Evaluating "New" Breeds
September 23, 2010
Performance and experience, not promotional "hype," should be the major criteria.
In response to the gentleman from Maine who would like to have a closer working pointing dog that retrieves, I'd like to point out that Mr. Duffy misinterpreted your question. So let me throw in my two cents' worth. My interpretation of what the Maine man wanted is a breed that will range 25 to 30 yards away and stop to wait for you to catch up if he thinks you're falling behind.
Even though Mr. Duffy correctly notes that Brittanys are a very good choice as a hunting companion and make good house pets, I feel this is the perfect opportunity to promote my favorite breed, the Italian Spinone.
This will be my second year hunting alongside my Spinone. The more we hunt together, the more he impresses me. What seems to be a laid-back house pet turns into a methodical hunting machine in the woods.
You may mistakenly think he is clumsy around the homestead until you see him slither gracefully through the bramble and thicket. Slow -- not! He has a long gait that covers a large area in a short period of time. His big, bulbous nose brings him to his prey every time.
As much as I love reading Gun Dog, my biggest complaint is that it constantly revolves around the same handful of breeds: Labs, shorthairs, Brits, pointers and goldens. Once in a while you might read about a wirehaired pointing griffon, which is close, but it's not a Spinone.
There is nothing wrong with the other breeds. Believe me, I'm an animal lover and think they are all exceptional hunters. But why not a Spinone? And why not in this case with the man from Maine?
It makes perfect sense to me! A close-working pointer that retrieves with a soft mouth and a great temperament. My Spinone works fine in upstate New York. I'm sure a Spinone would do fine in Maine.
According to the dog book I have, "No one has ever been bitten by a Spinone." So, Gun Dog, do more articles on Spinones so people know what great hunting companions they can be.
I'm more than happy to aid in the promotion of your favorite hunting breed and appreciate very much your including sources for obtaining info because, quite candidly, I don't know enough about the Spinone to give advice and risk being horribly wrong about the breed. You advise contacting the Spinone Club of America, P.O. Box 307, Warsaw, VA 22572 or checking the web at www.SCOA.org if readers buying your sales pitch want to follow up.
If that takes care of what interests you, you may want to stop reading at this point. But I do owe it to readers who take umbrage and, while appreciating your enthusiasm about the breed, may well be asking, "With friends like this, do Spinoni need enemies?" You lay yourself open to being judged more theoretical than practical and experienced.
Spinoni deserve a chance. But they haven't yet had the opportunity or attracted enough serious interest from experienced hunters to make evaluations anything but speculative.
The other breeds you mention have put in a least 50 to over 150 years of being looked at and utilized by North Americans.
Enough hunters bought "Labs, shorthairs, Brits, pointers and goldens" to ensure their popularity. Wirehaired pointing griffons, which you recognize as comparable to the Spinone, remain a rare breed. That should tell you something.
When they first arrived in the U.S., Labrador and golden retrievers were sneered and snickered at by veteran waterfowlers who wouldn't employ anything but a Chesapeake Bay retriever, Irish water spaniel or American water spaniel. Now the Irish is almost obsolete and the American is relatively rare. Curly-coated and flat-coated retrievers never caught on.
Unwarranted publicity can be near fatal to a breed's reputation. Witness the claims, over-publicity (and lack of the hunting style favored in this country) that the German shorthaired pointer overcame while reaching its deserved popular reputation vs. the Weimaraner's continuing struggle to overcome even more ballyhooing upon its introduction as a super-dog three-quarters of a century ago.
Two other German dock-tailed pointer/retriever breeds, subsequently, were quietly introduced, their promoters apparently having learned a lesson. Their advent in this country also coincided with the inception and growth of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).
This afforded a venue for demonstrating just how thoroughly gun dogs of the right breeding could be trained. The German wirehaired pointer and the pudelpointer were up to the task; the Drahthaar (wirehair) challenging the popular Kurzhaar (shorthair) in numbers as well as ability and the pudelpointer, comparatively obscure, but on a percentage basis, as good as they come.
How can I justify testimony about other breeds of gun dogs but confess to being uninformed about a relatively recent Italian import? I'm verging on being anachronistic and distrustful or modernity and contrived revisionist history. I hope to compensate for short-changing readers by not keeping up on future canine trends, notions and novelties by telling it like it is'¦and how it was, not something I imagined or gleaned from unverifiable literature.
Way back in "my time" the legendary gun writer Elmer Keith wrote a book entitled Hell! I Was THERE!
I'm echoing his claim. I've been hunting and training dogs since the late 1930s and have been paid for articles in numerous national publications since the 1940s, including 23 years as gun dog editor of Outdoor Life and as "Training Q&A" columnist for Gun Dog since its inception in 1981. Most of whatever know-how I possess came from training my own dogs and those of paying clients.
I acquired various dog breeds out of curiosity and the desire to know them from actual hands-on experience. At one time, I couldn't think of a recognized gun dog breed that I hadn't personally trained and hunted with. Now, as I approach 83 yeas of age, I'm forced to 'fess up that claim is no longer true. But I hope a comment by a friendly critic that "you must have written more stuff about hunting dogs than anyone, dead or alive," is verifiable.
As I recall, the "gentleman from Maine" struck a chord with me because we both are experienced ruffed grouse hunters. Although Brits are not my favorites to train and setters require time, patience and love, I did not knock them nor denigrate the unmentioned Spinone when I tried to tailor a dog to one man's probable demeanor and hunting style.
You don't come across as an effective ambassador for your breed when you assert that a grouse hunter wants and needs "a breed that will range from 25 to 30 yards away and stop to wait for you to catch if he thinks you're falling behind." S
o-called "range" is a personal matter. Some might prefer your designation for a pointing dog. Your choice, not mine.
But if after only one season's experience with a dog in the field you believe he's stopping to wait for you to catch up when he thinks you're lagging, you are opening yourself to ridicule. Believe me; dogs don't go through that sort of thinking process. Shy, undesirable pups are often hesitant, however, and may wait on a hunter if they are reluctant to boldly explore cover on their own.
As much or more than good breeding, good training dictates the performance and response required by the individual hunter. Relying on your dog's "doin' what comes naturally" might in time alter your opinion of the breed or individual. But you seem sold, regardless of results.
Your subsequent "the more we hunt together the more he impresses me" is followed by an unimpressive description of a hunting style ("methodical") that would win plaudits from very few serious hunters and confirms skepticism rather than encouraging interested curiosity.
This is followed by a denial of his perceived clumsiness, which sounds like you have already heard more criticisms than praise for your dog.
That's required you to come to the defense of the breed by attempting to use negatives to negate negatives; based upon a single hunting season and a lone puppy. But not one mention of an opinion from an experienced hunter or proven gun dog trainer; nor mention of any kind of birds he excels on, the description of things my correspondents usually revel in when bragging about their dogs.
Word of mouth is not infallible, of course, but it's equally unfortunate that the too frequent assumption is that anything that sees print isn't idiotic. Healthy skepticism about anything heard or seen today is required.
By all means, read as much as you can to get info on dogs. But filter it through your personal experience or that of a friend who has been there and done that. "According to the dog book I have, no one has ever been bitten by a Spinone" just doesn't cut it as an authentic bolster for your claims, but is spurious blather by a non-objective pitchman.
While I don't agree with every conclusion expressed by the lady who wrote the following letter (based upon the same column about which you complained), it's obvious that the only thing you and she have in common is an inability to spell this old curmudgeon's name. Whose viewpoint is more credible and at least as objective as subjective while offering opinionated information?
I just finished your response to the gentleman who had always hunted over springers but now is looking for a close-working pointing dog following his knee surgery. Mr. Duffy, I agree 100 percent with the advice you gave to him.
I have hunted over springers for 30 years and I have to say I don't like what the field trial fraternity is doing to the breed. Just as you described the changes brought about in the originally close-working pointing breeds (the Brittany and the German shorthair) the same thing can be seen in the spaniel trials in America.
I trialed a young springer several years ago but stayed with it for only a short time. The reason? What I saw being judged desirable in the trial springer was not what I wanted in my gun dog and I was told, "If you are going to trial your dog, you can't hunt him."
I have since been to England several times and can state that the conditions under which they train their spaniels (either cockers or springers) and the performance they require of them is completely in accordance with that of a working gun dog. Hence, I did what British hunters did with the French Brittany. I imported my working dogs from good English/Scottish bloodlines.
I can't help but notice the increase in popularity of the English cocker. I think the spaniel hunters are saying, "Your trial springers are not what I want in a hunting spaniel." I hear that often from people that call me for a pup.
We are not going to change what kind of dog it takes to win a trial. We can, however, offer hunters the original type of working dog, be it spaniel, setter, shorthair or Brittany, for those who don't want to play the trial game.
You don't have to pass this info on to the gentleman who asked the original question. But if he is interested in staying with springers, there are still some out there that hunt close, face any cover, are biddable and want to be with you.
Any challenges I might have to some well-put and backed-by-experience-observations like yours would be quibbling. In any sporting-based activity, fierce competition brings out the extreme and a drift from practicality in an effort to make recognition and winning more difficult.
Thanks for you contribution, ma'am, to public education with no effort to impose your views or commercialize your product!