"The CaseAgainst Tracking Collars" Revisited
Well its come up again on the forum: tracking collars. Apparently some people were fortunate enough not be around when we went 15 rounds on this some time ago, I wish I had it written down exactly when. I wrote in essay that appears on the Foster Site called "The Case Against Tracking Collars" and became the point man for a lot of emotion... had to have been at least five years ago. I wish I could remember.
But a little more history for those of you who missed all of the action. The matter was debated heavily and passionately, to put it mildly, on the forum a few years back. In the midst of it, I wrote "The Case Against....", which many proponents wave off and dismiss completely to this day. In summary, it said among other things that TC's might be mistaken for a shock collar, that the comparative ease of recovering lost dogs might lead to more dogs with that tendency running to run off and so might lead to changes in judging standards, winners and might affect the breed. There was also concerns about possible cheating, which is quite easy to do, and the essay also expressed some thought as voiced by me and others that we have long-held traditions at trials that need to be respected and changed only for a compelling reasons. Most of these points were bolstered with examples and anecdotal evidence.
All these concerns and potential problems, I wrote, had to be balanced against the compelling benefit of TC's, the recovery of lost dogs. TC's would save dogs' lives we were told and it was a matter of safety. In the minds of most everyone including me, recovering dogs that would be lost or killed trumped most every other possible concern. Saving dogs lives was, and is, a compelling reason. But I and others who have been around the block for a while simply were not seeing dogs that were lost and not recovered in our trials. And as we discussed the matter on message boards, no one on either side of the issue could cite one dog in cover trial history that was ever lost and not recovered or killed at a trial in a manner that would have been saved with a TC. Not one from some eighty years of history up to the point where tracking collars were introduced.
The most recent thread has been quite telling, and unfortunately typical, about how tracking collar proponents often look at things. Proponents of TC's tout over and over again the safety benefits of TC's, using tales of dogs lost IN WORKOUTS, and claiming that dogs are put at risk in cover trials as well, but that we do not allow them in some trials because of "tradition." The reality is that this perspective is about 100% backwards: We in cover trials have a long "tradition" of NO dogs lost and not recovered without TC's, and so NO compelling safety reason to accept TC's. Those in favor of tracking collars who disagree with this are welcome to show me I am wrong by coming up with a few names of dogs lost from cover trials without TC's and not recovered. I invited proponents to tell me about these unrecovered dogs that TC's might have saved, years ago and have been patiently waiting all this time. Plenty of people have claimed I am wrong in my perspective, but the "no lost dogs" matter is what my case is based upon. The essence of "The Case Against..." was that we were risking a lot of possible negative side-effects, for a perceived BIG safety gain, when there was absolutely no evidence at all that the sport was unsafe in the first place. But I will continue to wait.
I italized certain key words above for emphasis, because the argument from me DID NOT STATE FOR SURE, even with real-life examples to support it, that these potential concerns were definitely happening or definitely going to happen. I did this deliberately because I knew most proponents would reject it out of hand (and they exceeded my expectations). This rejection of "The Case..." DID NOT mean that they were rejecting the concerns that I wrote about (as most of them thought and still do think they were doing), but rather were rejecting THE POSSIBILTY that any of these things MIGHT occur. That's a whole different 'bag-o-fish,' as, obviously, the future is notoriously hard to the predict anyway. A person who rejects out of hand all possible negative concerns , along with the denial of the historical tradition, and what you have is a person that cannot be reasoned with on this matter, and these have been all too common in this debate.
Any reasonable dialogue from proponents of TC's in cover trials must begin with, "I realize that without TC's we never lost dogs in our trials that have not been recovered as far as anyone knows, but it could happen and it has been inconvenient at times to have to stay around and wait for a lost dog to turn up. Let's look at these possible pitfalls that you and others have seen indications of to see if we can come up with a way to avoid these potential problems, still value and emphasize the things that we do that have kept dogs safe over the years in cover trials, and on top of that still enjoy the added margin of safety that TC might provide." That would have led to fruitful dialogue by which we may have come to some sort of compromise solution.
Since the original "Case Against..." appeared, I was actually hoping to share notes with some 'safety preaching' TC proponents who might actually be genuinely concerned about safety enough to express a desire to discuss what might be happening on the ground at cover trials that has resulted in no dogs being permanently lost, and thus the enviable safety record that we all should be proud of. I have been waiting for this truly safety minded person for some time too.
If there was a type of car that had been driven by a lot of people for 80 years and no one had ever been killed in an accident in this vehicle, people GENUINELY CONCERNED with automobile safety would be looking at every aspect of this vehicle to determine why it was so safe to apply the lesson to similar vehicles. But I am patient.
When I wrote "The Case Against..." I perhaps way overly optimistic in hoping that some one would step forward to write a consistent, reasonable case FOR that might at least attempt to explain the need for TC's for cover trials, with hopefully an effort to get beyond, "everyone else is using them" and "I lost my dog in a workout... so we have to have them in trials" and actually come up with reasons that hold water. After all, someone saying, "I didn't have a shock collar on my dog, he chased a deer in a workout and I lost it. It was hurt when I got it back. We need to allow shock collars in field trials" has offered a more valid reason than most the case for TC's based on stories from training sessions, and no one is advocating shock collars on trial dogs since dog that is not handling or dhasing off game can be stopped before it gets lost, which can't be done with a TC. But a written case FOR TC's, at least, had it come at the right time, might have encouraged dialogue and fruitful discussion. I would have insisted that it be put up along side mine at the Foster Site for all to see and where I might respond to it as a whole instead of snippets, and where I can show most proponents by example that I do not simple wave off or ignore contrary points of view. But such a written case FOR never happened and frankly, that it has not yet happened likely indicates that it cannot happen.
What really destroyed any chance that both sides might come to some sort of agreement by which we might enjoy the benefits while avoiding the possible pitfalls was the anger and vitriol, particularly on the internet back when when clubs were debating it more vigorously and where the Grand National finally voted not to accept. I have known for a long time that in a reasonable discussion of ideas, anger is a sign of weak argument, but this level of anger even surprised me. The nice fella that had worked for Tracker electronics even posted his opinion that anyone who turned a dog loose with a tracking device were doing something "stupid," and about anyone who opposed TC's was accused at one time or another of delibarately putting dogs in danger and not caring about dogs.
Going into the Grand National Directors meeting that year, everyone knew it was going to be a close vote. There were some directors "for" and some "against," but there were a few undecided and a few others that were leaning toward "FOR" that ultimately were cautious, knowing that accepting TC's was a one way street, and that the chances of banning them once they were established was virtually nil. So they wanted to be sure that it was the right thing to do. There was also a working experiment underway as many cover trials were allowing TC's and their impact good, bad or indifferent, could be assessed and their impact on other circuits could be assessed too. There seemed no rush to approve, that could be done at any time in the future, but again: a bad decision could likely never be overturned. The board thus voted to continue not to allow electronic devices on dogs.
In the wake of the Grand National director's vote, however, there was so much vitriol directed at these directors on the forums - from repeated assertions that they didn't care about dogs, to one who asserted that the directors will someday die and then things would be different, or something to that affect.... it was not pretty. And all over having to run in trial the way ALL trials ran for century. I, who had by then become the point man against TC's because of my essay and frequent forum debates, could not help but smile as widely as I could as I watched and read the vitriol. I knew exactly what was happening. The directors that were on the fence, even those leaning with caution FOR...thereafter, wanted no part of the TC camp, and no part of being on the same side as people who would say and insinuate such things. Most were quite open about this. They, as responsible directors, were taking the decision seriously with the best interest of the sport and the Club in mind, as were the directors who voted to allow tracking devices. Many felt that, like a trial judge, people should disagree without impugning the people involved. But now those who had been on the fence and even at least one that voted to accept, said that they would not vote FOR again. Others who leaning FOR but voted NO out of mere caution now could not vote FOR because to do so would have appeared that they were shamed and coerced into changing and knuckled under. Those directors in favor of the TC were HORRIFIED at the treatment of their colleagues and did not want to even bring it up again and risk subjecting their fellow directors to further abuse. The most strident supporters knew and some openly acknowledged to me, that the supporters of TC's killed them for the near future in the Grand National. So it has not been brought up since at the Grand National.
Of course, in this general era, most every other cover dog club and most every other championship would allow TC's. I suspect that some of these clubs early on were caught off guard, knowing that TC's were accepted by the American Field, the AFTCA, other circuits were embracing them and they had no rule in place against them. But some clubs certainly did discuss TC's and vote to accept or reject. When these clubs decided to accept, neither I nor any other TC detractors got furious and in no case did any of us post on a forum that these clubs were wrong to allow TC's, that the people who voted in this change were unknowledgeable and uncaring about trials and their history and such. Nothing like that ever was done. We detractors, to a person, respected the decisions without complaint, and have not faulted publicly the people who made such decisions. But have a club decide that they think TC's are not a good idea and all manner of anger, venom and vitriol appears impugning these people and their decision.
This level anger which spewed forth both after the Grand National vote and in the other heated internet discussions quite puzzled and troubled me at first. Happily, I soon put my finger on what I believe was happening, and am neither puzzled not troubled any longer. Denied the use of a TC for a short time, the handlers SHOULD merely shrug and say, "I'd rather have tracking collars on these dogs because I am more comfortable should something unusual happen, but, realistically, the chances that the dog would fall into a well or get hurt out there or something like that is very slim . Dogs ran every trial for over a century this way with few problems and we should be okay for a short stint without one..." TC proponents have also repeatedly insisted that TC's would not change trials, the type of dogs being run, or the judging standards. So a trial without shouldn't be much different at all from a trial with. Shrug. No anger.
If there IS anger, then one of the two parts of the equation is no longer correct, either the part about "120 years of no TC's and without angry handlers," or the part about "TC's will not change trials in any way, alter the dogs, and judging standards." And since for much of that 120 years, TC's has not been invented yet, I strongly suspect that something about the second part is proving to be incorrect. It seems to be a handler's way of saying, "I NEED to have this on my dog or my string of dogs. I can't get by without it even for one trial." Of course this will be denied. It is like a person who is hooked on some substance but in denial. He claims everything is the same as before, but asked to do without the substance for even a short period of time, he predictably gets angry and fights all attempts to ban the substance from his life, even for short periods.
My whole perspective, which many others share as well, is colored by the following background. The time-honored, historically stated purpose of field trials was not only to produce dogs that win field trials, but to also be the source of high class hunting dogs. It is the purpose of cover trials, therefore, to produce good grouse dogs that hunters might also enjoy afield. I somehow suspect that a dog NEEDS a tracking collar to take him a field, is not what most grouse hunters want.
I suspect that some other circuits are TC dependent already, and the handlers can no longer get by without them. I have seen handlers at "walking" quail trials lose as many dogs as they finish time after time and without apology, even with a mounted scout, birds guarenteed on the course, and little chance of deer. These handlers have told me that they can't win with a dog that looks back at its handler and several are quite open in admitting that they select dogs that do not check back. I care about cover trialing enough to not want anything close to that from happening.
But how would an inquiring mind know if trials have changed with TC's? Is there some way to allow TC's but have also have safeguards to prevent dependence? We in cover trials might very well have part of the solution already: For some of our prestigious stakes, no TC's are allowed. Can handlers get by without TC for these few trials? Again, If you sincerely maintain that tracking collars makes no difference in the type of dog being campaigned or put up as winners, ask any handler anywhere to NOT run a tracking collar on any of his dogs every now and then and see how he reacts. See if he even runs the same dogs.
The howling instead of a shrug when TC's are denied even for one trial, by and large, represents a tacit admission by the staunchest proponents of TC's to what we detractors have claimed would happen all along: "Trials have changed. Or the type of dog I am now running has changed. I can't run a dog without a TC. It's now way too dangerous and way too inconvenient. Things have changed with these dogs and am forced to strongly howl in protest at the prospect of running having to trial without a TC like they did for 120 years. I absolutely have to have them and I am going to howl and whine when I can't even for one trial."
No other explanation for it. So howling and anger makes me smile and I now say, when I see the anger, "thanks for your independent confirmation of my concern about TC's changing trials and dog, which I wrote about in 'The CaseAgainst...'"
Paradoxically, if not for the anger and the vitriol stopping the issue from coming up again as has already been mentioned, I strongly suspect that TC's would have been allowed by the Grand National by now. In the years since the Grand National vote to reject, I have noticed a couple of things "on the ground" at trials that may well have moved some of the Grand National directors off the fence and into the FOR camp in these recent years. TC's are NOT a hot topic of debate at cover trials, and are seldom even discussed there. Tracking Collars are NOT taking over, like bells did. The vast majority of dogs that run do not use them even when they are allowed and I saw only a handful of them in the National Amateur Grouse Championship and the PA Championship last Fall. The three largest pro strings, Hughes, Formans, Minard, don't use them.
So things have gone along, the years are slipping by way too fast, and with the subject again coming up on the forum, I looked back at some of the other specifics of "The Case Against..." essay again to see what the years have brought and to see if any parts of my position from then remain valid. I am happy to report improvement in at least one area. The dogs no longer look like cockroaches like they did when the long thin attenae protruded up in the air around them.
But my first point from the essay, that tracking collars "could" be mistaken for an e-collar is just as valid if not moreso. The original essay was from the pre-Garmin Tracker days and those units were small and light. The Garmins in use now are heavier than the e-collars that we use. By itself, it still does not make the case that dogs reliably mistake tracking collars for e-collars, but for daggone sure, if one could time travel back a few decades and walked up to the line with a unit that looked just like a Garmin, claiming that it could not possibly be mistaken for a dummy collar or an e-collar, you would have been run right off the grounds! I further mention a lost dog at a horseback futurity several years ago, and a handler riding around looking. Asked why the dog did not have a tracking collar on the handler replied, "He won't run with tracking collar on."
The original essay further mentioned the possibility of cheating and I have heard some rumbling about things that may have happened...but again, it is virtually impossible to get caught, so you wouldn't expect to hear much.
I nevertheless would ask: Is it possible for a dog to be recovered with a tracking collar at a field trial...and still place? If you said NO, you would be incorrect...and it is, as far as I know NOT cheating. In several trials that I know of, (none of them cover trials) the dogs in question were gone for a spell toward the end of the heat, time was called in the heat, and the handler given the tracking collar to recover the dog. In each case, the dog was called back. This happened several times to my knowledge and because no one batted an eye when it happened, I can only presume that it is an accepted practice. I looked at the tracking collar rules and they state essentially that a tracking device cannot be used to recover a dog under judgment, and in these circuits, as it was explained, when time is called the dog is no longer considered to be under judgment. Nevertheless, dogs that do not finish with their handlers are getting placed and this is one thing that at least some propononts of TC assured us would not happen. And down the slippery slope we go!
The original essay warned that taking the sting out of looking for lost dogs could result in more such dogs being run in trials. The old somewhat misunderstood cliche from David Rose, "A trial dog is one who runs away but not quite..." has in some places likely resulted in a strategy of turning a string of dogs that don't look back, most of which "Run away...quite" but a the couple that happen to get around in that trial have "run away, but not quite" and so win. The rest are recovered with a TC and a mounted handler and onto a different trial where a different few dogs will barely finish possibly even with TC after time. I maintain that such a tactic does not result in better breeding stock and believe it is not possible without a TC. So the bit in "The Case Against..." about TC's possibly altering trial placements and the breeding stock and as discussed earlier, this is still a concern and with 'anger evidence' to support this concern.
And now onto another serious concern that I wrote about in the original essay which the intervening years have done nothing to dispel: safety. Yep, that's right; the same issue that proponents of tracking collars tout as its biggest benefit. Proponents say that the longer a dog is lost, the higher the chance that something could happen to him. True enough, but equally true for the same reason that a dog is even more safe when he is not lost at all. I repeat. A dog is safest when it handles and finshes reliably with its handler. If a dog is lost with a TC, many things could still happen before he is recovered that could hurt him, he is less safe. Moreover, a big part of the "quick recovery" in most circuits involves a tracking collar AND a mounted person galloping off in the indicated direction and so can get in the vicinity of the dog before the dog can get too far away. This benefit is lost with a walking handler as a dog with even a short head start cannot be caught by a human being on foot if the dog heads off and keeps going in that direction. Moroever, TC are reliable, but are fallible. Antennaes break off, batteries go dead, and there is always the possibility of human error meaning that there is risk to relying on them. One trial I read recently about reported a number of dogs where the handler "asked for the tracker," and apparently all dogs recovered in short order, but one was lost for two days, the tracking unit, it was reported, was not functioning. A dog was actually killed out west this year after it left the trial grounds and was eventually shot by a man after the dog had killed a number of chickens, and it was reported that the receiver was not programmed to the collar.
To me it is an "if all things were equal situation." All things equal, tracking collars really do offer an extra measure of safety. A dog that reliably handles and finishes is further safeguarded against the odd incident or very infrequent negative occurrence, and even a tracking collar that is not working. Dogs that run off or otherwise do not finish with their handler can be more quickly retrieved with a TC than not. And if all things were equal, I would likely have no objection to TC's at all. But all things are NOT equal which I noticed early on their use. "I probably shouldn't turn him loose at this trial, but, it's okay. I have a tracking collar on him..." sums up well what I saw early. And when I saw the sheer number of dogs being lost to judgment in some other circuits in trials that I was attending, I became concerned. I speculated years ago, that as more dogs were lost, more danger would result. Observation from the intervening years of the cover dog and other trial circutis have strongly suggested to me, if not definitively proven, my concerns about safety. The more we come to admire dogs that don't look back, the more will get lost. The more we place dogs that do not finish with their handlers, the more will get lost. The more a dog wins this trial because "he was on the edge the whole time" that ran off four of the previous five trials, the more dogs are going to be lost. The more that dogs get lost, the greater are the chances of injury or other incident.
Which leads me to the following concerning safety, which I hesitate to even mention. I get no thrills out of this and contrary to the beliefs of many, this is not some sort of intellectual exercise and I have no hidden agenda. Hard as it is for some to believe, there are some of us who have seen the downside of this device, oppose tracking collars on what we think are legitimate grounds, and have the betterment of trials and dogs in our minds. But again, I really am not comfortable mentioning the following and for a couple of reasons. In making a case for tracking collars, several posters to the recent thread on the forum offered a number of examples of dogs lost and not recovered without tracking collars in workouts/training sessions. I therefore have no doubt, given this observation combined with all of the accusations and insinuations that I and others have heard (saying that we do not care about the safety of dogs and such), that I can virtually guarentee that the first time a dog disappears from a cover trial without a tracking collar and is found dead much later, many will pounce on it as proof of our the uncaring and cruel, unreasonable nature of our position. And it will happen eventually that a dog will be lost and not recovered without a TC in trial. But even though I know proponents would not hesititate to bring up a case to their favor immediately of one should transpire , it is still with great reservations that I do the same in reverse. In the years since that essay "against" and the infamous Grand National vote, two dogs that I know of disappeared off of the cover trial courses, and were subsequently found dead. One was hit by a car, the other's bones were found some time later by mushroom hunters. Both had tracking collars on. This, of itself, proves little because the sample size is too small. But it confirms my skepticism of the added margin of safety promised by these devices since, in the first 80 or so years of grouse trialing, no one could cite a dog lost and not recovered and none of them wore TC's. In the most recent couple of decades, give or take, still no one can cite a dog lost and not recovered that did NOT have a tracking collar on. Since tracking collars came into use in the last fifteen years or so ago, they are still only used on a substantial minority of cover dogs, and this minority of dogs is supposed to be enjoying a higher margin of safety than than the vast majority which do not wear TC's.... And yet we still have the only two lost and dead dogs with tracking collars on. Again, I get no thrill out repeating this. Only one of these incidents made the message boards, and none of us anti-folks pounced on it at the time to make any case against tracking collars out of it. The other did not make the boards, nor did I or anyone else who oppose TC's post it, though I have no doubt that had the lost dog not been wearing a TC, the forums would have filled with venom as they often are on this issue.
As I happily near the conclusion of this follow-up essay, I will include a 'more personal' example that might make difference in at least one internet TC proponent of a more recent vintage, though probably not. The trial I wrote about where the handler lost nearly every dog and did not apologize for losing them... was a walking championship that had a winner. The champion was a strapping setter dog that had eight quail finds and one woodcock find, all done high and tight and with no bobbles. The fellow who lost the dogs grumbled when the winner was announced, "Where I'm from, we shoot dogs like that." Now there, my friends, is a complete and very strong difference of opinion on the matter of a good trial dog, with the dissenting opinion from someone who uses a TC in trials as a matter of necessity. Lloyd Murray, who was among a number of people who heard the comment, fortunately, did not listen. The champion that day was Cracklin Tail Speed, and his son Long Gone Boston shares the size and the lofty intense poses of his dad. Some of you who might have had good experiences with Boston pups might not have been so fortunate had his sire been raised and campaigned elsewhere, checked back now and then and was disposed of for such a terrible offense! We breed what we value.
The stigma increasingly attached to dogs that check back is thus worrisome to me. Historically minded as I tend to be, it is curious to read an on article by the immortal Clyde Morton that a dog needs to look for his handler. Then I read the Amesian standard, "he must hunt birds and not the handler hunt the dog." And, "He must be regularly and habitually pleasingly governable (tractable) and must know when to turn and keep his handler's view of the course in view, and at all times keep uppermost in his mind the finding and pointing of birds for his handler." But it was the late all-age handler Earl Crangle who summed it up best for me when he said, "We don't need the exagerrated ability to find lost dogs. We need lost dogs with an exagerrated ability to find YOU." That's an important trait worthy of breeding for.
To the extent that these ideas are "traditions," I personally find them worthy of upholding. These are the qualities that hunters appreciate too. And if these qualities also keep a dog as safe as possible too, it's a no brainer for me which way I lean on the tracking collar issue.
And, by all means, keep that anger coming, and keep up the howling because, now that I know what it really means, it is music to my ears!
There is a rather well-known old story in these parts about a grouse dog trainer of yesteryear, long since deceased. He had one dog that was considered a tremendous prospect, but who loved to chase deer and, at age four, after having slipped away from his handler once again, the dog was found dead in front of an automobile. Some time later, early versions of the shock collar became available and this trainer got one. These early units were notoriously unreliable and shocked the dog at one level: high. Garage door openers, power lines and other stimuli frequently set off the collar resulting in the dog being shocked at this high level unintentionally. One day this trainer was working with a dog that had done a considerable amount of winning at competitions and was still very young, when a plane flew over and set the unit off. The dog was shocked for several minutes until the trainer could gather up the dog and removed the unit. The dog refused to hunt thereafter, and it was only after many months of patient rehabilitation that he , very slowly, came back to form. Many dogs in similar situations were ruined. And the e-collar got a very bad reputation as a result.
I write this story to lead into a training notion that I still believe in strongly; a notion that was once mainstream, but is increasingly putting me quite against the stream, that being that the use of e-collars and other negative tools in dog training is effective and morally correct, done properly. The growing trend contrary to this is “positive only” methods of dog training, which is fine if that is your choice. But increasingly, those who advocate “positive only” also believe that any sort of punishment is either ineffective or cruel. One recent book, which was also the subject of a PBS series, claimed that shock collars were harmful to a dog and used by trainers not willing or able to use other more humane methods. When a pro trainer claimed that a shock collar would neither hurt the dog or the trainer/dog relationship, the author declared him a liar.
This book is NOT an extreme example, but is becoming alarmingly common. Other books have advocated this same position and I have even seen it creeping over into bird dog training. Having battled ridiculous “kennel reforms” designed by animal rights people in positions of power, and knowing that some countries have already outlawed e-collars, I am concerned about the future and in fact, concerned on behalf of dogs.
The story about the bad e-collar experience that I introduced this column with is much more in tune with the real picture. First, the story shows that punishment does work to deter behavior. But we who, as bird dog people, live with a more realistic view of the natural world, already knew that. We deal with skunks and porcupines who should not even exist according to these 'experts' who claim that negative experiences are not effective. The undeniable fact is that the very survival of porcupines, skunks and many other creatures depends upon supremely unpleasant experiences for those that threaten them. But as the bad e-collar story also proves, if punishment is misapplied, intentionally or otherwise, serious problems can result. The most common problems for us bird-doggers in improper, or accidental misuse of punishment, are the dog who shuts down or runs to the truck and no longer wants to hunt, the dog that blinks or avoids birds, and the dog that is gunshy. Just as a saw can cut fingers as well as wood, punishment is tool that needs to be used with care, caution and a lot of wisdom. But make no mistake: punishment is an effective, useful tool.
So, I tell people who advocate, “positive only” training methods, “You can train them that way, but they are still going to learn from negative experiences.” If a dog comes running out of a room with a carpeted floor, can't stop on the hardwood floor and slides into the refrigerator, he figures out to slow down the next time in that situation. Dogs have experiences like this all of the time. It's how their ancestors learned to survive too. In fact, I'll go a step further and state my never humble opinion that shielding, particularly puppies, from everything bad and negative makes for many dogs that are inordinately fearful and sensitive of more things the remainder of their lives when bad things inevitably happen. Expose a puppy to noise at the right time in the right situation and they are fine with it. Shield them from any startling noise and and many are noise sensitive the rest of their of their lives, which is a much more cruel thing to do to a dog in my opinion. Hook pup to a tie out at three months old and he challenges it for a few minutes and then gives in and is fine with it. Tie him out for the first time when he is 2 and he battles it for hours and days. Putting through a lot of experiences, positive and negative, of all types at an early age inoculates the dog from being devastated from a more severe bad experience the rest of their lives. Failure to do so can make a certain dog sensitive and fearful the rest of its life, which a consider a more cruel option.
And the irony continues because while many are stating and publishing opinions that e-collars are cruel, I can make a case that it is cruel NOT to use them in some situations. A dog that isn't listening, runs off, chases deer and other off game is potentially in danger from vehicles, high walls, an angry farmer with chickens and a shotgun, glass and refuse piles, hidden wells, drop offs and high walls, and any number of other hazards, not to mention snakes and porcupines. In my experience, no food treat is going to even come close to luring him away from a deer when the dog is locked on that prey and is in full chase. The e-collar is BY FAR the best way to give a dog maximum freedom to do what he loves to and has been bred to do: hunt for game, AND keep him safe and reasonably under control. My advice to my bird dog buddies is to use the e-collar responsibly and defend its use strongly when it is questioned. Failure to do either of these, may get them banned at some time not far off.
A recent call from my friend Laura describing her latest breeding venture to a young stud dog “somewhere in Tennessee” set in motion a trip through the heart of field trialing history. After some further discussion this “somewhere” turned out to be located near Memphis, which instituted my offer to help her with the lengthy drive, knowing that there might be an opportunity to visit the Bird Dog Museum in Grand Junction. Besides, I needed a couple days away from work.
After a long day’s drive across four states, a quick breeding and an overnight’s rest, I found myself driving south on Tennessee Route 18. Passing a road sign for Hickory Valley, my thoughts of field trialing in the days gone by started to fill my head. Knowing that this was once the home of James Avent “The Fox of Hickory Valley”, eight time winner of the National Field Trial Championship and handler of many of the early setters still carried on in the pedigrees of my dogs left at home.
Our first stop of the day was at my original intent for this trip, the Bird Dog Museum. While admiring the statuary surrounding the front of the museum, we were warmly greeted by a father and son grounds keeping crew, in what was to be the first of several southern hospitality greetings throughout the day. Entering through the glass front doors another friendly greeting and bright smile from the Bird Dog Foundation’s Secretary Barbara Sweeney, told me this trip was going to be well worth it and we have come to the right place. She happily leads us back to the museum, where we are introduced to the busts of the Foundation’s founding fathers. As we round the corner, with Barbara pointing out the many highlights she says “and this is our proudest display.” pointing towards a diorama of Count Noble. My response to Barbara was “I grew up with this dog.”
Growing up in the heart of Pittsburgh, a young boy’s opportunity for enjoying the out-of-doors, much less the pleasure of seeing a bird dog swapping ends as it sucked in the scent of its quarry was hardly a thought. But many a rainy or snowy afternoon were spent walking around the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, where little did I realize that the dog display I walked by many times would be in the direct lineage of the dogs that would become my adulthood pursuit.
After an hour or so spent admiring the forefather and mothers of field trialing along with their memorabilia, it was a short drive around the corner, delayed only by a short wait as a trainload of Tennessee coal traveling west passed. Like a stage curtain opening, the passing of the train revealed what appeared to be a 1960 circa red brick school building, our next destination. Inside that building was to be found a heritage just as rich, as we had just left. Walking in the front door, with its bell alerting those inside of our arrival, our attentions were drawn to some horse saddles sitting out in foyer of this make shift store. As I reached out to rub my hand across the leather, a voice with a southern draw from the other room said, “That’s a very nice saddle and I’d be happy to sell you one.” Strolling around the corner emerged Wilson Dunn. We had been forewarned about the salesman/owner in this store, who was determined not to let you leave his store without buying something, with his warm inviting manner. I soon learned that touching an item was his cue to start a sales pitch and one must even be careful where their eyes might wander. He was proud of his store, the field trial dogs, their trainers and owners that all became his friends through 90 years of life. He was willing to share all of it and encouraged questions about field trialing history, taking us to the back of his store where he had his own little bird dog museum. In the end, I couldn’t resist his charms and purchased a new blank gun.
Leaving Wilson Dunn behind, I accidentally turned South on Route 18. Seeing a sign that indicated we were only four miles from the Mississippi State line, I continued on knowing full we were headed in the wrong direction. I have “never” been lost in my life, maybe a little “disoriented” but never lost! A few minutes later we crossed the state and 10 yards over the line I corrected the course, turning around and headed back north. I guess crossing the state line gave me some sort of mental reason for heading in that direction, so now I can add Mississippi to my list of states I have visited. Discussion in the car revolved around how seeing the Bird Dog Museum was great, but visiting Wilson was a live interactive museum, that added a personal touch to the whole trip.
Just a few miles north of Grand Junction, we turned westward into the Ames Plantation. Traveling along the roads through the plantation we discussed the terrain and how it compared to other field trial venues we had both been to. We never made it to the plantation’s home perhaps that is better left for another time. Besides the time change and our stomachs were starting to call us elsewhere.
After lunch and some bass fishing at our
hostess Marsha’s home we received a call from neighbor Blake Kukar
inviting us over to his farm. A short trip down the road we arrived at
his house with some Pointers and Vizslas running over to greet us. Blake
began showing us around his plethora of kennels with various breeds,
including some local wayward dogs that he has taken over their care.
After a tour of his farm, we hopped in his car and were taken up the
road to an old southern homestead that has been converted over to the
West Tennessee Field Trial Clubhouse. The doors were locked, but peering
in the window’s I could see the pictures on the walls, documenting the
field trial history of the club. It was not all that dissimilar to club
houses I have come to know, somewhat bare in comfortable furniture. But
that’s not what “true” field trailers need, their comfort is in the seat
of a good saddle following a brace of dogs around the fields that
surround the clubhouse.
Back into the car we toured around the fields that make up the courses for the field trials hosted here. Driving down one country road we turned right into the only driveway to be found. Towards the end of the driveway a large granite tombstone proudly bearing the name Rebel Wrangler marked our next stop. Working in the garden directly behind the burial site of the great pointer, we were to find Bill and Linda Hunt. I have met Linda on several occasions at amateur championship events, but this would be the first time I got to spend some time with Bill. Bill gave me a tour of the garden that he is cultivating and then we were escorted down to the kennel where he is also cultivating his next generation of field trial hopefuls.
With the young litter of pointer pups stretching up against the fence, trying to draw our attention, I spoke with Bill about raising dogs for field trials. One particular liver and white bitch from the litter caught Laura’s eye that she quietly conveyed to me she thought was a nice one. A few minutes later Bill confirmed Laura’s eye for a good dog, when Bill pointed out that same bitch and said that’s his favorite one. I asked Bill what he looks for in a dog when trying to choose a pup from a litter. His response was “Intelligence and Style”, advice that I will carry with me for a long time. Into the foyer of their home we were find something that not many field trailer homes can bear, three Field Trial Hall of Fame plaques. Reminding us that these friendly down to earth people have a life long commitment to the sport I have come to enjoy.
Upon return to Blake’s kennel he let a group of dogs out of their pens and we jumped onto his quad, where we shared a ride around the river bottom as we gang ran this group of dogs that consisted of Pointers, Setters and Vizslas. Halfway around we stopped at a pond and let the dogs play in the pond as they cooled off from their summer evening run. Back to the kennel it was time for me to call it an end to my day through the heart of field trialing country and its history. As I was leaving down the driveway, I spotted Blake on his quad like a modern day cowboy, gang running another group of dogs into the fields as the sun lowered itself behind the tree line closing the curtain on a day of surrealistic field trialing history.
by Travis Gellhaus (as told to Ryan Frame)
I grew up around bird dogs. Pointers specifically. My father was a dog trainer and a carpenter too I suppose. His successful veterinary practice, however, meant that dog training and carpentry were, to my father, hobbies rather than professions, and without getting into more detail than is necessary, that was probably a good thing.
At some point, Dad decided that we needed a bird launcher to help us train the dogs and, even though he could have easily paid to have one delivered, no thought entered his head other than to build it himself. He had no directions or even photos to work from - that would not have been any fun., I suppose. As a base for the launcher, he chose a choice piece of maple that was lying around waiting for its purpose in life.
Unfortunately, the block of maple was about two inches thick, weighed some sixty pounds, and probably, had he sold this nice cut of maple, he would have made enough money to pay for a bird launcher. But again, that would not have been any fun.
Anyway, setting this hunk of maple on the garage floor, he bolted down a homemade cage to it, hooked up a piece of canvas to springs, devised a tripping mechanism, and rigged up a servo engine that he had laying around somewhere. Soon this rather unsightly device had taken shape and was ready for testing. We lugged it outside into the yard and rigged it up with a pigeon encircled in the canvas. The cage, however, was open at the ends and the pigeon merely crawled out the opening and flew off. So it was back into the garage for more ‘adjustments.’
With that little design flaw corrected, we decided to do further preliminary testing right there in the garage. We convinced ourselves that it was wise to test indoors before moving to the field (neither of us was quite ready yet to admit that this device was a bit cumbersome to lug back and forth). Dad put a plastic bottle inside the canvas, and, folding it in, set the mechanism. While he was still hovering over it however, it sprung unexpectedly and threw that bottle right into his face with such force that it caused a bloody nose and put a small cut above his eye. Naturally, this just made Dad more determined. I can still him working through the blood and bruises to make the final adjustments to the release mechanism. Then it was ready for testing again. Dad stuck the bottle in the canvas (making sure that his head was well out of the way) and hooked up the latch.
We stood back and he pushed the remote button. VAWOOOM! It shot the bottle up immediately. Success! Or …. Uh… success for the most part. The bottle, even though it was just plastic, had caused some light injuries to my Dad on the first test. Then the second test had resulted in a pretty good sized dent in the garage ceiling. Perhaps we should have taken these observations as a hint that more adjustments were needed. We didn’t.
Any way it was time to take it to the field for a real life test. I lugged the thing out into the yard, we rigged up a pigeon inside, and we check corded a dog into its vicinity. The dog pointed the bird, took a small step and Dad hit the button. VAWOOOM! The bird went up like a rocket, unable to even spread its wings until it was more than fifty feet in the air. That pigeon went up so fast that the dog never even saw it go by, never looked up, and never saw the bird fly off. Nevertheless, we had our bird launcher… with due emphasis on "launcher." Sure it required some muscle and effort to move it around. And sure… it scared the crap out of some of the dogs when it went off. And, sure, you could not put it near a tree or you would just splatter the pigeon on a branch. And even though, in short order, it just sat in the garage gathering cob webs and dust, we still were proud of it.
Together (mostly him) we managed to finish two pointer field champions. We also gathered up a lot of memories along the way but none stands out more than the ordeal of the building of that homemade bird launcher.
(Note: Travis Gellhaus is a pro trainer and chief proprietor of Hawkeye Creek Kennels Of Thunder Bay, Ontario.)
When I wrote the narration for the video "The Wonderful World Of Cover trials," I noted with some pride that no dog had ever placed as champion or runner-up without having pointed a wild bird. To be perfectly honest, I was no 100% sure of that statement.
But I have never seen nor heard of one in the
modern age, and ditto for the trials of old of which I have read the
Placing dogs on wild birds has never been an easy task to accomplish. Wild bird trials are, to a large extent, at the mercy of the land, for that is what produces the birds. In the old days, "title withheld" was often the result of trials run on years where bird numbers were not adequate for the running /scenting conditions. The Judicial Guidelines allow for placements to be made on race alone (Page 29: "In multiple course trials when running on native game, acceptable bird work may be impossible at times to obtain, and placements on class and ground heats are acceptable." ) but cover champions have , as a rule, not placed dogs on race alone and that is a good thing. It is also good that we have held fast and not placed dogs in title events without them pointing grouse or woodcock.
A considerable amount of course work needs to be done on multiple course wild bird trials. The key words are 'cover' and 'multiple.' What is generally called "transitional forest" and/ or "second growth" are often used to describe 'cover.' This means that the cover is often thicker and changing. These factors necessitate course changes to keep the dogs in the vicinity of good cover, and frequent maintenance to keep each trail open. "Multiple" means that your work is multiplied by a factor of 3, or 7 and 8 as is the case at many of the major venues. Anyone who has dropped sweat and blood on a trial course at the summer workdays does not need to be told this.
It would be much easier just to do one course and not have to worry about routing it to where birds are likely to be, but that is not even a consideration. The reason is perfectly obvious: Quail trials are not grouse trials. If they were the same, or even remotely similar, cover trailers would have taken the easy route years ago.
In more than fifteen years of attending cover trials, I can count on one hand grouse or woodcock that I have seen caught and/or retrieved, and I would still have several fingers to spare. By contrast, I see more birds caught and/or retrieved at an average quail championship. Grouse trials are not 'planted quail' trials because grouse are not planted quail; not even close.
Some have nevertheless suggested that, quail need to be released on a single course the derby courses at cover trials. They call single course/call back trials 'glorified puppy stakes.' Of course, puppy stakes are NOT the same. Most judges expect more ground maturity out of a derby. And, of course, there are no call backs for puppy stakes. In addition, I cannot remember a puppy that was winning puppy stakes each week, and also winning derby stakes each week at the same venue, which would be the case if the two stakes were so similar. In fact, it has been my observation over the years that more puppies win derby stakes by being one of the few to point a bird in a multiple course derby.
I am thus opposed to salting the course with quail and will offer several other reasons below, but I want it understood that, underlying these reasons, is this notion that is hard to argue with: planted quail are neither grouse nor woodcock and even a dog that points ten quail may not be able to point one grouse.
Reason #1 not to seed courses at a cover trial: Derbies catch planted quail. In senior stakes dogs are ordered up for chasing birds, retrieving birds, and not backing. This is called "interference" because it could hurt the brace mate's chances or undo its training. But the rules of derby stakes allow for MORE interference at an age when the training is less set. Fall derbies do not have to back, nor will your bracemate be automatically taken up for rooting and chasing. If your dog is fairly good on quail coming into a fall derby stake, with the wrong brace mate, and often poor flying birds, your dog could be much worse by the end. Catching birds at trials at that tender age is not what most people want to have happen. Bad habits get started and ingrained. Training regimes are set back.
In derby stakes, There are only three ways to minimize the carnage; first, to do extensive training on quail to get the dog more advanced on quail. Some dogs aren't ready for that level of training at that age and so a trainer risks causing harm by pushing the dog along before it is ready. Even if the youngster can take the training required, the training is still required, and that means time in a bird field on quail - time that is often better spent on wild birds in the in native cover at a critical time. The third option is to not risk long-term problems caused by bird catching simply by not participating in derby stakes with planted game.
Reason #2 not to salt the course with quail:
A grouse dog, derby or otherwise, is judged to great extent on where he goes to hunt birds. A cover dog needs to hit the proper cover, and should be judged by where he goes. Imagine a dog that is on his way to a nice poplar stand but spins on a quail before he gets there. He offers a lusty chase, away from the cut- he's just a derby after all - and then on his way back toward the cut, he hits another quail. Now a judge faults him for not hunting the cut properly. You can put quail in logical grouse cover and woodcock cover, but rarely will they end up there. The presence of a lot of quail on a course, often in unlikely cover, can muddy the judgment of proper application.
Reason #3 is that, because wild birds are usually not easy to come by, good dogs need to hunt for long periods without finding any. Many trials at the senior level including some big ones are won with but one bird for the. That means a dog has to hunt hard over long birdless stretches. I know of several grouse dogs that were sold because , if the dog did not have snoot full of bird scent up his nose every few minutes, he would slow, quit or lose focus. For grouse trials we need a dog that hunts hard without having a bird behind every bush to motivate him, because there isn't a bird behind every bush. I therefore do not see a birdless derby course as a problem, but as part of the test of what a dog needs to do to be successful at the next level.
In a single course trial, the dogs are compared on the same course.
The bird field work is only to establish if the dog can point, and if he exhibits acceptable style. In a call back, there is no meddlesome brace mate, and a derby dog taken up after one piece of acceptable work. The bird field situation therefore allows a measure of control that is not available to a handler on a half hour run with a number of quail, and the possibility of an unruly brace mate. The potential for bad habits is thus minimized.
I have attended Cover trials in nearly all quadrants and if there is anything true about them it is that, for all-age dogs, it is often difficult to give dogs a fair and equal opportunity to show on wild birds. This issue is multiplied 5 times for the lesser experienced derbies. So much greater is the difficulty that, in the Grouse Futurity, three of the four dogs placed last year were placed in the birdfield on quail. The year prior at Kilkenny, NH, it was also 3 of 4. In Michigan the year before that, it was 4 of 4.
Is the single course derby with a birdfield call back ideal or perfect? No. In a perfect world there be wild birds for every derby course, the exact same amount for each dog, and every course would be identical as well.
Am I glad that there are also derby stakes run on wild birds? Yes. Multiple course or single, the goal is to place the derby with the best ground race and acceptable bird work, and a good dog should be capable of winning both. The single course/call back format however, more than any other format, more often results in that goal being met. It's in the design.
In conclusion, if you are lamenting the fact that there are no quail out on the course, I have good news. There are plenty of trials that throw quail out for derbies. They are called quail trials and they are great fun. They will welcome your entry.
Recently I was asked to verify or disprove a statement made by a long time bird dog fan and author of a recent training book. The man was claiming that , not only were the early dogs all ‘dual dogs,’ but that they were not allowed to run in trials until they had placed in a bench show. I asked immediately, "Did the man who said this give you a source?"
"No," came the reply, "He said he read it somewhere but couldn’t remember where."
"I can assure you," I said, "That A. F. Hochwalt writes a lot about those early dogs and was familiar with both bench shows and trials. Many times in his classic The Modern Setter, Hochwalt cites the bench show records of noted trial dogs. On many other occasions there is no bench record at all. So the statement that a trial dog had to win on the bench is simply not true."
People who are fans of certain type of dog, or fans of a certain line of dog are often in a curious and contradictory position when it comes to writing the history of their favorite breed or type of dogs. On one hand, they are usually the only ones sufficiently interested to learn and write such a history, but on the other hand, they often are not objective enough to set down that history accurately. Frequently, not so surprisingly, and for the most part not intentionally, their rendition ends up being slanted.
Of course, everyone has prejudices and, and so it is imperative that anyone who would read the early literature to do it extensively, and to document any conclusion with quotes, pictures, other expert opinion etc.
Other claims about so-called "dual dogs" appear now and then in bird dog literature and these claims also need to be looked at critically. The claim that has been repeated quite often is that the early setters were dual type setters that competed successfully on the bench and in field trials. Then, they claim, field trials went awry by emphasizing speed and range and a different type of English setter was created. In 1998, for example, an article appeared in Field Trial Magazine called "Renaissance of a Classic: Renaissance of a Classic: Return of a Bench-type English Setter to Field Trials." In this article, writer Vince FitzGerald makes the claim that the early field trial winners were "classy dual purpose, bench-type field English setters." He also claims that "modern dual type dogs are much the same as those beautiful setters which dominated American Field trials from the 1870’s to the outbreak of World War I."
More recently in 2005, comes John Taylor’s history of the Ryman setters called "A Gentleman’s Shooting Dog." Like FitzGerald, Taylor also claims that early setters were field trial dogs AND bench dogs. George Ryman, he claims, recognized and appreciated these these dual dogs and when both field trials and bench shows went astray, it was Ryman who he kept in his sights the dual nature that setters were supposed to be. In the case of Ryman setters, an interesting transformation takes place in the definition of "dual setters." Originally, ‘dual’ applied to dogs that were successful on the bench AND in field trials. But Taylor now applies the term to dogs that have been successful at neither. Thus the word cleverly changes to ‘dual type.’
Both of these writers, after asserting that early setters were all dual setters make the same assumption: That the dual type circa 1900 is the same animal as a dual dog of 2005. To Taylor the dual dog is a Ryman setter and to FitzGerald the dual dog is a show setter. And as those two types of dog are not exactly the same, either Taylor or FitzGerald are incorrect.
Nevertheless the three assertions about early ‘dual-setters’ that I will now analyze against the historical record are:
1) That the setters of of the 19th and into the early 20th century were "dual dogs" in the sense that a great many of them competed successfully in both field and bench events.
That by 1907, the the split between field and show factions had not yet occurred. (Note: That is a split between these factions occurred is not in question. FitzGerald says that the split occurred sometime around WWI. Taylor asserts that it happened sometime after George Ryman was getting started in English in 1907 or 1916. The timing of that split is important since both claim the overwhelming dominance of setters in that era is a function of their dual nature.
And 3) That, before the show/field split, setters were more like dual dogs of 2005 than field trial dogs of 2005 in terms of looks and size.
There were several major sources that I looked at. First was Major J.M Taylor’s rare and monumental "Bench Show and Field Trial Records and Standards of Dogs in America 1874-1891." This source contains complete records of every dog that placed at a bench show and every dog that placed at a field trial from 1874 to 1891. There were also pictures, drawings and other charts that were pertinent. Secondly are the writings of Alfred Frederick Hochwalt and in particular the Modern Setter (1918 and revised again in 1923). Hochwalt was a massive authority in that era. He judged bench shows and field trials and was quite familiar with the machinations and trends of both. My third major source was Joseph Graham who was another early authority. His book "The Sporting Dog," (1904) offers a concise snapshot of the bird dog world in the era in question including a lot of the pertinent history that the author himself actually lived. Other sources will be introduced where necessary.
After reviewing these sources I offer the following general overview:
The Llewellin setter dominated early field trials in the era in question (1874-1907) while the so-called ‘Laverack’ was more dominant on the bench and won in trials only seldom. As a result of this fact, as most of the early writings verify, the Llewellin was even nicknamed "the field trial breed." Comparing Laveracks to Llewellyn's, Hochwalt notes on page 25 of The Modern Setter: "The two classes of English setters are probably more at variance here in America than in the mother country and the reason for this is quite obvious. To suit our hunting conditions we require a dog with speed, range and stamina. Followers of field trials found, very early in their career, that the field trial breed was nearer the requirements…" Notice he writes that the split came "very early" and that the "field trial breed" was the preference based on practical results. Writing further of Llewellyn's, Hochwalt writes that "…taking the middle of the road, we have a fairly good-looking utility dog as a general average, with specimens interspersed here and there that are good enough to win championship honors on the bench."
Of note here is that, among the Llewellin setters, were some "specimens interspersed here and there" that could win championship honors on the bench. This indicates that ‘dual dogs’ were not that common. Both Graham and Hochwalt stress the fact that the practical field dog in America essentially stemmed from of two famous setters namely Gladstone and Count Noble, both Llewellyn's. Hochwalt called Gladstone, "…this early progenitor of the American-Llewellin." Gladstone’s weight varied between 48 and 50 pounds and he stood 22.5 inches at the withers. Hochwalt notes that "He won many times on the bench , but it is just possible that the glamour surrounding him because of his great field ability may have been responsible for his many wins, for in the bench show sense, he was not the type of dog that the standard of the day called for, nor would he even fit the modified standard of the present time. In utility parts no particular fault could be found in him, for he was remarkably good in chest , legs and feet, although, for his size he carried too much weight in his shoulders. His muzzle was too snippy, his ears were set too high on the head and entirely too short for proper proportions." Some three decades after Gladsone’s passing, Hochwalt noted that due to Gladstone’s "unusual prepotency," both his good points and bad were passed on so that "To this day we encounter the snippy muzzle, the high set ear…" The other major progenitor, Count Noble, had no bench record at all. Graham writes on page 13, "The tide of preference for Llewellin setters and for Gladstone and Count Noble blood is, therefore, conclusively shown by the setter figures of this studbook; because the leading bench show specialists prefer the Laverack, and are often inexorable in condemning the Llewellin."
Indeed the appendix to Graham’s book contains two distinct standards one called the "STANDARD OF ENGLISH SETTER CLUB" And in parentheses he writes "America. Called the Llewellin Standard. Adopted in 1900. Followed by field trial or Llewellin men" (Page 303). The other standard is also called the "STANDARD OF ENGLISH SETTER CLUB" but underneath is written "(England. Followed by Laverack men in America)"
So by 1900, there are already two distinct standards, one followed by field men in America and the for Laverack men following English standards. This is important for two reasons. First of all , there are two distinct standards long before either John Taylor, Vince FitzGerald or many other writers have claimed, and this fact compromises their position. Secondly, in many instances where a trial dog did have bench success, the club running the bench show may have been conforming to the standard written for the "field trial men," with bench wins that in no way suggest a dog that is a typical show dog such as we imagine today.
Even so, to state that most of the setters of that era were dual setters is overdone. Among the early field trial dogs, none of the sources mentions a dual champion. Mr. FitzGerald mentions an ‘almost dual champions’ but neither he nor Mr. Taylor nor any of the other sources claim any. While I do not have complete documentation of all bench or trial wins, here are some of the early National Champions and what the sources have to say about them:
Count Gladstone IV (1896): Hochwalt list his win record and progeny with no mention of any bench record.
Championship cancelled (1897)
Tony’s Gale (1898): Hochwalt does not mention a bench record. National Field trial Champions (Buckingham and Brown) describes him as "handsome utility-type setter."
Joe Cumming (1899) Hochwalt mentions no bench record. Brown and Buckingham note ‘ Joe Cumming was princely in appearance, a handsome setter with attractive markings, his body conformation somewhat similar to that of Tony’s Gale, the 1898 winner of the National, though Joe was better finished in head properties. There is no question that in repose as well as in action, Joe Cumming had strong eye-appeal for the practical sportsman and field trial fan."
Lady’s Count Gladstone (1900) Hochwalt: No bench record mentioned. Brown and Buckingham: "handsome conformation and pleasing personality."
Sioux (1901 & 1902). No mention of bench success, conformation or looks from either Hochwalt or Brown/Buckingham.
Geneva (1903) Buckingham/Brown: "good size, attractive conformation."
Hochwalt no mention of any bench success.
Mohawk II (1904) Hochwalt gives this dog nearly four pages of coverage
but mentions no bench record.
Hochwalt: "Alambaugh was a white, black and ticked dog of of excellent utility parts, though from a bench point of view he could scarcely pass muster." (99)
Brown/Buckingham:"In appearance he was of more than medium size, with considerable daylight under him; his head was clean-cut and typical of the field trial setter family…" (69)
Hochwalt: "The dog was white and orange and a very handsome setter." Nearly a page of coverage and no mention that the dog participated in any bench shows. 131.
Brown/Buckingham: "Pioneer, tall, rangy, with a roach in his back, and extreme arch of the coupling which gave great power…" 75.
In addition, Pioneer’s handler Er Shelley wrote a popular training book and devotes several pages to Pioneer’s career with no mention of the dog competing in any bench shows.
That covers about ten years of English setter National Champion setters that were the most prominent dogs in the nation and won, at least according to the fans of the ‘dual setter,’ prior to any show/field split. I could find no bench record for any of these dogs in the sources, and neither Taylor nor FitzGerald claims any dual record for these dogs either.
VitzGerald comments on how "The quality of the English setters exported by Llewellin in the early years was high, and many of the early American Field Trial Champions were dogs of great beauty.
"For instance, Druid (AKC 95) won three show awards in America, and Paris (AKC 182) nearly became a Dual Champion. The quality of field trial dogs was once so high that three remarkable field trial champions, Mohawk II (Hall Of Fame), Lady’s Count Gladstone (Hall Of Fame), and Prince Rodney can be found in the pedigrees of current show dogs."
Though he specifically says "for instance" after a line that says "early American Field Trial Champions" of "great beauty," the fact is that neither Druid nor Paris was an American Field Champion. His other examples, Mohawk II and Lady’s Count Gladstone, as has already been covered in the National Champions section above, were not dual dogs at all. And as their pictures testify, they look much more like field trial dogs of today than bench dogs of today.
Based upon these sources I know answer question
"That the setters of of the 19th and into the early 20th century were "dual dogs" in the sense that a great many of them competed successfully in both field and bench events.
Answer: That there were more dual dogs back then, but there still were not many. Some that were dual dogs were shown on bench compared to a Llewellin standard, which called for a dog "forty to fifty-five pounds, for bitches thirty-five to fifty pounds" noting that "the most useful setters, as a rule" are midway between the extremes mentioned." The height at the shoulders "should be about twenty-two to twenty-three inches at the shoulder in dogs, and twenty-one to twenty-two in bitches." Under the section for "Color and Markings" it reads "color is a matter of fancy, and too much stress should not be laid upon it."
Question #2: "That by 1907, the the split between field and show factions had not yet occurred. (Note: That is a split between these factions occurred is not in question. FitzGerald says that the split occurred sometime around WWI. Taylor asserts that it happened sometime after George Ryman was getting started in English in 1907 or 1916. The timing of that split is important since both claim the overwhelming dominance of setters in that era is a function of their dual nature."
Answer: Writing in his 1904 book The Sporting Dog, Joseph Graham writes, "There has been a conflict, sometimes bitter between those who would adhere to strictly to English ideals and standards and those who would press into recognition the American changes." He continues "English setter men have conducted the factional contest most sharply." He indicates that the split came: "Soon after the introduction of bench shows" He writes that "Twice a club has been organized to formulate a new written standard. The first was organized fifteen years ago, the second in 1900-1901. The conservative side has been upheld by Messrs. John Davidson…. And other judges. Usually the Westminster Kennel Club has alternated from year to year in selecting its English setter judges, to give each side a chance to illustrate what it means by type."
And 3) That, before the show/field split, setters were more like dual dogs of 2005 than field trial dogs of 2005 in terms of looks and size.
The story that actually emerges from the sources cited is that both field trials and dogs shows started in 1874 in America and both were a few years catching on. Some dogs from 1874 to the turn of the century were shown on the bench and also field trialed but many others were not. In short order, two things happened: First off, it was clear that Llewellin setter was distinguishing itself by its field prowess and the so called Laverack’s were much more successful on the bench. There were two types with limited crossover, almost from the beginning. By 1900 there were two distinct standards in print, one being followed by practical folks and one by show folks. There were also dog shows and judges that adhered to the "Llewellin standard" and these groups were not, by and large, those that evolved into the bench show dogs of today. To the extent that there was bench success, it came from these practical standards judged by field men.
Over the years, the gap widened but it is the bench dog and the Ryman that separated themselves. The emphasis on coat and Belton markings and a progressive increase in size are the two most notable features. Most of the early dogs, including Gladstone, Count Noble, Mohawk II, Lady’s Count Gladstone had body patches and would be considered too small by today’s Ryman or AKC Show setter breeder. Indeed, according to Mrs. Ellen Ryman, who I personally interviewed, had any of the above dogs been born at Ryman kennels, they would have been culled (killed) at birth because that is how George Ryman dealt with dogs with body patches.
That the size of show dogs was considerably smaller in the 19th century than a Ryman or a show dog today is easily discernible from the literature. Joseph Graham writes in 1904 of a "Mr. Dager of Toledo, Ohio, who bought two puppies, Cincinnatus and Toledo Blade…" Graham notes that "Both of these dogs were white-black-tan and of superior bench type." Graham writes, "Cincinnatus was not highly regarded by field trial men, but was placed in good company. On the bench Cincinnatus quickly won a championship." Graham continues, "He was rather flat in chest and weak in back ribs, but was otherwise good and a remarkably fine specimen among large dogs." According to measurements taken at at the time, Cincinnatus was 23 ¾ at the shoulders. That a dog of that height was considered ‘large’ should give fanciers of both Ryman setter and show setters of today pause. And if Graham considers Cincinnatus "large," he also describes what he considers of a dog of medium size writing, "I have never hesitated in calling the nearest to faultless among dogs of the general Laverack type." He writes "She was a blue Belton, weighing forty-five pounds…" If 45 pounds was considered "medium sized," what was considered ‘small?’ I couldn’t find a place where Graham specifically attaches a height or weight to a dog he considers ‘small.’ But we can infer that it must be smaller than 45 pounds. Graham does describe a dog called Paul Gladstone as "small" but who at somewhere under 45 pounds nevertheless was "almost unchallenged on the bench for two or three years."
All of this is pertinent to this discussion since since the Ryman Standard calls for a setter 60 to 75 pounds and the Current show standards calls for a setter of at least 25 inches at the shoulders. Though both VitzGerald and Taylor claim that field trial dogs evolved from a ‘dual’ dog into a different sort of animal, the written standards for both the Ryman Setter as cited by Taylor and the standard for show setters as appears in the "The Complete Dog Book," the AKC’s official publication, show that it, in fact it was show dogs that evolved into a significantly bigger setter than a dual dog circa 1890 to 2000. Indeed, John Taylor calls Gladstone "small," and compared to his beloved Ryman Setters, Gladstone, at 50 pounds, must seem so. But records show that Gladstone was one of the bigger among noted show AND trial dogs of his era.
Finally, and perhaps most convincingly, is the pictorial evidence. Most of the noted trial dogs of the 1874 -1907 era in question would not look out of place on a tie-out at an American Field trial today. A number of these early English setter field dogs have already been pictured. A particularly important example is that of Prince Rodney. Hochwalt referred to him as a prototype Llewellin "in both physical and temperamental qualities." Hochwalt also cited a bench record for the Prince, "particularly under practical judges." Even Mr. FitzGerald cites Prince Rodney’s bench success in his article on Dual setters, also touting the Prince’s ability to produce bench dogs. The following is an actual photograph of Prince Rodney. Again, he looks nothing like a bench setter of today and if he were on a chain gang at a grouse trial today, he would not look out of place.
As a post script, Ed Morgan recently came into
possession of some AKC records and pedigree and claimed on the Cover dog
Message Board that and concluded that the setters were "bench bred" from
that era. After claiming that Gladstone was a bench champion, I checked the
records and noted that Gladstone’s meager 3 bench wins came in 1878, or 6
years prior to the start of the AKC in 1884. According to Major Taylor, the
AKC went back and recognized some of these dogs as champions .. sort of an
institutionalized revision of history. Gladstone was a significant dog. That
the AKC chose to name him champion many years after the fact was a smart
thing to do. But it changes nothing about what a Gladstone looked like, what
Llewellins looked like, and what bench shows were like in the nineteenth
century, most of which I covered above. To suggest that Gladstone was a
bench dog like an AKC bench English Setter of today is pure fancy.
But Gimme A Passionate Bird Finder
When someone has an opinion that is very much against the grain sometime it is better just to keep it to himself. Probably I should exercise my right to remain silent.
Nevertheless, at great risk to my credibility, I am here and now, NOT going to remain silent and am instead going to go firmly against the grain: There are in fact several situations that if they occurred in a field trial today, a great many, if not every, judge would not hesitate but to order up the dog involved up. Not me.
My opinion, for what it’s worth (not much), simply differs greatly from the mainstream in these situations. The overused cliché tells us "judging is subjective," we understand and accept that different judges will see and interpret things differently from others. Of course, when the judges DO see it differently from us, we often get upset. "What the heck were THEY looking at!" we grumble. Apparently, judges are allowed to see things differently… but not TOO differently. But some of us do see things very differently. Here are those situations where I go against the flow and will NOT pick up the dog if I were judging:
Situation number 1: At a planted bird quail trial (it has happened at wild bird trials too), a dog is pointing and the bird flies at the dog. Without leaving the spot, the dog shags the bird like an outfielder (or tries to). OR, the bird is wet or cannot fly and makes the mistake of running right into the dog and literally, into the jaws of death.
Situation #2: A dog is hunting his merry way along when a grouse or a woodcock happens to come flying by, perhaps the gallery moved it; maybe the other dog moved it , or a deer, whatever, but dog in questions sees, turns with it, watches it land, works over in that direction and points it.
Situation #3: A dog is pointing, and the handler, after flushing considerably, intensively, and extensively, decides, much against his wishes, to relocate the dog. The dog is tapped on the head, or whistled up. The dog moves up hard and, after taking several step forward, a tight sitting woodcock flushes in its face and the dog stops in its tracks.
None of these actions would get the dog hooked with me judging. Before you call a loony bin to have me hauled off allow me to explain: We are, or should be, breeding BIRD DOGS, dogs with an INTENSE DESIRE AND DRIVE TO FIND AND POINT BIRDS.
That desire to find birds is what takes a dog through briar paths, over rocks, and up hills, and to the birds.
Once upon a time dogs that ‘sought the easy footing’ were not even considered for placement. Dogs that made an error on game, particularly an error of passion, were still favored over ‘errorless mediocrity’ as they called it. It is quite an education to read old American Fields and read about dogs chasing birds that were not automatically picked up and, if they were still the best dogs overall… they won.
By contrast, blinking, avoiding or being afraid of a bird, was the unforgivable sin. From the summary of the 1953 National Championship book (William F. Brown and Nash Buckingham) comes the following apt description of this passion that a trial dog should possess, "but since the days of of Colonel Arthur Merriam, with remembrances of Manitoba Rap and others, it has always been demanded that fire, drive, hunting zeal, and unquenchable determination to find birds be reflected in the work of the dog." Nothing in the passage mentions complete steadiness. A dog that didn’t LOVE to hunt birds was the one that was NOT considered.
Then things began to change. Dogs that chased a bird were no longer considered; they were ordered up and removed from the competition. Dogs that ran the paths and avoided cover, and generally were not hunting hard, by contrast, were NOT ordered up. Some of them, by golly have even been placed over the years. Not that judges WANTED to place dogs that were not hunting hard, but lots of judges have a hard time judging what is termed ‘application.’ Even when a judge DOES recognize a lackluster hunting effort, sometime there is little choice but to place the dog as it is sometimes the case where there are not many "clean" dogs to choose from.
'Clean' has become the name of the game. It is my contention that ‘no movement on birds’ has, in the minds of most field trial judges today, replaced the various manifestations of blinking as the most serious fault that a bird dog can exhibit. And after surpassing blinking, the trend toward motionlessness on game has continued right along: Dogs that didn’t chase, but moved just a little began to be ordered up. And Nowadays, in many circles, DOGS THAT EVEN TURN TO MARK A BIRDS FLIGHT are ordered up.
When we arrived at the point where, under many judges, a dog could not win if it budged even the slightest bit at flush or shot, even to mark a bird, many thought that the trend would have run its natural course. After all, dog that doesn’t move at all, by nature, can’t move any less. Right?
Wrong. In many places now if a dog wiggles its tail or drops its tail AFTER the bird is gone, there are judges that won’t use it. Then, in many circuits the ‘no movement’ trend moved from all-age dogs to spring derbies and then to fall derbies. It’s not much of a joke to imagine a dog being ordered up someday for 'blinking’ not because it avoided a bird, but because the movement of its eyelids was considered excessive. But then, even if your dog stands like a statue before, during and after the flush, doesn't move an eyelash, shows absolutely no inclination at all to go with the bird... your still not clear. If after your dog is released to go on hunting, your dog goes in the direction that the bird flew, it is called by many a "delayed chase" and will more often than not get you on the hook. Remember, however, that hunters follow up birds, have their dogs to mark and retrieve or point dead, and for much of field trial history pointing the coveys and having the dogs mark and work the singles was part of what a trial dog should do. Trying to mark and rework a bird was never a deadly sin until the label 'delayed chase' was put on it...'
Path runners and other wussies still are running merrily along and there less and less people who even recognize them for what they are. Moreover, if I have a dog that lacks either nose or concentration and bumps 1 out of every 4 birds, my chances of winning with that dog are greatly increased these days if he is NOT a good bird finder. If he finds lots of birds he is going to get ordered up every trial. If he finds 3 or less he’s got a shot at winning. Moreover, a dog obsessed with finding birds will sometimes fulfill that obsession and fall victim to what both hunters (for whom we trialers are allegedly providing breeding stock for) and most trialers of yesteryear would find sad if it weren't so comical: "the judges said they didn't place him because he found too many birds" or "he hunted too much."
The point is that bird dog wussies are often tolerated because they are clean, and squeaky clean is the rage. The problem is that sometimes a dog is clean because it doesn't find as many birds, and thus has less opportunity to screw up, and, to put it directly, if a dog doesn’t care as much about birds he doesn’t want to chase as much and so is much easier to keep steady. An intense bird hunting, bird crazy dog is going to have the opposite problems which work against him under modern trial expectations. Nevertheless in an effort to save the bird crazy dog I am forgiving in errors of passion at least in the situations mentioned above:
Situation number 1revisited: At a planted bird quail trial (it is happened at wild bird trials too), a dog is pointing and the bird flies directly at the dog. Without leaving the spot, the dog shags the bird like an outfielder ( or tries to, snaps at it etc.). OR, the bird is wet or cannot fly and makes the mistake of running right into the dog and literally, into the jaws of death.
In my opinion a good bird dog is going to want that bird BAAAD. If a bird flies at him, or runs at his feet, he is going to try to grab it. If he doesn’t want to grab it, I am a bit suspicious that he might be afraid of that bird. If you 'ooh and aaawww' when a dog avoids a bird and ducks from a flying bird, remember what word is used to designate a dog avoids and ducks away from a bird.
Situation #2: A dog is hunting his merry way along when a grouse or a woodcock happens to come flying by, perhaps the gallery moved it; maybe the other dog moved it , or a deer, whatever, but the dog in questions sees it, turns with it, watches it land, works over in that direction and points it.
I have no problem with this at all. The thought of a dog seeing a bird land, going over and pointing it, just doesn’t seem sinister or evil. Rather it indicates a like a good, smart bird dog to me. He didn't knock that bird, nor was chasing it wildly through the woods. And there is a name for a dog that knows a bird is there but does not want to work it and point it.
Situation #3: A dog is pointing, and the handler, after flushing considerably, intensively, and extensively, decides, much against his wishes, to relocate the dog. The dog is tapped on the head, or whistled up. The dog moves up hard and, after taking several steps forward, a tight sitting woodcock flushes in its face and the dog stops in its tracks.
While I would certainly not consider this tremendous work, it would certainly not be grounds to order a dog up with me judging.
Also there is interpretation here. A dog tapped on might see his opportunity to root a out and chase a bird and if he puts his head down and bores forward and looks merely like he is trying to make the bird airborne, even I have a problem with that. I am rather talking about a dog moving up hard, but flushing a bird unintentionally. I would certainly much rather see a dog move up hard, than tiptoe about like he is trying to locate a rattlesnake, even if he rushes in a bit too hard and moves the bird. William F. Brown’s definition of ‘class’ is one that must be kept in mind: "To define the term, ‘class’ connotes the ability to do at great speed and with unusual accuracy what the average can do only slowly and under particularly favorable circumstances." You may say that bumping the bird does not display the 'unusual accuracy' required of Brown's definition, but then, a dog that does it slow cannot possibly be class dog, and an error of passion is still favorable over errorless mediocrity no matter how you slice it. And there is a name for a dog that tiptoes around half-scared when he thinks there is a bird in the area. (Hint 1: it's the same word as for the dog that ducks from a flying bird and the same word that applies to a dog that knows there is a bird and does not want to go over and point it. Hint 2: the word begins with a B.
It happened again. While reviewing some hunting footage from New Hampshire in the Fall of 2005, I saw something. I had seen the footage at least five times prior without noticing what I saw. In the video footage, a dog is stopped up a hillside and I am trying to video the point. The dog is in cover and is not visible. Then I see it near the top of the screen. I did not immediately know what it was, but it became clear what it was when when I slowed down the footage and watched it frame-by-frame: it was a woodcock. At the time the footage was taken, none of us saw a bird at all. We had thought the dog had stopped for no reason at all. But weeks later …there the bird was on the screen.
This was not the first time that my video camera caught an unseen bird either. In the winter of 1998-99 I was reviewing video footage taken four months earlier in Wisconsin and saw a bird leave a point. Then in the summer of 2002, I was directly behind a dog on point with the handler approaching in some cover left to right in front of the dog. A woodcock took off straight away and I said, "There it goes." But the handler never heard it or saw it. "A bird went?" he queried. "Yes."
"You saw a bird?" he asked again.
"I can’t believe you missed it."
But he did miss it. Walking through cover, he physically could not see the bird even though he was 10 yards away. And with brush scraping and rustling from his approach, he could not hear the woodcock either.
I have other first person examples too that do not involve video. Several years ago at Gladwin I was scouting a dog when the other dog came into the area and stopped 75 yards further on. I called the other handler, stopped and and waited. As I stood still, with them on the way, I heard eleven grouse flush from the area where the dog stood - the birds coming out sometimes in two and threes.
The dog never wavered. "What a nice piece of work," I recall thinking, "and she’ll probably take an unproductive."
She did not take an unproductive though. The handler arrived and flushed yet another grouse well out in front of her - so far out that I could not hear it. I have no doubt that she actually was was pointing one or some of those first 11 birds and that the bird she got credit for pointing ‘but ran out in front of her a way’ was not the one she stopped on. But the point is reinforced: eleven grouse flushed in front of a dog that neither the dog’s handler nor the judge covering that dog were even aware of. It likely happens more than we care to think about it.
Moreover, what about a stop-to-flush? The dog is out in cover and a bird leaves as the dog honors the flight. If a judge sees what happens it is a stop-to-flush. If no one sees the bird in the cover in the same situation it usually is an unproductive. We train the dogs to stay there and, more and more, we train them to pose up.
Related to this is a curious incident that took place several winters ago. IN search of bare ground, we traveled to the John A. Stolgitis Field Trial Area in Arcadia, Rhode Island and were working dogs in the fields there from about 10:30 in the morning until 4 p.m. We were doing a standard loop based on the the way the field trial course goes, running dogs two at a time for 40 minutes or so. We had not put any birds out, but it was a training area so the possibility existed that there might be some pen-raised birds kicking around that someone else had been using to train on.
We ran the loop five times and with ten different dogs. About thirty minutes into the first round, we had a point and a back in a patch of light woods near the left edge of a field. We flushed but saw no game nor any sign of any game. The spot of the unproductive was to become quite familiar. In two of the next three rounds at least one dog pointed there again and looked positive.
Time after time, however, we saw nothing.
We were joined on the final round by a fellow named Steve from Massachusetts who was working his hunting dogs in the area that day and wanted to see some of the trial dogs go. Once again we had a point and a back at the same spot - the fourth time in five rounds. As we moved the dogs out of there, Mike said, "I came through here at 9:00 this morning with my dog and I had an unproductive right there too." Because we had been at that spot so much and were becoming increasingly frustrated, we had the opportunity to look it from every which angle. There was nothing about it that we could see that was in any way unusual or different from any other spot. Nor was there a rock pile where something could easily hide or a hollow log where something might be living. Nevertheless, the dogs were smelling something there and pointing. We never determined the cause of this, but with so many dogs pointing there we had to assume that something was there causing it.
Under these circumstances, we could not blame the dogs. But I could not help but to think that we had exonerated the dogs only because we had enough information to do so, and that, in most circumstances, especially with wild bird trials, we would not have had such information because we do not run the same ground over and over. In a multiple course setting, we just assign an unproductive and go on.
However unusual and mysterious this spot along the edge of the field may be, I cannot believe it is the only one in the world. And for every spot like this there another spot where the is brush or rock pile or a spot so thick that thorough flushing is impossible. These situations, in combination with the situations noted in the previous essay, all add up to reasonable notion that, in cover on wild birds, what looks like an unproductive often would not be an unproductive if all of the information were available. This suggests a modest view on the harm of an unproductive as reasonable.
That dogs are often not to blame was the subject of an interesting study whereby birds were radio collared so that those conducting the study knew where the birds were as the dogs worked them. The results are at
All of this is pertinent today when, ever increasingly, tolerance for u.p.’s has grown less and less. When the AFTCA revised the judging standards booklet, a general rules was established that 2 unproductives in an hour left a pretty big hole but that one unproductive is "a very minor offense." Three unproductives was too many for a dog to be considered.
That seemed reasonable as a general guideline although not all unproductives are equal (see the essay: Judging By The Book) and require interpretation. Even the Judicial Guidelines Booklet noted that "other factors" that must be considered by the judges citing "poor scenting conditions and other factors" which can "give rise to many of the dogs having unproductives during the stake."
These days in many field trial circles and places, two unproductives and your dog has no chance at all of winning and no circumstances or "other factors" are taken into consideration. Increasingly, I have heard people talk about a dog that has had multiple bird work all with perfect manners and a good ground race as "not clean" because the dog had one unproductive.
As time goes by there is less tolerance for u.p.’s and less reasonable interpretation of them. For reasons mentioned in both of these essays, we need to be resist these changes. The circumstances of cover trials are different from other venues and circuits and we need to judge in a way that is right and proper for cover trials.
I have heard several versions of the following complaint expressed after the 2005 GNC Invitational in RI. "There were no grouse pointed there in Rhode Island. The Invitational should not go back there. After all it is the Grouse AND Woodcock Invitational." The speaker inevitably exaggerates the "AND," meaning that both birds should be present on the grounds where the Invitational is to be held.
But what does "AND" really mean in the name "Grouse AND Woodcock Invitational Championship." Obviously to some it means that both birds need to be present in ample numbers at the venue where the Invitational is being conducted. But the "AND" in the name could also suggest something more. By and large, most every grouse championship requires a grouse to be pointed to fulfill the promise of the championship’s name. Ditto for most woodcock championships. A grouse AND woodcock championship, therefore, should require that a grouse AND a woodcock be pointed as a condition of placement. It does say "Grouse AND Woodcock Championship," doesn’t it?
What good does it do to require grouse AND woodcock on the grounds if you do not expect the winning dog to point both. Yet, I know of nobody who is suggesting that the winner of the Invitation must point grouse AND woodcock in the Grouse AND Woodcock Invitational despite the fact that name clearly suggests that. Obviously, AND can have more than one meaning.
There is however, a third interpretation of "And" in "Grouse And Woodcock Invitational." This view of "and" is, in my never humble opinion, the real one and it has nothing to do with both birds being on the grounds at all. "And" simply means that the entries for the Invitational are made of of dogs who competed in grouse AND woodcock trials. The name GNC "Grouse And Woodcock Invitational" merely reflects the dogs that make up the entry… that the entry comes from grouse AND woodcock trials. The by-laws and running rules of the Invitational support this view: "The object of the event shall be to compete the top grouse and woodcock dogs of the current year against each other…" (Note: Please take notice of the "and" in between "grouse and woodcock" dogs.) In the section of the by-laws that covers "suitable grounds, there is nothing that says that both species of birds must be present on the grounds. Indeed, I vividly recall long time Invitational secretary Dale Hernden announcing to participants and judges that "Grouse and woodcock are to be considered evenly. The finding and proper handling of one should not carry more weight than the other."
Moreover, if the founders of the trial felt that both birds needed to be present for the "Grouse AND Woodcock" Invitational, the event never would have been held at Marienville, PA, since woodcock are rare occurrences in most years. But it has been held at Marienville since almost the beginning and rightfully so. Obviously then, both birds need not be present as a condition of holding the Invitational at any particular place and therefore the name "Grouse And Woodcock Invitational."
"And" has three meanings but only one can be considered correct. Perhaps the Grand National should change the name to the "GNC Grouse And Woodcock Dog Invitational" to avoid further confusion.
First of all, a negative: There is no good way to spell it. Neither "Qualifier" or "Qualifyer" seems quite right.
Second of all, it is a bit a misnomer. The word "qualified" implies that some sort of a stamp of approval is put on a dog that says that the winning dog is now capable of winning a championship. That is not the case either. Years ago there was an amateur horseback championship run and the judges crowned a certain dog champion. It was subsequently discovered that the dog that had won did not have the proper amateur win certificate and so was "not qualified" and the championship revoked. Stepping back a moment, one would think that actually having won the championship would indicate that the dog was qualified to win the championship, but this is apparently not the case with field trials.
Obviously "qualifications" means something else. Some time ago the Llewellin setter folks held their first Llewellin setter classic. It was a trial in the vein of NSTRA and some Llewellin owners traveled a long distance to be there. Some had never attended a trial before. As a result, according Dave Duffy’s coverage of the event in Gun Dog Magazine, there was a person shooting birds that neither dog was pointing. The fellow said if he sees a bird like that while hunting that is what he does. Another guy’s dog was catching birds and retrieving them, without the birds being shot at, and he thought he was accumulating points for retrieves. This is not to make fun of anyone, but rather to note that with no qualifications at all, there is a likelihood that someone will show up at a championship with his pride and joy bird dog, convinced that he can win the crown and the purse, but who has never been to a trial before, and his no hint as to procedures or conduct even what the judges are looking for.
Now let’s have a look at both loved and despised shooting dog qualifying trials. First of all, any trial that turns away entries for whatever reason is in violation of the American Field Minimum Requirements. Should the AF find out that such a practice took place, the trial results will be revoked. There are exceptions of course. There are breed specific trials that exclude all other breeds, and there are so called "Members" trials which can exclude all other handlers save for club members. And there is another exception which we will note a bit further on. Nevertheless, most qualifying trials as they are currently run are only one complaint to the American Field from having their placements voided.
Some clubs just take the chance that no complaints will be lodged. Other clubs call it a ‘voluntary qualifier’ and do not turn away dogs, but restrict it by gentleman’s agreement only. You voluntarily do not enter your previously placed dog when I need to put a placement on mine, and then when you need a placement, I voluntarily hold my previously placed dog out. I scratch my dog; you scratch yours. Some people find this whole restricted shooting dog thing a bit unseemly, and I can see their point. Restricting competition seems counter to the purpose of the whole field trial philosophy.
Moreover, some would say that if a dog cannot beat the available dogs in a regular non-restricted shooting dog stake, and need to run where there is less competition, perhaps a qualification is doing the sport a disservice. While I acknowledge that there are some dogs that probably are not of championship caliber that are qualified in these restricted trials, I still think that restricted trials have their place. Some of dogs that are back year after year in qualifying stakes have derby placements. That means in the grouse and woodcock open competitions, these dogs ARE qualified to run in all but but two of the championships.
And here is a relevant issue: This coming January, there will be many puppies whelped. They will go to their new homes by March, and some will even point a late returning spring woodcock. They will grow to almost their full height over the summer. By October, many of these pups will have wild bird shot over them. Several will have puppy placements in trials and some will even pick up a derby placement by October. All of this time and experience will come in handy when they, as derbies, will compete in the same derby class with some dogs who HAVE NOT EVEN BEEN BORN YET. We know that the age span goes January to December of the same calendar year, but often do not appreciate the implications of that.
Moreover, for all of the fluff and fury about restricted shooting dog stakes, every derby stake is a restricted stake too; restricted to dogs of that age group and with a large advantage, as the previous paragraph suggests, to the dogs born early in that age group. These dogs do not need to compete against older, more experienced dogs some of whom have accumulated many shooting dog placements and others with championship placements.
It is usually much more difficult for a dog to win a placement with dogs of all ages competing, but that is exactly what dogs that did not win a derby stake had to do for many years, prior to the rise of the qualifying stakes. There are many reasons why a dog does not win a derby placement.
Some dogs are just late maturing but are of the proper championship quality when they do mature. Similarly many derby winners do not pan out at the next level. Others dogs were just born late, resulting in a disadvantage. Still other dogs were purchased or otherwise acquired AFTER their derby season. Lacking a derby and a shooting dog win, these dogs cannot run in ANY championships at all. They are not qualified.
To win a restricted shooting dog stake is, on average, a more impressive feat than the average derby stake and both are restricted. Many derby stakes are decided, in fact, with less than finished manners around game and some each year are placed on race alone. This means that some dogs are qualified for some 13 cover championships without having even pointed a bird, or being shot over. In the shooting dog qualifiers that I have been to or judged, the dogs had to point and show finished manners.
Sure, there is something sad about the person who does not see his dog objectively and cannot see that if his six year old dog cannot win a shooting dog placement in both regular trials and restricted, that he has no chance of winning a championship. Still, as long as the great majority of cover championships recognize a derby placement as sufficient qualification for their championship, and as long as some pups are winning trials while dogs of their same age group are not yet whelped, there will always be place for voluntary shooting dog qualifiers to level out the playing field.
After noting many fine grouse dogs that have never gotten even a look for the Hall-Of-Fame, my fondness for grouse trials began to make sense.
Growing up, I was the last one chosen for games, and was voted by my classmates as the the most likely to suffer a major depression. At one time I actually contemplated suing Rodney Dangerfield for using my life for jokes without my permission. At the time, however, I had other concerns as I had then finally I decided to move the investments that comprise my life savings out of Worldcom, which I had a bad feeling about, and put them into safe company called Enron.
I have heard grouse trials referred to as the "minor leagues," and references to the need for cover folks to "breed up" to horseback or all-age. That of course means that grouse dogs are ‘down’ as a far as over all quality. It made sense to me because "inferiority" has the been the story of my life. But is it true about grouse dogs?
There are even cover trialers who strongly believe it. Not long ago, after an extended dialogue with a grouse trial dog colleague where he repeated several times that we need to ‘improve’ our grouse dogs by "breeding up" I was finally compelled to ask him, "If you think that these other circuits produce superior dogs, why are you even involved in a circuit that produces inferior, second rate dogs?" He had no answer.
Of course, looming above this whole argument, and cited by a many trialers is a bit of science called "Gal ton's Law Of Filial Regression" which basically says that there is a genetic pull from remote ancestors of the past toward the average. You need to breed "up" to maintain the normal.
This was the advice given to as a truism on a popular message board: "One truism remains: purebred dog breeding is predictably regressive, i.e. you generally get less in a pup than in either the sire or dam, sometimes both. This is so true there’s a name for the phenomena, Galton's law of filial regression."
This mirrors the thoughts of Frank Thompson, who writes in the introduction to his interesting "Pointer Breeder’s Almanac" [www.fieldtrialpointers.net/PBA/html] that Galton's Law is an "elementary tenet of modern genetics." Thompson continues, "Those who continually use champion shooting dogs as studs demonstrate a lack of comprehension of the principle of regression if they are trying to produce field trial dogs."
Because of Galton's Law, "Just as the logical gene pool, according to the law of regression, for shooting dogs are the all-age dogs, the logical gene pool for walking trials should be the top shooting dogs." While there is no mention of breeding walking dogs to walking dogs, the premise is that, with no further ‘down’ possible, that likely the only advantage to breeding this way is that walking breeders get to personally witness a line of dogs fall right into oblivion.
Nevertheless, before I begin to once again lament my choice to write about grouse dogs and follow grouse trials, only to find out these these are inferior like most everything else in my life, I have decided that further analysis is necessary. I have asked W. B. Hyrum to help and will now turn the matter to him for research and insight.
W. B. Hyrum
Several years ago I spoke to a bird dog breeder in the throws of frustration. He had just gotten the word that two littermates from one of his breedings had failed their OFA Hip Certifications and would have to be replaced. The litter was a repeat breeding. Here was the source of the frustration: Both parents had been checked and had good hips. Four previous litters of the same sire and dam, totaling nearly 30 dogs, had zero hip problems. You would think that breeding two parents with good hips and a track record of four full litters with no problem would have pretty much guaranteed that the fifth litter would be problem free also. You would have thought…
In dog breeding, It seems that there is only one guarantee: That simple formulas do not work. Dog breeding is complicated business and those who think otherwise have usually just been incredibly lucky, or are incredibly kennel blind.
Of course, there are many breeders who believe they have THE formula or at least A formula that works. Historically, some of these have even caught on and so set up a self-fulfilling prophecy type of situation.
Hochwalt writes extensively about the Llewellin setter fad where so many believed that Llewellyn's were superior that a prominent Llewellin stud was bred many, many times more than an English setter stud of similar trial quality and success. Subsequently, the fans of Llewellyn's were quick to point out more winners from the Llewellin stud than the English rival, and found more evidence to their belief and on around it went, the belief leading to results that confirm the belief. There is a name for this phenomenon: Self fulfilling prophecy.
History is full of self-fulfilling prophecies. When people believed in witches, they saw plenty of witches. In the several centuries where the medics believed in curing people by puncturing arteries and placing leeches on the sick, they saw plenty of evidence that ‘bleeding’ worked along with a dearth of evidence that anything else worked better. When dog breeders believed that breeding a pointer bitch to collie dog often resulted in collie characteristics showing up in subsequent pointer-pointer litters, they saw things in those later litters to convince them that, yes, the collie had indeed had an influence on the next litter. People have a remarkable capacity to make the evidence fit the belief, which is why many get better with a placebo.
Of course the very purpose of field trials is that they are supposed to be improving the gene pool. You need to breed to superior specimens or the quality of gene pool will be reduced.
"Just as the logical gene pool, according to the law of regression, for shooting dogs are the all-age dogs, the logical gene pool for walking trials should be the top shooting dogs." That is how Frank Thompson wrote about it in the Pointer Breeder’s Almanac [www.fieldtrialpointers.net/PBA/html] But, let us now take a critical look at Galton Law Of Filial Regression.
The law is named after Sir Francis Galton (1822 - 1911), a quite remarkable English gentleman who devoted his life to exploration and discovery. He was the man who first discovered fingerprinting as a means of identifying people, he made the first weather maps, he was the first to use a survey as means of collecting information, he also made important contributions to geology and to the subject of our inquiry: the fledgling studies of genetics.
Galton coined the phrase "nature versus nurture" and the law that bears his name is actually thus: That each parents contribute 50% of the genes to the offspring, that each grandparent contributes 25%, that each great grandparent contributes 12.5% and so on. The implications of this are that, when you are striving for improvement in successive generations of breeding, by definition, most of the ancestors are inferior. Because of this, there is always a genetic pull to the average of the ancestors and because of this genetic pull toward the average, it is important to breed superior to superior, so that most of the offspring, though on average less than their parents, will still be good.
This breeding philosophy embraced by Galton, or a variation of it, took hold early in field trials in North America largely expressed by ace trials reporter Dr. William Bruette’s persuasive piece, "The Real Purpose Of Field Trials" originally written about 1903, reprinted periodically in the American Field and comprising a large part of a chapter of the same name in William F. Brown’s monumental book "Field Trials: Their History and Management." The piece largely expresses what many people in field trials, particularly those who identify with what is called "all-age," still believe. Bruette, after explaining that the goal of trials is not to produce "ordinary shooting dogs," writes that there is a distinct "tendency toward average in any long-established breed." Bruette named a number of of dogs that were of this high courage, high class, field trial type including early English Setters Count Noble and Gladstone. These dogs need to be bred to, he explained, "…as this tendency toward deterioration is noticeable even among such prepotent sires (admittedly the greatest producers in America) , how much more marked would be the deterioration in quality if we bred to dogs of ordinary quality…"
First of all it must be noted that by 1903 when Dr. Bruette made these pronouncements, there were very few field trials results available. Trials started in the U.S. in 1874 with a single trial that year and the same one trial the next. In time, more clubs were formed and more trials run, but growth was very slow. By 1890, there were only about ten trials annually in North America and a grand total of 90 trials had been completed in the 16 year history of the sport, roughly 5 trials a year.
There were still only about a dozen trials by the turn of the 20th century. There simply was not enough Field trial results to provide ample evidence to support "tendency toward the average" proclamation that Dr. Bruette, with such boldness and assurance, was asserting. Bruette, therefore, was obviously influenced by current thought on breeding for improvement of which Gal ton's views figured prominent.
Second of all, I will now discuss a logical concern. If Gal ton's Law is true, observation and historical data indicate very clearly that regression is not inevitable and is defeat able. The contention that all-age dogs, because they are ‘on the top’ are the best producers of horseback shooting dogs which in turn are the best for walking dogs begs the question: where do all-age dogs come from? If Gal ton's Law were an inevitable , powerful drag, all-age dogs would be as rare as hen’s teeth.
But there are still all-age dogs and plenty of them, meaning that it is still possible to get all-age dogs where ‘breeding up’ cannot occur. Of course, those same practices that maintain viable all-age stock generation to generation, can be practiced with shooting dogs, or walking dogs so that , just like all-age dogs, the quality can be maintained or improved.
While field trialers seem to make a lot of the importance of Gal ton's Law, and claim it is a biological fact, other sources do not see it so. Though the Pointer Breeder’s almanac refers the reader to a basic biology text book for information on Gal ton's Law, I in fact did and could not find it. I then asked a Phd. in Biology with a specialty in population genetics to tell me about Gal ton's Law and he said "What?" He sort of remembered when I explained it. In Malcom Willis monumental book 400 page "Genetics Of The Dog," Gal ton's Law gets all of one brief mention: "Gal ton's Law states that if 50% of the genes come from each parent then 25% come from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent and so forth." Willis does not mention "regression" at all in this context, but points out that a basic tenet on which regression theory was based is "not true in all cases" 308.
The fact is that while 50% of the genes do come from each parent, beyond that, all bets are off. The 12.5% percent from each grandparent are just averages and any particular pup might might receive most or all his genes from one grandparent and few for none from the the other. While "all or none" from any one grandparent is highly unlikely, to get all or none of the important genes, is much more likely. Gal ton's view of regression was based on the notion that an inferior grandparent contributes equally, an assertion that is just not true. When you get into the lower percentages of 6.25 (6 generation) and 3.125 (7th generation) there may be no significant or effective genes from that remote ancestor at even present. To illustrate by way if a very oversimplified example, if you are breeding for dogs that jump high, and one of the grandparents was a poor jumper, some of those grand pups will not have the genes for jumping from that poor jumping grandparent. Culling the poor jumpers facilitates often means that you are likely only breeding pups with the genes of the good jumping grandparent and genes from the breeding stock. this and there is no ‘genetic pull backwards’ because the ‘genes for jumping’ from the inferior grandparent are not present at all.
Having hinted that Gal ton's Law may not be the powerful biological force that it has been made out to be by field trialers in general, I will now come out reveal the real problem with Gal ton's Law: Gal ton's Law has been shown to be NOT true. In fact, it is generally referred to nowadays as "Gal ton's Fallacy." (I invite you to Google "Gal ton's Fallacy regression" and check it out for yourself.) So much for an elementary tenet of modern genetics.
To quote one expert:
"It is important to realize that regression toward the mean is a ubiquitous statistical phenomenon and has nothing to do with biological inheritance."
If you did Google "Galton’s Fallacy"and looked at the material, you might not see much difference in terms of breeding implications. We could argue that point back and forth, but the fact is that Gal ton's Law Of Regression has nothing to do with biological heredity as has been claimed for the last century and is still claimed by some today.
Moreover, Galton, important as he was , made a quite a few other mistakes. Some of these will be covered later. The point now is to suggest the very real possibility that we developed a breeding paradigm for trial dogs based on Gal ton's Fallacy, and then, like the Llewellyn's described at the beginning, set out to fulfill the prophecy making the results fit the paradigm, and then claiming the paradigm to be true.
But now, on to some other issues. In addition to the phrase "nature versus nurture," Francis Galton also coined the term "eugenics" and is the founder of the eugenics movement. Eugenics was the belief that way to improve the human race was by selective breeding of humans with superior traits, and by minimizing or eliminating the breeding of people with inferior traits. In the first essay on DNA, I explained that the Eugenics breeding model was adopted by dog breeders and registries.
Eugenics societies and organizations popped up all over the world. A dark chapter in history resulted. In the U.S., people were sterilized involuntarily in 30 states. Large groups of immigrants were given specious intelligence tests and declared mentally deficient. Immigration laws were passed to restrict immigration from their countries of origin. Finally, Adolph Hitler took the concept to the extreme with his "Master Race," which he believed was genetically superior to all others. Francis Galton, no doubt, would have been appalled by much of what went on after his death in 1911. But it was errors that he made that lead to at least some of it. His first mistake was that he believed that, in the nature versus nurture debate, environment played little role. This has been shown to be untrue in humans and the debate still rages about dogs.
The big problem with Galton and regression in general is that it is easy to apply regression to a single characteristic, but to say that a person who has that characteristic in abundance is ‘better’ requires a value judgment and often just is not true that a person is overall superior. Ted Bundy was good looking, healthy and intelligent: He was also a serial killer.
There are, in humans, and in even more so in dogs, a whole cluster of things that need to be considered and weighed out, and what constitutes "superior" overall is not so clear cut. We know that superior is not so clear cut because we struggle with it at most every field trial. Even experienced field trial judges sometimes have trouble determining which dog is the "best" at that trial and virtually every trialer can cite a dog or two that won a lot of trials and championships, but about whom people freely opine was NOT all that great. Champions are thus determined by the subjective opinion by two experienced people, and usually with a dissenting opinion from other eyewitnesses and often even by one of the judges, if there was disagreement. Champions are thus champions by the opinion of judges that day. Terms like "superior" or "best dog running" are far different concepts. Moreover, even if we could agree on what is superior for a certain trial circuit, other circuits have different demands and what is "superior" here might not be superior there. There are good grouse dogs that are not good on woodcock and vice versa even more so.
"Superior" is a dubious untenable concept, often more related to specific circumstances and personal opinion than any objective measurement. In fact, the big lesson of Eugenics in the Nazi era is that, given the opportunity, those with some power and control will pick and choose those qualities which define "us" as superior. A similar thing tends to happen in bird dogs too. Many who run on planted birds believe that planted bird trials are superior. Those that like wild bird trial believe that these trials are superior. Those that run all-age believe that those trials are superior, those that run horseback shooting dog believe that those are superior.
Along this line of thought: every so often the terms "major leagues" and "minor leagues" are used to distinguish circuits that produce ‘superior’ dogs from those that produce ‘inferior’ ones, at least in the minds of people inclined to think this way. Of course, in professional baseball, a mediocre ‘middlin’ major league player dropped down to minor leagues is usually dominant. If I owned a minor league team and wanted to win, I would therefore look for major league players that were not quite cutting it. If the major league/minor league analogy held true for bird dog circuits, you should likewise be able to clean house in shooting dog stakes with a mediocre all age dog. I find no evidence that this occurs.
Similarly, according to regression theory, a second rate horseback dog should be able to win big in walking grouse trials. I know that doesn’t happen. To illustrate further, George Tracy isn’t nervously scouting the all-age ranks year after year for dogs that aren’t quite cutting it there but could win big at the ‘lower level’ shooting dog championships. Nor are the grouse trial folks scanning the shooting dog circuit for marginal dogs I can therefore only conclude that the major league / minor league analogy just does not hold any validity, and when this finally dawned on me, I threw much of traditional regression theory out the window even before I realized it was biological fallacy.
To pick out a sine quo non characteristic, such as range, and say that a dog is better because merely because it ranges more, or has won on a circuit that expects greater range, is neither good breeding philosophy or trialing philosophy. Dr. Bruette’s influential piece does not even go this far. First of all, range will be different in a dog depending upon its upbringing and will be different on dogs with the same upbringing depending upon the nature of the cover and terrain and the number of birds. Moreover, the rangiest dog might have other faults by virtue of which he does not win.
Secondly, a century ago, Alfred Hochwalt, the sport’s greatest historian, along with other enthusiasts was bringing all of his vast resources to bear to try to shake trialers of the notion that range and speed were to be valued above all else. He criticized a certain dog that "possessed extreme speed and range, and was called the class dog of his time, which was a period when heels were valued over everything else." Hochwalt later writes of a "change of opinion in this matter of handling game, and that quality is now of paramount value, as it should always have been." (The Modern Setter 118-119)
Fans of ‘range’ howl in protest at this, claiming that if you do not insist on extreme range , dogs will deteriorate to gun dogs. But if one is going to apply ‘regression’ to trial dogs, it is stinkin’ thinkin’ to pick out one characteristic to apply it to, while ignoring the other qualities. Bird finding and nose are qualities, and like range, also have a genetic base. If, week in and week out, your best bird dog does not win because it lacks sufficient all-age range (sine quo non), then your second best bird dogs are left and these will win. If you breed these second rate bird dogs, regression tells you that most of the litter will have deteriorated even more resulting in third rate bird dogs. Sine quo non fans don’t like to look at this way. They would rather only apply regression only to the qualities of their choosing.
A final historical note on this matter was inspired when someone told me "we would be in terrible shape if all we had was walking dogs." With all of the sarcasm I could muster, I replied, "I disagree. All you need to do is put them on a long boat ride." The fact is that we were in that exact ‘all walking dogs’ situation when trials started in America 130 or so years ago. The breeding stock came from the British Isles where they were walking dogs for centuries prior. Their pointing dog trials, which preceded ours by about a decade, are walking events even to this day.
Yet bring these dogs to the U.S. and you have Gladstone, and Count Noble, and who Bruette called the greatest producers in America. Rip Rap, Mainspring, and the foundation of our pointers also sprang directly from centuries of ‘walking’ breeding. And we are doing okay today still.
It is my contention that we trialers need to get away from these notions of superior and inferior, major leagues/minor leagues. We all appreciate a dog that hunts the country and finds birds no matter where.
Different areas of the country require something a bit different of a dog and years of selective breeding has tweaked those qualities so that a dog might be bred better for his niche, and still be capable, but not superior in other circumstances. Different does not equate to better or best. An all -age dog is wonderful thing for big country and open terrain. But someone who hunts grouse cover no more needs a dog with all-age range than someone from south Texas needs a snow blower.
Certainly , the skills of all dogs are related and certainly it would be nice to have a dog that competent in a lot of different terrains and on a lot of different game birds, but competition is very keen, and it is more difficult than ever to be superior in a variety of circuits. We would do well to analyze the strengths of other circuits and identify the weaknesses of our own. Then we know where to breed if our weaknesses become too weak.
W. B. Hyrum
"I was thinking about breeding to ______________ [a prominent stud dog, long since deceased] , frozen semen." he said, "I am a big fan of that dog, and it all looks good on paper. But what is holding me back is that..." he scratches his chin, "... I can't think of any dogs frozen semen dogs that have won anything."
I have heard this statement, or a close variation of it, many times in recent years. And it has a basis in fact: Not many frozen semen dogs HAVE won. So many people have noted this lack of success, that there are not a few people who believe that the freezing/thawing, or other aspects related to the insemination process somehow dilute the quality of the breeding and make for lesser offspring in general.
From what I have been able to determine however, there has never been shown to be a difference between a dog bred naturally and one bred with frozen semen. There is no evidence, for example, that pups would have less foot speed, less intelligence, less olfactory powers, or less of anything else, with frozen semen than if we could magically pluck the dog from the past and breed him to the same bitch naturally.
Of course, we are still in the early stages of studying this and other aspects of canine genetics. Perhaps someday the case will be made, based upon future findings, that there is some diminishing of quality in frozen semen versus the natural. Until then, let us consider some other possible explanations for the lack of success in dogs bred with frozen semen.
First off is the possibility that we may be simply observing a statistical phenomenon. Frozen semen breedings make up a tiny part of overall breedings. Resultant winners may be in line with these percentages and are just low because the percentages are low. Running the numbers on this might make an interesting study for someone privy to the pertinent information.
Yet there is another possibility that some prominent breeders have suggested: That breeding to a dog that lived 20 or 30 years ago is breeding backwards. We humans have a very real tendency to glorify and idealize dogs of the past. Like many people dogs become legends in their deaths where opinion of them varied during their lives, and stories of their prowess grow with each passing year, often supplemented by gushing tales from those who saw the dog several times when the dog might have been at its best, where objective observations by those who followed the dog over a longer period and thus enjoyed a larger sampling, might have led to a more modest opinion of the dogs true quality.
That we lapse into nostalgia, is a distinct tendency in us. But the fact is that even great trial dogs lost more trials than they won, but only the wins appear on the pedigree. The faults become obscured by the veils of time.
Most of us have had the experience of seeing a successful trial dog run and are under whelmed by the experience. These observations do NOT mean that the dog is not a great dog, only that no dog is perfect and that dogs have faults and bad days just like all of us. Dogs of the past cannot be subjected to the same critical evaluation.
All of this rambling to justify the possibility that the nostalgic might not wish to accept: Perhaps the dogs of today actually are better, or just as good, as those legendary past champions. We have been breeding dogs for many years since these great champions ran. Improvements from one generation to the next might be small, impossible to see in the short term, and of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety. But over many years and many breedings, improvements should be real and observable. If dogs have improved over the years, breeding back to a dog 30 years ago, will not achieve the desired effect, and might explain the widespread disappointment with frozen semen breedings. On the other hand, if you believe that many successive generations of breeding winners has collectively resulted in no improvement, you are really saying that trials do not work to improve dogs.
I, an affirmed optimist, can only hope you are wrong in this.
Don’t get me wrong. Puppy stakes are great. Derby stakes and futurities are great too.
But is it right to put so much emphasis on these stakes? Today as more and more people are looking for broke derbies, comes the not so hidden notion that a dog might be a late bloomer is inherently inferior to a a dog that gets going early and finishes early. When a puppy wins a derby, or a derby wins a shooting dogs stake, many go googley eyed, and breeder’s swell with pride at such feats.
With all due respect for those that feel otherwise, I believe that much of this emphasis on early wins is somewhat misplaced. To my mind the other end of the career tells me a lot more about a dog’s quality. A dog who competes into its eight and ninth year or better, speaks volumes.
That Pioneer Will at nearly ten years, and Long Gone Agnes , at nine, made the call backs of the Invitational is quite remarkable. Nicky’s Jessie James ran strong races in every trial I saw him in this Spring and won a championship at Warrior’s Mark. These performances are much more impressive to me than any number of half-hour derby wins, even by puppies. That certain dogs are still competitive in hour stakes, while most of their contemporaries have dropped off the map completely is a testament to their breeding, conformation and quality.
Over the years of hunting, competition, training and workouts, a lot of dogs just drop right out of the picture. Many break down and some will die before the life expectancy of their kind. To be honest, some break down due to legitimate, unavoidable injury or accident; but there are a percentage that break down because of certain, often very subtle, conformation faults which directly relate to the breakdown; faults that result in a capable short -term body, but NOT equipped handle the strain of year after year pounding. The conformation faults that result in a ‘short term’ body only , are hard or impossible to see and many have yet to be even identified. The only way to uncover and expose such faults at this time is through the rigors of long term competition. As the years go by, the short term bodies drop away and dogs with capable ‘long term bodies’ remain.
Likewise, dogs die too young for many reasons, but like in humans, longevity has a genetic component in dogs and is often indicative of general health and vigor. As such, performing longevity, breeding longevity, and life expectancy should be important goals of breeders. Yet among most breeders these various aspects of longevity are seldom or seriously talked about, or bragged about as breeding goals. And while we often look for the next great stud dog emerging from the promising youngsters, we should, perhaps, be looking for the older dogs still performing at high levels as evidence of the best available breeding.
There is an significant element of the major sports hall of fames that appreciate long athletic careers. The injury prone, like Bob Horner and Mark Fydrich, great as they could be when they were healthy, are not represented in the baseball HOF, and so join a great number of others who were the best in the game for a year or two, and then faded, while many long steady very good players are honored. Of course sports fans often talk about "Hall Of Fame numbers," many of which can only be accumulated over long career. Perhaps if we too had important performance statistics on dogs for things like "trials competed in, " "trials finished," "total birds pointed," "total trials with birds pointed," "Total times when dogs out birded bracemate," and such, an appreciation of a long, productive career would be easier to accomplish. But we don’t have such numbers, never will, and so must develop such an appreciation without much relevant data.
I have often joked that the futurities should pay out only half of the winnings at the time of the derby win and pay out the rest when the dog wins a shooting dog stake past the age of seven. It is a breeder’s stake after all, and longevity should be part of the breeder’s goal. A curious and positive side effect of such a rule, would be that breeders who hold pups over for long periods before registering them will find it more difficult to collect their full purse, with that time held over working against them at the other end. Who knows? Perhaps we can find some way to reward breeders so well for their efforts at breeding dogs that are strong, have long hunting and trialing careers, and long lives, that we may get breeders to cheat on birth dates THE OTHER WAY!
Seriously, the uncertain process of selecting and raising a little pup, allowing it to develop, training it and bringing it to a competitive level is the hard part of trialing. Many times the pup reaches its second or third birthday and is not quite cutting it and so we must start all over again with another 2 or 3 year commitment. It only makes sense that when we do get a good dog we want it to be able to compete and breed for a long time.
It is as well-intended as possible: naming a trial or an award in someone’s honor. It is a way to immortalize , usually, someone who has been a great contributor to the sport. Jack Stuart, William Kerns, Michael Seminatore, David E. Blakley, and Sam Light, all have had this honor.
Reading back through trial history, however, one discovers something quite interesting and a bit troubling: That trials were named after people all along, and that either the trials dropped off and are forgotten, or the names of people being honored have been dropped in favor of more recent people to be honored. So much for immortalization.
This unfortunate process begins long before the names are dropped or changed. Usually the person being honored is gone when the initial naming takes place. Slowly and over time, the friends and colleagues disappear also. But the trial bearing the name is still there . Those of us remaining say the "Armstrong Classic," "The Seminatore Award," "The Fruchey Classic," and are thinking of the trial or award denoted as we speak. This manner of using these names clearly indicates that we think of them as names of trials/awards rather than names of people. That is the first step downward. It is easier to change the name if we are thinking about it as just the name of a trial, rather than the name of a person.
If we are sincere in naming a trial in someone’s honor, we ought to at least attempt to do justice to that pledge by making a greater effort to actually remember the person being honored. Perhaps a photograph and a biographical sketch of the person being honored prominently displayed as the trial is being run, would be a good first step. When the trial is over, as the winners are announced, the photograph should be brought forward again, and the trial chairman might say, "Before we announce the winners, I would like to say a few words about the person in whose honor this trial is being run…." and then a moment of silence to the memory.
Were this simple procedure adhered to, there would be much more honoring going on, and less, "we named this after you to remember you and soon forgot you anyhow" sort of thing that goes on all too often now.
At various message boards as well as in the back rooms at grouse trials and, indeed , wherever the breeding of cover dogs is discussed, there are those who make no secret of their scorn for planted bird quail trials.
"Kick the bush" trials is just one one of many derisive and colorful names given to these trials. There are even a few holdouts among cover trial faithful who still will not even consider breeding to a dog, or getting a pup out of a dog, that hasn’t demonstrated its skill on grouse, and a percentage above that who, while not being ‘grouse exclusive’ nevertheless insist that the breeding stock at least be proven on wild game. Planted birds, in many circles get no respect.
And there are some that feel quite the opposite. I once attended a presentation where a strapping young pointer was part of the demonstration. It was explained that the dog was a young dog who had won quite a bit as a derby and then won a championship on wild quail. But the dog had a problem. When you stepped in front of him to flush, he would sag. And if the flushing effort was long, the dog would drop to the ground completely. "He could win because wild birds get up and go. You don’t need to do much flushing," the guy explained, "He could have never won on planted birds." The man paused and then added something stuck me like a pin. "Wild birds cover up a lot of faults in a bird dog."
My hackles went up. "Wild birds cover up a lot of faults in a bird dog?
What kind of crap was that?" I was ticked. It was, however, kind of hard to say "you’re completely full of you know what" when he had a flesh and blood example to make his point right there in front of me.
I have thought about this statement many times since that presentation. What bothers me about it then was not so much that he was outright wrong, but more that I felt he was incomplete. A more accurate and complete view would have been to suggest that planted birds require a somewhat different set of skills, strengths, and abilities than wild birds and that the the term "covering up faults" is unnecessarily negative. And ditto for the visa-versa: Wild birds require a somewhat different set of skills than planted birds.
I owe my introduction to cover trials to my brother, who owes his introduction to cover trials to a search for a dog that could point grouse; a search that was necessary because the dog he had at the time could not handle a grouse if her life depended on it. For my brother to have put this dog in front of an audience and say, "She can point planted birds till the cows come home, but she can’t point a grouse; ergo, Planted bird trials cover up a lot of faults" would have been equally unfair.
Fans of planted bird trials claim that their dogs can easily make the transition to wild game if given the opportunity. It may be. But to say that the dog could handle grouse at high level week to week in comparison with other top level grouse trial dogs is a different matter. One horseback trialer told me "My dogs handle grouse. I hunt grouse every year with my dogs. there’s nothing special about that." Such a statement is akin to a foot hunter saying, "My foot handled grouse dogs could run horseback. I actually run them off horse several times a year when I am visiting a friend and they run as well as the horseback dogs that I see. There is nothing special about being able to run a dog from a horse." That may be true also, but the implication that a dog trained off a horse for only a few days each year can be competitive with horseback dogs in horseback competition is totally different matter. Likewise, the implication that a because a dog can handle grouse, it is able to compete head to head in grouse trials , is an equally spurious notion.
In planted bird stakes, like it or not, a dog just does not prove its ability to handle wild birds regularly. When you see dogs tested on wild birds week after week on wild birds, this is a fact that is readily apparent. Some dogs clearly find more and seem to be able to handle them better. It is something we look for and appreciate. Moreover, dogs with a bit less nose, dogs that play with birds but will stop and pose on command and such will win a lot more planted bird trials than wild bird trials.
On the other hand, there have been many occasions when I have seen an incredulous cover dog handler walking his dog out of the woods after being ordered up at a trial. "What happened?" someone at the parking lot always asks. "I couldn’t believe it," the handler says shaking his head. "He was pointing and the grouse was on the ground walking around right in front of him. It was just too much for him." Or "He was fine when the woodcock flushed, but it pitched back down only about ten yards away, and he went right after it," or "the grouse got tangled in the branch and fell back down. The dog saw it fall and went right after it." They particularly emphasize, as they recount these stories, the unusual aspects of these events: a bird dropping right back down instead of flying off, a grouse walking around in full view instead of remaining hidden, and cursing their "bad luck." Perhaps the most common of the hard luck tales involve the dog who has had multiple finds and then moves or chases one and is ordered up: the ‘one too many,’ all the more unusual since most dogs will be birdless and multiple finds, often rare.
The fact is , however, that these situations described above are common at planted bird trials. Multiple finds are the norm. Birds walking around in front of the dog are commonplace. Birds flushing short distance in full view of the dog happen constantly. The good dogs must look good and stay solidly broke on multiple finds week after week.
By contrast, I just spoke to a handler of a dog who has won multiple cover championships. "I can’t run in quail trials with the dog," he said. "She’s fine on the first couple then she leans on the second or third, moves a bit on the fourth, it gets worse every time, and she is ordered up by the fifth. It is a waste of money." It is not such a hidden secret that a lot of cover dogs are broke because the birds get out quick, and often are never seen by the dog. And a lot dogs can stay broke on one, but have trouble with multiple birds. But you can win a lot on grouse with just one find.
So these two circuits, planted bird and wild, each have their strengths and weaknesses. To me this means that they compliment each other in many ways. A lot of dogs who were trialed primarily on planted game have had an impact on our grouse dogs. Guard Rail and First Rate are examples of such dogs.
Moreover, a dog that is a champion on planted game and wild, often make for a better producer. There are many examples of this. Grouse Ridge Will, Long Gone Agnes, Stillmeadow’s Jim, Grouse Ridge Reroy, Beaver Meadow Bette, Wrongway, and Jeb’s VD all won titles on both wild and pen-reared and proved to be outstanding producers.
So if you like wild bird trials exclusively, enjoy them. And if you like planted bird trials, enjoy them to the fullest as well. But there is no reason to look at each other with disdain. Give a nod of respect to the other and look out for those dogs that can win wherever; planted birds or wild.
Bird dog breeders are a fickle lot. No doubt about it. It’s a fact that must be accepted. Certain stud dogs come into vogue and then pass along sometimes without producing much progeny of consequence. Other dogs equally deserving find little in the way of patronage.
Having a win record in trials or garnering titles is no guarantee that a dog will find anyone will want to breed to a dog. Complicating matters are are "blue hens" which are female dogs which are non-performers but seem to have a knack of producing quality offspring from several studs.
These dogs have their counterpart males but there is no accepted name for them, so I here will dub them "blue roosters."A recent visit to Grouse Ridge Kennels reminded me of a conversation with Dr. Tom Flanagan some time ago where he spoke of the early years of Grouse Ridge where he experienced some of the frustrations with people not breeding to his "blue roosters" about one of which he said, "would produce good dogs bred to a post."
I have, over the years, heard several people complain, in various manner and format, that no one is breeding to their good dog: That people wanting good pups are "missing the boat." These are people who, like Dr. Tom so many years ago, are firmly convinced that their dog has good qualities and would produce good dogs if bred to, but lament that no one knocking down their door with their females in heat. In some cases, it is likely that a dog’s quality has been overestimated by his fond owner in a phenomenon called ‘kennel blindness,’ but there are many other cases where a dog’s prowess as a stud dog have indeed gone unrecognized.
But the fact is that Dr. Tom’s blue roosters DID have an impact on the breed and on grouse trial setters. They did for one reason: Dr. Tom bred to them himself, and people saw the resultant offspring resulting in a degree of outside patronage. If a dog is a good stud dog it will show in their pups. Some breeders make it a point of breeding to their own dog first to see "what he throws." The best advertisement for a field trial stud dog is pups that win. Like Dr. Tom, Dick Brenneman and Bob Watts had winning offspring on the ground out of Body Guard even before he won a championship. Similarly, when Pennstar won his first title at the Ontario Championship this year, several of his offspring were handled by Dick and Bob to wins in puppy and derby stakes. Not only does that show faith in the breeding program, but the combination of the stud dog’s winning and his progeny winning at the same time also likely lured some people into breeding to that stud dog and results in a great advantage over other dogs being offered for stud at the time.
I suppose that, in some instances, someone might have a good dog and be in circumstances by which they cannot breed or raise puppies, not even by their own stud dog. But instances such as this must be exceedingly rare among people with enough resources to field trial. Usually in such instances, a training buddy and fellow trialer who has seen the dog in many workouts and also recognizes the stud dog’s quality will breed to the dog. I also know of people who leased bitches and found someone to whelp the pups. Moreover, in this modern era of dog breeding, anyone who firmly believes that a stud dog might help the breed but cannot raise pups himself, has the option of having semen collected and stored so that the dog can be bred to long after he is gone.
With all of these options available, no one with a blue rooster has many excuses for why that ‘great dog that would have been a great producer’ did not, in fact, produce anything. In my more cynical moments, which are more and more frequent as I get older, I put the "my dog would been a great a great producer but he wasn’t bred…" statements in the same category as the "my dog would have been a great trial dog but he didn’t trial" statements and I file them away with several grains of salt. And when it comes to someone with a ‘great dog’ that has never been bred at all, I am reminded of the old saying, "Beware the chef that will not partake in his own kitchen."
A fellow is zipping around the supermarket gathering Fruit Loops, fish sticks, and and other stuff in his shopping cart. At one point , as he moves around the crowded store, he has to abruptly stop as another shopper shoots out of an aisle in front of him. He smiles. The other fellow apologizes and off they go again. A bit later, while distracted by some sausage links, he almost runs into a lady. She sees him coming though and pulls back so that a collision is averted. They smile, and he apologizes. He notices several other such incidents among other shoppers. A half hour later he is headed home on the freeway. He sees someone get cut off. Horns blow, fists shake, ‘birds’ are flipped. Anger.
When you cut someone in a supermarket, you smile and apologize. When someone does it on the road, there is often anger and occasionally road rage at even the slightest infraction. And while there is a lot more at stake with an automobile than with a shopping cart, I have seen enough Jekyll into Hyde scenarios from people outraged in their cars over even the slightest breech of driving etiquette to convince me that there must be more to it.
I have come to believe that the main difference between supermarket incident and the road incident is that , in the supermarket, you are face to face with another human being with no barriers or separation between you. You may feel a little anger rising in you, but it is quickly suppressed and kept in the proper perspective. Looking into another’s face, you realize that they were not doing anything deliberate or hostile. A simple human error had taken place. It was not that big of a deal. Apologies and smiles result.
Two automobiles, by contrast, offer plenty of space and lots of barriers, both physical and psychological. Girded in steel and locked inside, reclining comfortably in our climate controlled seats, we feel safe and protected. Moreover, cars are equalizers. Autos put most any individual on par any other. In cars, we are just as strong as the NFL lineman who might be in the next car ahead. And perhaps most importantly, we are separated from the person in the other car. The raw human interaction that takes place in a supermarket accident is absent. In the absence of face to face contact, people become hostile much easier.
It seems to me that much the same things takes place on a daily basis on internet message boards. Message Boards can offer a lot. They begin with so much promise: enthusiasts openly discussing topics of common interest. I still remember the first time I logged on and saw various topics being openly discussed by people from different parts of the country. I thought it was wonderful.
Soon enough, however, I, like many before and since, discovered Internet message boards are not all bright and shiny. Not being face to face with other participants, like in road rage above, basic manners and politeness often disappear. We soon discover that there are a lot of angry people out there, many who use anonymity to hide their inadequacy. It becomes disheartening.
Often times simple disagreements become overheated on message boards. Printed words on a screen, for most of us, are not the ideal way of communication. Without gestures and various intonations of voice, it is difficult to discuss something in print and be completely and accurately understood.
There is , of course, more to it than that. There are ‘trolls’ who lie in wait for unsuspecting people to happen by. In the bird dog world there are also several variations. I have identified and labeled three:
The Internet Atlas, The Internet Einstein, and the Internet Hulk. They are related.
The Internet Atlas is usually a nice, mild-mannered person face to face but who, when their fingers hit a keyboard, are transformed like Clark Kent in a phone booth, sprouting muscles all over and kicking sand in the faces of all who cross their internet paths.
The Internet Einstein is a variation of the Internet Atlas. The Internet Einstein is, more often than not, a dabbler in certain area. Nevertheless, he IS able to type at a computer and not needing any credentials because no one checks for any, is able to transform himself into a complete and knowledgeable online expert in that area: an Einstein. I remember one person who freely offered dog training advice on a certain message board on a variety of even fairly advanced topics. On that message board, he was generally regarded as a ‘go to’ guy on training philosophy and problems. He would freely comment on how the benefits of steady to wing and shot and how to properly use an e-collar. Then one day, on a different message board he asked in all sincerity, "How do you get a dog to point?" How someone who needs help getting a pointing dog to point is viewed as a training expert on a message board is symptomatic. The message boards have plenty of people who spend time on dog training/trialing message boards as a substitute for actually training and trialing dogs.
& The Internet Hulk is a further permutation of the Internet Atlas and the Internet Einstein. The Hulk is the mild-mannered person who, in a further effort to prove himself an expert in an area where he is not all that successful, uses the internet to attack and bring down people that actually have had success in dog training and trialing. At the root of it is jealousy that makes for the big green monster, the Hulk. The internet offers unequaled opportunity to anonymously tear down the accomplishments of another.
Meantime, most of the people that do successfully train and trial, often become discouraged with the Hulks and the Einstein's and the Atlases and most do not contribute substantively on message boards. Message Boards offer so much potential, but there is good reason why many successful trainers and trialers have chosen to limit their participation, or avoid message boards completely.
I am a grouse trial guy. But for ten years now I have attended a trial which, though it also runs several walking stakes, is primarily a horseback trial. For six or seven of those years, I have reported the trial. As a result I have an opportunity to see some of the dogs from the horseback circuit that I do not ordinarily see. I watched multiple champion Mrawsum win it two year’s straight for Luke Eisenhart. I saw Gridiron, Calico’s Lap Dancer, Calico’s Thrillogy and First Rate Run there.
A photo essay
This year’s renewal ran on Mother’s Day
weekend. The trial takes place on a tract of land outside of Norwich, New
York 40-some miles northeast of Binghamton. The land was accumulated by Dr.
Tom Flanagan over a period of several decades.
is a single course, planted quail trail, but the land has connections to
cover trials. The Flanagan kennel is named Grouse Ridge for good reason.
Grouse are often seen during the running and I heard several drumming on
sunny mornings this year. Standing at the Lost Pond Clubhouse on Saturday,
Pete Flanagan pointed to a nearby patch of woods and said, "Right over there
is where Doc Stiteler won the Grand National with Pleasant Valley Liz in
1973. Liz had a grouse in the call back right there." The Grand National was
held for several renewals at nearby Pharsalia. Dave Hughes won his first
championship there in 1977.
For many years, the Lost Pond Trial was synonymous with foul weather. It rained. One year it snowed. The running joke was that if there were some place in the country that is experiencing a drought, officials ought to schedule the Lost Pond Club to run a trial there and that would surely bring rain.
But several years ago, the sun came out the weather remained good for several renewals. As a result, I have come to appreciate the Lost Pond grounds more and more.
In cover trials, the emphasis of a venue is to show dogs on wild birds. Not an easy task. At most of these venues, there there are aspects of the land that look good only to the hardy enthusiasts - we whose hearts flutter when we see a young cut, or a stand of aspen. Otherwise, these places have very little of anything that would cause us to sit back and say, "WOW! Look at that." Though Gladwin can look great when the leaves change and there are spots at Kilkenny where the trail offers views of the Presidential peaks in the White Mountains, most of our venues are beautiful more for what they do than how they look. But Lost Pond, with the rolling hills, the tree-lined fields, the stone walls, the lovely ponds, and wisp of summer green just coming to the trees, make for a nice place to show a trial dog. . Class bird dogs in beautiful landscape make for a special event.
The Lost Pond grounds have something else that I have come to appreciate in several other field trial grounds: remnants and runes; proof of people who lived and toiled on this land long ago. Sprawl in reverse: the forest spreading and reclaiming what had been settled and farmed. On a course at Arcadia, RI, are the remains of an old grist mill along a stream, and some old stone walls. At Phillip’s Brook, there are remnants of an ancient stone house. At Partridge Run in New York, there is an old cemetery. To me these artifacts add character to the grounds.
At Lost Pond old stone
walls surround many of the fields. The toil and labor that went into
building these walls must have been incredible. It was human beings who
moved those heavy stones and then fit them together like an enormous puzzles
stretching for miles. The people who built these walls, and who wiped the
sweat off their brows as they stood back and admired their accomplishment,
are long gone and long forgotten. To me, however, stone walls, old
foundations, and other remnants of past lives add perspective to the whole
trial. The dogs and the competition demand so much of one’s thought and
attention but that grip is is broken when those old bones whisper, "There is
Things begin to stir just after 5 in the morning. By the time the sun peaks over the hills, there are dogs being tied out, and horsesbrushed down and saddled. The dogs are led to the line and off they go. The pace is brisk. The handlers ride out to the front, leaving the judges a hundred yards or more behind. The gallery bunches in tightly behind the judges.
A handler points his dog outin the next
field. The other handler gallops sideways back and forth, and leans far
over, looking for his dog, and then raises his hat. The pace increases as we
move up to the stand. The dog looks great on point. The handler flushes and
fires. The dog is collared away and handed off to the scout, who holds the
dog until the handler is up on the horse again and ready to go. Along we go.
Like all trials some dogs
do well and others do not.I am no fan of horses. I reported from an ATV. But
I must admit to seeing a certain charm in watching the horses move across
the fields, as if I were seeing something old-fashioned natural and good.
When we are new to a competitive sport, it helps to have written rules and guidelines to educate us. Rules and guidelines give us a general idea of what is happening by helping us to interpret what we are seeing. In the sport of bird dog trialing, there ARE some written guidelines and rules, and there are many others that, while not written are nevertheless assumed to be absolute and true, and thus accepted as part of the general judging and trialing culture. This not always good. This is NOT to say that rules for bird dog trials are inherently wrong or bad. They are helpful for newbie's and they do result in some consistency in the decisions rendered. They also allow a handler some idea where he stands in a stake, and offer a base line for judging.
Down through the years, however, there have been luminaries who insisted that rules, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately tend to be counterproductive. Alfred F. Hochwalt was one who believed that rules should be kept to a minimum and that ones that exist should allow judges wide latitude for interpretation. Hochwalt often quoted Thomas Johnson of Winnipeg, Manitoba who wrote "There is so much bitter dissension about field trial rules and field trial judging that I will give you my views.
The fact is, rules are not required when you have judges who know their business…" In fact the whole point of subjective judging is to allow the judges to determine and place the best dog. The more guidelines that a judge has to subscribe to and judge by, the less latitude he or she has to make that determination himself. Moreover, at some point, many judges seem to get so lost in the rules that they seem to lose sight of the ‘best dog.’ In such a judge’s sorting process, the guidelines become a way of removing dogs from consideration by locking in on what the guidelines say are faults, which often in the choice of a winner by default, a process called "negative judging."
The guidelines, of course , are meant to help a judge to weigh the positive against the negative and to decide what is important versus what may be trivial. The rub is that it is often more difficult to describe a positive than a negative. Negative things often stick out more boldly and are often easy to interpret. Ultimately what often gets ignored most are statements in the standards that, recognizing the power of the negative, seek to give perspective to a judge. Statements like, "it is better to have flawed brilliance, than errorless mediocrity" are often ignored. The fact that many choose the simpler over the complex, and simple rules over difficult reckoning, is in many ways part of the natural order of things. But sometimes simpler is not better. The fact is , that it is much easier to determine that a dog bobbled on a bird than it is to determine that he is hunting to a logical objective with respect to the wind. But the dog that bobbled is tossed aside and the dog that is not working the wind right is allowed to continue on. Similarly, it is much easier to tell if a dog is ‘running big’ as characterized by some absences and sighting far off ‘on the edge’ , than it is to tell if the dog is really hunting in a maximum effort to find birds; much easier to simply fault a dog for coming in from behind or lateral, end of story, than to analyze the way the course turned or the way that the cover and wind direction might be such that a good dog might be drawn in the ‘wrong’ direction; and much easier to throw in all weather related factors as ‘luck of the draw,’ instead of really analyzing them and taking them into consideration as part of determining the best dog.
Judging a trial is not hard, but good judging is often very difficult.
Simple black and white decisions are preferred by many because it is much easier. Once some rule or guideline becomes set in stone, a judge’s latitude for analyzing and interpreting is gone.
Take "unproductive points" for example. The simple definition is that a dog points, the handler steps in front and no bird results. Even more simple: If this happens twice or three times depending on the circuit and the judge, you can pick the dog up. He is done, regardless of how great he might have been otherwise. Simple. An unproductive is an unproductive is an unproductive. A judge counts, One, then two…" That leeway for a judge to analyze and interpret goes out with the bath water because it is so much easier to to count to three than it is to try figure out what actually might have happened.
In the real world and historically in trials however, unproductives are not created equal nor should all unproductives be assigned the same level of blame by a judge. There are places where it is difficult to flush, places where the a bird can easily escape undetected, times where there has been significant commotion before the handlers and judges arrived, variations in the scenting conditions and other factors that are pertinent.
A dog in one instance gets credit for a find on a grouse that rumbles out clearly, but add some rain and wind in the otherwise same circumstance and the grouse leaves unheard. The dog has therefore done the exact same thing and gets awarded a find in one instance, and a UP in the next. Even something so simple as when one dog points and the other dog comes in without seeing the first dog and points unprompted also, and nothing seen, hints to me that there actually LIKELY was something there undetected, especially if neither dog seems inclined to over point as evidenced by the rest of their performances. Two dogs conspiring to false point in the same spot is just something that is LESS believable to me than the likelihood that something escaped undetected by a field trial judge.
Using a simple formula to judge unproductives instead of using your experience and your own noodle to interpret, can result in the whole purpose of the rule being turned on its ear. I have also seen a dog have one find , one ‘unproductive,’ but was collared off point two other times without flushing, whistled off point three other times, and ‘pointed and corrected’ on its own twice more in a half hour, whose handler boasted that his dog was winning because the other dog that might be considered, "had two unproductives. You can’t use a dog that has two unproductives." The fact the the latter dog produced a bird on one of his three points and one of the U.P.’s was on a pile of feathers counted for nothing. The dog that pointed nine times with one bird produced was thought the better because "you can’t use a dog with two unproductives."
Simple rules and strict guidelines result in consistency and everyone knowing where they stand. Often however, the ‘best dog’ gets lost in the shuffle.
Dave Hughes and Ryan Frame
On many occasions a customer has brought a dog here for training at a year old and we have asked, "Have you had him on any birds?" "Well… A few," comes the hesitant reply, "I set up up a pen in a field out across the way, bought about a dozen quail and put them in it. But something got into the pen and wiped out all the birds. I bought a few more but it happened again. I gave up after the third time…" We sympathize. As pro trainers with two pens of pigeons, two other large holding pens and two so called "Johnny houses," we have had our share of troubles. In 2000, we lost more than 100 pigeons. In 1998, we bought 50 pheasant at six bucks a head. The second night, the pen was hit by a predator and we found 49 dead pheasants in the morning (That’s 294 dollars worth if you’re keeping track). In summer 2002 we lost about 50 quail and 25 Chukars, all killed in their holding pens. We could go on and on. Bird pens can be hit by anything from squirrels to bears, and we have had birds killed in their pens by possums, raccoons, weasels, squirrels , cats and rats. Dealing with predators is part of the job. Because the pen is usually attacked at night, and because whatever did the attacking is often gone by morning, it can be difficult to tell what did the killing, or how to prevent its return.
What follows is a list of five predators that have, to varying degrees, caused problems for us. Included are some observations on their modus operand, which will help the reader to identify the creature, and then some ideas as to how to cure the problem. Of course, these are OUR western, PA problems with OUR unique situations. Some may not apply to you and yours. So take it for its worth.
Weasels: We have had more problems with weasels than anything else with fur. Those little buggers are killing machines and are built in such a way to be able to squeeze through small holes. They are also adept climbers who usually, but not always, can get back out of a recall funnel. It was a weasel that killed the 49 pheasants and another weasel who killed the 100 pigeons. Weasels sometimes kill just one or two birds and return repeatedly for more. Other times they will kill many or all of the birds in a pen. The tell-tale sign of a weasel is that there will be at least one decapitated bird. Weasels do not chew the meat but suck blood out of the neck arteries of its fresh kill. They remove the head to accomplish this. If something is chewing the meat and ripping bird apart it is not a weasel. Also, weasels generally will not carry the bird out of the pen. As stated previous, there are some weasels that will kill most everything in the pen, usually by a bite to the neck area of the bird. But among the dead will be one or two with the head removed, and they will tell you that a weasel did the deed.
Weasels are also quite adept at avoiding capture. We tried Havahart (live capture) traps as prescribed without much success. The night after the 49 pheasants died, however, we did successfully trap the weasel, and we did use a Havahart, though not as a trap. Rather, we put two quail into the small Havahart trap and closed it up tight. We figured that if the live trap was designed so that a weasel could not get OUT when it was closed, that a weasel would not be able to get IN either. So we placed two 'bait' quail inside the live trap and closed it. Thus set, the Havahart was placed it inside the pen where the carnage had taken place the night previous. Around the Havahart we placed 4 leg hold traps, and several conibears. The theory was that the weasels look for a way to get at the quail and, with a lot of traps around the pen, the weasel, as cautious as he may be, eventually makes a mistake and steps in the wrong spot. We have, in fact, caught some 15 weasels using this method. We were always careful to set the traps up inside the bird pen, where dogs could not get to the traps. The more traps around the bait, the better. The weakness of this method is that all of the remaining birds have to be removed from the pen also if the predator has not already removed them.
The weasel that killed the 100 pigeons, however, avoided these traps repeatedly. Eventually, he was caught in a special weasel trap. The trap consisted of a compartment surrounded by hardware cloth where the bait bird was placed. At each end of the holding cage is a pair of wooden compartments with an inch diameter hole in the middle and a leg hold trap on the bottom. These trap compartments are big enough to hold the traps snugly. The weasel, trying to get at the bait birds, is left to try the holes as its only option. Such a trap is not hard to construct.
Squirrels: People are often surprised to find squirrels on the list. But they do get into pens and they do kill birds. In the last ten years, they rank second on our list in terms of birds killed. Squirrels are not meat eaters and do not kill birds for food. They are drawn to the pen because they like the bird food. Once there, they are likely spooked by the birds and kill in, to their perspective, is self defense. The bites are usually in the neck area and often appear like weasel bites but there is no decapitation and the meat will always be left intact. I have not found trapping to be all that effective. Squirrels have two things working against them 1) they often cannot escape back out through the recall funnel and are thus trapped in the pen. And 2) They are most active during the day which is when I am most active too. A word to the wise: If you are seeing a lot of squirrels around your pen, sooner or later you are going to have a problem. 3). Where squirrels can escape readily, rarely will dead birds result. There have been several squirrels going in and out of the pigeon coops here all summer, but they can easily get in and out of the bobs. As a consequence, not a pigeon has been harmed. Left unchecked, however, and they will eat a good portion fo the food intended for your pigeons.
Raccoons: Larger animals such as raccoons, opossums, and cats need to alter the pen to get in and out. This means you will find a substantial hole, mangled screens, a damaged recall funnel or bent bobs on you pigeon gate. In the month prior to writing this paragraph, we have had nearly fifty birds killed by raccoons in four separate incidents. In two instances they got inside pens and the result was total carnage. There were dead and mangled birds everywhere. We have since caught four raccoons, two inside the pens using the same multiple trap/Havahart technique described previous for weasels. And two with the large live trap. We are convinced that the best way is the latter. To bait the live trap, I took a can of sardines, turned it over and punch a few holes in the bottom with a nail and hammer. I hear that tuna works well too.
Opossums: These critters stir things up in the pen but rarely seem to kill more than a couple birds per visit. If they squeeze through a recall funnel they usually can’t get out. I have only had a problem with two opossums in the last 10 years. One was stuck in the recall pen, the other killed quite a few pigeons before I caught him. I had noticed a trail through the weeds to the pen and set some traps there. Still, I do not have enough enough experience here to tell you definitively how to deal with opossums.
Cats: Feral cats have been a problem on occasion but almost never have they invaded my quail and chukar pens. Some bent bobs on the pigeon entrance is about all I have seen. Cats are efficient killers but they rarely will wipe out a pen like a raccoon or weasel. Nevertheless, having feral cats around puts your birds that have not yet recalled at risk. We generally view with cats like squirrels. If you have a lot of them around, eventually you are going to have problems with dead birds.
Sometimes the signals are mixed. One day we found about five dead birds in the pigeon pen. The culprit appeared to be a weasel but there was some damaged flesh on another bird so we were not completely positive. There was also some slight bending of the bobs, but nothing serious. Ryan was feeding and changing waters at the time and decided to wait until these chores were complete to come back and bury the dead. As things happened, his routine was interrupted and other things needed to be done. He basically forgot about the situation until the next day. When he arrived at the pen, however, he noticed that two of the dead birds were gone. He left them alone again intentionally. That night another one disappeared. One of our bird boxes has a round hole on it. We placed these remaining two dead pigeons in the box and laid it, with the lid open, outside the pigeon pen . Inside the box we also placed a conibears trap across the opening. The next morning we found a cat in the conibears. The cat is the only predator we found that consistently removed dead birds from the pen.
The dead birds continued, however, and it soon became apparent that both a weasel and a cat were working on the same bunch of pigeons. While two predators at the same time is usual, it does happen on occasion and it does make diagnosis of the problem more difficult.
Of course, as preventative measures, critter guards work well on pigeon pens. On Johnny houses, it is always wise to have a smaller holding pen over the recall funnel. Anything that crawls up the funnel will thus not have access to the main part of the pen and therefore only birds that have recalled that night are at risk.
As a final note, we will say it is has been with great hesitation that we even release this article because we certainly do not have all the answers. We don't have all the answers because we have not had all the predators. We have no experience, for example, with mink or fishers. (Those of you have HAVE had problems with these have our sympathy.) Also, we do not count trapping as one of our passions and so risk having the crudeness of our methods exposed. Moreover, by necessity, avian predators often take a toll, and they are protected by federal law. Nevertheless, it is my hope that our observations about at least SOME of these predators might help someone identify and deal with a problem they might have, and thus avoid some lost time and money. It is also our hope that some of you might be able to add something that we don’t know and will share that information back to us. We'll take any help we can get.
The incident happened quite quickly and unexpectedly. A friend of mine named Jerry was grouse hunting with a friend in Michigan in the Fall of 1999. Driving from one spot to another, he topped a small knoll on the dirt road and saw several grouse scurrying across the road in front of his pickup. He immediately began to apply the brakes and then, looking up, he saw the a blue van and a shotgun barrel pointed at him. Both he and his passenger instinctively ducked beneath the dashboard as his truck came to an abrupt stop. The expected shot never rang out and, as my friend and his hunting buddy cautiously peeked out again, they saw a man in the blue van shaking his fists in anger and directing a stream of expletives toward Jerry. The man and his female companion had been 'road hunting' from the van, and he was very upset that he had missed an opportunity. '
Later, Jerry saw the two again, she driving and he sitting in the back with the side door propped open, a shotgun across his lap, a cooler of beer at his side, driving around the roads looking for something to shoot at. Road hunting for birds is common practice in many areas of the country. My brother ran into several such 'hunters' in Maine a few years back, who told of shooting a bunch of "partridge" that day and one of these men seemed particularly proud when he declared, "I even shot one that was flying." There is no denying the effectiveness of the method. Dave Hughes, the successful grouse dog trainer tells of hunting his string of about a dozen seasoned grouse dogs in several different states including his native PA which, at the time, had less birds than the other states. After the season, he ran into an old friend in Pennsylvania, and Dave was stunned to learn that this man had bagged more grouse than Dave had with all of his dogs, and the man did it without much traveling out of PA, minimal walking, without a dog of any sort, and accordance with the game laws. He road hunted, making sure to walk the required legal distance before shooting. Hughes was disappointed to realize that his best dogs had been out birded. At last he said, "If I had to hunt grouse in that way, I wouldn't hunt grouse at all."
As many avid bird hunters will tell, there is more to the enjoyment of the hunt than mere killing. In fact, not a few have come to believe, that, by far, the best parts of hunting birds with a dog have nothing to do with shooting. If mere killing were the all in all, then Lord Walsingham would have been happier than any hunter in history. In a driven hunt in 1895 in Hampshire in the U. K., Lord Walsingham was part of a team of seven that , in a single week, killed 4,109 partridges. These are numbers that most grouse hunters will not approach in a lifetime. Killing these tremendous numbers however, still did not satisfy the shooter. Lord Walsingham complained in a letter about a " weak gun on the team" which likely resulted in 600 less birds killed.
At this late date, it is an unfortunate fact that, for many bird hunters, killing birds is the only aspect of the hunt that provides them with any pleasure and the more birds killed, the better. Though most of these hunters will deny this criticism, there is evidence all around. A discussion on a popular web site about pointing dogs flagging (wagging their tails) while on point brought about preponderance of hunters who were not bothered in the least because whether the dog flagged or not because it had nothing to do with whether a bird ‘went into the bag.’ Discussion on ‘style’ elicited a similar response. In another case, an attempt by a sportsman to get people to voluntarily hold their woodcock take below the legal limit has been viewed by many sportsmen with derision and suspicion. Not long ago, an upland magazine offered an editorial recommending that hunters pick their shots and limit themselves to shots where there is a good chance of killing the bird in the face of increasing evidence that a lot of birds are only lightly wounded and die later of infections. According to the magazine’s owner, more than 40% of the letters that followed adamantly opposed the idea and one letter accused the magazine of being anti-hunting!
In addition, the last 30 years or so have brought a
proliferation of pointing dog trials which are based upon the notion that
the quality of the dog is directly determined by how much game goes into the
bag. Entire trial circuits have been built upon this notion and the events
are quite popular.. They are billed as being the most realistic to actual
hunting because birds are shot and retrieved. The most telegenic of these
involves shooting the most birds in the shortest amount of time with the
fewest amount of shells.
The major grouse trial circuit does not involve killing grouse or woodcock. The dogs, however, are expected to properly hunt the cover, show exemplary physical tools, handle and point grouse and woodcock in native cover. But because the birds are not shot, many think it is unrealistic. I know of one outdoor writer that writes in glowing terms about hunting grouse and woodcock with fine dogs, but touts the Shoot To Retrieve circuit as most realistic (even though there are no wild birds and no grouse cover to hunt at all) just because the birds are shot.
The ultimate irony, however, is that when shooting as many birds as possible is necessary for success in a dog competition, what many feel is THE the most important part of what good hunting should be about, disappears. In ‘real’ hunting, where no competition is involved, the bird is all important. When the hunting contest is on, however, the bird is reduced to being part of a tally and becomes as insignificant as one of Lord Walsingham’s thousands. In NSTRA (National Shoot To Retrieve Association) trials, bird finds are assigned a number of points based upon the quality of the dog work, and the points are added up to a score, and the bird itself is forgotten in the shuffle.
Perhaps I am blessed to have hunted with people who don’t just pick up a dead bird and stuff it into a bag. Instead they look it over carefully , admire it, smooth the feathers, look at the colors, examine where the shot hit, and look for other oddities and normalcy. Above all, to the sincere sportsman, is that inevitable moment of reverence where the hunter reflects on a bird that was alive just moments ago but is no longer. In a shoot to retrieve trial, or a run and gun trial, by contrast, the urgent need to move on and shoot another bird is the overriding imperative. At these events, no points awarded for examining the bird and there are no points awarded for reverence or reflection either. This is neither a knock on the quality of dog’s that win such trials, nor on the folks that like them. But I stand firmly by my assertion that they are not realistic sport hunting events.
Perhaps the most convincing proof that the birds become incidental in a bird killing contest, is what often happens to the shot birds AFTER the contest. Real hunters, after a successful day a field, often pose their dogs proudly with the dead quarry, after which the birds are field dressed and prepared for consumption. But the dogs that are successful at the hunting contest are almost never photographed with the birds shot over them, and often the dead birds at these events are just thrown away. A friend of mine hosted one of these planted quail shooting/retrieving events at his farm several years ago and vowed never to again. What haunted him was a couple of barrels at the edge of the field filled with dead quail, some overflowing to the ground. There was even a case where a club got into trouble after dumping the trial kill in a dumpster of a restaurant. Pressure has come upon a lot of these clubs to at least consume the shot birds instead of just throwing them out but change comes slowly and the fact such pressure is even needed to get a hunter to eat what he shoots and not just kill game tells volumes about how "hunting" and "contest" are just not that compatible.
By promoting aspects of the hunt other than the kill, some will think I am part of some animal rights conspiracy or am promoting non shooting trials over the alternatives. But the fact is that, long before animal rights movements or field trials, there were sportsman who held these views. Down through the ages, certain voices have called upon fellow sports minded people to elevate their sport of the pointing dogs above mere killing, not because of ‘animal rights, ‘ but for the sake of increased enjoyment. Way back in 1621, when pointing dogs were called "setting Dogges," Englishman Gervase Markham wrote a book called "Hungers Prevention: or the Whole Arte of Fowling by Water and Land," in which he wrote, "The fourth and last way for the taking of partridges (and which indeed excelleth all other for the excellencies of the sport, and the rareness of the Art which is contained therein) is the taking of them with the setting Dogge, for in it there is a two-fold pleasure and a two-fold art to bee discovered; as first the pleasure and Art proceeding from the Dogge and is contained in this manner, of ranging hunting and setting." It seems strange that in a 400 year old book aimed at staving off hunger, that a writer should emphasize the "pleasure and art proceeding from the Dogge" which is found "in this manner of ranging hunting and setting" rather than merely killing of the partridge, while today, when we no longer need to shoot birds to survive, so many fail to recognize and appreciate the art of the pointing dog unless it produces a dead bird at the end of it.
In 1776, a noted English sportsman wrote of his preference for a fast dog even though the dog might not find every single bird: "The very swift certainly miss some that a moderate galloper will pick up. But then the attitudes struck in a moment, with such infinite diversification, in the stabs of a fast dog, are more than compensation for some casual unavoidable transits, and give a glow to the true, keen sportsman that the sight of 100 points made by a dull, trotting, slovenly brute in the common form cannot call up."
Again, the term "keen sportsman" arises in an 1802 book called The Shooting Dictionary where the writer describes the lack of sport which results from game birds being too plentiful: "A keen sportsman, would as soon fire at crows, or barn-door fowl, as at game so plenty as at Mr. Coke's manors in Norfolk; besides this shooting is not the perfection that such a sportsman requires, that perfection exists, only in seeing the dogs perform, and do their duty; and not in slaughtering of game, but in seeing them draw back and stand and, above all, steady on shot..."
William Arkwright, in the second edition of his classic study The Pointer And His Predecessors answered criticism's that the first edition said so little about pointing, by writing wryly of dogs that are not even of sporting breeds that can be taught to stand game including a rather a famous pig that was taught to point within a fortnight. He then writes, "The unflagging range of the pointer when there may be no game, his statuesque attitude when on point, the presentation of his nostrils to the wind while galloping across it - all these seem to me to separate him from other dogs than actual pointing, because they are qualities impossible to teach, the development of centuries of careful breeding." It is the way he works the ground when there is no game at all, and the way he holds his head into the breeze that defines him.
Some of the most passionate quotes on the subject come from American Horace Lytle who was the long time Gun Dog Editor for Field And Stream and whose several books were popular during the nineteen twenties thru the fifties. He despised the "bag and brag " mentality, calls hunters who thrill only in killing birds "pot hunters" and "game hogs," and harshly criticizes those who believed that the sole purpose of the dog was to fill the game bag. He wrote in 1926, "The ordinary 'pot hunter'...really derives no satisfaction from watching a dog work unless he finds and points game. The more points they see the greater their pleasure. Some of us - thank goodness- are more interested in how he works than in what he finds. We know that the same opportunities are forthcoming on each and every course."
He continues, "The development of what we call class...is the thing from which we get our greatest kick, rather than from our kills, and that is the healthiest situation that has ever come to American field sports, because the result is achieved so naturally, without depriving the sportsman of his sport. Instead, I believe it is really enriched - that we are getting more joy out of our bird dogs today than ever they did in the past."
The term "class," as Lytle uses it, is not "style," but rather an appreciation for how the dog worked, the intelligence the dog uses to search for game, the fervor of the dog's hunting effort, and the style and intensity of his point. Like Arkwright's view of the importance of how a dog presents his nostrils to the wind, and such, Lytle believes that the manner that a good pointing dog ploys his art is what is important and "...the mere killing of game is but an incidental detail and not at all essential to the highest enjoyment of what the great outdoors has to offer." A dog that was a joy to watch both ranging and on point could be appreciated whether the bird was killed or not.
Lytle looks at the "game glutton" with abject scorn. "...the outdoors of America has been gutted by this type of sportsman (?) and his ilk and we must keep on striking a death blow to him and his kind." The words seem harsh, but Lytle, writing in the first half of the twentieth century, was closer to certain serious and troubling events than we are today, and many of these events took place in Lytle's native Ohio. Perhaps he was a among the many who filed by a small aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo between 1910 to 1914. In those years, bird watchers, ornithologists and naturalists traveled from distant cities to look at the small female bird in the cage there. The sign beneath the bird declared the sad truth that within the cage was the last living Passenger Pigeon in the world. Many older folks who viewed the bird undoubtedly remembered some of the great flocks of these pigeons that once flew. The Passenger Pigeon species migrated in such large quantities that they literally blotted out the light from the sun as they flew and was at one time the most abundant land bird on earth.
Also, at the time Lytle's book Bird Dog Days was published in 1926, the once abundant Heath Hen, a cousin to the Prairie Chicken, was also in dire straits. Once a popular bird for wing shooters, the Heath Hen was then down to less than 50 specimens on the island Martha's Vineyard. They too, would be extinct in another five years. There were many factors which contributed to the demise of these birds, but unchecked hunting - market hunting in particular - was certainly a contributing factor. By the turn of the century, the native turkey population was wiped out of the northeast, and even deer were nearly all hunted out in many areas. So people like Lytle and other s of a like mind were very conservation oriented and their field trial activities were an extension of this attitude of reverence for the game birds. Their message: We can enjoy the dogs and the pursuit of game without necessarily having a dead bird at the end of it..
Such diverse authorities as George Bird Evans and Bob Wehle have all offered suggestions on how to elevate bird hunting from mere bird killing to higher sport. Evans recommended fine guns, good pointing dogs and journals to record conditions and attributes of the day using words to capture the character of the hunt so that it can be enjoyed again years hence. Evans frequently set a personal bag limit lower than what the game law allowed. He also decried the killing of birds for competition. Mr. Wehle also became a well known proponent of "dry hunting" maintaining that the pursuit of the bird with handsome intelligent pointing dogs, which he was a master of breeding, is much more enjoyable than the kill. "Dry hunting" is a 'catch and release' type of hunting. A pointing dog who works the cover right and presents a bird for the gun by pointing it has done his job and little is to be gained by shooting the bird.
One caveat here is that we need to cultivate a love of hunting among our young people. A certain amount of 'game killing' lust is natural for the young hunter, and it is wise to emphasize safety and allow this phase to run its course. I know of one man who placed to many rules on the bird hunts and soured his teenagers on the sport. In time, the young hunter will hopefully mature into a true sport hunter, though some, admittedly, will never grow up and will forever lament the 600 that got away.
The joy of having a good well trained dog to hunt with adds greatly to the hunting experience. Expecting and appreciating good performances in the field by a hunting dog is one simple way of elevating the sport and increasing the challenge. The common method which goes far to this end is to discipline one's self not to shoot game that is not handled by the dog properly. There are, in fact, many trainers who firmly believe that shooting only pointed birds is essential to proper dog training so as not to reward poor work. I know of many sportspeople who do not even load their guns until the dog is on point which adds a safety benefit to the hunt.
Many hunters are so abhorred by missing a chance to kill every bird, however, that they cannot discipline themselves such and so create an unreliable dog. Once an unreliable dog has been created, it must necessarily be kept close to shotgun range or more opportunities will be lost. There is no doubt that many hunters who prefer despise a dog which ranges well beyond a shotgun's limits, despise them because they suspect that the dog is merely chasing game.
The seeming contradiction of shooting at the very birds the hunter wishes to survive and thrive is the narrow ledge along the cliff which the sport hunter walks. Curiously, it is the same ledge that the subsistance hunter has walked upon. Native Americans used the Passenger Pigeon and the Heath Hen as food sources for millennia without damaging their numbers. To cause damage would have affected their own surival. Some tribes threatened to kill market hunters who raided Passenger Pigeon nesting sites. Today, our lives do not depend upon the ultimate survival of the species of game that we pursue, but our sport might very well.
On a cool morning in late March, the silence of the woods is broken by the sounds of lively little bells. A handsome pointer and a stylish setter both glide enthusiastically through the cover, the setter's tail sporting a bloody tip which does nothing to hamper daunt his enthusiasm. Suddenly, off to the right about a hundred and twenty yards, both bells fall silent one after the other. A brief search ensues and the white setter is found posing rigidly and intense along a patch of young growth. The setter appears to be pointing, but presently it is discovered that he is actually backing the pointer. The morning light glistens off of the pointer's shiny coat, his evenly marked black head is posed high in the breeze and his cheeks flap in and out as he drinks in the scent. At our human approach there erupts a commotion in the patch of woods where the pointer is standing and we hear the unmistakable wings of the grouse. Briefly the bird appears before us banking to the right, he flashes us his marvelous tail with its intricate shades of brown and white and black clearly illuminated by the morning light. The report of the blank gun punctuates the scene. Our souls are stirred again and we are more satisfied watching the grouse fly off than Lord Walsingham was after shooting a thousand birds. We could have been flushing a cackling pheasant with a beautiful long tail, or a covey of early morning quail, or any other game bird, and our reaction would have been the same.
I think again about the man in the blue van who, since hunting season ended, is involved with far different schemes and thinks nothing of shooting birds until the season arrives in September. I no longer harbor any anger towards him for his ignorance. Instead I feel a twinge of pity that he will never know the pleasure of a warm breeze on a March day with a brace of fine dogs, a beautiful grouse, and a blank gun.
By Ryan Frame
Recent discussions on the Cover Dog Message Board on tracking collars became somewhat heated. As valuable of a resource as the message boards are, they do have their limitations. The discussion began with a question by Chuck Rowling asking why they should not be used and it went on from there ad nauseum. Yet despite all of the chatter, a more complete statement on the thoughts of myself mostly and some others of a like mind, was not given. And so I offer and examine seven issues related to tracking collars here for Chuck and any other open minded person, to at least see some of the thinking behind why so many clubs in our cover trials have not yet accepted and embraced these devices and so have not followed suit with most of the rest of FDSB world.
I write this not to change the mind of anybody who is already convinced of the value of these devices in trials, for I know that nothing will likely convince stalwart entrenched fans, but there may, however, still be some undecided. Nor do I believe that the end of Western civilization will result form their acceptance into cover trials. I am against them for reasons to be detailed below, but I will not lose any sleep if tracking collars gain acceptance.
It is my hope however, that, in the absence of persuading anyone to change their minds on the issue of tracking collars, that I might get some to at least say, "I don’t agree, but I can see why someone else might think differently."
Obviously there is difference of opinion on the matter of tracking collars in cover trials. There are many who think that tracking devices should be accepted and embraced and others who do not. In other field trial arenas there are some that do not like them but accept them because once they are IN there is no turning back. "Asked for the Tracker" is even part of the lingo of field trial reports these days a clever but someone sad, euphemism for "lost dog."
The issues are that
1) A tracking collar (TC) could alter a field trial performance primarily by being mistaken by the dog for an e-collar. 2) That the prime reason given for using TC’s "to keep dogs out of danger" has been somewhat overstated. 3) That TC’s, because of the quick recovery, result in a percentage of dogs that tend to run off being run in trials that would not be run otherwise, and that these dogs with this tendency and will thus have an impact on the breeding. 4) That tracking collar rules have been largely ignored and that cheating with most of the units in use is quite easy to do, and almost impossible for someone cheating to actually get caught. 5) That the hunters that we rely on to support us by buying dogs to hunt with and prove our breeding stock, who are increasingly wary of hot field trial blood, will be even more wary when they see that our trial dogs need tracking collars for the sole reason that we a afraid we are going to lose them. 6) That most T.C.’s make the handsomest dog look like a giant cockroach. And 7) That there is a long tradition of not using electronics in field trials that ought to be respected and not taken lightly.
Issue 1: Could a tracking collar around the neck have an impact upon a field trial performance?
My answer is that "it could." I have never said it was definite and do not do so here. Moreover, "it could’ does in no way mean "it will" in every single dog. It could. TC’s are light in weight, but so are many e-collars these days.
Many of the tracking collar supporters outright deny EVEN THE POSSIBILITY that "it could" regardless of training or dog. They do this either by direct statement: "No way that it does…," or by saying categorically that the "tracking collar is recovery device ONLY." But the fact is that to make such a sweeping statement and apply it to every dog regardless seems to greatly overstate one’s abilities. To say with any certainty how any and every one of the thousands of dog that compete will react with a TC on its neck is rather beyond the ability of any person, regardless of his intelligence or quality. Moreover, the fact that 4.3 ounces might get you thrown out of a field trial because it is too heavy tells me that a 4.2 once one MIGHT have an influence since there is not that much difference between the two as far as a dog is concerned. Overall, however, the 4.2 rule, as well as the other strict rules governing tracking collars made by the powers that be say one thing loud and clear: "It could." That is why the rules and weight limits and such are even necessary. Note I got the 4.2 oz. rule fro the recent discussion. I cannot find my list of rules.
To further the case that "it could" I cite some anecdotal evidence. Pete Flanagan had a dog that rarely erred on wild birds but liked to creep on planted birds and was thrown out of several trials as a result. When he strapped a tracking collar to his neck the dog won several planted bird trials without an error. I have also seen a pro handler instruct a amateur about to run a dog trained by the pro, to put the the tracking collar on in such a way that the antennas flop around into the dogs face now and then to remind the dog that it is on. I could go on and on but I recognize that anecdotal evidence is not always the most reliable, and it becomes quite complicated in the specifics of how a dog is trained. I just say: "it could."
Once someone says "It could," however, we enter the same territory as most field trial rules. I have seen enough dogs chase birds with an actual e-collar on to tell me that having on a dummy collar, or a studded collar, on a dog’s neck in a field trial will likely make no difference at all with a lot of dogs. But dummy collars and studded collars are illegal in trials nonetheless for one reason: they "could" make difference in the trial. If a dummy collars influence even one dog in a trial, it has changed the trial… and so studs and dummy collars are disallowed. I am NOT, of course, saying that this is DEFINITELY the case with tracking collars.
If most fans of tracking collars thought about it they would do better to just admit, "yes, tracking collars could have an influence, but any slight advantage gained is offset by the safety factor." I wish only to state the point and state any further belief that any effects are likely to be minimal and not worth getting into a big fight about.
Nevertheless, my answer to the question "Could a tracking collar around the neck have an impact upon a field performance? "It could."
Issue 2) What about this safety factor?
When tracking collars were first discussed on the Cover Dog Message Board several years ago, the whole safety factor argument was very much emphasized as it always is when these things are discussed. You would have thought that cover trialing was so dangerous that every lost dog was headed directly toward a busy four lane highway. Not to play down the actual danger of which there is some and it is real, but at the time I asked all of those in ‘cover trial message board land’ to name a dog that actually was lost and not recovered, or killed in a cover trial in the 90 some years of grouse trialing. Things got pretty quiet on the board after that. I can think of two unfortunate instances where a dog was killed by a car at a grouse trial and in neither instance would a tracking collar have made a difference.
Once again not say that there is no danger at all, but with all the dogs that haven’t finished with their handlers over the decades and the tiny, tiny fraction that have not been recovered intact, the bigger problem is that it is very inconvenient to have a dog lost. It is a royal pain to look for them and time is better spent doing something else. For cover trialers it is likely convenience more than danger that is the more pertinent issue.
A dog is most safe from such dangers when he regularly and reliably finishes with its handler, and when they do become separated, the dogs know how to find their way by brains, tracking, and training, to a human being. Some dogs can do it, others can’t, but it is something that we should emphasize and expect. I saw one dog a while back in a walking quail trial who left a bunch of fields that contained lots of birds and also the field trial smells and sights - horses , to ‘hunt birds’ in the middle of an adjacent town , crossing numerous roads in the process until safely recovered. He had a tracking collar in, but it did not play a part in his recovery. Cover trials expect a strong running dog to hunt independently but who stay in touch with its handler, and we admire a dog that looks up its handler now and then. These are good things and we need to emphasize these in addition to other qualities. In fact, the more a dog runs, and the bigger he goes, the more he needs have something in him compels him to keep in touch. We also have the benefit of bells which we can hear at a pretty good distance. I repeat "hunt" too, since running roads is what gets a lot of dogs I trouble.
But if you think that I understate the safety factor, I am in good company. Rules by the American Field/AFTCA say that a trial will not be held up to get suitable equipment. If you discover your battery is not working in your TC and want to go get one, or your previous dog runs off with your only tracking collar, the dog is to be turned loose without one. The American Field and the AFTCA both say that getting on with a trial is more important than your dog’s safety.
In sum, my answer to the safety factor is that 1) yes the tracking collar would be a good safety net for some dogs, but 2) the danger in cover trials, while real, has been quite overblown, and the convenience factor much understated 3) As far as danger goes: any dog that runs off is in more danger than one that by nature or nurture or a combination of the two, keeps in touch, and knows how to find his way back when he loses touch. Cover trials are right to emphasize these qualities. 4) Some of the safety benefits of TC’s may be offset by the following:
Issue #3: Does the use of Tracking Collars Result in more dogs competing with a tendency to run-off? Do more dogs run off with TC’s?
Here again, the answer to both is "they could." Again, nothing definite and nothing that adds to the ruination of the breeds. But still a legitimate cause for concern.
The all-age trainer Lou Gleber in a thread on tracking collars at shooting sportsman.com, recently mentioned handlers staying in motel for several days after a trial to recover a lost dog. Time spent searching and fretting is more profitably spent doing something else. To a pro, time looking for a lost dog sometimes means other dogs might not get worked as effectively until the lost dog recovered. A dog who runs off repeatedly, or gets lost more than he should, and is not recovered quickly results in a drain on a trainer’s limited resources. Such a dog may able to win, perhaps on the day he does not encounter deer, perhaps on the day that the course doesn’t turn hard, or maybe when encountering and pointing a bird stops him at a key moment, or for whatever reason. Perhaps the dog HAS won. But the bottom line is the bottom line and a dog that is an overall drain on a trainers resources will NOT likely be campaigned for long. That using tracking collars helps to reduce, minimize or eliminate most of the problems of lost dogs is what fans of TC’s readily admit to, and even brag about. Fans often and accurately call a TC "quick recovery device." All of this so far, fans of TC’s in trials and opponents of TC’s in trials agree on. But while we agree on these points, we disagree on the conclusion which to me is rather obvious and logical, namely that, with "quick recovery" of lost dogs, and all of the associated problems thus reduced, handlers might now find some dogs tolerable which would not have been worth taking a chance on without a TC. I am NOT speaking here about a dog that runs off every time. Dogs that run off every time cannot win, never could, and so are normally not campaigned for long. Dogs with a ‘tendency’ to run off more than they should CAN win, DO win, and ALWAYS HAVE won even before TC’s. Judges can only judge the performances that they see at that particular trial and should not judge from knowledge gained by observing previous performances. If dog runs off even 3 out of 4 trials but is the best dog that fourth trial, he wins and that is how should be. The dog that runs off constantly has no place at all TC or not.
I am rather referring to the dog that runs off often enough to be a concern, and which, without a tracking collar to help gather him up, slips off often enough to still be royal pain to campaign. I am suggesting the likelihood that removing a lot of the negatives of a dog running off, which is the very purpose of tracking collars, leads to a percentage more dogs with the tendency to run off being campaigned than would be if TC’s were not allowed. To further support this contention, I offer some anecdotal evidence based on several trials that I have attended where there was a mix of dogs wearing TC’s and dogs not wearing them. It was a simple matter to note on the brace sheet, as the dogs were led to the breakaway point, which dogs were wearing a TC and which were not. It was just as simple to note , on the same brace sheet, which dogs finished with their handlers and which did not. The trials that I saw had a much higher percentage of dogs run off with tracking collars than without. I have also seen handlers who wear tracking collars on some of their dogs but not others and a much higher percentage of those with the trackers running off in that circumstance too.
These observations, accurate as they may be, do not , of themselves, in any conclusively manner prove that tracking collars result to more run-offs in trials. But they add to what was written above to arouse suspicion in the matter at least. If indeed a higher percentage of dogs with a tendency to run off are being trialed and higher percentage of such dogs winning than in the past then this could very well have some implication on the breeding stock. Who knows for sure if that is the case. Moreover, if TC’s result in more dogs that don’t get around, it is likely that the safety factor gained by having the TC on is lessened or lost with more dogs running off. A dog is safest when it finishes reliably with its handler.
As a related side note: Unfortunately, and this is both a cause and symptom of a problem, the "swinging for the fence or strike out," mentality has handlers in many circuits pushing dogs to the limits. When you get them around they win; when they hunt too much, they lose. When they probe the limits they have a chance. If they find too many birds, they do not have a chance.
Dave Hughes judged a horseback stake with a fellow that wanted to ‘throw out’ a good running dog with lots of good bird work because the dog looked back to see where his handler was three times in the hour. A shooting dog should not look back to his handler according to this fellow. A dog NOT look back in a shooting dog stake? Last year after the national, a handler whose dog ran off in five minutes said basically that he would rather have that than a dog that was too short to win. I have been at trials where a handler lost more dogs than he finished. And he did not apologize. "Where I come from I need to find them to the front on point after a long walk," he said, "A dog that checks back can’t win." This phenomenon is another essay in itself, but it is real and the tracker plays right into it.
Issue #4: The Rules Of tracking Collars.
*Following an incident at at horseback trial where a handler was caught with a tracking collar that was too heavy, The American Field wrote an editorial. Apparently the handler had complained that he did not know about the weight limit to which the American Field editorial responded with a loud "WHAT?" then explaining how many times the rules have been published. I too have been amazed at how many trials allow tracking collars but have no idea as to their proper use. I have seen someone take a collar off part way through a brace, and it is no secret that trackers and beeper collars have been run on the same dogs. These are all clear violations and these are American Field Rules, ( not "AFTCA only" as some have stated.) How can you tell the difference between a 4.2 oz. Collar and a 4.3 oz. one? Apparently each club should have a postal scale, just in case. They don’t. Of course, laxity of enforcement does not of itself constitute an argument against.
But the laxity, and/or lack of enforcement could lead to more serious violations of the tracking collar rules. That today’s tracking units can be used for cheating is a point on which no one would disagree. Whether they are currently being used to cheat is a matter of widespread speculation.
When telemetry was first allowed by the AFTCA, the technology involving the receiver was bigger, more cumbersome, and every unit was tied electronically to one specific receiver. That receiver was (and still is ) by rule in the possession of a judge. With a judge in possession of the only unit capable of receiving signals from the tracking collar on that dog, there was some assurance that the telemetry could not be used to cheat. With many units nowadays however, handing a receiver to a judge is almost a superfluous act. In many telemetry systems in use today, any number of other receivers could be programmed to the tracking collar on the dog, thus many people are able to track the dog or know if it is running or on point. Moreover, many receiving units fit neatly inside a pocket.
Can you imagine the advantage to a scout out looking for a dog on point or a dog who has gotten off course a bit to have one of these? He can go right to the dog and find him on point or gather him up as the case may be. I know what you are saying, "A scout cheat? That’s unheard of. A scout wouldn’t even think of doing anything that is against the rules…." (Okay, sorry for the gratuitous sarcasm.) A couple of more receivers in the road gallery wouldn’t hurt either in a pinch. The point is that it is an easy matter to cheat with most of the units in use if one were so inclined, it is almost impossible to to get caught as there is no policing of any sort at trials and, like many rules violations in American Field Trials, even harder to get the charge to stick, even if a person is caught.
Admittedly, walking handlers and scouts, if so inclined to cheat, would not enjoy the same advantages being that both are on foot. On the other hand, some of those cumbersome units are still around and could weight a walking judge down a bit. Any way, you could reasonably add this whole question of possible cheating into the first issue "Could tracking collars have an impact on a trial?" If a dog is found by electronic means and it goes undetected, and it almost most certainly will go undetected, then the answer is clearly yes. And few if any clubs have the manpower or the will power to try to police the scouts, even if they were inclined to do so.
You may consider me unnecessarily cynical for assuming that some people will cheat. Once again, I am in good company with the American Field and The AFTCA. Since they enacted specific rules to try to head off the possibility of cheating, and strict punishments to anyone caught cheating. These rules and punishments would not be necessary if cheating were not a concern at all. DNA on dogs would be unnecessary too if everyone were honest.
Issue 5: Aesthetics
This may seem to be insignificant to some but bear me out. The fact is that looks have been a big part of the judging and breeding . We admire nice markings and a well put together dog. We breed for the merry tail, the pleasing gait, the high, straight tail on point. And then we make these handsome animals look like giant cockroaches. You may personally not mind the appearance of a dog with antennae, or perhaps you have just gotten used to seeing them. I, however, am among some who DO mind it, and I can say with some certainty that not even the most ardent tracking collar apologist in existence ever looked at his dog and said, "You know… he is not a good looking dog but when I strap that tracking collar to his neck and those antennas start flopping around up by his head there, it makes him look SO much better."
Issue 6: The Hunting Grouse Dog
A while ago a northeast horseback trialer asked me what happened to grouse trial dogs that did not quite make it as trial dogs. "Most of them we sell to grouse hunters." He shook his head and said that nobody wanted their dogs to hunt with. We in grouse trials are fortunate to have a lot of non-field trial hunters want our dogs, and breed to them for hunting purposes. Not every dog is going to make it as a trial dog. And many are still too hot for a lot of hunters. And we are also in a PR battle since many forces dismiss trial dogs out of hand as renegades. Of course, the fact that most trial dogs require tracking collars plays right into this. It is nice to be able to say, "I don’t need tracking collars on my trial dogs. I trust that they will stay with me." Good advertising point . The possible effects in terms of dogs with a tendency to run off competing and being placed has already been examined, but is relevant here too.
Issue 7: The Past whispers to us….
Were it not for this last point I might not be writing this at all. You can call it "old fashioned" or "tradition," but many of us just do not like electronic aids of any sort on the dogs in trials. When the judges says, "break ‘em away…" we set out with a dog , a bell and a blank gun, just like Rich Tuttle did with Sam L’s Rebel, and Dick Shear did with Elhew Lucy Brown and Elhew Cassie, and Wayne Fruchey with Ghost Train. We like that thought. We also like the sound of a bell, like birds that are where nature put them. We do not like birds out of a bird bag as much, because they just are not as natural or normal as wild birds. Of course, bagged birds are no where near as unnatural as dogs with antennas, but they are still not as natural. We see a lot of good when we look back at past cover trials, and are not all that anxious to embrace everything new and electronic, however well intentioned, and regardless of whether "everybody else is doing it."
There then are seven issues with no claims that they are complete. To me, they add up. You may disagree on some of them individually and you may consider them as a whole, personally unconvincing. I respect your opinion and expect respect for mine in return. It seems to me to be better fodder for message board discussion if it is here and complete rather than piece meal, and with me distracted by those who oppose the one piece being discussed, without seeing the whole.
& In conclusion, I will remind you that many of us opposed to TC in trials nevertheless realize what a great training aid these devices are in helping to bring a dog to its top form. So are e-collars. These devices were unknown to our training counterparts of yesteryear and so give us a tremendous advantage. Comparing some recent American Fields to ones half a century ago, however, I see more "dog gones" today in those pages from long ago. Field trials are supposed to be public demonstrations of fine breeding and fine training which includes fully broke from off-game and handling. It is my wish that we use those TC’s and use those e-collars to train a dog to be at least as reliable in all aspects of a trial performance as the ones brought to the line in trials back then. Let’s use these wonderful aids to actually train a dog well, and then leave the gadgets in the truck and trust the dogs to show in a trial what they were bred and trained to do.
As a final point of compromise, however, many of us who do not like canine cockroaches in field trials, could live with the Marshall Radio falcon unit, which weighs in at 7 grams and has a short two inch antennae, and cannot be readily programmed to multiple receivers. With this unit, most of the above concerns thus disappear. The End. Have at it.
We can take a lesson from national politics and international events. It has been said that making laws is like making sausage, the final outcome is fine- it works - but observing the process can be pretty ugly. We are convinced that democracy, actually ‘representative republic’ - is the best way to do things. Not everyone in this world, however, is convinced, as recent events in Iraq and other nations show.
In the process of re-reading William F. Brown’s Field Trials book for an upcoming review, I was reminded of the first time I read the book years ago. I was somewhat disappointed with the many chapters in how clubs were organized and so forth. I wanted to learn about history and dogs, not how clubs were set up. Yet the older I get and the more I see, the better I appreciate those chapters.
Recently the Grand National was publicly criticized for rumors of acrimony at the meeting. The ‘acrimony’ was a heated debate over whether trials that close entries should award invitational points. There was disagreement and strong opinion both ways.
That there is disagreement when you get people together to discuss things should surprise no one. Disagreement and heated debate are nothing new at the Grand National either. There was also strong disagreement back in 1996 or so when we debated to move the Grand, sans horses for the judges, to Kilkenny, New Hampshire for the first time. At the meeting the following year in New Hampshire there was an effort to not allow Pennsylvania to have the Invitational in its proper turn. That was heated also, but failed. The next year at Gladwin, with 99 dogs in the Grand, and the courses having been inordinately stressed by an 80 dog Lake States Championship, participants had to tolerate derbies running on their courses also as the Grand National progressed. The 99 dog entry had been unexpected and the starting time for the Futurity (which always followed the Grand) had already been advertised and had to run at the same time. As the Championship. You should have seen the fireworks then. The large entry also sparked a long and painful period, with lots of disagreement and acrimony, whereby the qualifications were tightened for Grand National participation.
But it all worked out. The Futurity now runs prior to the Grand National. Pennsylvania gets its proper turn for the Invitational. The shooting dog placement qualifications have been accepted and few wish to go back. The involvement of Kilkenny has been a good thing, and in 2004, horses for judges debuted on those grounds too, surpassing all expectations. Our sport has never been so popular: more trials, more competitors, more venues, and entries than ever before.
The only way to avoid acrimony is to NOT have a democracy or representative system of any form. There are clubs that run this way. I know of one director of a club who, because of his opposition stance on a tough issue, was simply not told when the meeting was to take place. I also know of several clubs with no or few dues paying members. Thus no one votes on officers.
& Some of these are dictatorships, others are oligarchies run by a few select people and no way to change them by voting of members. Not that they are all bad people, to be sure, but these situations are never ideal. When there is little or no opposition possible, or when the opposition is not told about the meeting, there will be no reports of acrimony. When one person decides on who will judge, it is a quick and easy process. Polling the elected directors like many clubs does can invite disagreement, almost by definition. If everyone thought exactly the same way, there would be no need to poll anybody.
It has been my observation that most of those who seem appalled at ‘disagreement’ and rail against “politics” tend to fall into three categories. The first category include those who rail primarily because watching sausage made is disagreeable, but who understand and accept that there is no other, better way. Most commonly, however, are those in the second category who prefer clubs that limit disagreement by limiting participation, that is, the dictatorships, oligarchies and their many permutations. Often these are folks who like to be in control and do not like a system where taking and maintaining control is not in their hands. So they gravitate to clubs where they can have more ‘say’ and less disagreement with their notions of how things should be. The final category comprises those who simply rail against everything, regardless. And there often seems to be considerable overlap among the final two categories.
DNA Part 1
By W. B. Hyrum
Be careful what you wish for" the old saying admonishes, "You just might just get it." The saying speaks of the unexpected consequences that often accompany some new, seemingly positive development. For years people have wished for a way to verify parentage in dogs. After all, they say, how can an intelligent breeding decisions be made if one is not looking at an accurate pedigree. Some cheating and misreprentation of pedigrees have been rumored for years in the breeding of bird dogs. Indeed, since the implementation of DNA testing for champions and runner-ups by the American Field, some problems have been revealed, though using the term 'widespread' to describe these problems is likely overstating the case.
With the advent of DNA, at last we have a way to verify parentage and to sanction those whose paperwork is inaccurate. Some see this development a panacea to all of the past ills. Any suspect breeding can be challenged and verified, and the major producers will all be DNA checked. Cheating on paperwork will come to an end, we will have assurance that the the pedigrees are right.
DNA recently proved conclusively that Miller's Online, the dog who won the National Quail Championship in 2004, was not of the same parentage that his paperwork said he was and he was stripped of his title. Eventually, however, DNA also proved conclusively Online's true parentage and his title was restored. Proponents cite the case as an example of DNA working the way it should: DNA showed a problem and DNA solved the problem. Champion with proper, verifiable parentage resulted.
The fact, however, is that parentage is only part of the issue. The other has to do with another function of modern registries: breed purity. Had a setter or some other breed been found to be either the sire or dam of Miller's Online, his registration would have been revoked and, though his performance at the most prestigious field trial in the land showed he was the best dog, he would have lost his title permanently. Except for dogs within the setter family (English, Irish, Gordon) the American field will not register a crossbred dog. The AKC will not even register these setter crosses or their offspring.*
So to summarize the first few paragraphs: accurate parentage is one issue and 'breed purity' is quite another. Secondly, the best dog had better be pure bred or his title will be revoked. Even a dog whose performance has proven him to be the best, will have this status revoked if he is found not to be pure bred.
How breed purity came to be the responsibility of the AKC in particular and also The Field Dog Stud Book is a subject worth examining. A quick history is in order.
Experts believe that dogs were domesticated some 15,000 years ago. There are depictions of dogs on cave walls, a bronze statue of cute puppy with a collar on dated 1350 B.C. Fourteenth Century Medieval Europe brought about a number of different dogs for various hunts of harte and roe (both deer), boar, bear, hare, fox and other game.
Nevertheless, in spite of this long and diverse history, a writer circa 1800 could only name 14 'breeds' of dogs. Just 2 centuries hence, worldwide there are more than 400 so called 'distinct' breeds.
Though dogs were bred for thousands of years, there were no registries or official pedigrees until the 1860's. For most of written history dogs were defined by what the dog did, or its function, rather than how it is bred or how it looked. So when a 'breed' was being built, so to speak, it always involved a combination of different types of dogs.
As we moved into the late 19th century, the formation of kennel clubs and the beginning of official registries and stud books take place. Most of the early ones registered crossbred dogs, but soon enough, maintaining 'breed purity' became sacrosanct. Today still, many in the dog fancy have a very visceral reaction - anger and disgust - at the very idea of 'mixing' breeds. And despite lack of any official pedigree or monitoring agencies for millennia, fans of certain breeds continue to tout the "exclusive breeding practices" of their chosen breed's caretakers over the centuries and imagine breeds that were 'pure and true' for thousands of years. Recent DNA studies have pretty much proved this 'pure and true breed' stuff to be complete and utter fallacy. Steven Budiansky analyzed the recent DNA evidence in his book "The Truth About Dogs." He writes "The idea of unique, ancient, and separate ancestral lines of modern breeds is obviously immensely appealing. It is also pure anachronism."
Budiansky writes, "The largest of the four groupings of mitochondrial DNA sequences the researchers found included representatives of supposedly ancient breeds, such as the greyhound, the African Basenji, the New Guinea singing dog, and many common breeds such as the collie, the German shepherd, the boxer, the Springer spaniel, and the Alaskan husky." He continues, "The promiscuous parentage of modern breeds is equally evident in the wide DNA diversity of DNA sequences found within individual breeds; indeed in some breeds, including the dachshund, the Norwegian elkhound, the Siberian husky, and the Mexican hairless, certain individual dogs' sequences place them in an entirely different DNA grouping from others of the very same breed." Budiansky concludes that throughout most of history, crossbreeding was happening, "...on a scale that is almost unimaginable by today's standards."
& The history thus tells us that what we consider 'breeds' are not set in stone, but are arbitrary designations concerning dogs whose foundations were not "purebred" in any sense of the word. And don't forget that , by the year 1800, after some 13,000 years of domesticated dogs, we had handful of distinct breeds, but with no pedigree evidence to in any way indicate a level of purity. In the two centuries since, we have gone from this handful of breeds to some 400. This can only happen if by mixing breeds in various combinations.
So why do breed fanciers, with
no evidence, and no pedigrees, believe their dogs to be pure for centuries?
Why is this 'purity ' so important to so many people anyway? Why, when
mixing breeds was what formed present breeds, do so many people find
crossbreeding so abhorrent? Why should protecting the purity of breeds be
even more important to the AKC and, FDSB than the performance of the dog a
field? History again may provide us with some clues.
The first stud books were formed and came of age in an interesting time. In the late 19th century, two forces were at work that are pertinent here: Phrenology and Eugenics. Phrenology was in its waning stages. Phrenology was the belief (many considered it science) that certain mental and character traits could be determined by the shape of the skull. This was not some small time quirky trend, there was widespread belief and acceptance of phrenology over a long time, including some examples where the famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes uses aspects of skull shape to determine a criminal in Doyle's famous novels.5 I will keep my comments on Phrenology brief, only mentioning that because phrenology was big when dog shows began, the shape of the canine skull also became important to many in dog circles. Many still refer to large occipital bones as "knowledge bump." A prominent breeder of AKC English Setters recently wrote in the AKC Gazette, that if the head on an English Setter is incorrect, the breed is lost. I mention Phrenology as an example of how the thinking of the day, a century back or more, still holds sway today.
Likewise, a number of experts contend that many attitudes about breeds, both in the dog fancy and in the powers that be at the registries, stem from racial notions that prevailed a century ago when those registries came of age.6 James Serpell, noted expert on dogs from the University of Pennsylvania said on a PBS Nova special on dogs, "The idea of.. breeding pure strains of things coincided, of course, with a lot of racist talk about refining the purity of human groups and races. And the breed literature from the period, some of it is unashamedly eugenicist and racist."
Eugenics was, in fact, one of the major trends of the day, going strong at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. The term "Eugenics" was coined by Sir Frances Galton, and was dedicated to the idea that most of what humans are is, by and large, determined genetically, that the way to improving the human race was to control the genetic pool by having superior men marry and have children with superior women, and 'feeble' and malformed humans need to be removed from the breeding stock. Eugenics 'societies' and clubs popped up all over. The idea rapidly fell into disfavor when Adolph Hitler and the Nazis pushed the concepts to the extreme. But the Eugenics movement in other countries including the U.S. proved a quite embarrassing chapter in history.
Commenting on how all of this affected the dog world, Stephen Budiansky (The Truth About Dogs) notes, "Books and articles from the turn of the last century are full of exhortations to eliminate 'weaklings' and to invigorate the race by maintaining the 'purity' of its 'blood lines.' There was much excoriation of 'mongrels'. And 'curs' and 'half-castes,' and much talk of the evil tendencies shown by 'badly bred' specimens." So paranoid were they about purity a century ago that was even a fairly widespread related belief that if you if you bred a pointer bitch to a collie dog, for example, that future litters could be affected by the outcross. In other words, if at some later time you bred the same pointer bitch to another pointer dog, collie traits would still show up in the subsequent litter because of the previous mating to a collie. It was a phenomenon called telegony. Breed purity in dogs and racial purity in people were attitudes cut from the same cloth. The AKC and the FDSB both came of age during the time of these widely held beliefs.
During the Eugenics age, breed purity was thought to be the secret to of vigor and strength in a breed, and 'mongrelization' led to weakness. Modern science, however, has shine light upon the problems of excessive inbreeding and proven the benefits of "hybrid vigor." Not surprisingly, genetic diseases among 'pure-bred' dogs has been somewhat of a scandal in recent years. A 1994 Time magazine article called "The Shame Of Over breeding" revealed that some 25% of pure bred dogs have been diagnosed with some "serious genetic dysfunction."
But what about out FDSB bred bird dogs? We know from the outset that our trial setters and pointers especially stem from certain handfuls of prominent dogs with names like Rip Rap, and Count Noble figuring large, and, by nature, resulting in a limited gene pool at the respective fountainheads of these two breeds. We also have seen the 'prominent sire syndrome, where one dog finds a vogue and his genes have a major positive influence, but also limits the gene pool diversity by that dominance.
Nevertheless, we also know that we have seen a general increase in both the number and the quality of the field trial performances over the last century, a fact that would seem to the contrary to the problems that should be expected from this much breeding of relatives. It is a riddle.
This, riddle, however, strongly hints at one explanation, an explanation that has been that has been rumored and rumored again for as long as dogs have been bred allegedly "pure." Perhaps 19th century dog expert J. H. Walsh put it most succinctly when he wrote, "We have almost always found on inquiry that even the best-bred pointers and setters have a broken branch in their genealogical tree."
In the 1800's Edward Laverack bred a line of setters bearing his name for decades, all stemming from an original cross of 'Ponto and Old Moll.' Yet Laverack cryptically wrote of "several secerets connected with my system of inter-crossing that I do not think advisable to give to the public at present." Many speculated, even in Laverack's day, that those "several secrets" were actually several outcrosses. Indeed, the Reverend D. H. W. Horlock, a contemporary of Laverack's, was quoted as saying that Laverack had hunted with a band of Gypsies who had a dog that beat Laverack's dog in "both nose and pace," and that Laverack claimed in private to have located the band of Gypsies and saying "I found that dog, I bought him, and I bred from him!" 11 Field Trial Hall-Of -Famer Jack Harper, in his book "Bird Dogs And Field Trials," mentions similar goings-on in the pointer and setter world. Harper cites the knowledgeable one, A.F. Hochwalt who mentioned that "one East Coast Pointer breeding kennel bred to the great setter sire Antonio, sire of two National Champions..." Harper also mentions that it was "strongly and repeatedly rumored." That the "foxhound route" was used as a way "Further improve the breed."
Harper believed that deliberate out crossing likely happened, but was rare, and that other out crossing occurred from accidental misbreeedings. I recently heard of litter of pointers that, quite clearly had a few in there that were sired by the owner's Jack Russell Terrier. Had another pointer bred to her in place of the Jack Russell, there would have been no suspicions at all. Not all out crossing has been deliberate.
Nevertheless, these "broken branches in the genealogical tree," whether planned or unplanned, may have provided the necessary hybrid vigor that allowed both breeds to strengthen and improve. Jack Harper wrote of a time in the 1940's when there were "two great pointers competing whose authenticity of breeding was widely doubted." Likely, these dogs reproduced and helped the gene pool because of their 'greatness." Today, with the advent of DNA testing, such "great" dogs might be discarded from the gene pool along with all of the other "broken branches." Many other fine dogs with 'suspicions' on the paperwork will not even be campaigned or less likely to be bred to.
Without being too cynical, there is a distinct possibility therefore, that if 'outcrosses,' deliberate or otherwise, are eliminated from the gene pool, the result in time could mirror what has happened with many other true 'pure-bred' dogs: A slow insidious decline, not just a decline general vigor, not just a possible increase in genetic diseases, but a decline in performance capabilities. So when it comes to DNA testing be careful what you wish for...
* More in this in Part II of this essay
1. The Lost History Of The Canine Race, by Mary Elizabeth Thurston, Andrews and McMeel, Copyright 1996, 67-70.
2. The Truth About Dogs, by Stephen Budiansky, Viking Penguin, copyright 2000 by author, p.34.
3. IBID, page 29.
4. IBID, page 29.
5. web site: pages.brittishlibrary.net/phrenology/overview
6. web site: www.netpets.com/dogs/reference/bragg.html
8. The Truth About Dogs, by Stephen Budiansky, Viking Penguin, copyright 2000 by author, page 34
9. The Lost History Of The Canine Race, by Mary Elizabeth Thurston, Andrews and McMeel, Copyright 1996, Page 279.
10. A Survey Of Early Setters, G. Leighton Boyce, Copyright 1985 by author, page 132.
11. IBID, 133.
12. Bird Dogs And Field Trials, by Jack Harper, Cass Hill Inc., copyright 1983 by author, pages 138-139.
An Essay On DNA Testing, Part 2
W. B. Hyrum
They were the best of dogs, they were the worst of dogs. Okay. Sorry. Apologies to both you and Chuck Dickens.
In part one I wrote cryptically of a decline in performance that ‘might’ accompany DNA testing. What follows are the abbreviated histories of two different setters which I hope will serve to better illustrate the point. None of these two examples ‘closes the door,’ so to speak on my case. Taken together though, they provide at least some concrete illustrations as to the benefits of out crossing and the detriment of not doing so. Along the way are examples of breed clubs, breed fans, and registries choosing to accept lesser field performance for the sake of breed purity.
Perhaps the best place to start this essay is to revisit what was arguably the most famous field trial event of the 19th century. So important was this event that the editor of the American Field, Dr. Nicholas Rowe, had made the long trip from Chicago to Tennessee by train to personally report it. For months prior, claims and counterclaims about ‘the best dog’ had been fired back and forth in letters published on the pages of Dr. Rowe’s journal, until finally a dual match between two dogs, Gladstone and Joe Jr., was scheduled to settle the matter. The dogs were turned loose together in wild quail country and for two days, going head-to-head eight hours each day. At the conclusion of the event which was won by Joe Jr., Dr. Rowe reported with great admiration the courage of both. The year was 1879.
Gladstone was a strain of setter known as Llewellin Setter, and he more than any other dog of the era, defined the field trial type of dog, a hard charging, bird finding machine with a devil-may-care attitude, rangy to a fault. Joe Jr., the victor, was an Irish Setter.
Thirty years later, neither Llewellyn nor Irish Setters were a significant factor in trials. The pointer was dominant in the majority of trials by then. The reason why is the subject of this essay.
Famed bird dog historian Al Hochwalt remembered fondly the his late 19th century days a field as a youth behind an Irish Setter. Fifty years hence he lamented the decline in the field abilities of the dogs that he so fondly remembered. Blame for this decline has been variously assigned depending upon one’s perspective. Some say that the ‘show crowd’ took over the breed and field ability took a distant second to dogs shows in priority. Others claim that the the ‘field crowd’ shares the blame, having largely abandoned the breed as a field dog and field trial competitor in favor of the “English cousin.”
Regardless, there were many , both field and show that loved the the Irish. So began an attempt to bring back a red dog dog that could hunt. Pennsylvanian Ned LeGrande was at the heart of the revival. Noting that the setters - Irish , English, and Gordon - were largely color variations of the same breed just 75 years before, fans of the field Irish setters received permission from the American Field (Field Dog Stud Book) to cross Irish setters with English, select for field ability and color, and then re-register red dogs as Irish.
The result met, some say ‘superseded,’ the planned goals. There were now considerably more red dogs that could hunt and some have since risen through the ranks of field trial right to the top. A number of FDSB Irish setters have beaten pointers and English setters at high level trials. Yet despite the success of the effort, the ISCA, the Irish Setter Club Of America, in 1975, voted to end AKC reciprocity with the FDSB. Many believe that the instigating factor was the beginning of the the Irish Setter National Championship. These people claim that the show/conformation faction that held most of the cards, feared that that the rapidly improved field bred Irish would dominate the National Championship, and so essentially decided to keep them out.
The Llewellin Setter has, arguably, had a more interesting than any other dog. Despite being bested by an Irish Setter in that famous dual match in 1879, the Llewellins were the most famous dogs in the land by the turn of the twentieth century including the domination of the early runnings of the National Bird Dog Championship. In gratitude to their contributions, the American Field did something unprecedented by giving the Llewellin a special ‘strain’ designation. Though all Llewellins were, and are, English Setters, they were henceforth registered as Llewellin Setters. At the height of their trial success, however, Al Hochwalt warned the lines which defined Llewellins were too tight and that diminishment in the field performance was inevitable. Some thought him daft. Hochwalt warned repeatedly that not breeding to the best of the English setter breed would cause harm to that breed as a whole. Fans of the Llewellin continued to preach 100% Llewellin or nothing. And by 1920 in terms of major field trial wins for Llewellin Setters, it proved to be, by and large, the latter: nothing.
& Curiously, the Llewellin Setter never disappeared completely, but hung on and was somewhat resurrected in the 1990’s. Articles in the sporting press touted the Llewellin as a close working hunting dog, a far cry from what he was a century prior. Nevertheless, the Llewellin’s success in field trials in recent times has been almost nill compared to the pointer, the English Setter, the Irish Setter and assorted other breeds.
By 1923, bird dog historian Alfred F. Hochwalt noted the rapid fall of the Llewellins and the almost complete absence of Irish Setters in field events. He writes in his introduction to his classic book The Modern Setter: “Pointer breeders kept away from fads and bred to the best individuals, not because their names looked well on paper…. but because they brought the desired results. The pointer’s history is one of even and steady growth; the setters, a recitation of paradoxes.”
It is just that exhortation to breed in a way that may “not look well on paper” but “brought the desired results” may now be what is threatened by DNA as outlined by part 1 of this Essay. I will attempt some suggested solutions in part 3.
DNA Part 3
W. B. Hyrum
There is an old saying that says something to the effect of: Any old mule can knock down a barn, but takes a skilled carpenter to build one. Having warned of a problem in part 1, and having taking shots at the AKC, American Field in parts #1 (Broken Branches) and #2 (A Tale Of Two Setters), and for good measure : criticizing fans of various breeds and strains of bird dogs, it is now time to propose a solution.
It must be said from the outset, however, that the solution is not all that difficult, yet its likelihood of ever happening is very slim. The solution ultimately depends upon the powers that be at the registries fundamentally altering their way of looking at things. It is unlikely that they will even be aware of these essays, and even more unlikely that they will be see enough convincing in them to alter the long held views.
Nevertheless, here goes:
1) Award championships to dogs, not pedigrees or breeds. May the best dog win.
2) Register dogs that want to be registered. "Cross bred," "sire unknown," "dam unknown," "pedigree unknown," should all be acceptable. Why not? This is how all of the Registries started anyway. There is no harm in starting this way again..
3) Extend the privilege to 'cross breed,' currently accepted by the FDSB to only the three setter breeds (English, Irish, and Gordon) to all other breeds. An Irish/English cross is registered as "cross bred" and if the offpring are bred to English for three consecutive generations, they are then registered as "English" again. Likewise, if the offspring are bred to Irish for several generations, they can then be registered as Irish again.
This is perfectly reasonable. Likewise, the other categories of dogs mentioned in #2 should be extended the same privilege. Having bred to the same breed for 'X' amount of generations, they should be welcomed back into the fold.
These three changes on the part of the registries would give people accurate information on pedigrees for breeders, verified by DNA in the cases of prominent winners. Change #1 focuses us on the purpose of breeding dogs that can vanquish the competition, for this is the key to improvements in field performances. Disagreement with this change indicates a belief that, given the choice, one would rather have an inferior dog with a perfect 'pure' pedigree, than have a superior field dog with a questionable background. Change 2 allows dogs to be registered that formerly were not accepted. That these dogs are not allowed to be registered is a prime motivation for 'fudging' paperwork both today and in the past. This change, along with #1 remove many of the motivations for misrepresenting parentage. Change #3 allows outlets for various breeds to improve and an acceptable way to add hybrid vigor to the lines, while still maintaining the essential qualities of that breed. The model, the FDSB Red Setter, is a proven success.
Those of you cannot quite get over this perspective where breeds are not 'pure' should probably go back and read Part #1"Broken Branches" again. Breeds are arbitrary designations, not in the least pure from the outset, and are the result of mixing a lot of different types dogs, mostly prior to the beginning of registries. "Breed Purity" over field performance is a relatively recent trend.
& But even if you cannot clear this 'purity' hurdle, there is nothing in these changes that states that you must have anything to do with dogs that you do not like the pedigrees of. Don't forget that cross bred pups, and others with 'unknown' parentage, cannot be registered as any breed for several generations. Remember also that the the need for full blood "pure bred" dogs to breed to for several generations is an essential requirement and so the demand for known dogs of 'untainted' pedigrees will always be there.
Moreover, improvements in what can be detected by DNA markers may some day fill in the gaps of some of these "unknown" pedigrees. If not, a lot of people will not want to have anything to do with dogs of unknown heritage. Not being able to register some of these dogs as a breed for several generations has its natural limitations in terms of public acceptance and breeding opportunities. The exception would be a dog that vastly outshines the field in competition. Only these are likely to carry on, and when a great dog reproduces, good things happen to performance. Period.