Companion Vs Competition Dogs
The pointing breeds are today largely dominated in print and video by field trial and show enthusiasts. For better or worse, many people in this country have a penchant for turning everything into a competition. Increasingly, competitive breeding and training are where the recognition and money are found. Putting aside arguments over the pros and cons of various competitions, it is certain that the nature of pointing dogs that were brought here from Europe has been changed, especially English Setters and Pointers. It is necessary to remember that there were companion pointing dogs long before there were competitions and that early competitions closely replicated actual hunting conditions.
Today, competitions of various types may have their place, however, they do not always replicate the conditions we may encounter when hunting. Likewise, competitive dogs may not be suited to the typical owner's needs in other way especially temperament. A companion pointing dog is not just a lesser dog out of field trial or show breeding. True companion pointing dog breeding is becoming a lost art.
Correctly bred, companion pointing dogs are a different entity from their competitive brethren not better or worse, just different. Searching for a pup to serve as a gun dog, companion and family member, the typical hunter may be beseiged by talk of champions in the bloodline and characteristics that may serve as selling points. However, are these characteristics necessarily ones that suit a pup to become a classic, companion pointing dog? The novice is likely unsure of the answer, and uncertain of what he or she is buying into. Original standards for pointing breeds were abandoned a long time ago in this country, and field trial and show competitions largely have become games in their own right, each with its own standards. Whether or not those standards suit a pup for your use, depends upon the type of competition and the type of hunting you do. Some will, some will not!
Temperament may be one of the most important, yet least discussed characteristics that has changed. The differences in type may be most pronounced among Pointers and my beloved English Setters. In England, these dogs were often required to qualify in the field before they could be shown on the bench. This produced dogs that were well conformed, natural hunters that were temperamentally suited to be cooperative and easily trained. Today, they are referred to as dual-type dogs, but are really tri-type dogs, taking into consideration conformation, hunting aptitude and most importantly temperament.
Disagreements over type began almost immediately in this country with distinct types emerging, few of which possessed all of the original breed characteristics. For example, English Setters evolved into the three distinct types of bench show dogs, field trial dogs and dual-type gun dogs. Contrary to popular opinion, the classy, dual-type pointing dog may be the most challenging and complicated to breed of all the types mentioned. It should be conformed to take rigorous terrain all day today, tomorrow and so on. This requires a physically substantial dog, and one with the brains and temperament that predispose it to hunt at a reasonable pace, contributing to its staying power. That same temperament should also suit it to the kids and the easy chair, since the large majority of its life will be as a companion even with the most avid hunter as its owner. The word pensive most often comes to mind when describing a companion pointing dog's temperament.
Pups should also be natural hunters, possessing a search instinct equally balanced with a desire to please. Perhaps the leading trademark of a companion pointing dog is this balance of drive and biddability. In addition to the search instinct, part of the natural field aptitude must include an instinct to pick up and carry that can be conditioned into reliable retrieving without force breaking, and the disposition to close down and hunt dead for cripples with determination. Also included should be a natural inclination to backpoint. The overall emphasis needs to be breeding natural gun dogs that can be trained by their novice owner with a minimum of professional help and a minimum of force.
Companion pointing dogs, especially dual-type ones, do not receive enough notice in print or video, and do not receive enough credit from those who thrive on competition. Show and field trial competitors are wonderful specimens. Classy companion pointing dogs should have their place as well. In addition, they are what most hunters are looking for. In the end, 'Joe Novice' is looking for a prospect that can be easily turned into an obedient, effective hunting partner and loving family member. In a previous column I outlined a process for searching for your own super pup. The most important part of that search is to find a litter bred from ancestors that do what you want your dog to do, and display a temperament suited to your lifestyle. With some thorough planning and thoughtful deliberation such prospects can be found.