daughter has a papered golden retriever with suspiciously curly hair from a kennel that also raises goldendoodles. But the dog is papered, registry certified as a purebred golden.
A registration certificate doesn't confer special talents on Ol' Sport. The Dumb-As-A-Bucket-of-Rocks pointer's registration papers have the same value as Ol' Streak's, the dog with a PHd (phenomenal dog). But it does confer bragging rights for stud service or puppy sales.
In 2009, UKC entered into an agreement with the United Field Trialers Association to recognize UFTA Championship Titles on UKC pedigrees. UFTA provides completion for dog handlers with a fair and consistent system for measuring their dogs' performance. With a 20-minute time limit, you hunt a seven to 12-acre field to point, flush and bag three birds.
You get six shells and your dog must retrieve to within one step of you for full credit. Each shell you use deducts points, as does a partial retrieve. Once you bag your third bird and leash your dog, the time stops, and you get two points for each minute you have left. The team that finds three birds the fastest and has the most shells left wins.
And in 2012, UKC entered into an agreement with the National Shoot to Retrieve Association to officially recognize NSTRA Championship Titles on UKC pedigrees. National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association, Inc. was conceived by a group of hunters in the late 1960s as a way to extend the normal open upland bird hunting season. The goal was to boost walking field trials for all pointing breed dogs.
Incorporated in 1978, NSTRA is non-profit with service to the members and sportsmanship as its goals. NSTRA is non-profit and points earned in their trials earn championships for the dogs as well as qualify them for regional and national competitions. Dogs score points for each find and retrieve, ground coverage, obedience and backing.
Todd Kellam says, "Working English pointers and English setters have been primarily registered with the Field Dog Stud Book, while German shorthaired pointers and the Brittany have been primarily registered with AKC. Those who choose to participate in events affiliated only with the primary registry probably don't need to consider registering anywhere else. But for those participating outside the primary registry, a growing number of dog owners, dual registry ensures that Championships are permanently recorded for future generations and it adds value and opportunities in advertising pups and potential stud dogs."
But because of its broad scope and determination to become the best known sporting/pointing dog registry, UKC may be on the verge of leading the pack. "The best option for many sporting dog enthusiasts may well include the services of multiple registries," says Todd Kellam.
Or you could get a dog like Chaps and go squirrel hunting.