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Filtering by Tag: French

An American in France.

Craig Koshyk

Bill Kelley is a man on a mission. The goal of his Cache d'Or Bretons kennel is to produce Epagneul Bretons (French Brittanies) in the United States equal to the finest found in France. So, every year he travels from his home in Maryland to France to learn about the breed, run his dogs in typical French terrain, walk with judges at field trials and learn about the finer points of conformation from the best show judges in the country. 

As a fellow francophile, I have much in common with Bill. I've spent a lot of time in France watching French dogs do their thing. But I've never actually met an American there or spoken to one that has dedicated so much time learning about the French system. So I was interested to hear Bill's thoughts about the French field trial scene and the dogs they produce and asked him a few questions.

Can you tell me how an American such as yourself got involved with field trials all they way across the ocean? After forty years of pointing dogs, I decided to get my first Epagneul Breton.  At that time, I didn't even know that a French Brittany was an Epagneul Breton! Like a lot of people, I was attracted to the "close-working" gun dog- and the tri-color coat. I wanted an orange/white female and the breeder (Kevin Pack at Carolina Brittanies) only had a black/white male. I took him.  So glad I did. When I looked at Cache's (Vulcan du Talon de Gourdon) pedigree, I noticed their were lots of red letters for champions. Having started my bird dog life in AF horseback trials with an English Setter, I knew what our field champions did, but had no clue as to what champions in France were required to do. The more I researched, the more I realized the only way to understand was to go to France and see for myself.

I have been fortunate since my time in the breed to have some very fine mentors, chief among them is Pierre Willems, former member of the CEB France committee and owner of the world-famous Hameau de Sorny kennel. Through Pierre, I made my first trip to France more than a decade ago. I was permitted to walk the trial with Judge Jean Moussour.  Understand, in French trials, there is no gallery as one would see in the US. Only the judge, landowner's guide, and handler are typically in the field.

Several days in the winter wheat of Vimpelles showed me I knew very little of what an EB was made to do- BUT I was anxious to learn! I did not know it then, but I was watching some of the finest EBs ever to hit the ground in France. The hunting and pointing was intense.  The rules were formidable and unforgiving. It was a real challenge- and one that I believe has helped form the EB into the breed it is today.

Tell me about your first experience(s) there, what was it like to compete in such a different scene and how steep was the learning curve? My experience in French FTs has been limited to walking with judges. I have entered one of my dogs in a TAN in France (which in my observation is significantly different than those run in the US.  see below.) We did well, passing the TAN and being recognized by the judge, a top French trainer/handler, as "the best dog I've seen today." In the French system, part of a judge's training is to work side-by-side with a judge. In terms of learning, this is far better than running a dog.

A handler get to only see their dog. When one is with the judge through the day, you have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the rues and what a judge wants to see. Through the years I have had the privilege of walking field trials with several of the top judges in France. Each time is a wonderful experience. These judges are real dog men. They understand the demands of a working breed and the needs of the hunter who walks behind the dog.

Dog people are dog people, no matter the language or culture. I am fortunate to have some fluency in French, so that has been helpful. However, the common bond of loving good dogs and good dog work transcends any possible divide. The learning curve was steep at first, has smoothed out a bit, but I am still learning. What I have found is summer up in a saying one of my mentors has used- "When the student is ready, a teacher will be found." What wisdom. It's all about our willingness to learn. EVERY person I have met in the French dog world has been exceptionally welcoming and willing to share. It has been an amazing relationship.

What are some of the most important (or interesting or both) things you've learnt about field trials in Europe? The most interesting thing I've learned is that just as in the US, there is no such thing as "a field trial." While all the French/FCI trials are on foot, the game and terrain are as varied as Europe itself.  While the typical trial in France is the spring trial in winter wheat on wild partridge, there are equally popular autumn, shoot to retrieve, trials on released pheasants. There are also niche trials on wild snipe, woodcock, and mountain birds. Each has its unique requirements of both dog and handler. FT in France are serious business. Most dogs are handled by professionals whose livelihood depends in the success of their dogs. In addition, there is a circuit of trials held several days each week, not just on weekends. Dogs that come through this process successfully certainly have proven their merit for future breeding.

What do your American colleagues think about your competing over there? As for my American colleagues, I hope things are changing. As far as I know, there are only a handful of Americans who have run trials in Europe. Typically, they go to France with dogs they purchased and were trained on the Continent. In addition, the demands of "the game" make it difficult for US dogs to be successful on new game, new terrain, and new rules. The limited success US folks have found has been in autumn trials on released pheasants- something that more approaches our conditions.

Overall, I find that the American EB community's attitude can be summed-up in a quote from one of their club officer's at the CEB France National show several years ago- "I came all the way to France and I didn't learn anything." See the quote above about a "ready student." Within the past month, two officers of the US club have gone to France and run one of their dogs. Hopefully, they were "ready students." I often hear people talk about how much they love the EB. I wonder if they understand the process (the French process) that created the breed they love. I fear that like many other things, the realities of time and distance lead to changes and alterations from the original . The expectations are different here - lower, in my opinion. I have seen US EB TANs and trials. What goes here would never go in France. For example, I saw an EB run a TAN here. After two attempts to find scent, the dog was put on a check-cord and handled onto the bird. It flash-pointed for a moment and moved on.  It passed. This would never go in France.

As for myself or others competing in France, I think most Americans are simply uninterested. We tend to be be quite provincial and think that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world. Unfortunately, I am afraid this attitude will lead to the diminution of the breed. I am convinced that if we want to maintain and improve the quality of the EB in the US, we MUST have a stronger relationship with our firends in France.  After all, they are the creators and guardians of the breed.

What are some myths about the european field trial and hunting scene that you've had to dispell? The best way I can sum up the"myths" of the French hunting scene is to recount my landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip to France.  As we descended, all I could see were fields and woods. Little villages and towns, here and there, but mostly green. Where did Paris go? What happened to the Eiffel Tower? Like most folks, I think, my perception of France was a busy, urban, cosmopolitain place. It is that, of course, but so much more.

The landscape of France is vast and agrarian. The land is much more covered with field and woods. Spawling development in contained. Places to hunt, while typically organized for hunting clubs abound. Wild game, at least as compared to Eastern US, is abundant. Many French people hunt - and it is an important part of their culture. It is important to remember that for centuries hunting was the privilege of the ruling class. Poaching was a possible death sentence. Somehow, it appears that the French still understand these roots of our sport and strongly resist efforts to change the traditions they've developed. Mind you, neckties are not required when hunting in France as in the UK, but the French hunting traditions are strong. Frenchmen are proud to show you their Darnes and take you to the sporting goods stores. As you can tell, my appreciation for and affinity with the French culture is strong. I've learned a lot from my French friends and my life is richer for the experiences and relationships.

My best advice for any American who loves their EB and wants the breed to prosper is to get over their fears and insecurities about the langauge barrier and visit France, see their trials, and shows, and get to know the wonderful people responsible for giving us the dogs we love so much.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

The Picardy Spaniel: What's What and Who's Who.

Craig Koshyk

In a previous post I wrote the following about an excellent Picardy Spaniel that Lisa and I saw in a field trial in France.
Watching Aramis run, I realized that the Picardy Spaniel would probably thrive in the US and Canada. Speaking to Lisa after the trial, I said that it would be perfect for many North American hunters since, among all the French pointing breeds, it is probably the best suited to NAVHDA testing and to the kind of mixed-bag hunting we do. She replied: I think you are right. It’s a shame that the Picardy is such a well-kept secret. But if you write about dogs like Aramis, the secret won’t last very long!
Photo: Sarah Caldecott
Well I am happy to say that the secret may finally be getting out. In addition to a club for the breed and a number of breeders in France, there is now a Picardy club in the UK and Holland and breeders in Germany, Austria, England and Finland. This summer, the Picardy Spaniel population of Canada is set to double -- from one to two -- when we welcome our new pup Leo from the UK and there will soon be several more pups coming to in North America and even a litter or two on the ground in the next couple of years.

So I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about the current state of the breed, as of February, 2016.

Photo: Claire Josse
THE GOOD: The Picardy is a hidden gem among gundogs. Created by hunters, for hunters, it is still an artisanal breed. The vast majority of Picardy Spaniels look like they are supposed to look and hunt the way they are supposed to hunt. There are no large kennels breeding dozens of litters per year, no trucks full of Picardies on the major field trial circuit or show-only breeders seeking blue ribbons in the ring. Picardy Spaniels are still bred the old-fashioned way; mainly in the homes of hunters who produce a litter or two every couple of years from their personal hunting companions.

Like all breeds, there is some hip dysplasia, and eye issues like ectropion are not unknown either. But in general, the average Picardy enjoys good health. Overall, the breed's gene pool is relatively wide and inbreeding coefficients are usually not particularly high in most litters, even if it may seem that way on paper (see below).

The overall population of Picardy Spaniels is very low and that means the dreaded popular sire syndrome can occur more easily and have a stronger negative effect. Have a look at the graph I drew up showing the registration stats from the French kennel club. It shows that while the breed has gained ground over the last 45 years it still averages less than 100 registrations per year. Of course there are dogs that are not registered, but even if we include them, the number of Picardy Spaniels whelped in France has probably never been more than 200 pups in any given year.

Outside of France, stats are harder to come by, but my guess is that an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped in places like Germany, the Netherlands and Austria each year. So if the average life span of a Picardy is 9 years and there are say, 125 pups whelped per year, that means the entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals right now.

Testing rates for hip dysplasia and other health concerns are also too low, especially in France. There are still too many breeders out there that just assume that their dogs are fine, then breed them without taking advantage of diagnostic tests now available.

Photo: Claire Josse
CHALLENGES: Even before the breed was fully formed, "foreign" blood (mainly English Setters) had made its way into French Spaniels all over France, and in particular, into the French Spaniel type dogs bred in Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. I wrote about one such case here. When the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized as an independent breed in the early 1900s, it was supposed to remain pure. But like every other French breed of épagneul, crosses to setters occurred. It is believed they happened between the wars and again in the 1980s and 90s and have probably occurred as recently as just a few years ago.

Over the years, some of the crosses were sanctioned by the club, others were not. In any case, no one denies that if a Picardy could talk, it would have a slight English accent. And in some ways, that is a good thing. Limited and controlled doses of setter blood have helped widen the gene pool of the breed and given the average Picardy a bigger run, more point and better style.

But there have also been some drawbacks. It now seems that there may have been a few too many crosses in some lines and that breeders may have over-estimated their knowledge of basic genetics. In any case, there are some issues in the breed that need to be dealt with. For example, pups with so-called "lemon" colouring -- a coat like that of an orange and white setter -- have popped up in some lines. Breeders will now have to test their dogs to identify carriers of the gene to avoid "lemon" coats in the future. In addition, coats with a faded brown colour, very light or no tan points, lacking grey roan and/or having a lot of white are also occurring in some litters.  Another issue is that the overall build of some dogs is becoming more setter-like and there is a real fear that the versatility and practicality of the breed's continental hunting style may also be at risk.

So in some regards, the Picardy is facing a situation similar to that of the Korthals Griffon (although on a much smaller scale and with far less vitriol). Unwanted genetic material has made its way into the breed and it is now posing a challenge to breeders seeking to produce clean litters of pups that look and hunt like Picardy Spaniels. That said, I am actually optimistic that the breed will be just fine in the long run. The French tend to have a worldly, pragmatic view about these sorts of things. They are certainly much less puritanical about it than some of the more zealous purists in the US and UK where a similar situation would end up with torch carrying mobs looking for witches. No, in France there may be a bit of mud-slinging and hurt feelings, but in the end breeders of Picardy Spaniels, with the help of a growing community of supporters outside of France, will put the breed back on a more or less straight and narrow path and continue to breed some really good dogs.

Photo: Claire Josse
OPPORTUNITIES: I know I sound like a broken record, but I will say it again: the Picardy Spaniel should be better known, especially among North American hunters. It represents exactly the kind of dog many of us want: an easy-to-train, easy-to-live-with, naturally-talented upland birddog that is also an excellent water worker. And yes, Picardies can also blood track, hunt fur and fetch foxes. Just ask the increasing number of German and Austrian hunters that are getting into the breed.

And that, I believe is the biggest opportunity for the breed right now. There are exciting new horizons opening up for the Picardy Spaniel. After languishing in its native Picardy for too long, hunters from outside of France are bringing new energy and new ideas to the breed. And as they do, a renewed sense of pride and purpose is emerging among the creators and guardians of the breed, French hunters. They've had a real treasure on their hands for over a century, but needed a friendly reminder about just how precious it is. The Picardy Spaniel was a well-kept secret for too long. I'm happy to report that the world is finally finding out about it.

Here is a list of currently active breeders with links to their websites or Facebook page or email. If you are interested in getting a Picardy Spaniel pup, you may want to read my post about importing a pup from overseas first.


Photo: Claire Josse
And here is a brief overview of some of the more influential kennel names of the past and present that you will see in the pedigrees of most Picardy pups today.

Mr. Loir no longer breeds, but his kennel was among the first to be established after World War II and his efforts were key in reviving the breed in the post-war years.

DU PRÉ DES AULNAIS: Mr. Demagny no longer breeds dogs, but was one of the first breeders of Picardy Spaniels, along with Mr. Lempereur, Mr. Charron and Mr. Mailly to focus on fields trials to raise the profile of the breed. Mr. Demagny's dogs Joconde, Only One, Tina, Excel and Iroo achieved great results in the field. Other kennels active on the field trial scene in that same period include du Bois Bruyant (Mr. Lecaille) and du Mont Galant (Mr. Charron).

DE LA VALLEE BROUTIN: Mr. Marc Lempereur's kennel is perhaps the most well known and prolific in France. Mr. Lempereur, along with Mr. Demagny and Mr. Charron were the first to bring the Picardy back to field trialing in the 1960s. Pacha de la Vallée Broutin, an excellent trial dog was the foundation of Mr. Lempereur's kennel and greatly improved the pointing talents and coat quality of the breed. Pacha's son Truffe dominated the field trial scene for Picardy Spaniels and was followed by other excellent descendants such as Astuce, Chipsie, Echo, Futile, Futée, Pandorre and other champions including the well-known dog Fax.

DES MARAIS DE SAINT HILAIREMr. Lemonnier was one of the rare breeders of Picardy Spaniels to successfully compete in woodcock and snipe trials. His dogs Roxane des Terres de Pitance, Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Candy des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Comtesse des Marais de Saint Hilaire and Coyotte des Marais de Saint Hilaire established the excellent reputation of the kennel. Mr. Lemonier has produced a number of field trial champions but may no longer be breeding.

Mr. Joël Mailly started his kennel with Catch de la Vallée Broutin et Farah at the beginning of the 1980's. Since then, his small family-run kennel has produced field trial champions and field pointed dogs in every generation. Dogs such as Jaffa, Jeff, Milord, Rambo, Roxane, Vénus, and his latest dog Gena are the stars of his kennel. Vénus is in fact one of the very few female Picardy Spaniels to attain the title of spring-time field trial champion.

DES ETANGS ENSOLEILLÉS: Only produced one or two litters and is best known for Theo des Étangs Ensoleillés, an excellent dog used by Mr. Mailly.

DE LA VALLEE DE BOUCHON: Sébastien Roze continues to breed the occasional litter for the kennel founded by his late father, Dominique. Sébastien often participates in Saint Hubert events (shoot to retrieve trials) and typically gets excellent ratings for his dogs at the national breed show.

DU MARAIS DE LA MALVOISINE: William Brutelle's kennel has produced several high-profile Picardy Spaniels in recent years. Dogs such as Archimède du Marais de la MalvoisineAxel de la Malvoisine and Astro de la Malvoisine earned the kennel a good reputation for producing excellent field trial and hunting dogs. Axel also earned a BICP (versatile dog test) championship title and other dogs from the kennel have won and placed in field trials in France and the Netherlands. Mr. Brutelle also breeds English Setters.

Mr. Bruno Demoulin produced a number of excellent Picardy Spaniels including autumn and spring-time champion César du Rideau de la Louve and Natt du Rideau de la Louve, the first ever spring-time field trial champion Picardy Spaniel. Mr. Demoulin no longer breeds Picardy Spaniels and now focusses on breeding English Setters.

Photo: Julia Kauer

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Mystery Breed?

Craig Koshyk

Charles Fernand de Condamy (1847-1913) was a well-known watercolour painter in France in the late 1800s.  If you do a google image search for his works, among all the wonderful painting of horses and hounds, is this shot of a dog on point.

Charles-Fernand de Condamy
What is unusual about the image is that it shows a dog with a curly coat, and there is only one breed of pointing dog that has such a coat, the Pont-Audemer Spaniel. But as far as I can tell, the painting does not have a title. At auction, it has been listed as an image of an Irish Water Spaniel and/or Pont-Audemer Spaniel. One auction site even listed it as a watercolour painting of a Poodle.

De Condamy's painting may have also inspired one of French sculptor Albert Laplanche's bronzes. Unfortunately the small statue is simply listed as "Chien à l'arrêt" (dog on point), so we still have no solid confirmation of what breed it is. So what breed could de Condamy's watercolour represent?

Chien à l'arrêt by Albert Laplanche

Well, I don't think it is a Poodle. Here is how de Condamy painted that breed.

And it is probably not an Irish Water Spaniel. After all, that breed doesn't point... or DOES IT? Have a look at this video. It is of an Irish Water Spaniel and a Boykin Spaniel hunting pheasants in Oregon.

I asked the owner of the Irish Water Spaniel about the dog in the video and this is what he told me:
Ah yes, the hesitation flush (aka the point). With my limited experience of hunting with only 3 IWS, my speculation has two parts. One is that IWS are somewhere on the continuum between a flusher and a pointer and as such, they can be trained to go either way depending on the individual dogs personality. 
Tooey is a very reserved dog and if prey is not running, her chase instinct gets confused and so she points while determining what to do next. My male Cooper was an opportunist, and if he saw a hint of a bird, he would do anything to trap the bird before it flushed (we always got several birds each year that never left the ground). But if he winded a bird but could not see it at first, he would lock up while his brain processed what to do next. My youngest male recently saw a pheasant deep in wild rose and locked up tight, in a classic pointer pose. But when he encounters a moving bird, his prey drive kicks in.

The second speculation is that as the dogs confidence grows with experience, the tendency to point or hesitate at the flush diminishes over time. Tooey hesitates less and less, and only if the bird is in sight but not moving will it cause a point before the flush (she failed a senior level hunt test for this behavior but has never failed to find a downed bird or an crippled runner). However, the hesitation flush, or temporary point, has been a blessing for my shooting. Just having a few moments to prepare for the shot has allowed me to connect with birds that I probably would have missed with an instant flush. Not good for hunt tests, but great for the average shooter who likes to eat birds. 

Now, let's compare that to what I wrote about our Ponto Uma in my book:
Uma lives to run and runs for fun. To her, pointing birds is great sport. But so is flushing and chasing them. When she was young, I tried to cure her of bumping and chasing in the same way I cured our Weimaraners. I took her to a field loaded with meadowlarks and let her chase for as long as she wanted. But it didn’t work. When our other dogs were young pups, they were given the same treatment but they quickly figured out that they could not catch the birds, so they stopped chasing them and started pointing. Not Uma. The more she bumped and chased, the more she enjoyed it. She was so driven to play this game, I was concerned that she would run till she dropped dead. Eventually, by adjusting my training methods, I managed to bring out her pointing instinct while discouraging her impulse to flush. Uma is now a very reliable pointer and even backs other dogs on her own. 
I now believe that what Uma showed me early on was the basic conflict in the genetic makeup of the breed. With training she learned to listen to her pointing instinct and ignore the urge to flush. However, it could have gone the other way. It would have been very easy to train her to work like a Springer Spaniel.

Be that as it may, my guess is that the dog in De Condamy's watercolour painting is indeed a Pont-Audemer Spaniel. The artist lived and hunted in the north of France were Pontos were relatively common in his day. It is very likely that he'd hunted over them and knew hunters who bred and owned Pontos. So, until and unless more evidence comes to light that indicates otherwise, we can enjoy the lovely painting as an extremely rare image of a Ponto on point from the 1880s.

Uma the Ponto on point!

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Meanwhile in Picardy

Craig Koshyk

The 1880s were a difficult time for the French pointing breeds. Nearly overwhelmed by a tsunami of Setters and Pointers, they were struggling to get their house in order. Lacking written breed standards, even official names for some breeds, judges had a hard time figuring out what was what in the show ring and how the various breeds should perform in the field. Even worse, a seemingly endless number of “rediscovered” breeds kept cropping up. After judging a dog show in Paris in 1884, Ernest Bellecroix published a plea for order.
Last year we were crushed under a completely unexpected number of classes. In all the species, native or foreign, new breeds, until now unknown, were discovered. There were 145 classes! Of all these different classifications, which one is the proper one? We have no idea. Therefore we request that the Society that has the difficult task of improving the breeds of dogs determines these breeds once and for all and clearly defines their characteristics.  Even the owners of dogs sometimes had no idea what kind of dogs they owned or bred and often would enter them into the wrong class at a dog show or field trial. 
Meanwhile in Picardy, many of the locally bred dogs were of the French Spaniel or Pont-Audemer Spaniel type. They were medium sized, long haired dogs with white and brown or white and black coats and were said to be excellent workers in the field and water. However by the 1880s it was increasingly obvious that a hefty dose of British blood had made its way into most kennels.

Nowadays, the official story of how and why that happened goes something like this: wealthy British sportsmen would travel to northern France to hunt in the fall but then leave their Setters and Pointers with the locals for the winter since there was a quarantine back home. While they were away, their dogs would occasionally get lucky and have a fling with a local pointing dog and voila, suddenly a bunch of 'setterized' épagneuls and 'pointerized' braques were seen running around.

As plausible as it sounds, I've always found that story to be a bit too convenient. First of all, the quarantine act didn't come into effect until 1901. So for most of the 1800s British hunters could come and go as they pleased with their dogs. And secondly, it is well documented that a lot of French hunters were captivated by the beauty and abilities of the British dogs and would seize upon any opportunity to breed their dogs to them.  French sportsman and dog expert, Adolphe De la Rue, actually witnessed the very beginning of the widespread and indiscriminate period of crossbreeding in France.
I remember that it was on one of the opening days, so noisy and numerous, that I saw for the first time a large black pointing dog
 of the kind that appeared in France in 1814 with the English army. The dog was so highly regarded that his owner did not know who to answer first. All of his neighbors had the dog cover their bitches, even if the bitches were épagneuls. Based on what I saw, I can conclude that these thoughtless crosses were taking place more or less everywhere, a dog of a foreign breed would appear, everyone would take a liking to it and want one of its kind. 
Clearly, the various setterized families of epagneuls in the north of France were not the results of happy accidents or illicit flings. They were intentionally created for the use and enjoyment of local hunters. In fact, there are even written records describing exactly how some of the families were created and in one case, an extraordinary colour illustration of what some of the first crosses may have looked like.

In an 1885 article published in Le Chenil a M. DE TOURIGNY wrote about tri-coloured dogs that were entered as French Spaniels in a number of shows and were awarded first place several times. (*translation mine, original French version below)

In 1883 at the Tuileries dog show two black and white spaniels with tan points were shown as French Spaniels. These two dogs, Odett and Kroumir 1 won first and second place in the class.

At the time, we criticized the decision, noting that these animals were not of the French Spaniel type; they were more like watered-down versions of English Setters, obviously the result of cross breeding or inadequate selection. This year, Odett was again shown with her son Kroumir II and five puppies, and won again. And yet we still failed to find any more of the French Spaniel type in Odett and her offspring this year than in 1883. 
Our criticism didn't seem to have any effect since Odett and her offspring are still registered as French dogs by the Kennel Club and are well on their way to creating a line of pseudo-French Spaniels. Recently, a portrait of Kroumir and Odett appeard in the Journal d'agriculture pratique with an explanation of their origins. Here it is verbatim:

In I855, Mr. Molon obtained a Setter from Scotland. It was entirely white with silky hair, very beautiful and remarkably good. He crossed that white Scottish dog with a beautiful black and white silky-haired bitch with bright tan markings on her cheeks and the same colour on the nose and paws. The bitch was from North America, where it had been bred by a captain, a friend of Mr. Molon. 
Later a bitch from this cross was bred to a beautiful Setter from England, with the same colour coat as the dog from North America and most probably belonging to the Laverack breed, although it was white with large black spots and bright tan markings above the eyes, cheeks and legs. However it did not have the same sort of undercoat as the Laveracks. It is through judicious inbreeding among the first crosses that Mr. Molon established his breed, which is now as beautiful and as good as Odett and Kroumir. 
From the foregoing we can only conclude that the alleged French Spaniels are in fact from various Setter crosses; yes, they have been in France for thirty years, but their origins are actually English. We will refrain from discussing their qualities or from criticizing Mr. Molon; he bred and kept good dogs and they did well. Ultimately he did what we recommend French breeders do: use good dogs where you can, but use authentic purebred Pointers and Setters and stick with them. 
But somehow the products of all these crosses have become French because they were born here and we've become used to them. But they are not now and never will be French breeds of dogs, and we wish to remind the Judges of upcoming exhibitions, and the Kennel Club, that we must require purebred dogs, and not accept the unfortunate mixes we now have on hand.  

Eventually the French pointing breeds did get their act together. Official standards were drawn up, clubs were formed and breeders learned how to keep their lines pure...more or less. Nowadays, the épagneul breeds of France are recognized for what they really are; national treasures, living works of art, created by dedicated French hunters from a bygone era.

Today, the Brittany and the French Spaniel are doing quite well, while others like the Picardy, Blue Picardy and (especially) the Pont-Audemer remain vulnerable. But in yet another twist to the story, the French breeds which were nearly wiped out by an invasion of British breeds 150 years ago now seem to be winning hearts in the UK.

British and Irish hunters are shooting over Griffons, braques and épangeuls in increasing numbers. There is even a club for the Picard, Blue and Pont-Audemer in the UK now and the first litters of Picardy and Blue Picardy pups were whelped this year. A litter of Pontos may soon follow. I guess the old saying 'what goes around, comes around' is true after all!

Stay tuned for more on the origins of the Picardy and Blue Picardy Spaniels. I've got some more great images and quotes from the sporting press of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

* En 1883 on pouvait voir à l'exposition de la terrasse des Tuileries deux chiens épagneuls blancs et noirs, légèrement marqués de feu, exposés comme Epagneuls français. Ces deux chiens, Odett et Kroumir 1 furent classés par le Jury premier et deuxième dans la classe des Epagneuls français.

11 nous souvient alors d'avoir critiqué celle décision, en faisant remarquer que ces animaux n'avaient aucun des caractères typiques des Epagneuls français; ils faisaient songer à une dégénérescence de Setters anglais, suite de croisements ou de sélection insuffisants.

Cette année, ladite Odett, de nouveau exposée avec son fils Kroumir 11 et cinq chiots, a obtenu le rappel de son premier prix de 1883 et le premier prix d'élevage, toujours pour Epagneuls français. Nous nous sommes permis encore de ne pas trouver davantage cette année qu'en 1883 dans Odett et dans ses produits le type de l'Epagueul français.

Critique bien platonique, assurément, puisque voici désormais Odett, et tous ses Kroumirs, inscrits comme chiens français sur la liste des origines de la Société canine et parcheminés à la patte, prêts à faire souche de prétendus Epagneuls français. Ces temps derniers, le portrait. d'Odett et de Kroumir a été reproduit dans le Journal d'agriculture pratique, et une notice explicative de la gravure donne l'origine des deux chiens et de leur race.

Nous reproduisons textuellement : « En I800, 31. M. de Molon se procure un Setter écossais, entièrement blanc, à poil soyeux, très beau et remarquablement bon. Il croise ce chien écossais blanc avec une magnifique chienne épagneule à poil soyeux mais noire et blanche avec feu très vif aux joues et mouchetée de même couleur sur le nez et les pattes. Cette lice était originaire de l'Amérique du Nord, d'où elle avait été ramenée par un capitaine de vaisseau, ami de M. de Molon.

Plus tard une lice issue de ce premier croisement fut donnée à un très beau Setter venant d'Angleterre, de la même robe que la chienne venant de l'Amérique du Nord et appartenant très probablement à la race Laverack, bien que ce chien blanc avec grandes taches noires et feu vif aux-yeux, aux joues et aux pattes, n'eût point le fond de la robe traitée comme la plupart des Laveracks.

C'est grâce à des alliances judicieuses in and in entre les produits de ces premiers croisements que M. de Molon est parvenu à constituer la race, absolument confirmée, aussi belle que bonne, représentée par Odett et Kroumir. Après ce qui précède la conclusion se tire d'elle-même. Les prétendus Epagneuls français ne sont que des chiens provenant de divers croisements de Setters ; ce sont donc bien et dûment des chiens anglais élevés depuis trente ans en France, mais réellement d'origine anglaise.

Nous nous garderons bien de discuter leurs qualités, ni de critiquer M. de Molon; il a reproduit et conservé des chiens qu'il trouvait bons et s'en est bien trouvé. En définitive il a fait ce que nous conseillons aux éleveurs français:,se contenter de prendre son bien où on le trouve, c'est-à-dire de recourir aux reproducteurs authentiquement de race pure — Pointers ou Setters — et s'en tenir là.

Mais les produits de ces élevages, devenus français par la naissance, par l'habitat, ne sont pas et ne seront jamais ce que. l'on appelle des chiens de race française, et nous signalons tant à l'attention des Jurys de nos expositions à venir, qu'à celle de la Société canine, la nécessité d'exiger la production des origines, et la regrettable anomalie que nous venons de constater pièces en main. DE TOURIGNY

A New Pup!

Craig Koshyk

Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire 
Dog folks are a curious bunch. No matter how many dogs they currently have and how happy they are with them, thoughts of the "next dog" still pop up from time to time. For Lisa and me our next dog is always an ongoing conversation since we are constantly exposed to dangerous levels of puppy cuteness. After all, in our travels, we often meet with top breeders and handlers of all sort of dogs and many of them offer us a pup at some point. So we'd probably have a dog or two from every pointing breed in the world if our credit cards could handle it.

But somehow, we've been pretty good at resisting temptation. We keep just enough dog power with us to cover our hunting needs and keep us warm on cold Manitoba nights.

But then, last May, Henri died.

Henri the Pocket Rocket nearing the sound barrier in pursuit of snipe. 
His passing left a massive hole in our hearts and massive shoes to fill. We were suddenly down to two ancient gundogs: Souris nearly 16 and Uma 12. Sure, we had other dogs we could hunt with when needed. We chased roosters with the Amazing Maisey.  Zeiss rocked the prairies in honour of his buddy Henri. Beebe, a daughter of Henri , spent the fall with us cuddling, hunting and getting her freak on with Zeiss (pups are due next week!). But when the season ended, we were left with a nagging void around the house.

As our hearts began to mend, we considered getting another Weimaraner. But over the years, we'd lost two magnificent Weims to terrible diseases so now, every time we talk about it, we end up on the verge of tears. So we thought about the other breeds we'd always wanted. The list was long. Lisa and I have never met a breed of pointing dog that we didn't like. But we do have a short list of dogs we want next. It includes breeds with a lot of white in the coat (I wrote about the reasons why here) and a couple of other breeds that we've always loved, the Portuguese Pointer and the Picardy Spaniel

Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire, one of the best Picardy Spaniels I've ever seen. 
Then a couple of weeks ago, photos began to pup up on my Facebook feed. They were of the first litter of Picardy pups whelped in the UK. I had been helping breeders of Picardies and fans of the breed connect via Facebook and email for a number of years already. I'd even set up a Facebook group for the breed and told anyone that would listen that the Picardy would be a great choice for North American sportsmen and women. 

So last week I 'shared' the post with all the photos of cute Picardy pups and wrote: If you've ever considered getting a Picardy pup, now might be the time! Check out these photos of pups from the first litter whelped in the UK and try to resist.

One of the shots that shattered my resistance. Photo: Sue Axtell

And the more I looked at the photos, the more I felt my own resistance fading. At one point I had to step away from the computer and plead with Lisa,: "Talk me down dear, help me step away from the edge". I fully expected her to provide me with some solid, logical reasons why I should not get a pup at this time. But instead of being reasonable and helping me resist, she said: "A new pup!? I'll go get my purse..."

So, despite my best efforts, it looks like the first person to give into temptation!

SAY HELLO TO LEO!! He's headed to Canada!

Photo: Sue Axtell

Since announcing that we were getting Leo, I've received a lot of questions about him, his breed and our reasons for the choice. Here are a few answers to the most common among them:

Why that breed? Do you just want to show off by having a breed nobody else has?
How rare or popular a breed is has zero influence on our choice of hunting dog. I have always maintained that you can find hard-hunting, well-bred gundogs in any pointing breed. The only difference is how much time and effort it takes to actually find and get one. With some breeds it is dead easy; just find a litter, reach in and pick a pup. Your chances of getting a decent hunting dog are excellent. With other breeds, it is a total crap shoot, you really have to search high and low to find a good one among all the crap.

Having studied the pointing breeds for nearly 2 decades and having excellent contacts in a ton of breeds means that Lisa and I can find a decent gundog in just about any breed we choose. So it comes down to which breed is best suited to the kind of hunting we do (there are quite a few) and all the little things about it that, for whatever reason, we find appealing. Lisa loves the expressive eyes of the Portuguese Pointer, I love the tri-colour coat of the Picardy. Lisa loves the curly coat and quirky characters of the Pont-Audemer Spaniel and I like the class and style of Pointers and Setters.

This is Leo's father Justus, a fantastic dog in all respects. 
So why did you choose the Picardy in particular? Was it a spur of the moment decision?
We met our first Picardy Spaniels in France about 10 years ago and have been a fan of the breed ever since. In fact on one of our trips to Europe, I would have purchased the handsome fellow at the top of this post right there on the spot! I wrote about him in my book and used his photo for the main shot in the breed chapter. So, no, it was not a spur of the moment decision.

I'd always known that one day, I would get a Picardy. As a mediocre trainer and someone who just wants an easy-to-live-with gundog, French breeds tend to fit my style better than German breeds. And since the Picardy region has a lot in common with Manitoba --good to great waterfowl and upland game hunting -- the pointing breed native to that area seemed to make sense. And finally, I've always thought that among all of the French pointing breeds, the Picardy may be the best suited to North American hunters and the types of game and terrain we hunt. By bringing Leo to Canada I am putting my money where my mouth is and making a commitment to the breed. With fellow hunters in Québec and the US I want to establish a breeding population of Picardy Spaniels on this side of the Atlantic.

Loves water you say?

Aren't rare dogs way more expensive? Aren't they rare for a reason (ie: they suck)?
Short answer: no. Long answer here.

Leo left side. Photo: Sue Axtell

Picardy SPANIEL? Spaniels are flushing dogs, not pointing dogs! 
There are actually more breeds of 'spaniels' that point than breeds of spaniels that flush! Sort of.  It's complicated.

Are you abandoning the Weim? 
No. I love Weims and will continue to support the efforts of those in the breed that are committed to producing solid hunting Weims. We will continue to hunt with Zeiss and Maisey even if they don't live with us and will probably get another Weim at some point in the future.

Leo right side. Photo: Sue Axtell

The Picardy intrigues me. How can I get more info? Where can I get a good one?
Start by buying my book!  lol..  If you are on Facebook, check out the group I set up for the breed in North America here. There are breed clubs for the Picardy Spaniel (and Blue Picardy and Pont-Audemer) in France and the Netherlands and a Picardy club in the UK. If you are serious about getting a Picardy, drop me a line via Facebook or via email: and I will be happy to lend a hand.

Leo in full cuteness mode. Photo: Sue Axtell

UPDATE: New photos of Leo posted here

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Interview with a Connoisseur

Craig Koshyk

Unlike most professional gundog trainers in France, and there are a lot of them, Xavier Thibault specializes in training French pointing breeds. His love of the 'old' breeds goes back to his youth when he first started hunting and continues to this day. Recently I asked Xavier about his involvement with the French pointing breeds and his opinions on the current state of affairs of the French gundog scene.

Xavier and a small herd of Braque Saint Germains

CK: Xavier, how did you first get interested in the French pointing breeds?
XT:  I must have been 14 or 15 when I got my first hunting permit, and I was initially attracted to two French breeds, the Braque Dupuy and Braque Saint Germain. But when I became a professional trainer later, I mainly trained and raised English Setters. However I found them to be overrated. Now, don't get me wrong, Setters are great dogs with loads of natural ability, but to me, they were just overrated. So I went in search of a dog that was not necessarily from the top breed in the world, but a dog that suited me. A combination of circumstances lead me to the Braque Saint Germain and, by extension, to the world of our old French breeds. The more I got to know them, the more I fell in love with them.  I realized that all our old breeds were developed to serve hunters in the various regions of France, that they were created by the hunters, game and terrain found there.

CK: In your opinion, in what way do the French breeds differ from the other pointing breeds from England, Germany and elsewhere?
XT: They reflect the same differences that we can see when we compare the people and cultures found in those countries. The large variety of our breeds is due to the simple fact that they were created to suit the needs of the local hunters and average citizen of the area they come from. The major difference between the English and French breeds is also due to different breeding systems. English breeders developed a more sophisticated breeding system than the French.  To perfect the Pointer for example, the English used our Braques to lighten it, and then proceeded from there. We then adopted the English style and either anglicised our breeds by crossing them to Setters or Pointers or we abandoned them. On the German side, they turned to greater versatility, so they needed a different kind of dog, with a stronger character, but still easy to train. 

Braque Dupuy

CK: The French canine system has always faced the same challenges as canine systems in other countries. Egos and politics always play a role and make things difficult, especially in France where it seems that arguing has been raised to an art form. But despite all that, the French have created more pointing breeds than any others and they continue to produce some of the best dogs in the world. How is that possible? How can so many good breeds and good dogs come from a system that always seems to be at war with itself?
XT: Our system is becoming increasingly messed up, more and more people are breeders in name only and the system focuses only on the here and now, not on the long term. The rules are constantly changing and many clubs are now lead by people who are not there to manage a breed, but are there to use the club to promote a single line, usually their own. Too many breeders have no long term goals, their dogs are no longer being selected in a truly objective way, they are guided only by subjective criteria. Personally, I believe that if a breeder doesn't have long term, consistent goals and demonstrates strict selection criteria, he or she should not be allowed to breed. But French breeders reflect their Gallic heritage, they are guided more by passion than by logic and they can produce excellent dogs and we have created fantastic breeds.  

CK: What do you see in the future of French breeds? Which breeds are in decline? Which ones are on the rise? Are French hunters returning to the old French breeds or is Anglomania still strong in France?
XT: Anglomania will continue to be strong among French hunters, but some of the old breeds like the Braque d'Auvergne are on the rise. However, others are in decline, unfortunately. And the reasons are always linked to the people involved often at the club level. What happens far too often is that a gang of incompetent people seeking to gain an advantage over another gang of incompetent people, takes over a club. And the result is almost always the same, the breed's field abilities decline. If we want to improve all these old breeds our selection needs to focus less on creating the perfect dog and more on creating more good dogs. When I see an excellent dog that no one uses for their breeding program simply because it lacks a minor point in terms of breed type, for example, it makes me furious. Our French breeds are fragile and will follow the decline of the overall population of hunters I'm afraid. The ONCFS (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage) had a repository of ancient dog breeds, but faced with a lack of interest on the part of the breed clubs and other stupidity, the program fell apart.

Braque d'Auvergne
CK: How do French breeders and hunters feel about the growing number of people outside of France that are now interested in the French breeds? It seems to me that there is very little effort to promote the French breeds outside of France, where there is a growing interest and a market. Aside from the Épagneul Breton, the other French breeds are almost completely unknown outside of France, why?
XT: Because too many French breeders are no longer breeders, they are salesmen who consider anyone with 'his breed' abroad as potential competition. I'd say that 80% of litters produced by our so-called 'breeders' do nothing for the breed.  80% are produced without any specific purpose, without selection of any kind. And that is why I got out of breeding.  Too few breeders actually breed. Many believe they do, but they don't. Breeding means implementing a strict selection process to improve the breed. It is not about stroking one's ego, or about self-promotion and selling to the masses etc. Anyone who isn't in the process of implementing a 5 generation plan is not breeding, they are just producing puppies. 

Breeding means 15, 20, 30 years of dedicated work, of whelping puppies, keeping the unsold ones, training young dogs and competing with adult dogs. It means having breeding plans for many years in advance. It means understanding that just because faults don't appear, that they are not there, it means being able to step back to see your breeding program objectively.  Too many breeds now face an uncertain future because too many breeders are seeking the one 'perfect' specimen. But there are no perfect dogs and even a near-perfect specimen may contribute very little to the breed overall because when a gene pool gets too small, the breed will die out.  The wealth of a breed is in its diversity! Nothing good can come from a narrow-minded breeding program run by a kennel blind breeder.

CK: What advice do you have for someone outside of France interested in a dog from one of the French breeds, a Braque,  épagneul or griffon ? How does one find a good dog, a good breeder?
XT: I'd advise them to look elsewhere than the breed club. Look at the listings of litters and pups published by the French kennel club, and then contact the breeder to ask for pedigree and breeding program information. If you live abroad you will need to find someone over here that you can trust to help advise you, and if you can travel, then you should go see the parents in the field.  Avoid like the plague any breeder who bad-mouths other breeders just to talk up their own dogs. Avoid like the plague so-called 'experienced' breeders who've only been at it for 5 years and have had a grand total of two litters (you can generally find them on the board of directors of the breed club). Flee from all those who claim to have the best dog in the land, but always has a sketchy reason to never actually prove it in competition or tests. Avoid any breeder that does not hunt with his or her dogs! And for some breeds, look for a breeder outside France.

Braque du Bourbonnais

CK: Thank you Xavier
XT: You are very welcome!


Version française

CK : Quand as-tu développé ton intérêt pour les races françaises et pourquoi?
XT : Tout d'abord, j'ai été attiré par deux races françaises : le Dupuis et le BSG. Je devais avoir 14 ou 15 ans au moment de mon premier permis. Devenu dresseur professionnel plus tard, j'ai élevé du Setter anglais, mais ce dernier pour ma part était surfait, plein de qualités certes, mais surfaites. Je me suis donc mis en quête du chien non pas idéal, mais qui me correspondait. Un concours de circonstances m'a fait entrer dans le monde du BSG et, par extension, dans le monde de nos vieilles races que j'ai appris à connaître et à aimer. J'ai trouvé dans chacune de nos vieilles races un animal de terroir, un outil adapté à un territoire, adapté à des hommes, à une chasse, chaque chien de ces races françaises correspond à ce pour quoi il a été créé pour la majorité.

CK : À ton avis, comment et pourquoi est-ce que les races françaises sont différentes par rapport aux autres races de chiens d'arrêt? Anglaises, allemandes, etc.

XT : Elles sont différentes, comme le sont les hommes. La variété de nos races est due au simple fait que suivant leurs besoins nos paysans ou nos éleveurs ont sélectionné le chien qu'il leur fallait. Le fait qu'il y ait autant de différences entre chiens anglais et français est dû aussi à l’élevage. L'éleveur anglais sait évoluer dans l’élevage, le français non! Pour perfectionner le Pointer, les Anglais ont eu recours à nos braques afin de l’alléger, ils ont évolué. Nous, nous avons de tout temps suivi la mode et l’anglicisation de nos races ou leur abandon pur et simple. Du coté allemand, ils se sont tournés vers la polyvalence, donc il leur a fallu un autre type de chien, plus fort de caractère tout en restant corvéable.

CK : Le système canin français rencontre les mêmes défis que les systèmes canins dans d'autres pays. L'ego et la politique des hommes peuvent rendre les choses difficiles, surtout en France où s'engueuler est un art. Malgré tout, les Français ont créé plus de races de chiens d'arrêt que tout autre peuple et ils continuent de produire parmi les meilleurs chiens au monde. Comment est-ce possible? Comment tant de bons chiens peuvent-ils encore venir d'un système qui semble être en guerre constante contre lui-même?

XT : Notre système devient de plus en plus difficile, de plus en plus de gens n'ont rien à faire en tant qu’éleveur. Notre système, pour nos vieilles races, ne donne des résultats que sur un instant et sur un élevage. Les règles changent constamment au gré des dirigeants de club qui, en général, ne gèrent pas une race par l’intermédiaire d'un club, mais une souche; de façon générale, la leur. Le chien n'est plus vraiment sélectionné sur de vrais critères, mais juste sur des critères subjectifs. Trop d’éleveurs élèvent sans but, personnellement si un éleveur doit élever sans vraiment de but cohérent et une évidente sélection, il ne devrait pas pouvoir le faire. Mais l'éleveur français reste avant tout un passionné, l'éleveur français est resté gaulois dans l'esprit comme le résumait si bien Sénèque, je crois.

CK : Que vois-tu dans l'avenir des races françaises? Lesquelles sont en déclin? Lesquelles sont à la hausse? Les chasseurs français retournent-ils aux vieilles races françaises ou est-ce que l'anglomanie est toujours aussi forte?

XT : L'anglomanie restera toujours aussi forte, car dans l'esprit des chasseurs, leur race est la meilleure « du moins tant qu'ils n'en changent pas ». Certaines vieilles races ont le vent en poupe, le braque d'Auvergne, par exemple, d'autres sont malheureusement en déclin, les causes sont toujours humaines. En général, une bande d'incapables cherche à prendre l'avantage sur une autre bande d'incapables mais, de façon générale, ils se retrouvent toujours pour nuire à ceux qui eux travaillent sur le terrain. L'élevage de toutes ces vieilles races devrait être quantitatif et non qualitatif. Quand je vois un chien bourré de qualités ne pas reproduire juste parce qu'il manque légèrement de type, par exemple, cela me fait bondir. Les races françaises sont fragiles et suivront le déclin des chasseurs. L'ONCFS avait fait un conservatoire des vieilles races de chien, mais devant l'inintérêt des clubs ou, pour certains autres, leur virulence cette heureuse initiative est tombée à l'eau.

CK : Comment est-ce que les éleveurs et les chasseurs français perçoivent les gens de l'extérieur de la France qui s'intéressent aux races françaises? Il me semble y avoir peu d'effort fait pour promouvoir ces races à l'extérieur des frontières, là où il existe un intérêt croissant et un marché. Mis à part le Breton, les autres races françaises sont inconnues en dehors de la France, pourquoi?

XT : Juste parce que l’éleveur français n'est plus éleveur, mais un bon marchand qui voit dans le développement de « Sa race » à l’étranger une concurrence potentielle. Pour beaucoup, leur élevage est bon vu qu'ils exportent. 80% des portées faites par « des éleveurs » ne le sont pas par intérêt de la race, 80% sont faites sans but, sans sélection d'aucune sorte. J'ai arrêté le chien pour toutes ces raisons. Peu d’éleveurs élèvent.  Beaucoup le croient, mais peu le font. Élever c'est sélectionner pour améliorer la race et non flatter l'ego, s'auto-recommander, s'auto-déclarer, etc. Ne pas voir plus loin que les cinq générations à venir ne s'appelle pas élever, mais produire.

CK : Donc pour quelqu'un en dehors de la France qui s'intéresse à une belle race française, braque ou épagneul, que lui conseillerais-tu? Comment peut-il trouver un bon chien, d'un bon éleveur?
XT : Je lui conseillerais de prendre conseil ailleurs que dans les clubs, regarder les naissances auprès de la SCC, ensuite demander aux éleveurs une projection de pedigrees. Et ensuite, se renseigner, si vous habitez à l'étranger faites confiance à une personne sur place et si vous pouvez vous déplacer demandez à voir les parents sur le terrain. Pas de terrain, pas d'achat. Évitez comme la peste ceux qui pour valoriser un élevage en casse un autre, les éleveurs savants qui élèvent depuis cinq ans et ont fait deux portées (en général ils dirigent ou font partie du club de race). Fuyez tous ceux qui ont le meilleur chien du canton, mais qui pour x raisons n'ont pu faire de concours. Fuyez celui qui n'utilise pas ses chiens sur le terrain! Et pour certaines races, achetez votre chien dans de bons élevages hors de France.

CK: Merci Xavier
XT: Je t'en prie.