The Versatile Hunting Dog

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal

March 2011

While conducting seminars at a recent sportsmen’s show, I was pleasantly surprised by the number folks who said they were prepared to buy their first bird dog puppy. The question many of them posed was “what breed do you recommend?” There is no easy answer.

My father and I had English setters. As early as seven or eight years old, I can recall those beautiful stylish points. Although I grew up with English setters, I love all pointing dogs. In a recent email from Rhode Island pro-trainer Sarah Conynham, she quotes her pro-trainer husband, Dave Marshall, as saying “a good dog, is a good dog, is a good dog.”

Adequately covering all the pointing dog breeds could fill an entire book. For this column, I’m going to cover a personal favorite…the versatile breeds. We’ll discuss the traditional breeds such as English setter and the Pointer in future columns.

The versatile breeds (sometimes referred to as “continental breeds”) are a product of continental Europe with the most influence coming from Germany. Dogs have been used for pointing game since the beginning of recorded history. Game, however, belonged to the wealthy…kings, lords and noblemen. Peasants and common folk were not allowed to hunt or kill animals. The wealthy were in a position to have individually trained dogs for each purpose, i.e., pointing, tracking, flushing, retrieving, etc. In the 1800s, however, the political landscape in continental Europe changed. Revolutions and wars changed the social pecking order. Land and opportunities to hunt were made available to the peasants and common folk.

This new-found freedom did not necessarily make them rich, however. Now the common folks could hunt, but they couldn’t afford a kennel full of specialty dogs. These new 19th century hunters needed a dog that could locate game, point, track and retrieve. Necessity is the father of invention. The versatile breed concept was born.

We can’t say exactly, today, when the first dog properly executed all the field functions we expect of a versatile breed. As stated above, most agree that the origin of the versatile hunting dog is primarily Germany. Original bloodlines were the Old Spanish Pointer, English Pointer, and Foxhounds and, I’m sure, a few unknown breeds. All of this cross-breeding has given us numerous versatile breeds to choose from. I believe there are now 26 individual versatile breeds recognized by the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). Among the most recognized breeds are the German shorthaired pointer, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, German wirehaired pointer, Vizsla, Weimaraner and Brittany.

Personally, I have the German shorthair (his field name is Dillon). The shorthair is physically attractive. I receive almost daily comments from strangers about Dillon’s attractive appearance. The shorthair has clean, well-balanced, body lines. The muzzle is long and correct for necessary olfactory function. The eyes always reveal a happy and pleasing nature.

The shorthair makes a wonderful family dog. They are people oriented and dislike being separated from people. They are a very energetic breed that means they would not be a good apartment dog. They must be exercised daily! If not exercised, they can become nervous which leads to an unpleasant experience for the owner…such as chewing and destroying an expensive pair of shoes.

Now to the important stuff. Due to all the cross-breeding, the versatile breeds have the natural instinct to perform all the functions you want in an upland bird dog. Like any sporting breed, those natural instincts are best developed with a good training regiment. And, a good place to start that training regiment is by attending a spring NAVHDA training event. Go to www.navhda.org. . to find a NAVHDA chapter near you. In Maine, I’m most familiar with the Yankee Chapter at www.yankeenavhda.com. I’ve recently heard of a new Maine group called the New England Seacoast Chapter. Contact info is: heather.magaw@gmail.com. In New Hampshire, there is the Merrimack Valley Chapter at www.mvnavhda.com. All have spring training days.

Dillon and I have hunted grouse and woodcock in two Canadian provinces and four different states. Plus, we’ve hunted sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge in Montana. He switched perfectly from tight New England grouse cover to the wide-open spaces of western grasslands….that’s versatile. He has an excellent nose and trains well. And, he’s a perfect housedog. What more could you ask for? I’m a fan of the versatile breeds.

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