Goat didn't want to hunt. The handsome pudelpointer would venture out just a few feet in front of owner Luke Kennedy, then retreat, as if confused. Kennedy and I were hunting Mearns quail in southern Arizona and hoping to get into some birds, which he had never seen. But quail were down and coveys were few and far between.
"I don't get it," Kennedy said. "He's never like this. He hunts scalies just fine."
I offered up a possible reason. "Some dogs get intimidated when they hunt a new bird," I said. "Different country, different birdsâ€¦they don't know what to do." And while that's true — I've seen it happen a dozen times — I wasn't sure if that was really what was going on with Goat or not.
I'm hardly an expert on versatile pointing dogs, but I've hunted over a fair number of them in the last 30 years and seen some I really liked. I've also seen some that didn't have much interest in finding birds. I was hoping that wasn't the case here. I'd met Kennedy just that year, when he moved to Arizona as part of his helicopter pilot training for the Army.
We hit it off immediately and I wanted to show him a good time. Like me, he's a former Nebraska boy with the good taste to have grown up hunting bobwhite quail. Ever notice how quail hunters are just a little bit more intelligent and better looking than your average Joe?
I believe we found one covey that morning, which one of my dogs pointed. Goat still seemed largely out of his element. I felt sorry for the little guy. Despite his name — you'll have to get Luke to explain how all that came about — he's an intelligent and handsome creature, the kind of dog you can't help but like. We decided to hunt scalies the next morning, and Kennedy all but promised we'd find some action.
What a difference 24 hours can make! Not only did we find birds, Goat was a different dog. He made wide, sweeping casts out to 150 yards or so, scoured every bit of cover where the birds possibly could have hidden, and found at least half of the birds in the two or three coveys we put up.
If I hadn't known it was our boy Goat, I would have thought it was a different animal. Kennedy told me that was typical behavior for him, and I've hunted over Goat enough since to know he wasn't exaggerating.
If you've never seen a pudelpointer, you've probably seen dogs that look like pudelpointers: German wirehaired pointers and griffons. Yes, the aficionados can tell them apart, but the truth is I usually can't.
Suffice it to say, pudelpointers are considerably more rare on this side of the pond than either of the other two breeds, but they have the same wiry, non-shedding coat, the same bushy eyebrows and "mustache." Oddly, one distinct line of pudelpointers has a flat, soft coat, almost like that of an English setter. They're exceptionally handsome animals.
Stiff Breed Regs
Pudelpointers were originally bred in Germany and the dogs' unique looks come from a cross between German hunting poodles and English pointers, a process that took some 30 years to perfect. They were imported to the U.S. in 1956 by Bodo Winterhelt, who has since become something of a legend in versatile dog circles. Breeding is strictly controlled, and if you want to breed your dog to an officially approved pudelpointer, your pup has to pass some pretty stiff performance tests. It tends to keep the riff-raff out.
Kennedy owned Labs before Goat but when he decided to segue into pudelpointers he researched the breed, liked what he saw, and that was that. Back in the day, he was mostly a duck hunter.
"When I got to Montana (he went to college at Montana State University in Bozeman), I started chasing around sharptails and partridge and I saw what a pointing dog could do, and that made me want to have a dog that could point," he said. "But because of my love for waterfowling, I decided I needed a versatile dog.
"Sometimes I go back-and-forth on what Goat likes best, waterfowl or upland birds," he says. "The thing that I appreciated with him right away was his search. We would get done with a duck hunt in Texas and he would run around the lake as I was packing up, diving into the reeds and bulrushes, and I'd say that on half of my hunts, I'd end up with more birds than I shot because he would find birds other guys had shot and bring them back to me.
"And I'm not joking about that figure; there were times when, if I'd already shot my limit, he'd bring back an extra bird."
I asked Kennedy what he liked best about his dog and without hesitation he told me it was his trainability.
"Speaking to my experience, I've seen multiple owners of pudelpointers — first-time pointing dog owners — get really good NAVHDA scores with their dogs, and you've got to know that most of that is the dog, and a little bit of it is the help you get from other trainers," he says.
"They're not your typical knucklehead. They can be soft in a way, although I don't know if they're any softer than any of the other pointing breeds. But you can't beat them with a frying pan. For the most part, you need a lighter hand."
He and I talked over some plans for the upcoming season then said goodbye. But Kennedy was on a roll. The next day I got an e-mail from him:
"Dave, I took a look at my hunting journal last night and I think one very important attribute that I forgot to mention is the 'on/off' switchâ€¦Both of my dogs will go tear it up on the prairie but also know when to shut that off — in the house. Both live with us in the house and interact with our children very well. Bella, my new pudelpointer, will even lie on the floor and let James (10 months old) crawl all over her and pull at her hair until we catch him and pull him away. Their ability to calm down once in the house is very much appreciated, and they don't shed!"
Look, Don't Leap
All breeds have drawbacks, and perhaps the biggest drawback to pudelpointers is common to many European breeds: the relatively small number of established kennels in the U.S. That means you should exercise due diligence before buying a puppy, but then that's true with any breed, even those with a vast and well-established breeding program. It never hurts to look before you leap.
A number of years ago, I was hunting with Eric Trapp, a Montana friend, over his pudelpointer, the first I'd seen. That afternoon, standing on the bank of an intermittent creek bed that fell away 15 feet below me, I watched Trapp's dog trail a covey of Huns that were running along the far side of the willows. I figured they'd run out of range and then flush — typical Hun behavior — but then, to my amazement, the dog shot through the brush, came out ahead of the birds, and doubled back and pinned them.
I'd heard of dogs who could circle around and point running birds, but I'd never actually seen it happen. Had it been an accident? I don't really know, but I know what I saw, and I'd like to chalk it up to intelligence.
And then there was this: Kennedy and I were hunting scalies again a few years ago, combing through a patch of catclaw, looking for birds. I carry a pistol in case I run into a charging pack of javelinas — an occupational hazard in Arizona scaled quail country — and sure enough, after a few minutes I heard a horrible howling and screeching from somewhere up ahead.
I yanked my pistol out of my holster as I plunged through the catclaw, praying Goat had sense enough not to tangle with one of the vicious little peccaries, whose tusks can do serious damage to any dog foolish enough to mess with them. Just as I broke into the open, the javelina bolted out the far side, and Goat — bless his little heart — bolted out the other. Smart dogs know enough not to pick fights they can't win.
Army life is an itinerant life, and by the time you read this Kennedy will be in Kansas, where he, Goat and Bella have plans to waylay the local bobwhite population. It will be another new experience for both his dogs, but I'm betting they rise to the occasion.