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What You Need to Know About Gun Dog Breed Registration

What You Need to Know About Gun Dog Breed Registration

breed_registry_fShe 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.

Pure Bloods  

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.

breed_registry_1Registry 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.

Bird Games

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.

breed_registry_2You 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.


In the beginning, Airedales were hunting dogs. The working class people in the West Riding of Yorkshire, who developed the breed, needed a dog that could scent game, had the size to be able to tackle larger animals and could be taught to retrieve. The answer to this need turned out to be the Airedale.

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Braque Francais

In the days before France became known as the cradle of artists and the center of the fashion world, it was a superb upland hunting destination. The hills of the French countryside were planted with a variety of agricultural crops and the forests and mountains were teeming with wildlife. Grouse, pheasants and partridge were common in the farmlands and wild birds were a staple food for many rural families.

At the same time, pointing dogs were becoming more popular in Europe and a select group of French breeders set out to develop a breed that had the athleticism necessary to hunt hard all day and the instinct to point and retrieve birds. Using Spanish pointers and various European hounds as their root stock, these breeders began to develop dogs that embodied all of the qualities they desired.

The result of their efforts was the Braque Francais. The Braque became known for its keen determination and overwhelming desire to please its master. Careful breeding resulted in a dog that could be relied upon to obey commands in the field and hunt hard all day long, a dog that had intense prey drive and could also serve as a family companion, playing with the children, yet acting as a watchdog in the dark of night.

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Curly-Coated Retriever

With textured curls and a sleek frame, the curly-coated retriever often triggers double-takes from onlookers. At a distance, the curly-coated retriever is often mistakenly identified as a Labrador because the curly shares the Lab's conformation and passion for finding, flushing and fetching gamebirds. But surprisingly, the curly was not descended from the Lab. Rather, the curly is thought to have been bred from the English water spaniel, the St. John's Newfoundland, the retrieving setter and the poodle, according to the American Kennel Club.

Up close, the curly is much different from a Labrador: Its coat is made up of short, stiff hairs tightly wound into ringlets covering the main body, the top of the head and the ears.

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Flat-Coated Retriever

Once upon a time, when English gamekeepers reigned supreme on the estates of the nobility, they needed a dog that could find and retrieve birds that might have been missed after a driven shoot. But their mortal enemies, poachers, also needed a dog to find and retrieve birds€¦only in their case, in the middle of the night. In both instances, for the law-abiding and lawbreaker alike, the flat-coated retriever was often the dog of choice.

For whichever task they were assigned, the dog needed to have an outstanding nose, be exceedingly biddable, and when they were working for the poachers, be fast and agile enough to escape the bull mastiffs the gamekeepers employed to patrol the estate during the hours of darkness. These traits, still present in the breed today, are a not-so-well-kept secret for this relatively rare retriever breed, which has achieved the highest levels of success in all of the AKC's dog sports except for retriever field trials. Flat-coats were in 90th place in 2011 on the American Kennel Club's 'popularity list ' of the 173 breeds recognized by the AKC.

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French Brittany

'Some French Brittanys can be drama queens when training pressure is applied, ' notes Jim Keller from Keller Gun Dog Kennels near Lincoln, Neb. 'By 'drama queen' I mean this breed sometimes tends to overreact with a lot of emotional outbursts when specific behavior is required of them.

'For example, when being taught to force fetch, some French Brittanys will squeal and squirm in an effort to get the trainer to leave them alone. And some trainers will back way off and let the dog have its way, ' Keller says.

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Portugese Pointer

Ralph Fedele told me his first choice was a whippet, not a Portuguese pointer. He'd been a bird hunter in a previous life, before children. He now wanted a small dog with short hair — less mess in the house — that was good with kids. Then his wife got into the act.

'My wife said, 'Look at this dog I just happened to come across on the internet,' ' Fedele recalls. 'I looked at the pictures and said, 'That's the dog. Let's call this guy and get that dog.' My wife, just completely coincidentally, is Portuguese, although she had no prior experience with the dogs. '

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Standard Poodle

From the Middle Ages, Europeans have always considered the standard poodle a hunting dog. According to Canadian breed historian Emily Cain, Europeans categorized it as a spaniel. However, the French breed name, caniche, comes from chien canard, or 'duck dog, ' so they have also classified it a retriever.

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Irish Red and White Setter

If you ask the owner of an Irish Red and White Setter what makes these dogs special, almost uniformly the answer is, 'They are natural pointers. ' Many say their dogs have earned a junior hunter title with absolutely no training at all and never having had any exposure to birds prior to the time they started running in the tests.

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German Shorthaired Pointer

German shorthaired pointers have been particularly popular in the U.S. with gamebird hunters looking for a do-it-all versatile gun dog. There are approximately 10,000 German shorthairs annually registered with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Likewise, shorthairs are the dominant breed in NAVHDA and have produced top scores in Natural Ability, Utility, and Versatile Champion testing for the past several decades.

German shorthaired pointers are also one of the main dog breeds in many kinds of field trials and a variety of hunting contests. And all across North America, shorthairs are the common pointing breed for the average gamebird hunter just about anywhere there are gamebirds to be hunted.

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Irish Water Spaniel

'Beannaithe ' (Blessed) is how the old Gaelic hunters in Ireland viewed the Shannon spaniel that later became known as the Irish water spaniel. Developed to retrieve waterfowl and upland game, the breed proved to be so versatile it could do just about anything except dance Irish jigs and reels. But there are those who contend that given proper instruction and the appropriate music, an IWS could probably master these intricate step dances, also.

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Llewellin Setter

There's no sight more classic than a pair of gun dogs working a gamebird with one dog pointing and the other backing.

The canines in this case were two Llewellin setters on a South Dakota pheasant hunt last fall. The two dogs stood frozen with heads and tails high in a picture-perfect pose. As one of the hunters walked in to flush the pointed bird, two hens and one rooster rocketed out of the prairie grass. One well-placed shot brought down the long-tailed ringneck and one dog ran out, picked up and brought it in.

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English Springer Spaniel

Leave the open country birds and serious waterfowling for the dogs that are bred for that kind of stuff, the pointing and retrieving breeds. Spaniels really shine for small-water ducking and thick-cover upland birds — bobwhite quail, woodcock, ruffed grouse€¦and, oh yes, pheasants.

If ever a dog was created to hunt pheasants, it is the springer spaniel. I simply can't understand why the breed isn't more popular, given the vast number of rooster hunters in the U.S., but there you go. The really good ones — and I had one like that — can be almost wizard-like in the way they approach the game.

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American Water Spaniel

Developed by 19th-century market hunters in the Upper Midwest, the American water spaniel has always been a dual-purpose dog, equally talented for waterfowl and upland gamebird hunting. From the beginning and continuing to this day, AWS owners have been determined to maintain the breed's dual résumé. Ironically, that determination has prevented them from displaying the AWS' versatility in the field events of the American Kennel Club (AKC).

These events come in three distinct formats: one for pointing breeds, one for retrievers and one for spaniels. Thus, for a breed to participate, it must not only be AKC-recognized as a Sporting Group breed, but must also be grouped in one and only one of AKC's three classifications: pointing breed, retriever or spaniel. AKC doesn't allow dual classifications.

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The Weimaraner, from the beginning of its breed history more than 100 years ago, has been known as the 'Gray Ghost ' — a good nickname for a gun dog with a silvery coat and somewhat spooky-looking yellow-amber eyes. Originally developed in Germany at the court of Weimar (hence its name), the Weimaraner was successfully bred to be a versatile hunter of upland gamebirds, waterfowl, predators, and big game.

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