The thermometer may not seem to suggest it but love is in the air – at least if
you are a gun dog. It’s the time of year when a lot of sportsmen begin thinking
about potential mates for their canine hunting companions or acquiring a new
hound, retriever or bird dog puppy from another breeder. In either case, they are
looking at the lineage of various hunting dogs, trying to determine if an offspring
might produce the field trial competitor or gun dog of their dreams. There is a
logical reason for the timing. Pups that result from late winter breeding will be
born in early spring and ready for some serious training about the time hunting
season opens next fall.
In looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, those hunters will follow a number of different
routes with a lot of them using a written pedigree as a road map. In spite of the old
saying that “papers don’t hunt,” a lot of hunters want a dog that’s eligible for
registration. The reasons are simple: a dog must be registered to compete in most
sanctioned field trials and a “papered” dog is worth more on the open market.
Even if a hunter doesn’t plan to field trial or breed his pup, buying registered
stock is a good investment. A written lineage is a pretty good indication that a dog
comes from a solid background and has potential to develop into a top gun dog.
This not to suggest that a dog from an undetermined background can’t become a
bragging-quality hunter but, knowing where he/she comes from increases the odds
What should a potential buyer or breeder look for in a pedigree? To some it
might as well be written in Greek. However, to those who know how to read it, it’s
a framework that describes where the dogs on it came from and what their
offspring are apt to achieve.
In evaluating a pedigree, many experienced dog trainers suggest looking at the
first four generations and not worrying about anything beyond that. The basis for
that line of thought is the theory that the fourth generation back (a dog’s great-
great grandparents) represents no more than 1/16 of a dog’s make-up. National
Champions beyond that point may be impressive on the chart, but they don’t really
contribute much to a dog’s gene pool. It’s sort of like being a descendant of
Napoleon Bonaparte. It makes for interesting cocktail conversation but it doesn’t
guarantee you’ll be a military genius.
One thing that is significant in a dog’s family tree is the number and type of
championships won by those most recent generations. Nearly all gun dog
registrations in this country are with the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the Field
Dog Stud Book (FDSB). The latter is primarily a listing of bird dogs (English
pointers and English setters) while the former lists retrievers, flushing breeds and
some of the pointing dogs. A majority of the hounds are registered with the United
Kennel Club (UKC) or of the many breed clubs.
All of these registering bodies recognize competitive titles of one type or
another and indicate them by a system of letters on the pedigree. The letters FCH
represent Field Champion. This title is won in an open field trial – stakes in which
both professional and amateur handlers compete. AFCH indicates Amateur Field
Champion. NFCH stands for National Field Champion, a win in an annual event
for which competing dogs have qualified through open stakes during the field trial year.
In evaluating a dog’s pedigree, a few field trial titles suggest that a pup comes
from stock with proven ability. They don’t guarantee what the dog’s personality
will be like, but they imply that he will have what it takes to develop into a top-
notch hunting dog. Conversely, an abundance of titles might suggest that the dog
will be a little too “high octane” for the average hunters.
One title that doesn’t mean much to a gun dog buyer or breeder is CH. It
represents a championship won in bench show competition. It suggests that its
holder has quality conformation and temperament but says nothing about its
abilities in the field. A case in point is the Irish setter. There are a multitude of
show champions in the breed but it’s difficult to find one that will hunt birds. The
letters DCH are a different story. They indicate that the dog has won both field and
show championships. Understandably there are not a lot of dogs listed as Dual
Champions. Brittanies boast more dual champions than any other breed.
Retrievers who have won in AKC-sanctioned field trials will have the above-
noted titles to their credit. Those who have been successful in field tests sponsored
by the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) will be
designated a Working Retriever (WR), Master Hunting Retriever (MHR) or Grand
Master Hunting Retriever (GMHR). The titles are similar for dogs who participate
in various levels of AKC field tests. In field tests, dogs compete against a set
standard rather than each other.
In addition to titles won, an aspect of a pedigree that should be examined
closely is the arrangement of various dogs in the breeding arrangement. The
breeding of an outstanding dog back two generations (to his/her grandpup) is
commonly referred to as “line breeding” and is an accepted way to establish
preferred traits in a line of dogs. Anything closer than that is inbreeding and greatly
increases the chances of undesirable characteristics coming to the surface.
While it’s true “the papers don’t hunt,” it’s also a fact that they can give the
discerning buyer or breeder an indication of whether or not their holder will.
Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’ll
get.” That may also be true for hunting dogs. But, if it is, a pedigree is like the little
diagram you find on the inside lid of some boxes.
Ed Wall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com