Here and There Part 4

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.” ― Isaac Asimov

Painting by Paul de Vos (1595-1678) 
In parts one, two and three of this series, I examined some interesting differences in bird dog culture, populations and registration numbers in North America, the UK and Europe. In part four, I will share my observations on European and North American field trials and do my best to explain the different approaches each system takes when it comes to using them as a selection tool for producing gundogs for hunters.

Since most of this post is based on what I've discovered over the last 20 years or so, I've structured it almost like an interview.  The questions are based on comments/questions I've received over the years from various people in private messages and public forums, and bulletin boards. My answers are based on the ones I provided at the time but have been edited here for clarity.


How do North American and European trials differ? In what ways are they the same? 
Both Euro trials and NA trials are the domain of dedicated pros and amateurs doing their best to breed the highest performance animals they can. European and North American judges evaluate the style, class, brains, range, steadiness, use of nose of the dogs under judgment, but the main differences are in how they actually interpret those concepts. I will list some of the more important differences below.

Breed specific styles: On both sides of the ocean, all breeds have conformation standards. But in Europe, each breed has an official 'working standard'. European judges therefore pay more attention to breed-specific styles as they evaluate a dog's performance in the field. Setters, for example, should run very close to the ground and have a feline way of moving and crouch or even 'set' on the ground while pointing. Pointers run with a more upright style and must point standing up. Both have to perform the 'commanded approach' in a breed-specific way. Once a point is established and the handler gets up next to the dog both dog and handler move slowly towards the bird until the flush, that is called a "coulée" in French and "guidata" in Italian. A setter should do it with an extremely feline style, almost slithering along the ground, while a Pointer should do it standing tall with forceful, thrusting movements. I explain a bit more about the coulée here.  Working standards are different for each breed. Some, like the working standard for the French Spaniel are just a few paragraphs that describe the ideal speed, range and pointing posture for the breed. Others like this seven thousand word working standard for the Pointer published by the Pointer club of Italy could fill an entire book. 

Diagram showing the ideal pattern for spring field trials
Ground Coverage: The biggest difference may be the fact that in Europe, for many types of field trials, they want to see the dogs hunt in a windshield wiper pattern. For example, in Spring trials for British and Irish pointing breeds, as soon as they are released, the dogs make a huge cast out to 400-500 yards to the left, then turns into the wind, and runs past the handler out to another 400-500 yards to the right. Each time it passes in front of the handler it should be no more than about 50 to 60 yards in front. Michel Comte provides a good explanation of this kind of search pattern on his Braque du Bourbonnais site (the distances he provides are for the Bourbonnais. Distances for setters and Pointers are far greater).

The field coverage  looks to be very inefficient, the dog just runs back and forth on what seems to be the same line. 
Actually, it is a bit of an illusion in the videos due to zooming the lens in from a long way away. Optically, this creates a sort of compressed look to the frame and the dogs seems to pass only a few feet in front of the handler. In reality, the distance at which dogs pass in front of their handlers is basically shotgun range, about 40-60 yards. More than that is too big of a bite and they risk missing birds, less than that is too tight and they won't cover enough ground in the allotted time.

So the dog runs out to one side, passes in front of the handler at the appropriate distance then heads o the other side. And at the end of each cast it MUST turn into the wind...if it turns the other way, downwind, it risks being eliminated.

The Diagrams imply that the dogs are always working into the wind otherwise these patterns would be inefficient. Is this always the case in practice? 

Yes. The dogs are always worked into the wind. Trials run from one field to the next, each dog or brace working a new area. Judges, gallery, dogs and handlers move from one field to the next and always start into the wind. Sometimes this just means walking from one field to the next, often it means getting into the cars/vans/trucks and driving to the best place to start.

Following the trials around is sometimes kinda tricky. Everyone meets at a central location, usually a town hall in the nearest hamlet and then are divided up into groups led by a judge. Each group is then given an assigned area that consists of enough room and fields to run all the dogs. Sometimes those areas are miles from the village and even if they start off close by, they end up miles away. So if you are not there at the start, finding any particular group is kinda tough since they could be anywhere within a given zone of many square miles.

After a couple of seasons though, I got pretty good at finding groups. I would just drive around the general area and look for the long line of vans and cars out in the middle of nowhere...often on pretty rough two-tracks between fields. Here is a video (in French) about spring field trials. It has some decent footage of dogs running and pointing (I suspect that some of the scenes are set-ups with planted birds, but some are authentic). At about the 3:20 mark, there are scenes of what the gallery of people, cars and trucks looks like at a typical field trial in France.


Also it seems they want their pointing breeds to work more of an enlarged spaniel pattern. Fair?
Yes, in spring trials run in fields covered with winter wheat, they expect the dogs to have a side to side windshield wiper pattern. The reason is that the fields are basically green carpets of sprouts...no real objectives or lines per se. In fact, they even run them across plowed fields because they actually hold birds. When I first started watching trials there I thought there was no way that any birds would be out in those fields. But there can be surprisingly large numbers of birds in some areas (others have fewer...some have next to none...it depends on the year, the weather and other factors).

Léo at full speed
Different Speeds: I've had the pleasure of watching Pointers and setters run in North American field trials and have hunted over some on my own hunting grounds. And I've always marveled at just how fast they run. But nothing prepared me for the first time I saw Pointers and setters run in spring time field trials in France. They looked like greyhounds on a race track!

But the difference is not how fast they are capable of running. If American-bred and European-bred setters and Pointers were run on a greyhound track, I think they'd be fairly evenly matched. It is just that American bred dogs are selected, conditioned and trained to run for longer periods of time. Some North American field trials are three hours long! European bred dogs are selected, conditioned and trained to run as fast as they are physically capable of running for 15-20 minutes at a time. 

The easiest way to understand the difference is to imagine a typical North American-bred Pointer or setter running in a field trial hitting objectives and really laying down a fast race. Now imagine that a rabbit pops up in front of him and he gives in to the temptation. He decides to be a baaaad boy and he takes off in hot pursuit of that rabbit. You see that extra gear he just switched into? Notice that no matter how fast he was running before that rabbit popped up, there was still one more gear of turbo speed he could kick it up to?

Ya, well THAT is the speed that the Euro dogs are expected (and bred and trained and pushed) to have for their entire run. Basically, they run like they are chasing something or are being chased by something. And that is why I say it is more like Top Fuel Drag Racing...the dogs don't run for a long time but they run really, really fast. Here is a video of a young European-bred setter in a trial. It is a good indication of the kind of speed they want to see.



Watching a few of the videos seems like the dogs are just hitting the after burners. Is the dog's nose able to keep up with the speed? 
It depends. When I first started attending trials I could not believe any dog could actually run that fast and nail a point...especially considering that they were looking for wild huns in ankle deep winter wheat! And a lot of dogs do in fact crash and burn. They run too fast for their noses and the conditions, they bump a bird...and they are eliminated. But, amazingly, some do manage to slam points as they are running full blast. And I think that is what everyone is looking for. Like the big league trialers over here, or car racing or other thrilling sports, they want to see contestants that are just on the edge of fabulous glory...or the agony of defeat.

Here is another video that shows the kind of speeds dogs run at in some of these trials. The entire video is worth watching, but if you want to see a young Pointer run across the field like his ass is on fire skip to the 12:50 mark.




Different Tails: Have a look at the videos above one more time but this time, pay attention to the dogs' tails as they run. You will notice that it is held below the level of the back and doesn't really move much. The reason is speed. Euro handlers and breeders prefer a so-called dead tail (in North America a cracking, slashing, animated tail is preferred). The idea is that any energy going to the tail is wasted and should go to the legs. And remember the example I provided above of a North American dog chasing a rabbit? Chances are, no matter how animated a dog's tail is when it is hunting, if it switches into turbo sprint mode, it's tail will drop and be far less active as it sprints to the horizon chasing a deer or jack rabbit (look at the tail on this Saluki chasing a big jack rabbit). On point, the tail is more or less level with the back or slightly lower. To many Americans, a low tail is an abomination, just like a high tail is to many Europeans. À chacun, son goût!

I would like to see how many finds they have compared to how many birds are bumped or ran over. 
If they bump a bird they are out. If the handler or judge puts up a bird they are out. That is why they go back and forth, they have to cover the entire area to make sure they get to the bird before the handler or judge. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Different Trial Formats and Standards: European judges follow the FCI working standards. Their version of all-age is called Grande Quête in French (literally big quest or big search) and those trials are considered the highest level of performance. Most Grande Quête trials take place in the spring on wild huns. Grande Quête dogs are considered the top of the top and have a similar reputation to our all-age dogs (ie: some folks love em, others think they are too much dog).

Their cover dog trials are called Autumn Trials or Woods trials and are run on stocked pheasants and/or wild woodcock and other game (they also have trials on snipe for example). They usually take place in the fall. One of the most popular spots is in south western France near Bordeaux. Cover dogs are said to have a quête de chasse (hunting search, equivalent to our gundog stakes) so that, I think, would be the closest thing to what we call a cover dog (or in some ways like a NSTRA dog too I guess).

What a lot of North Americans don't realize is just how massive the European field trial scene really is. Some trials can have over 500 dogs entered! There are professional trainers and handlers all over the place and they even have their own union of sorts. National teams of dogs run in a sort of field trial Olympics for the European cup and there are huge numbers of breeders and followers all across Europe.

Have a look at this video from the 2017 Campo Felice trial in Italy. It is a huge annual two-day event where Pointers and setters are run on released European quail (coturnix coturnix). Not all trials are this big of course, but it gives you an idea of just how organized the system really is over there.


When you speak of Euro trials, what area of Europe are you talking about? When my bride was in Norway/Sweden for some FT's it sounds different from what describe.
The center of the European field trial world is Italy/France/Spain. That is where most of the pros are and most of the top dogs are bred (Italian dogs dominate). But there are lots of trials elsewhere in places like Holland, Denmark, Portugal, even Greece, Croatia, Russia and elsewhere.

There is a fair sized trial system in Sweden and Norway. But the Scandinavian system is a bit different. A lot of their trials are held in the mountains on ptarmigan and other wild birds. They also use pointing dogs more like the British do...ie: after the point, the dog is expected to rush in and flush the birds and then stay steady to wing and shot. From what I understand, Scandinavian trials are supposed to be more like a day out hunting with far less emphasis on the sort of super fast and wide windshield wiper casting that is the rule in trials in France/Italy/Spain.

In the spring the birds are singles, and in coveys in the fall? 
In the spring the birds are usually pairs of huns that are courting and preparing to mate, but may be singles or in small coveys. The whole spring season starts in the south of Spain in January and works north all the way to northern France until mid April. The trial dates are set to coincide with when the wheat is just high enough and the birds are paired up but not sitting on eggs. Most years it works out just right but sometimes the wheat is too high or too low, or the birds are not yet paired up.

In the fall, trials are run on woodcock (wild, almost always singles), snipe (ditto) but the biggest events of the fall season are shoot-to-retrieve trials run on released pheasants. They take place in wooded areas where birds are set out the night before. Here is a video of an autumn field trial held in southwestern France near Bordeaux.


Different Durations:
In a typical field trial in Europe, dogs run from 15 to 20 minutes, sometimes longer, but almost never more than 30 minutes. In North America, dogs run from 30 minutes to 3 hours!

What's the point of having a dog that runs like hell for 20-30 minutes and then goes back to the truck? Who hunts for only that long?
In the same way that all-age field trials over here do not really reflect an average day hunting -- most North Americans do not hunt quail from horseback -- top level springtime trials are not really designed to reflect the average day out hunting in Europe.

Both trial formats exist to develop the extreme ends of the canine spectrum. In North America, those extremes include things like speed, endurance, high tails, bird finding ability and other qualities. In Europe they want to see even greater speed, a different kind of ground pattern and a very breed-specific style of running/pointing/roading in. And let's not forget that a lot of trial formats over here (NSTRA, AKC, NAVHDA field components) are in the 30 minute range as well. They don't have as much of an endurance component either but they still manage to identify high performance hunting dogs.

When I first started attending European trials, I asked a judge why the stakes are only 20 minutes or so. He replied: "If I can't identify the traits I want to see and the style I am looking for in a dog in 20 minutes, it is not there...it will not suddenly appear after an hour or so".

I am of the opinion that short braces for adult dogs is conceptually flawed. For starters, and we have this happening in the US, selecting animals that run full blast is not IMO good for any breed. I want a nice hard pace but this trend is producing dogs that run frantically is not to the benefit to hunters or the breed.  
I would agree, and I am sure that most hard-core European field trial breeders would agree with you...if their main goal was to produce dogs that were a benefit to hunters. It is not. Their primary goal is to win competitions. The fact that many of the winning dogs can offer some benefits to hunters and hunting dog lines is a fantastic secondary side effect and something that all hunting dog breeders should appreciate...but it is not the main focus of people trying to breed the perfect trial dog.

Field trial near Broomhill Manitoba
And that, in essence, is the upshot and downside of competitive events. They are highly effective at distilling whatever specific traits you seek. But they eventually become a world unto themselves and the envelope they push does not necessarily match the performance envelope of the hunting field.

For the Europeans, one of the main traits seems to be speed. Having a fast dog is good...having a faster dog is better, having the fastest dog on the day is usually best and, if a dog does everything else right, speed will go a long way to getting you in the winner's circle. And breeders over there go to great lengths to get that speed. Accusations of doping are sometimes made and it is fairly clear that Greyhounds and even Salukis may have been bred into some lines (to the detriment of the nose and point) all in an effort to get faster and wider running dogs.

So what we see is that the dogs over there now are way, way faster than there were 30 years ago. And the trend can be seen across almost all the pointing breeds. Some Braques and Epagneuls, GSPs and Wirehairs are now approaching the speed and range of some setters and Pointers. And it is competition that is driving the quest for better trial dogs.

We can see it in other traits as well and on both sides of the ocean. At some point in time in US field trials a high tail became a good thing. Then an even higher tail became better, and eventually a 12 o'clock tail became best. In Europe, a certain setter style was good, more setterish movement became better and a really exaggerated feline panther-stalking-its-prey kind of movement is now seen as best...and is in fact required if you want to win a trial. Yet it could be argued that both of these highly desired traits, the 12 O'clock tail in the US and the cat-like movement and "setting" in Europe are of very limited value to hunters.

The bottom line is that competition is all about pushing the envelope. I can't ever imagine a day when Euro breeds will say "OK, that is all the speed we will ever need". The fact is, they will always be seeking that extra bit of speed even if they are close to the structural limits of canine physiognomy right now. And I can't imagine a day when US breeders will declare, "OK, that is all the drive or endurance we will ever need". They will continue to seek that extra umph they want to see in a dog. Heck we have 1 hour stakes, 2 hour stakes, even 3+ hour endurance stakes for pointing dogs, and all of them seem like a cake-walk compared to the Iditarod for sled dogs.

English Setter at full speed in a cover crop field in France
Competition is about pushing the envelope. That field trial envelope and the hunting dog envelope overlap in many areas is great, but they don't completely overlap and breeders who are full bore into field trials are all about pushing the envelope that gets them in the winner's circle.

In comparison to NA trials where there is an endurance component to it, how would they evaluate endurance for breeding purposes since trials are supposed to do such things? 
Their argument goes like this: "any dog that is capable of running at a top fuel pace for 20 minutes is far above the average in terms of athletic abilities. They have more than enough heart and lung and leg and with the proper conditioning all the endurance you need in a hunting dog".

Until I actually hunted with some of those field trial dogs, I was skeptical. But I saw it with my own eyes. I hunted all day, every day for 8 days straight with a pair of English Setters from French field trial lines. And they kept up with all the other dogs. Now, they did NOT run like they do in trials...they ran fast but certainly not at the ass-on-fire pace they run in trials. They kept up a nice hunt-all-day speed the entire time.

Upon reflection, I realized that even if marathon runners have the best endurance of all, 800 meter runners and even 100 meter sprinters are still superb athletes. Hussein Bolt would never take gold in a marathon, but I am damn sure he could train to run a marathon fairly easily and I would bet my bottom dollar that he could run a marathon faster than every couch potatoes on the planet.

But let me add one other thing. Whenever a system is created to select for extremes, and you add money and competition, you get positive and negative results. The knock on Euro dogs running in the big trials is that they are too much dog, that they are hyper run offs, that they burn out early and die before they are 6 years old etc. And there is probably a grain of truth in there. The Italians produce nearly 20 thousand setters every year. Some of the dogs probably are nuts, some probably die early, some probably do run off. But in reality, men and women are pretty good at developing high performance animals. It is not really rocket science. Breeders have been doing it on both sides of the ocean for 150 years now and they have produced animals that are light years ahead of where they used to be.

Are the hunting spots or coverts over there so small that you go through them quickly and move on to another spot further away so the dog gets a rest between them? Do people have more dogs?
Some spots are smaller, some are huge. Some guys have only one dog and hunt it for hours on end, others have more than one dog. It really depends on the country and the game they are hunting. I've been to spots in northern France (Beauce, Picardy) that looked like Kansas wheat country. And I've been to places in Italy that looked like Idaho. One thing that is different though is that there are more paved roads and a lot more traffic so more dogs get killed while hunting, and there are way, way more hares, which pointing dog guys hate! Check this video out. I think it is northern Italy somewhere:



Usually, when I talk dogs with dog men and women on either side of the ocean, I am met with genuine curiosity about 'the other side' and I do my best to explain the differences and similarities between the two worlds. However, I have occasionally run into people on both sides of the Atlantic that are not only uninterested in what's happening on the other side, but openly hostile to the idea that high caliber field trial and hunting dogs could come from any other country or system of format. Here are some typical sorts of exchanges.

As far as style and hunt is concerned I don't see anything worthwhile in those European dogs. They have no class and seem no better than show dogs in the field. 
Well, I should point you towards thread I started on a French field trial forum. I posted photos of North American all-age Pointers and setters that I consider to be awesome dogs. But the comments I got from the French field trialers are almost identical to yours...except the other way around of course. They simply could not get their head around what they see as a complete lack of style in our dogs and some did not even believe me that the dogs in the photos were purebred Pointers or setters. One smart ass even said that we must be breeding Pitbull into our Pointer lines and Cocker Spaniels into our setter lines and another accused me of photo-shopping the dogs' tails to make the stick straight up. They did not believe the dogs did that naturally. 

Look, the bottom line is this: there is simply no way to say which system is better or which one produces better dogs. Is NASCAR better than Formula One? Are cricketers better than baseball players, rugby players better than football players? About the only thing we can say is that they are all freakin awesome performers and athletes.

And that is why I have concluded, after seeing a good number of dogs over here and over there, that any Pointer or setter that has reached the top level of competition in North American or European field trials can run circles around 99% of all the other dogs out there, just as any pro rugby or football player can run circles around all of us.
Pointer at the break-away of a field trial near Broomhill, Manitoba
No one over here gives a damn about those dogs over there and you couldn't give me one of them. 
I've actually heard this line from people in a half-dozen countries and I must say that despite my best efforts, I've made very little progress convincing them that there are good dogs in other regions of the world. But the most important thing to remember in all this North America vs Euro dog thing is that no one in Europe expects anyone in North America to value their dogs, and vice versa. If you don't give a damn about the dogs over there it really doesn't matter. No one running dogs in the European championship is trying to market their dogs to quail hunters in Texas and no one running dogs at Ames does it in order to crack the Pointer and setter market in Italy.

Fortunately, folks that look down on anything that isn't from their own neck of the woods are in the minority. The vast majority of field trialers and hunters I have met on both sides of the ocean are interested in hearing about good dogs, no matter where they are from. They know that a good dog is a good dog, and that is all that matters.

Sleepy Pointer at training camp.
But our breeders have done more to improve Pointers and setters than anyone else in the world.
Based on all the research I have done I would say the Europeans have improved their dogs just as much as we have ours. Both sides have made huge strides in their dogs over the last 100 years.

There are detailed descriptions of the dogs themselves as well as their hunting styles (not to mention photos) of Pointers and setters from England in the mid to late 1800s and many of them are closer matches to modern NA dogs than they are modern European dogs. The Euros tend to keep more of a breed-specific look in even their highest level setters and Pointers. So their dogs tend to have far more typical heads and coats because breeders have to have their dogs confirmed by a judge (ie; they must look like a setter or pointer and be within the breed standard for form) before they can get a field champion title.

That said, because of the enormous amount of competition and because of the nature of judging a dogs looks, Euro dogs now have exaggerated looks compared to North American dogs (well except for the tail), I mean, just look at this bad boy!

Hastro des Buveurs d'Air
One of my favorite photos that I ever took is of FDSB hall of famer Colvin Davis with my Pont-Audemer Spaniel pup in his arms. I told him that Uma was one of only three hundred Pont-Audemers in the world and that her mother was a kick-ass field trial champion in France. Colvin just smiled, held her for the camera and said "Well I'll be!"

And THAT really told me a lot about guys like Colvin who have dedicated their lives to their pursuit. They are secure enough in the knowledge that what they have achieved is true greatness in their field, and they are able to understand and accept the fact that others can achieve true greatness too, even if they took a different road to get there.


Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals
www.dogwilling.ca


Plus ça change....

France is full of treasures. From ancient castles to the best wines, cheeses, guns and gun dogs on the planet, the French really have a knack for combining art and science to come up with something greater than the sum of its parts. Take French libraries for example. Some of them are more than just repositories of written works, they are works of art in and of themselves. And when it comes to the cutting edge of technology, French libraries lead the way in terms of online access to incredible treasure troves of information.



The Bibliothèque nationale de France's digital library Gallica is second to none. It was established in 1997 and was made available on the Web in 2012. Anyone with access to the net can consult the over 2 million documents in the collection and I must admit that I visit the site at least once a day and sometimes squeal like a kid in a candy shop when I find something really interesting...like THIS:

It's an article published in 1933 in a magazine called "L'Éleveur : journal hebdomadaire illustré de zoologie appliquée, de chasse, d'acclimatation et de la médecine comparée des animaux utiles." It is description of the Picardy Spaniel's situation at the time and a detailed version of the breed's (then) standard. Here is the original (click to view full size). I will include an English translation below:


THE ÉPAGNEUL PICARD (Picardy Spaniel)

We recall having written, in one of our recent articles about field trials, that we should pay more attention to the field trials results of our outstanding native breeds of pointing dogs, bred by and for our own hunters to work in our conditions.

And we mentioned that there were excellent dogs just about everywhere in the hands of intelligent breeders, but that those breeders were, unfortunately, reluctant to promote them to the public. Alas! If the Tower of Ivory is a palace of delight for a thinker, it is hardly conducive to the sharing of the ideas that are formed there. Nowadays, especially, where mass marketing is King, in order to get the word out, you have to shout from every rooftop. When you present your dogs in competition it doesn't matter if they are mediocre, at least people will talk about them. But if you avoid showing your breed in public for a few years people will completely forget about it, as if it had never existed.

The Picardy Spaniel is a good example. Where would a hunter who is just starting out get the idea of ​​buying a Picard spaniel? He's only ever heard of Pointers, setters and Brittanies because that is all he sees everywhere. And yet many of our old French races are full of excellent hunting partners.

So today, we will give you and example: the Picardy Spaniel. But before we get to our subject, we must thank M. Flandre, the amiable president of the Club de l'Epagneul Picard, whose precious documentation helped us write this article. For thirty years Mr. Flandre has been as the relentless supporter of the Picardy Spaniel, and ever since his entry into the dog world in 1903, he has remained faithful to the true and pure breed type, always rejecting any infusion of blood English.



Although it has only been officially recognized recently, it is likely that the Picardy spaniel's origins go back a long ways since all the classic hunting authors, even ancient ones, mention not only white and brown épagneuls but also one with speckled gray coats, ones that are self-colored and some that are completely brown. Mr. A. de la Rue even claims that the latter variety reproduces better than the preceding ones.

The Picard is a large and beautiful dog. Its silky, wavy, speckled gray robe is dotted with dark brown patches, more of the time. It differs from the French Spaniel not only in terms of coat colour but by certain characteristics that confirm the decision to separate the two different varieties was correct. The Picardy has, more often than not, tan markings on its head and feet, which for the French Spaniel that is a fault. Other distinctive markings, even though they are quite small exist in the nose, eyes, back, kidney and tail set.

Developed to work in a region where hunting is extremely varied, the qualities of the Picardy spaniel should be great docility, a careful way of working and and the ability to quickly adapt to any kind of game. These qualities, which are the strong points for many of our continental breeds, the Picardy Spaniel has in abundance. It loves to hunt snipe, grouse, rabbit, as well as woodcock or pheasant. It does not fear the deep water and will easily retrieve waterfowl from the water, even in winter.

Its robust constitution and protective fur make it one of the best breeds for hunting the marsh and forest on the same day. It has a very docile nature, lively intelligence, excellent nose. It is devoted to its master, and that is a characteristic of racial purity since many of our spaniels have had excessive infusions of English blood and have lost that fundamental character trait. That is why the Picardy breed club has always proscribed infusions of English blood, so most of the crosses done in the Picardy where with French spaniels.

Statistics for the numbers of dogs shown in exhibitions, faithfully submitted by M. Flandre, give us some idea of ​​the evolution of the Picardy.


The first appearance was in 1899 at an exhibition in Amiens, where there are 6 dogs, all of them males were shown. In 1903, at Montdidier, eight; In 1904, at the Paris exhibition, 6 picardies among 13 spaniels, and two M. Raltel subjects made the first and second prizes in C. 0. In 1906, Mr. Amiens harbored 15 spaniels from Picardy and Paris, the following year, 7. From there, we jump to 1908, who lives 4 subjects at Dieppe and 1909, who lives 5 subjects in Paris. In 1910, it was, in a way, the apogee of the race: Paris had only 1 subjects, but all of quality, because two Champions came out; Amiens received 17 subjects with class opening of youth, field-trialers and Champion; Other Picards, among them Champion Toin, pBy the inscriptions in the exhibitions, which have been faithfully pointed out by M. Flandre, we shall have some idea of ​​the evolution of the Picard spaniel.
He made his appearance in 1899 at the exhibition in Amiens, where there were 6 dogs, all of them males. In 1903, at Montdidier, eight dogs; In 1904, at the Paris exhibition, 6 picards on 13 spaniels, and two M. Raltel subjects made the first and second prize in C. 0. In 1906, 15 spaniels from Picardy Spaniels at Amiens and Paris, the following year, 7. 
 
From there, we jump to 1908, 4 dogs at Dieppe and 1909, 5 dogs in Paris. In 1910, it was, in a way, the breed's apogee : Paris had only 3 dogs, but all of high quality, two Champions were made; Amiens, 17 dogs classes for youth, field-trialers and Champion; Other Picardies, among them Champion Tom, appeared at Bordeaux and Niort, who attended the first prizes and C. A. C.
1911 had eight entries in Paris; 1912, 6 in Paris and 11 in Amiens; 1913, 3 in Rouen and 4 in Paris; 1919, 4 in Paris and 2 in Rouen. 

1920 marked an event. : 25 dogs were presented at Amiens, all dogs of high class, of which a lot of 10 dogs owned by M. Flandre, obtained the prize of honor of the President of the Republic, against a superb lot of Irish setters; Five very good dogs, including a male with C. A. C., were also in Rouen that same year. 

1921 saw the first special exhibition of the club, which brought together at Amiens 27 dog including a class of first-rate females: 3 subjects in Lille; 5 in Paris and 2 in Rouen, that same year.
1922 had 26 dogs at Amiens; 13 in Paris, 1 in Brussels, the famous Sapphire, 11 in Arras. 

1923 had 28 dogs at Amiens, including Saphir and Diane; 9 in Saint-Quentin, 9 in Boulogne, 2 in Rouen; 1921, 23 in Amiens; 1925, 11 in Arras: 192G, 4 in Reims, 5 in Paris and 10 in Amiens; 1927, 12 in Amiens, 3 in Paris. 1 in Béthune; 1929, 18 in Amiens. This is one of the club's last special exhibitions. 

1930 saw 10 engagements at Grandvilliers, 6 at Amiens, 2 at VilIe-d'Eu. 1 in Paris; 1931, 2 in Aumale, 10 in Beauvais, 6 in Amiens and 1932, 1 in Poix, 1 in Senlis, 5 in Amiens and 3 in Dieppe.

Since then, numbers have continued to decline year after year, but the quality has remained good. Although this survey does not pretend to be thoroughly complete, it nevertheless gives an exact idea of ​​the fluctuations of the Picard spaniel, and there seems to be at present a noticeable decrease in the breeding of this breed . With regard to field trials, we do not have the records. The most brilliant period was also that of 1902, 1903 and 1901, when the famous Champion Tom, to M. Ralttel, was presented by Cotterousse, notably at Nantes and at Sully-sur-Loire.


Beside him, Bellotte, Pyrrhus of Picardy, and others, made mention of them at the time. They would then compete with all the spaniels and sometimes even with the English dogs and yet managed to rank honorably.

BREED STANDARD
In terms of conformation, here are the points which were fixed in 1908 by MM. Flanders, Yves, Parel, Mégnin and some other supporters of the Picardy spaniel, under the presidency of M. de Coninck:

Nose - Qualities: Brown, medium, fairly round. Faults: Black, sharp, tight or double nose.
Lips - Qualities: Average thickness, somewhat lowered, not too pendent. Faults: too thick and too high.
Muzzle - Qualities: long, fairly broad, diminishing from the attachment of the head to the muzzle and very slight prominence in the middle. Faults: too short, too abrupt, head pear shaped or too thin.
Skull - Qualities: Round and broad, flat sides, oblique and not at right angles. Faults: square or too straight, narrow and short.
Eyes - Qualities: dark amber color, very open, frank and very expressive. Faults: Too light, wicked look, too sunken or or slanted.
Ears Qualities: well feathered, nicely framing the head. Beautiful wavy hairs. Faults: narrow, short, attached too high, too curly or lacking feathering.
Neck. - Qualities: well attached, well muscled. Faults: too long, too small or too short
Shoulders b- Qualities: fairly long, fairly muscular. Faults: Short, too straight, too oblique or too wide.
Limbs - Qualities: well muscled. Faults: too fine.
Chest - Qualities: deep, fairly broad, straight down to the elbow. Faults: too narrow not well down
Back - Qualities: medium length, slight depression after the withers, hips slightly lower than the withers. Faults: too long and roached.
Loin - Qualities: straight, not too long, broad and thick. Faults: too long, too narrow and weak.
Hips - Qualities: Prominent, arriving in the middle of the back and the loin. Faults: too low, too high or too narrow.
Croup - Qualities: very slightly oblique and rounded: the tail not attached too high. Faults: too oblique.
Flanks - Qualities: flat but deep, though fairly high. Faults: round, too high, too low.
Tail - Qualities: forming two slight curves, convex and concave, not too long, adorned with beautiful feathering. Faults: sabre too long or curly, attached too high or too low.
Front legs -. Qualities: straight, well muscled, elbows well let down, decorated with feathering. Faults: without feathering, fine, elbows in or out.
Back legs - Qualities: straight thighs, well let down, broad, well muscled, well fringed to the hocks, straight stifles, hocks slightly bent. Faults: narrow thighs, no fringes, bent or tight hocks.
Feet - Qualities: round, wide, tight, with a little hair between the toes. Faults: straight or flat or too open.
Skin - Qualities: fairly fine and supple. Fault: too thick.
Hair - Qualities: thick and not very silky, fine on the head, slightly wavy on the body. Faults: fine, silky, curly or too short.
Coat - Qualities: gray speckled, with brown patches on the various parts of the body and at the root of the tail, most often marked with tan points on the head and feet. Faults: too brown or white spots, or black.
Overall Powerfully built dog, from 55 to 60 cm at the withers, strong and lithe limbs, soft, expressive countenance, head carriage: lively and strong, strong well-developed front.

This wonderful breed, which is becoming more and more rare in exhibitions and which is no longer seen in field trials, must not be left to disappear. Let us wish for a triumphant awakening, like that of his first cousin, the French spaniel. 

So how has the breed fared since 1933? 


Throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s and well into the 70s, the number of Picardy Spaniel pups born in France was very low. Only 9 Picardy pups were registered with the French Kennel club in 1970 for example. Fortunately, since the 80s, numbers have risen and the breed has found the support of hunters in other countries. The chart below shows that average number of Picardy pups registered annually over the last 45 years is about100 pups, a tenfold increase from 1970, but still dangerously low.  

Outside of France, stats are harder to come by, but my guess is that an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped in places like Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and Austria each year. So if the average life span of a Picardy is 9 years and there are say, 125 pups whelped per year, that means the entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals right now.

The numbers are better than they were in1933, but in a way, we are still waiting for the "triumphant awakening" the author of the article called for 85 years ago. And to be fair, we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. It looks like the number of pups being produced in France and elsewhere in Europe is on the rise and a few more hunters in North America are now getting into the breed. But there is still a lot of work to do so that "This wonderful breed... not be left to disappear."


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Léo's First Rooster

What to do for the next 99 days waiting until the hunting season opens? How about writing about our adventures from seasons past? Here is a story written by my beautiful wife Lisa Trottier about our pup Léo's first pheasant hunt:

As we do every year, we go to North Dakota to hunt pheasants. Last year we took Uma, our 13-year-old Pont-Audemer spaniel who still loves to hunt, and Leo, our 10-month-old Picardy spaniel. And I should mention that just seeing a Ponto and a Picardy on the same hunting grounds in North America is already a feat in itself!

Since Uma is now getting on in years and it was Léo's first hunting season, we weren't really expecting much. The main goal was to have fun with Uma and get Léo into some birds. Where we hunt, all the pheasants are wild. The are usually found in or near cat tails that surround the many ponds scattered across the huge fields of harvested grain.

We arrived in North Dakota in late afternoon after a 600 km road trip. We decided to let the dogs out to stretch their legs in a field that looked like it would be easy enough for a pup to run and hunt in. After twenty minutes of zooming around the field Leo caught scent of something and headed towards the reeds. I hear: "Point" so I rush to get into position.

Then Craig says: "Leo is on an awesome point, but I think the pheasant is running. I will see if he will do the 'coulé' (a technique that we had not yet taught Léo to do. In English is it called 'drawing on' and means getting a dog to cautiously follow a running bird after the bird has been pointed, but then tries to run off. The goal is to stay close enough so the bird doesn't sneak away yet far enough so that the bird hunkers down again for a point instead of flushing.)

I hear Craig say "coule.... coule..." (in English we'd say easy... easy..) but I can't see anything except his head and shoulders above the cat tails, about thirty yards away.

I keep watching and get into a better position. Once again I hear "Point!" and a few seconds later a big rooster comes cackling out from cover.

I shoulder my side-by-side and using my best Quebecois slang say "tu vas nulle part mon maudit!" (You ain't going nowhere bad boy!). I pull the trigger and the rooster crumples ... into the water!

Leo had never seen a pheasant, never pointed a pheasant or ever done the 'coulé' on a pheasant. Would he fetch one from water ...?

I could see the bird in the middle of the pond, but I couldn't see Leo since he was still in the reeds. But I heard Craig say "apporte!" (fetch!) and then "splash!" Leo leaped into the pond and was swimming like an otter. He rushed to the bird, grabbed it in his mouth, turned back and delivered it to hand. With huge smiles on our faces, we stood there, completely amazed and proud of our puppy!

We decided to finished the day on that note and headed back toward the truck. On our way, I said to Craig, "I'm so happy that I was able to make a good shot on Leo's first pheasant."

Surprised, Craig asked, "You shot?"

Me: "Well, yes!"

Craig: "I shot too, didn't you hear me?"

Me: "Not at all"

Craig: "Well I guess we shot at the exact same time."

We both thought that we were the one to hit the bird. But how could we find out for sure?

It turns out that it was pretty easy. You see, I was shooting copper-plated shot and Craig was shooting bismuth shot that has no copper-plating. So all we had to do was clean the bird and take a look at what kind of shot was in it.

Back at the hotel, we carefully inspected the big fat rooster. The verdict was a slam-dunk. Every single pellet we found was copper-plated. There wasn't a bit of bismuth in the bird at all.

So the honour of shooting Leo's first pheasant was all mine! Of course it took a lot of great teamwork, so it goes without saying that we were both absolutely delighted with the happy ending of Leo's first ever pheasant hunt. 





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Version française

Voici une petite histoire qui remonte à l'automne dernier alors que nous chassions, comme chaque année, le faisan au Dakota du Nord. Nous avions avec nous Uma, notre épagneule de Pont-Audemer de 13 ans qui aime toujours autant chasser, et Léo, notre épagneul picard de 10 mois. Il faut dire que trouver un Ponto et un Picard sur un même terrain de chasse en Amérique du Nord est déjà un exploit en soi!

Comme Uma est d'un âge vénérable et que Léo, le petit dernier, en était à sa première saison de chasse, nous avions des attentes raisonnables. L'important était surtout de mettre notre chiot en présence de gibier, en l'occurrence, cette fois-ci, de faisans. Là où nous chassons, les faisans sont naturels. Ils se tiennent normalement dans les roseaux autour des étangs épars dans d'immenses champs de blés ou autre moissonnés.

C'était la fin de l'après-midi et nous venions tout juste d'arriver après avoir fait 600 km de route et, pour dégourdir les pattes de nos chiens, nous avons choisi un champ ouvert qui nous paraissait assez facile pour un chiot. Après une vingtaine de minutes de quête vive et passionnée, Léo en levant la tête se dirige vers les roseaux. J'entends : «arrêt!» Je me mets alors en position en attendant la suite.

Craig annonce : «Léo fait un arrêt superbe, mais je crois que le faisan piète. Je vais essayer de le faire couler» (ce que Léo ne connaît pas encore…). J'entends : «Coule, coule». Je ne vois rien sauf les épaules et la tête de Craig qui avance d'une trentaine de mètres. Je suis aux aguets. Là encore : «arrêt!» Et après quelques secondes, un beau faisan glapit en émergeant des roseaux. J'épaule mon juxta en me disant : «toi, mon gros faisan, tu vas nulle part!» Et je tire un coup. L'oiseau tombe comme une roche… dans l'eau!

Jusque-là, Léo n'avait jamais chassé le faisan. Il n'avait donc jamais fait d'arrêt sur faisan. Il n'avait jamais fait la coulée non plus. Et maintenant, un rapport à l'eau…? Je voyais le faisan au beau milieu de l'étang, mais je ne pouvais pas voir Léo. J'ai entendu : «apporte», puis «plouf»! Léo nageait comme une loutre. Il s'est précipité vers l'oiseau, l'a pris dans sa gueule et l'a rapporté comme un pro. Avec un immense sourire accroché aux lèvres, nous étions totalement éblouis et fiers de notre chiot!

Nous avons terminé la journée sur cette bonne note et en allant vers la camionnette, j'ai dit à Craig : «Je suis tellement heureuse d'avoir pu tirer, et juste, sur le premier faisan de Léo». Craig me dit : «tu as tiré?» J'ai répondu : «ben oui!» Il me dit : «moi aussi j'ai tiré, tu ne m'as pas entendu?» J'ai répondu : « ben non! on a dû tirer en même temps». Craig était persuadé que c'était lui qui avait eu le faisan, et moi j'étais convaincue que c'était moi. Alors, comment le savoir?

Or, contrairement à Craig, je tire des grenailles couvertes d'une couche de cuivre. En préparant l'oiseau, nous n'avons trouvé que de la grenaille couverte de cuivre et pas une seule bille non couverte. C'est donc moi qui ai eu l'honneur de tirer le premier faisan de Léo! Mais en fait, quel beau travail d'équipe! Il va sans dire que nous étions tous les deux ravis.



More Shades of Grey for the Weimaraner

When I check the stats on hits to this blog, my posts about Weimaraners consistently rank at the top of the list, especially if they deal with the breed's coat colour. This morning I received a comment on one of the posts that posed a couple of questions that I felt deserved more than just a few lines to answer. So I decided to write an entire article in reply. 

Souris-Manon. The Grandest of the Grand Old Ladies!

Here is the comment:

I just got a Weimaraner that is all white/blonde in color. He came from a litter of nine in which 4 were his color, 4 were silver and 1 was blue. The Sire was silver and the dam was blue. I performed a DNA test to confirm that he is indeed a purebred weim and the results came back as 100%! However, despite having scientific evidence backing my boys purebred status, I have all sorts of weim breeders on Facebook getting very nasty with me when I post a pic on the weim site of my boy...they claim that I have been duped and am naive to think that he is purebred and that DNA tests aren't always right. Could you please tell me exactly what occurred scientifically for my boy to be born the color he is...is it the same occurrence genetically as the piebald weims? Thanks.

And here is my long-winded reply:

Congratulations on the new pup! I am sure he is a sweet-heart and that you'll have a ton of fun with him. And welcome to the world of the Weimaraner where, as you are finding out, things tend to get a bit heated when non-standard colours are discussed.

I am not a geneticist so I cannot tell you with any degree of scientific accuracy how your boy's coat colour came to be. And I am sure that even a canine geneticist would not be able to help you without doing some pretty extensive testing of your pup and a whole bunch of its relatives. So the only option for us here is to look at the possibilities and then place odds on how likely they are to be true.


Souris-Manon and Quell each pointing a woodcock (and I missed both birds!)

Could it be a gene mutation like the one that I wrote about here?  

Maybe. 

Genes mutate all the time and clearly, Dr. Epplen's research showed that in at least one case, a de novo (new) mutation in a Weim pup did indeed result in a purebred Weimaraner with a grey and white (piebald) coat. So could it happen again? Sure, there is a one in a million (or billion or something) chance of it occurring again...in a single pup. But in 4 pups? Well that would make the odds one in a million (or billion or something) to the fourth power. In other words, about the same odds as me landing a hot date with Beyonce. So I don't think that the coat on your pup and its three siblings is related to the same kind of genetic mutation event that caused the piebald coat in Dr. Epplen's study.

Could it be due to a throwback to the old days? Does the (real) history of the Weim offer any clues about how your dog's coat colour could occur? 

Maybe.

Today, we all know that there is only one officially accepted Weimaraner colour (silver-grey) but it was not really standardized until later on. Reading the literature from the first phase of the Weim's development, from about 1880 to just before the first world war (1914), we can see that there was actually quite a bit of discussion about what the 'correct' colour for the breed should be. In the early years the most common non-standard colours discussed were white, yellow and yellow-red. For example, here is what the breed standard in 1884 said:

White markings are common in most dogs, on the chest and toes. It is however, desirable to eliminate these in breeding. Yellow burned (tan markings) dogs are to be discarded completely. 

By 1935 however, it seems that those markings were still there.

...the reddish-yellow shade on the head or legs, which nowadays occurs seldom, to be regarded as a fault; however a Weimaraner with reddish-yellow coloring should not receive more than 'good' when tested...if outstanding for hunting purposes, he should not be excluded from breeding

Clearly, genes for yellow or yellow-red where part of the genetic make-up of the Weim's coat, at least in the early days. So could your pup's coat colour be due to a one-in-a-billion chance of old, rare yellow genes suddenly aligning in it's DNA? Maybe. But I doubt it.

You see, the yellow and yellow red shades discussed in the old literature involved markings in the coat, specifically on the head and legs. Those markings are in fact still with us today. Although very, very rare, they are called "dobe" markings (as in Doberman) and they look like this:


Not my photo. This could actually
be a Doberman x Weim mix.
Used for illustration purposes only.
Your dog seems to be self-coloured (ie: the entire coat is all one colour, not 'marked' with a different colours on the head, legs and chest). So if the yellow or yellow red genes that were in the background of the Weim are responsible for your pup's coat colour, then they would have had to not only lay dormant for over a century and then, by pure luck, happen to find the right combination to appear, but they would also have to mutate in some way and go from just 'markings' to affecting the entire coat....of four pups! Is it possible? Maybe (I am not a geneticist) but I would put the odds at around a gajillion-gajillion to one.

So, if we eliminate the possibility of a mutation and of a throwback to the early days (and I think we can in both cases), what else could result in such a coat?

Occam's razor would lead us to the very real possibility that the genes responsible for your pup's coat were introduced by an external source at some point in the past. In other words, somewhere in your dog's ancestry, there is at least one non-Weim ancestor that brought in the genes for the white/blond coat your pup has.

Where, when and how could this happen? I have no idea. What I do know is there is no such thing as a 'pure' breed. All breeds have a bit of this and a bit of that in them. That is how they were created and every now and then, by accident or on purpose under the light of the moon, a bit more of this or bit more of that gets added into the mix.
AAAOOOOO!!!!!

You said that one of the parents is a blue Weim. They are handsome dogs, I've written about them here. And it is pretty well accepted nowadays that the blue coat is the result of a bit of this or that getting into the breed in the US (the most common theory is that is was from a Doberman). So we know that there is at least one source of 'outside' genetic material in your pup. As an aside, it has been estimated by the owner of the Weimaraner pedigree data base that 99.9% of Weims in the world today have the original 'blue' weim somewhere in their pedigree as well.

But could there be another source of outside genes, ones that could lead to a white/blond coat? Of course. In fact, I believe that the vast majority of all the Weims out there with non-standard colors (and even some with the standard color) are the result of something happening behind the woodshed in the past. Gene mutations like the one described by Dr. Epplen are extremely rare. Cross breeding (accidental or otherwise) is not.

But what about the pedigrees of our dogs? What about the records that show they are pure?

Dr. Epplen, the same fellow who did the DNA article on the piebald weim published another study on Weims that (among other things) looked into the accuracy of the Weimaraner pedigree information stored in Germany. The results indicated that:
Tracing patri- and matrilineages, several entries in the Weimaraner stud book cannot be reconciled with the male-only, Y chromosomal neither the female-only, mt inheritance patterns, respectively.
In other words, the pedigree record in the homeland of the breed, where there is a system with the most rigorous checks and balances and the most tightly controlled stud book on the planet is not 100% accurate. So how accurate is the pedigree information outside of Germany, in free-wheeling North America were there are far fewer rules, no breed wardens and a much stronger tradition of 'anything goes'?  Pedigrees are not perfect. Some are accurate, some less so, and some are pure fiction.

But what about the DNA breed testing results that say he is a purebred Weim? 

I am not sure what breed DNA testing service you used, but I assume it was one of the many such services that are now being sold online and through vet clinics. I don't want to go into all the details here, and it really is quite a rabbit hole to go down if you google it, so I will just link to an article written by a guy who does not pull his punches when it comes to such things, Terrierman, in which he says:
Breed DNA tests are not too different from Gypsy Fortune telling, Fortune Cookies, the I-Ching, Numerology and Tarot Card reading. 
Unfortunately, unlike DNA parentage tests which can tell you with near 100% accuracy who your pup's mother and father are, tests for breed-specific DNA markers are generally not nearly as reliable and are not really designed to determine if a dog is purebred or not. They are mainly designed to narrow down the ancestry of mixed-breed dogs and in almost all cases where purebred samples are sent in, the result are the same: yup! your dog is what you say it is.

Felix in neoprene at the Libau marsh on opening day, 1999.

Bottom line: As a guy on the sidelines who just wants everyone to have a dog that puts a smile on their his or her face, here is what I think is going on.
1. You have a very cute pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.
2. Anyone who says nasty things about you or your pup is not worth your time or attention.
3. The most likely explanation for your pup's white/blond coat is that genes from outside the breed were introduced into its lineage at some point in the relatively recent past. Your pup is therefore probably not a 'purebred' Weimaraner and only you can decide how much that actually matters.

Me and the Amazing Maisey.
Personally, I don't think it matters at all and I get the feeling that it will not really change the way you feel about your pup. He deserves, and I am sure he will receive, 100% of your love and devotion.

The only issue you may have in regards to his lack of 'purity' is if you feel that you were defrauded by the breeder. I have no idea where you got the pup or under what circumstances, but if you were specifically told in no uncertain terms that your pup is 100% purebred and guaranteed to be from purebred parents and grandparents etc., well then you may have grounds for a complaint. But remember, the breeder may believe that the parents are purebred because that is what the person they got them from told them...and so on down the line.

In reality, without video evidence or a written confession, it would be impossible to determine exactly how and where the outside gene event happened and who knew about it at the time. So tread very carefully in that regard. It might not be worth picking a fight with anyone at this point. The most important thing is that you now have a pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.

Where I would speak out and where I would have deep concerns is if you see any effort by anyone out there to launch some sort of super duper, rare, cool new white/blond colour of Weimaraner. It is not because the colour is unattractive - your pup is super cute and will be a stunning adult. And it is not because the white/blond dogs themselves are bad or undeserving of loving homes - your pup should be the light of your life. But as you are finding out, the Weim world (and the entire purebred dog world) can be an unforgiving place, and you can go insane by tilting at its windmills. So any effort to launch a new designer colour of Weim is guaranteed to end in misery for everyone involved.

Here is my advice: 
  • Love your pup. 
  • Take care of your pup. 
  • Give him the fantastic life he deserves and forget about what nasty people have to say. Your pup doesn't give a rat's ass about them, why should you?


Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

www.dogwilling.ca