Spring is one of the best times to think about getting a new pup, and it’s also the time people start calling me to ask for advice. I give the same recommendation regardless of whether the person wants a hunting dog or a family companion: Look for a field-bred pup. A field-bred pup is from field trial lines, and one glance at the pup’s pedigree will give 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 (AKC) and the Field Dog Stud Book (FDSB)—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 an 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’s 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. Here are a few important traits that make for a successful dog:
- If the dog is not healthy, he is not going to be able to run for an hour.
- If his temperament is bad or if he is aggressive toward other dogs, or people, he is not going to win.
- 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 doesn’t care gets lost.
- Trainability matters. Pro trainers talk about high- and low-maintenance dogs. High-maintenance dogs need constant work and review. Low-maintenance dogs retain their training; they may chase a bird on occasion, but they’ll 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. In an effort to breed great champions, sometimes field trialers will try to breed more-extreme types of pups, with increased athleticism, independence, or range. This type of pup is generally more dog than most people can handle. That said, two or three generations removed, field-bred pups become less extreme as the laws of nature move them toward the middle, while they still 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 the fact that these dogs usually have a fair amount of training in them already. Whether you are a hunter or a family looking for a companion, my advice is to consider a field-bred pup. 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 successful in everything else they do for us.