Work ethic is a phrase rarely discussed in regards to pointing dogs. The first time I heard the phrase was during an interview I did with a horseback pro-trainer. I asked him what he looked for in a field trial dog, and he said he looked for a dog with a good work ethic. I had never heard this phrase used in reference to pointing dogs, and it took me a while to understand the phrase and eventually see it in my dogs.
Dogs are bred for a purpose. In order to define work ethic, we must first look at the type of work the dog is bred to do. For example, herding dogs are bred with an instinct to herd livestock such as sheep or cattle in a variety of situations. The good ones are highly intelligent athletes that are able to anticipate as well as control movements of even the most difficult animals. Comparing herding dogs to pointing dogs is like comparing apples to oranges. We have to look at the purpose for the breed before we can judge the dog’s work ethic.
Pointing breeds are bred to hunt birds. To be a good hunter, a pointing dog must have the desire to hunt and not quit. This desire to hunt is how their work ethic is judged. I remember Bill Gibbons was asked for his thoughts on the three-hour National Championship at Ames Plantation during a seminar in South Carolina. Bill said dogs that were still hunting at the end of three hours demonstrated an intense desire to hunt thus proving they should be bred.
I asked Maurice Lindley what he thought about work ethic, and he replied, “Good bird dogs are born with it. The more desire they have to hunt, the easier they are to train. Dogs without it are fine until you start asking more of them, and then they decide it isn’t fun anymore and quit.”
I knew what Maurice was talking about. I have owned dogs that were always up for training. It did not matter what happened yesterday or last week, they were always ready to go. I could make training mistakes, even put too much pressure on them, and they were still ready to give one-hundred percent when I took them to the field. Sometimes, these dogs were more challenging to train, but they ended up going through the program faster. The desire to hunt was so strong they did not need time off. On the other hand, I have owned dogs that lacked work ethic and needed to be constantly coddled or built up.
Work ethic is rarely discussed and often overlooked by pointing dog breeders and owners. Most hunters and field trialers look for dogs that are bred with strong pointing instinct and natural ability, good temperaments, pleasing conformation and style, but what good are these qualities if our dog is a quitter. Maybe it is time to add work ethic to our list of qualities to look for in a pointing dog. Dogs with good work ethics do not run hot and cold at field trials or when bird hunting, and there is never any guess work about what they are going to do because they give one-hundred percent. Now, some things can interfere with work ethic such as over-training or major training mistakes, but if we have done a good job training our dog and he has a solid foundation, we will see a huge difference between a dog with a good work ethic and one without it. Once we train one with a good work ethic, we never want to go back.