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Major

The dog in the depiction above is Major.

Historians at the University of Manchester believe he was the first “purebred” dog in the sense we understand it today.

The Daily Mail reports:

A Pointer called Major has been identified by historians as the first ‘pedigree’ dog.

The team, from the University of Manchester, found a description of the dog in an 1865 edition of the Victorian journal, The Field.

It is believed that this was the first time that an attempt had been made to define a dog breed standard based on the animal’s physical form.

John Henry Walsh, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Stonehenge’, paved the way for the pedigree dog breeds we know today by creating a system of giving scores for different parts of the dog’s body.

His aim was to solve the bitter disputes that were brewing over the seemingly arbitrary decisions of judges at dog shows which could see a dog win a class one week and then come last the next.

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Before the 1860s, types of dogs were defined by what they did, not how they looked.

Pointers were gun dogs, valued and bred for their ability to find game and, though a recognisable type, came in a variety of sizes and colours. But in the show ring they were expected to have a defined shape that aspired to the ideal set out in the breed standard.

Major signalled a new age where dogs were increasingly bred for their form and from their pedigree.

The emphasis on conformation to breed types spread rapidly to other countries, where British dog shows were emulated and British dogs imported as foundational breed stock.

Major was in essence a type specimen on which a breed standard was drawn.

Breed standards were created to stop two real problems that happened in the early fancy:  fights over what the one true type was and to maintain continuity of type, which changed rapidly from year to year to meet the caprices of the judges.

Now, it’s certainly true that dogs that belong to a closed registry breed that have a defined standard do indeed change type rather rapidly, but before breed standards were invented, they changes were dramatic. One year only black and tan drop-eared collies could win, then then next only those with Roman noses and prick ears and sable coats could.

The pointer is derived from pointing breeds from Spain that entered the British Isles following the Spanish War of Succession.

They became popular among the landed gentry, who often crossed the dogs with foxhounds to add speed and endurance.

And because they were the possessions of the gentry, they became bred for style.

It certainly true that the dogs were bred for work, but they were also bred to look nice while they were working.

The average person had no use for this animal. In Britain, the pointer was only ever expected to point. They were never trained to do anything else, which is one reason why virtually all English pointers, even trial stock bred in the US, are not particularly well-disposed to retrieving. The only purpose this pointer breed ever had was to freeze in a stalking position whenever its nose indicated birds were near.

In countries with a more egalitarian hunting culture, like what became Germany after 1848, the pointer breeds were made far less specialized.  They were bred for the average hunter, who couldn’t afford to keep big packs of hunting dogs. The commoner hunter had to worry about dog taxes, and it made more sense to have a dog that could hunt down wild boar, point pheasants and partridges,  and retrieve shot game.

But in the British context, a shooting estate had to have many different dogs, each trained in a division of labor system, with spaniels flushing, pointers and setters indicating, and retrievers marching at heel with the shooting party, ready to be sent to fetch what was shot.

Thus, it would make perfect sense that the first modern purebred dog would have been a pointer.

The first conformation show ever held was at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1859, six years before Stonehenge would turn Major into a type specimen. The only dogs shown were pointers and setters.

It makes perfect sense that these dogs, which were used only by gentlemen to do very esoteric work on shooting estates, would be the first dogs that would be bred for a conformation show.

Their actual work was work that only the really wealthy could appreciate or afford to indulge in, and it’s really not a big leap for breeding a strain of dog that does nothing but point birds to breeding a line of dogs solely for what they look like.

Major was not of an exaggerated breed, and the dogs bred to look like him were not exaggerated at all.

However, when the notion of breed standards became deeply entrenched in the fancy, dog breeders decided they were sculptors of canine flesh and began producing all sorts of bizarre shapes to meet the standard.

This is where the insanity began.

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The pointing coyote

Coyotes are very intelligent and resourceful animals. We’ve been slaughtering for the better part of two centuries, depending upon where it was that Western man first encountered this creature, and the coyote has responded by expanding its range, even taking up residence in major urban centers.

However, I didn’t realize exactly how intelligent coyotes actually were until I came across this story in The Oklahoman from 1998. One might think that the man with the gun is getting ready to blast this coyote away, but that is not the case.

This particular coyote’s name was Wylie (how creative!), and he was born in the wild near Durham, Oklahoma in the mid to late 90’s. His mother was shot, which is usually a death sentence for any coyote pup. However, Max Montgomery, the man with the shotgun in the photo, took in the little coyote and raised him with his pointers, which he used to hunt quail in Western Oklahoma near the border with the Texas Panhandle.

The coyote learned from his pointer family how to do the pointing thing, which is nothing more than an exaggerated stalking behavior that is refined through both training and selective breeding. If one doesn’t train a pointer to hold a steady point, it will just be a flushing dog that shows a long stalk before flushing. Coyotes are particularly good at observational learning, so it may have been that this coyote just watched the pointers being put through their paces and just followed along. All dogs, both wild and domestic, have to learn what to hunt and how to use their innate predatory motor patterns to achieve predation. Coyotes in the wild learn from their parents how to mouse and hunt rabbits and in some areas, they learn to pack up and hunt deer.

This coyote’s tutors were the pointers and the quail hunter.  If the other canines in the pack use an exaggerated stalking behavior to hunt birds, then it will use its stalking behavior, too.

One would think that a wild animal would have a lot of fear of gun shots, but if the coyote had been introduced to the gun early on, it would have no reason to fear it.

I doubt that Charlie of The Daily Coyote fame would be of much use as a bird dog. Because coyotes have been selected through heavily persecution to be nervous and reactive,  I doubt that most coyotes would be able to do this sort of work, even if they had been socialized properly.

For these reasons, Wylie may have been the only coyote bird dog in history.

I’d like to know what happened when this guy showed up at ranch with his bird dogs. I can see someone asking about the lines of that pointer with prick ears.

I guess the only answer would be that it was very old American strain.

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From Hunter-Trader-Trapper (1912).

Morgan County, Ohio, is just west of where the Ohio River forms the border between West Virginia and Ohio, in a region that is called Southeastern Ohio or Appalachian Ohio.

The “coon dogs” are purpose-bred creatures. They don’t appear to belong to any of the established or then establishing coon or foxhound strains. Judging from the time period, I wouldn’t be surprised if they both had an Airedale ancestor.

Hunting raccoons with hounds is still a common practice for this region, but the pointer would be a bit of an anachronism today. During the time of this photo, bobwhites were very common in the many cultivated fields, but the species is in decline today.

Pointers are the traditional “quail dog.”  In my gestalt, they are dogs of southern plantations and preserves. Their main utility is in pointing bobwhites.

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This painting is by John Wootton, an English painter who painted many sporting scenes.

I don’t agree that this dog is a hound for several reasons.  The most of obvious signal that this dog is not a hound is the grey partridge (“Hungarian partridge”) displayed in front of the dog. This suggests that the dog was a bird dog. The tail appears to be docked, which was a common practice in English pointers in the early years.

And if this is a representation of an English pointer, it would be a very early specimen. Many of the earliest records of pointers in England date to the early part of the eighteenth century, suggesting that many of the ancestors of today’s English pointers were brought back from Spain or France after the War of Spanish Succession. Of course, there are records of pointers existing in England before this time, but the pointer really didn’t become common as a hunting dog for the shoot estates until the eighteenth century.

The dog strongly resembles a Braque du Bourbonnais, but it is the wrong color. Blue roan or blue-ticked is not a color associated with that breed– at least in its modern incarnation. Many members of that breed are also naturally short or bobtailed, and this dog doesn’t appear to have that feature. It looks docked in the same way that that German short-hair or a vizsla would be.

The fact that this dog is referred to as a hound also suggests a French origin. The term for pointer in French is “braque,” but braque sounds similar word in German, which is “Brache.”  Brache always refers to several breeds of German scent hounds. Perhaps there was some confusion about what this dog actually was. After all, it was a common practice for the English to breed smooth-coated pointers from Europe to foxhounds to give them more speed and harder drive.

However, if this dog is an English pointer, it also suggests something about the origin of the Dalmatian. There is an official story about origin of the Dalmatian, but almost all of it is speculative and dubious.  I don’t think for one minute that this dog is Croatian. William Jardine thought the dog was derived from a single import of a peculiarly marked hound from India, but judging from Jardine’s description in The Naturalist’s Library (1840):

From the general structure of the animal, we are of opinion it should be placed with the hounds; but though a very handsome variety, inferior to none of the above in elegance of form and beautiful markings, it is, with some dissent however, said to be without powers of nose or much sagacity, and therefore invariably entrusted to the stables, where it familiarises with horses. Having, in the general description of dogs, noticed the print of a specimen brought from India, with a white fur marked with small black spots, small half dejected ears, and a greyhound-like form, we have there expressed the suspicion that our present coach-dog may be derived from that individual, or from his breed, and we have accordingly given a representation of it.

Dalmatian dogs they are not, although a Turkish grandee might well have possessed specimens of the dog in that country. We figure it accordingly (pg. 193-194).

It is unlikely that any one dog from India could have founded the whole population of Dalmatians, but it makes a whole lot more sense that all of the dubious claims about spotted white hounds in Croatia.  There is a native Croatian hound that clearly would have fit any of the descriptions of these hounds from that region that might be confused with a Dalmatian.

The FCI gave the Dalmatian’s patron country status to Croatia based upon the work of Thomas Bewick, who depicted a Dalmatian in his General History of Quadrupeds in 1792. (Its ears appear to be closely cropped.)

Bewick claimed the dogs were from Dalmatia, but keep in mind that Bewick was not a particularly educated man, who was never formally educated. He was apprenticed to an engraver, and that is how he made his living. He did read books by the leading naturalists of the day, and he did spend a lot of time in nature. But he could have been told  just about anything about the origins of coach dog, and he would have not any way of verifying it.

And yet this is how we base our understanding of the Dalmatian’s origins.

Look at the engraving of the Dalmatian that Bewick did in 1792 and compare it to Wootton’s “Grey-spotted hound.” They have very similar features– including the spots. Jardine clearly states that Dalmatians had some affinity with greyhounds.  Bewick’s dog has some affinities with the bulldog but also has the something like a greyhound’s head. Both bulldogs and greyhounds can have something like these ticked markings. This dog looks like a blend between the pointer in the Wootton painting and those two breeds.

My educated guess is that the Dalmatian’s origins are in England in the middle of the eighteenth century with pointer or setter crosses to bulldogs, foxhounds, or greyhounds. The Dalmatian started out as a mongrel pointer. The modern Dalmatian often exhibits the extended stalking behavior we see in English pointers, and there may have been some addition of English setter to the breed, which perhaps the origin of the long-haired Dalmatians.

I don’t know why the historical research on the Dalmatian is so flaky. It is one of those breeds that has an impossibly fantastic origin theory that one has to question it.

But then I guess you couldn’t call them “Dalmatians” and keep a straight face.

Dalmatians are likely an English breed that dates to the eighteenth century. They likely are derived from unusually colored pointer crosses.

That theory seems far less fantastic, and although somewhat speculative, it is more likely to be correct than the claim that these dogs are from Croatia, Ancient Greece, or Bengal. The model requires fewer dubious assumptions. Therefore, it is more likely to be correct.


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The setter is in the setting position; the pointer is pointing.

Yes. There used to be a distinction between these behaviors.

Now, setters point upright.

Apparently, the behaviors are inherited the same way.  Hugh Dalziel wrote about setter-pointer crosses known as “droppers.”  The first cross were generally good dogs in the first cross, but breeding crosses to each other tended to produce dogs that were no good at pointing or setting.

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The Württemberg pointer was a German gun dog, a derivative of the old Spanish pointer, which still exists today.

These heavier pointers were the first of the index dogs.

The Spanish pointer is most likely the oldest variety.

In fact, although the term “spaniel” is thought to reflect the Spanish origin of those dogs, it is more likely that the pointers were first founded in Spain.

Spaniels most likely derive from red and white hunting dogs of the Gallic Celts.

This dog was replaced by the faster moving Kurzhaar (German short-haired pointer).

The Kurzhaar was also derived from the Spanish pointer.

However, it is a lighter pointer that has evolved into an HPR.

The Kurzhaar is the best-known of the German HPR’s, and the Württemberg pointer no longer exists.

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Bracco Italiano puppy

It was a Bracco Italiano puppy.

You could be forgiven for thinking it was some breed of scent hound.

After all, it grows into a dog like this one:

Adult Bracco Italiano

The Bracco Italiano is a heavy pointer that has developed into an HPR.

There are four breeds of heavy pointer/HPR left: the Bracco Italiano, the Spinone Italiano (which looks a lot like a griffon-coated Bracco), the Burgos Pointer (Old Spanish Pointer), and the Pachon Navarro. These dogs are the oldest extant pointers and most likely developed from St. Hubert-type hounds, which were a cross between a mastiff-type dog and a lighter scent hound.

It’s likely that a few of these heavy hounds gave off pointing behavior. I’ve actually read of bloodhounds (which are known today as St. Hubert hounds) will occasionally point. Montague Stevens’s motley crew of bear hounds included a bloodhound that pointed.

So it’s very possible that heavy hounds are the ancestral strain of the original pointers. Whether their ancestry is in Spain or Italy, I cannot definitely say.

I do know that virtually all pointing breeds in existence today claim ancestry to both the Burgos pointer and the Pachon Navarro, which were made faster through cross-breeding with light scent hounds. (The Pachon Navarro’s most unique trait is its occasional double-nose, which it has passed onto the Catalburun or Turkish pointer and the odd German shorthair.)

The Bracco Italiano developed as two distinct types. One of these was the Lombard pointer, which was darker  in color and heavier in build. The other form was the Piedmontese pointer, which was nearly white and lighter in build.

During the Renaissance, these dogs were very popular among the rising merchant classes. Both the Medici and Gonzaga families kept these dogs, which they used to hunt partridges and other birds.

I should point out here that this breed is virtually unkown on this side of the Atlantic.  That means they are almost impossible to find.

The dogs above are Roano-Marrone, which in my parlance is liver roan.

The dogs also come is Bianco-Arancio (white-orange). All of these dogs are bb’s, and these dogs have brown skin, regardless of  wither they are liver roans or orange and white.

orange and white bracco

So the dog from yesterday wasn’t a French scent hound. It was just an old breed of HPR.

This breed nearly went extinct by the end of the nineteenth century. A few dedicated breeders led by Ferdinando Delor de Ferrabouc were able to standardize the breed and increase its numbers. However, as I said before, this breed is very uncommon in the United States.

If you want one, it will take a lot of work just to find a breeder.

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