APPLES AND ORANGES – OR ALL APPLES?
By Harry G Story & John S O’neill, Jr
Different is defined by Webster as “being partially or totally unlike in nature, form or quantity.” When applied to present day all-age & shooting dog trials, the question is “What is the difference” Are they apples and oranges, or all apples?”
Before we launch into a discussion of the difference between all-age & shooting dog, or rather the lack of difference, we ask you to read & thoroughly absorb the classic rules written by the very wise Parke C Brinkley and adopted as “The Standard Sought in the National Open Shooting Dog Championship”. When you finish, read again the very last sentence in paragraph five “Proper handling response is paramount.”
The National Open Shooting Dog Championship is held for the purpose of promoting the ideal Shooting Dog, one that will find and handle correctly all the game birds on the designated course.
“The superior hunting dog is one that excites constant admiration for the quality of his performance and does nothing to displease or annoy. Without giving his handler any unnecessary effort, he will in an artist & polished manner give him the most shots that are to had on the ground covered.”
“The exemplary shooting dog displays an intense desire to find birds for his handler, a nose keen to detect the presence of game and the ability to locate it quickly and accurately by body scent. He shows staunchness, intensity, positiveness and style on point, and steadiness to wing and shot.”
“In hunting, a shooting dog of the first water evidences bird sense, and understanding of the habits of game and displays the wisdom to use the wind to advantage; he adopts pace and range that is most effective on the ground being worked under the conditions which exist. He possesses speed properly applied, is industrious and thorough in his search and has adequate range, which is intelligently directed. He moves easily, pleasingly, gracefully, manifesting style in action and on point. He exhibits perfect manners at all times. This includes when opportunity is afforded, backing a brace mate on rigid point.”
“Intelligent patterning of a course, hunting to the front, quickness in locating his handler and in seeing and hearing his commands, prompt obedience, courage and willingness to face unflinchingly heavy or punishing cover plus boldness on game, mark the class shooting dog. Proper handling response is paramount.”
“The performer that fulfills the requirements naturally and cheerfully is preferable to one that works mechanically without errors.”
“Whenever practicable, a dog may be worked on single birds and should do his work cheerfully and in a natural way.”
“It is distinctly understood that we are not in favor of a slow dog or one that is circumscribed in range. All the speed and range a dog can well utilize in the hunting field is desired, but it must at all times be applied properly. The bold, snappy, dashing dog will give quick and pleasing response at all times, keeping uppermost in mind the finding and pointing of birds for his handler. A dog should not hunt in straight lines, but exhibit intelligence and true bird-finding ability by hunting the likely places on the course, working for his handler, swinging to the course when the character of the country and cover requires so doing. Instinct, natural qualifications, training and experience equip him for superior work. Exceptional style, beauty of carriage and grace of movement are important.” Parke Brinkley
The National Open Shooting Dog Championship seeks to glorify the ideal hunting dog which works indefatigably in the interests of the gun, a dog with character and courage which displays all the essential qualifications, plus refinements of expert training.
Field trials in America developed over 1200 years ago from a desire to display in competition the hunting dogs of two or more spirited owners, who had usually friendly, informal competition caught fire, but quickly changed as owners sought the upper hand. The desire to win and gain “bragging rights” brought about the development of all-age dogs, the boldest and most determined of individuals, handled from horseback over the near limitless terrain then available. Not your Saturday afternoon bird hunt any more. Hot blooded sportsmen fancied hot blooded dogs!
Thus the early evolution of field trials bypassed & left a void for that group of owners who wanted to display something shorter than the extreme ranging dog and to travel at a more sedate pace. The shooting dog classification naturally followed, albeit somewhat disdained by the avid all-age follower & by the early 1950s began to assert itself as hunting covers shrank, by acquiring championship status for an inceasing number of events. There was definitely a new and growing, boy on the block.
Until a few years ago both all-age & shooting dogs were expected to display the same quality of finish and manners on game, but shooting dogs were less wide in range, required less handling, little scouting except for discovery on point & generally were respected to devote more time in hunting & less to heels. The all-age dog was still true to his purpose. He was & is expected to be bold nearly to a fault and to nail birds thrillingly while “running off-almost”. Based upon this essential distinction evolved our championships and other top stakes as they exist today.
But what is being shown today in the shooting dog classification is a far cry from what was intended and what is desirable if two categories are to be truly maintained. More often than not, instead of that more comfortable dog that comes around on his own, is subservient to his handler and looks into every inviting covert for game, we see in the winners’ circle a horizon buster that requires at least as much handling and scouting as his all-age brethren, devotes more time to running and less to hunting ande pales at the gills when held up to Parke Brinkley’s eloquent standards. Like his counterpart in the late 1800s the shooting dog field trialer, whether he be judge, owner, handler or club official, has lost sight of that efficient bird hunt in favor of life in the fast lane of field trials and a manifest desire to emulate the all-age dog.
Why on earth this “over the horizon” trend has developed in view of the essential beauty and practicality of the efficient horseback shooting dog is a mystery to us. Perhaps some explanation can be found in the large number of shooting dog devotees who have had little or no opportunity to spend time in the hunting field in this changing world & have a limited, if any, understanding of what a dog hunting to the gun is expected to do. Another great factor is the quality of & trend in judging. The ultimate responsibility for the rise or fall of the shooting dog category, is borne on the shoulders of the judges. In turn, clubs have an urgent responsibility in selecting the judges for these events and in instructing them as to the strict standards to be followed. Only through emphatic actions can the blurring of the two categories, all-age & shooting dog, be slowed & halted.
As a case in point, a few years ago, as is well known to field trailers who read this magazine, at least two well known major circuit handlers customarily ran their full strings of dogs in top shooting dog stakes on Mondays and the same dogs in top all-age stakes on Fridays, in the same type of terrain, winning handily in both. Any effort to explain the difference was mighty weak. There wasn’t any! This is not a criticism of these handlers. They were smart enough to win with the same dogs despite a supposed difference in the categories. The criticism is with a system that allows such a travesty to occur.
When the distinction was made between the all-age and shooting dog, there was a reason for the difference and that reason is no less cogent today. Great shooting dogs of years past that established the model for class performance now in many cases would be ignored because “they do not run enough”. Judges now seemingly look for class in movement, instead of a collected, animated hunting dog that is manifestly seeking birds and not just pointing the ones that a straight line takes him to. No wonder newcomers to the sport often plaintively comment, “These are shooting dogs?” It might be followed by “What am I doing here”
Remember, we are not herein criticizing all-age dogs and handlers. They are “doing their thing” exactly as the evolution of the sport has brought about and the constantly shrinking terrain, except for the prairies allows. We like to have our hackles raised too by a dog sweeping the whole prairie and nailing a chicken of a bluff so far away as to best be seen by telescope. What we are criticizing is the tendency of shooting dog fanciers to mimic the all-age dog, to subvert the original purpose of the class shooting dog performer so aptly described to Parke Brinkley and in attempt a misguided experiment in converting oranges to apples, leaving only apples by a different name. If a sharp, definable distinction is not to be recognized and enforced between the two categories, there seems to be little sense in continuing the charade. Just lump them all together one again and simplify life for all concerned.
The Vizslak Sentinel thanks American Field for their graciousness in permitting posting articles & photographs from their wonderful marathon runner for all ages AMERICAN FIELD magazine