August 03, 2015
It's up for debate when the Cesky Fousek, pronounced Chess-kee Foe-sek, actually showed up on the hunting scene. Some argue the breed dates back well into the 14th or even 13th century, but concrete mentions of what could be Ceskys in literature are ambiguous and open to interpretation.
The breed picked up its name sometime in the late 1800s with Cesky referring to Czech, and Fousek being a derivative of the word fousy, which translates to "whiskers" or "rough hair." To be 100 percent correct in referring to the breed, males are Cesky Fouseks and females are Ceska Fouska, although I never ran across anyone in the U.S. who used the feminine pronunciation.
The history of the Cesky is firmly planted in what is now the Czech Republic, where war has twice threatened to erase the dog from the landscape. In both great wars, the Cesky (and presumably plenty of other bloodlines) took a backseat to the international conflicts of the time. Fortunately, true bloodlines survived both wars. A further threat to breed purity was the acceptance of crossbreeding well into the 1950s, given the shallow genetic pool available.
It wasn't until well after the end of World War II that a true initiative began to protect the pedigree and promote the Cesky in a way that would mold the breed into what it is today. The goal at the time of the breed's revitalization was to retain top-notch hunting abilities and focus largely on the hunting characteristics of the dogs.
Anyone familiar with the bird dog culture of Europe probably has a pretty good idea of where this is going. Unlike in the U.S. where we have unchecked breeding of any dogs that strike our fancy, they follow a more stringent set of rules in much of Europe.
Over the years, CFs have gained a small but devout following and the breed has remained largely intact. That means if you can find a pup, you will most likely have a dog that will hunt until the day is over. But finding a Cesky can be difficult — really difficult.
Finding A Fousek
When I research dog breeds that aren't terribly popular, there are usually only two reasons for their lack of recognition with the hunting crowd. The first is the breed simply doesn't hunt well.
The second, and far more intriguing reason, is the breed is a well-kept secret, guarded by those who care greatly about preserving genetics and therefore do not allow any careless breeding.
That seems to be the case with Cesky Fouseks.
A case-in-point comes from a fellow named Tony Ferragamo, who lives in Massachusetts with his girlfriend Jean McCurdy. When I spoke with Ferragamo about his search for a Cesky Fousek, he said, "We originally wanted a griffon but our timing wasn't right. I had read about Fouseks quite a bit and so I mentioned the breed to Jean and she, being an outdoors girl, said sure.
"Since I'm retired and have the time, I started researching where to get a Cesky. I finally found a breeder in Canada, but he did not have any pups available. Eventually I found a breeder, In The Briars Kennel, near us in Massachusetts. This is where we got Zora."
Owning Zora for five years would lead Ferragamo and McCurdy to a woman named Monica Redmond, who lives in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Redmond and McCurdy would both go on to speak to me in great detail about what most concerns GUN DOG readers — whether the Cesky can truly hunt.
McCurdy's life has been full of dogs, a gift passed on by several members of her family, although as she notes, Cesky Fouseks were unknown to them. "My grandfather, father and uncles all had English setters as far back as the 1950s," she recalls. "I grew up on a farm, so we always also had hounds and mongrels and all kinds of dogs around. It wasn't until I met Tony and we picked up Zora that I had the opportunity to train a hunting dog, though.
"When we started hunting with Zora, I realized that she is just practical. She hunts intelligently, ranges well, and is just so trainable. We hunt woodcock, pheasants, grouse — she'll retrieve anything." Ferragamo and McCurdy now own three Ceskys, with two pups recently added to the mix, which came about through successful breeding with Redmond's male, Louie.
I spoke with Redmond at-length about her love of the Cesky Fouseks and one thing she said has stuck with me, but I must explain myself before continuing. Few things in the bird-dog world rub me more wrong than when I see someone buy a dog but doesn't exercise it, let alone hunt with it. To me, it is a crime to choose a dog that is bred to run and hunt and keep it locked in a house, or a fenced-in backyard and never let the dog do what it is meant to do.
At the onset of our conversation, Redmond freely admitted she was never a dog person and had never been into hunting, but then she went on to say something that very few dog owners would say, "At first, Louie was not a good fit for me. He wouldn't wear out no matter how many miles we walked. I realized that I had a dog that needed a job. I enjoyed being around him, of course, but it was obvious he needed more.
"I mentioned this to a co-worker of mine at the time who owned a Drahthaar and was involved in NAVHDA, so I tagged along at an event. I met so many people that helped me out and offered me pointers, that I was immediately hooked. When we put Louie in a field with pigeons and launchers and I saw his stubby tail going 100 miles an hour, it hit me on what I had to do."
Redmond and boyfriend Patrick Sake started hunting Louie. Now, she is a full-fledged member of the bird hunting community: "We didn't change our dog to fit our lifestyle; he changed us to fit his."
How They Hunt
When I asked McCurdy how her dogs hunt, she said, "My dogs range at a comfortable distance depending on field conditions, and they work at a good pace." Redmond said pretty much the same thing, but both women also mentioned something noteworthy about hunting with their CFs — the dogs are smart enough to quickly learn they are hunting for their owner.
This trait is no accident, and is found throughout the history of the breed. Anyone who has trained a bird dog knows that if the dog is checking in and looking into your eyes, you're most likely working together. Everyone I spoke with about the Ceskys said they will look to their owner for guidance.
They will also hold a point and retrieve a duck, which are great things to have in a bird dog even if they aren't mutually common in the same breed very often. And they can do more, according to Redmond. "Louie hunts ducks and geese with no problem, although we hunt upland birds now more than anything because he is simply so good at it. He also shed hunts and is trained to blood-track wounded deer."
Multi-purpose dogs are commonplace these days, and Ceskys can certainly fill that role for anyone; however, they deserve an owner willing to work with the fact that they are enthusiastic and need to stay active.
The Intelligence Factor
It's always interesting to hear a professional trainer's perspective on a specific breed, which is why I reached out to Hedgerow Kennel and Hunt Club's owner Pat Perry about Cesky Fouseks. The first thing Perry said when I asked him about his experience with the rare breed is, "They are very intelligent and make a great water dog and field dog. I've always enjoyed working with them. They want to work for you and are very bitable, very trainable. You can't get too heavy handed with them, but they are very talented."
When I asked Perry why the breed isn't more popular he confirmed what I had suspected after quite a bit of research. "If they were more available, they'd be more popular. They are similar to the wirehaired griffon, but much harder to find. They really are neat dogs."
Both McCurdy and Redmond mentioned their dogs' intelligence as well. During one conversation Redmond casually mentioned that Louie sizes up the cover before taking off so I asked her to explain what she meant. "When I say 'hunt 'em up' he looks around first to see the best cover. It's like he is putting together a game plan, which is the coolest thing to watch."
Anyone who has hunted upland birds with a truly talented older dog knows exactly what Redmond is referring to. And if you haven't seen a dog take stock of the lay of the land and hunt it his way, you're missing out on one of the best experiences of upland hunting.
Today's Cesky Fousek is a pointing dog that stands roughly two feet tall at the shoulders, with males topping out in weight at around 60 to 70 pounds, and females generally tipping the scales at 50 to 60 pounds. They boast a triple-layer, low maintenance coat, and are sized right for all kinds of cover, from pheasant sloughs to ruffed grouse timber, but buyer beware — the Cesky needs room to explore. Potential owners living in one-bedroom apartments in the city need not apply.
The Cesky Fousek is a determined, hardy breed that will go long after you're ready to quit. He needs to exercise, and since he is a brainy fellow, he needs to be put to work. If that sounds about right for your lifestyle and the Cesky has caught your interest, you had better start your research now because finding a litter can be about as easy as shooting 100 percent on flushed quail for an entire season.