Spring is one of the best times to think about getting a new pup, and it is also the time people start calling me to ask for advice. I give the same advice regardless of whether the person wants a hunting dog or a family companion. I suggest they look for a field-bred pup. A field-bred pup is a pup from field trial lines, and one glance at the pup’s pedigree gives you this information. You want to see one or more champions in a four generation pedigree.
Reading a pedigree can be confusing because the two major registries for pointing dogs— the American Kennel Club and Field Dog Stud Book, use different titles to designate a champion in the field. In an AKC pedigree, a field champion has an FC in front of his name while a show champion has a CH in front. In a FDSB pedigree, a winner of an American Field championship has a CH in front of his name so you have to pay close attention to the registry. Look for FC titles in AKC pedigrees and CH titles in FDSB pedigrees to tell you if the pup is from field trial lines.
The best bird dogs are bred and not made. It is as simple as that. Natural ability and pointing instinct come from parents, grandparents and so forth. So does health, temperament, intelligence, biddability and trainability. Many bird dog qualities that make a field trial dog successful also make a hunting or family dog successful.
Field trialers are a competitive lot, and they want to show up at a trial with a dog that can win.
- If the dog is not healthy, he is not going to be able to run an hour.
- If his temperament is bad, if he is aggressive towards other dogs or people, he is not going to win either.
- Intelligence and a calm mind are big assets in the field. A dog that remains calm in the kennel saves his energy for competition.
- A dog that is biddable and wants to work for his handler finishes the hour while the dog that does not care will be lost.
- Trainability matters. Pro-trainers talk about high and low maintenance dogs. High maintenance dogs need constant work and re-tuning. Low maintenance dogs retain training. They may chase a bird on occasion but will point the next one. Successful field trial dogs have proven they have what it takes to be trained to the highest level.
Of course, not all field trial litters make good hunting dogs or family companions. Sometimes field trialers try to breed more extreme types of pups because great champions tend to be more extreme. That said, two or three generations removed, field-bred pups become less extreme as laws of nature move them towards the middle, and yet they retain many of these bird dog qualities.
If you are looking for a started dog, a dog that is not quite good enough to make it in field trials may be your perfect hunting companion. Often these dogs lack the independence necessary to win, but less independence is an advantage for the foot-hunter. An added plus is these dogs usually have a fair amount of training in them already. So, regardless of what you want to do with your pup, my advice is to consider a field-bred one. Pointing dogs were developed for the purpose of finding and pointing birds, and the qualities that make them successful in the field are the same qualities that make them special in everything else they do for us.