Chief's Brittanys® All rights reserved
Dave's Commentary, May 13, 2000
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When I was about 16 years old, I use to hunt quail over my Brittany Molly at a friend's farm here in Callahan County Texas.
He didn't have much acreage, but in the 70's there were still tons of quail to be found. You really didn't need a dog to find quail in those days but it sure helped.
I remember that the quail on that little farm thrived near the overgrown fencerows with woody and vine covered hiding places. Finding and shooting Quail was not too hard but getting the birds after the shot was very difficult. My Brittany Molly took care of the retrieves with ease.
Dogs are essential for finding cripples and those birds that fall into heavy cover. Dogs have found birds for me in the darnedest of places. Dogs mean the difference between a few birds and no birds.
At the field trial I went to this past weekend, the subject of hunting dead (retrieving down game) came up numerous times. Everyone was in agreement that retrieving is the other half of what a bird dog is all about.
All too often breeders bent on producing field trial dogs forget what a complete bird dog is all about.
Types of field trials should be discussed briefly.
Most AKC trials for Brittanys are incomplete in my estimation and it's not all AKC's fault. Parent Clubs have input in to their respective breeds' requirements. Why do I feel they are incomplete?
Many AKC Brittany field trials are incomplete because there is no retrieving stake, and, some of the stakes the dog only has to honor "if " the situation presents itself. Some field trial folks out there breeding dogs seem to have forgotten what the Brittany is all about and so aren't concerned with the natural retrieve and honor.
Bidability and easy training is the hallmark of a good Brittany, yet some of the blood lines out there are focused only on run and I dare say 'nose'. Why do I dare say 'nose'. Here's why:
It is a long standing, unwritten rule that a big running all-age Brittany in AKC competition should find no more than a couple of birds in his one hour brace. Why? Because this would slow down the ground race and decrease distance covered. So a dog with too many finds is relegated to 'gun / shooting dog' status instead of 'all-age' status. The All-Age dog with too many finds will not win and the owner is usually told privately that his dog "will do great in gun dog stakes".
So you think, a gun dog field champion must be it. Yes it is true that the gun dog handles well to the foot handler and isn't expected to run like an all-age dog but in many AKC sanctioned field trials for the Brittany, the gun dog doesn't have to retrieve either. It only has to honor if the situation presents itself (if you handle your dog away from a pointing dog because you know your dog won't honor, it's O.K. if done without obvious avoidance of the pointing dog.). You gotta be kiddin' you say? NOPE.
Well just WHO requires the retrieve? NSTRA, NAVDHA, AKC hunting dog tests and a few others. In NSTRA the dog must demonstrate an honor BEFORE being awarded the championship title. Are you saying that an AKC field champion may not know how to retrieve to hand and honor, you ask? Hey, I'm not going to beat around the bush; there are dogs out there like that.
Am I arguing for NSTRA, AKC hunt tests, NAVDHA, etc? No. For example, NSTRA is not perfect. The trial occurs on a small field that is maybe 40 acres square thus a dog does not have to 'open up' to find game. The dog, however, must retrieve to the handler and must honor. On the flip side, the dog does not have to be steady to wing and shot. Remember though, NSTRA is by hunters for hunters. NSTRA is weak in the athleticism and brain IMHO. There is no terrain to traverse and no way to check the brain of our dog by observing whether it seeks likely objections or not.
AKC has the aforementioned 'Hunting Test' in which the dog is expected to perform against a standard rather than it's bracemate. The only problem I see is that it plays second fiddle to field champions. Why? For one, the title is at the end of the name on the AKC Pedigree instead of the front of the dogs name like other champion titles. Thus, you are made to believe that a Master Hunter is less of a dog than a field champion would be...hmmm.
In AKC hunt tests, the Senior Hunter title is similar to NSTRA except the dog gets no "win" for the most finds. It merely passes or fails the standard (there are points assigned to each standard). The Master Hunter dog is completely steady to wing and shot, retrieves to hand, must honor with no handling and is a beautifully disciplined dog.
So I've come full circle now regarding the retrieve. The naysayer's insist that any dog can be forced trained to retrieve and it's true. For me? I want a dog that enjoys finding down game and is naturally driven to find OUR trophy...OUR REWARD...down game.
Let me add this about "force training any dog". About 4 years ago my sons owned a mixed breed soup licking Australian Sheep herding dog. I kid you not; I trained the dog to point birds on a dare. So yes, you can force train any dog to retrieve. By the way, the dog loved to fetch sticks too!
It is true that some natural retrievers have to be force trained if their owner wants perfection but I have found these dogs to be easier to train on average.
Just What does a hunter want? In my years of experience, I have found that He/She wants a biddable dog, easy to train, with lots of natural abilities because he/she doesn't have time to learn professional bird dog training and certainly doesn't have the money to send the dog to a professional trainer every year.
I recall one particular dove hunt as a kid in the harvested cornfields of Mississippi. I didn't have my Brittany with me and I killed a good many dove. I killed several doves in which their trajectory took them from the open field to woods behind me. I recall my dads words about not wasting game and working hard to locate your game. I found all but one dove that day and spent a good amount of time, prime shooting time, looking for my downed birds. If I had it to do all over again, I would have taken my dog Molly with me and that would have solved all the problems.
Molly was a natural at everything though she did need some training and I think I got more training in the end than she did. Molly was driven to find down game. She would look for the fallen bird exhaustively.
Once, I killed two doves with one shot over a tank (pond) here in Texas. Molly immediately made the retrieve and just when I thought I'd have a tough time getting the second retrieve, she dropped the bird in my hand and raced off to find the other bird. She found it too and was snappy about both retrieves. She was a natural retriever with no force training.
I still get tears of pride thinking about Molly and miss her so very much. She was a great gun dog...the complete package. So when someone tells me that any dog can be force trained to retrieve, I KNOW that THEY DON'T KNOW what a complete 'natural' dog is and what a source of pride a complete dog offers.
Y'all take care and keep trainin', even if it is a little warm out there!
P.S. Some dogs, even though both parents may be 'the complete package', are not naturals at everything. Your chances for the complete package, however, are drastically improved if you get your pup from parents that are the complete package and raise it in the proper environment.