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Pointing Dog Blog

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History of Pointing Dogs, Part 3: Order & Expansion

Craig Koshyk

This is the third and final part of the History of Pointing Dogs series. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Field Trial Judges, France 1913 
Field trials were first run on the continent in the 1880s. Initially, British breeds, continental breeds and even half-breed mixes would sometimes run in the same stakes. Unfortunately, the results were almost always the same. Pointers and Setters, bred for generations to seek the horizon at a gallop, simply ran circles around the completely out-classed continental dogs that were bred to hunt at a trot, more or less within gun range.

Clearly, unless some adjustments were made to the rules and format, continental breeds were in danger of either turning into just another version of the Pointer or setter, or of disappearing altogether. So it was eventually agreed that British and Continental dogs should run in separate stakes. In many countries, that division is still in place today.

But even as the first trials were being run in the 1880s, questions about their effectiveness as a selection tool were being raised. Hunters in some areas, Germany in particular, questioned the very narrow focus of the events. So they began to organize forest trials, water trials and non-competitive tests designed to evaluate every aspect of what were then called “practical hunting dogs”.

They eventually decided to follow the principles of livestock breeding instead of the horseracing model upon which field trials were based. After all, they were not looking for a one-in-a-million winner to use in highly inbred lines. Their goal was to establish and maintain a strong population of dogs that had all been tested and proven in as many ways as possible. But, in the early days, progress came mainly through trial and error. William Heinrich, a GWP breeder in Germany who shares my interest in the hunting dog history provided me with the following observations about the period:
Despite the fact that many of the men involved in these efforts were highly educated, they had little practical and theoretic knowledge that they could apply to the field of dog breeding. This presented breeders with a number of new challenges. One of them was how to combine different types of dogs into a single breed while retaining the various abilities of each. Today it seems hard to believe that those breeders did not have a very good understanding of breeding principles. After all, Mendel’s experiments, carried out in the 1850s, should have shed tremendous light on the mechanisms of heredity. Unfortunately the general public did not even hear about Mendel’s work until well after the turn of the 20th century. 
When the German versatiles were created, breeders did not even know that there is a genotype behind the phenotype! Reading the old publications, you get a sense of their frustration and despair. Things happened that they did not understand. We can now see that they discovered everything by countless experiments. Our breeds were developed by trial and error. This leaves a wide field for interpretation. That’s why history is so fascinating and why historians never agree.
The system that eventually proved the most effective was one that combined comprehensive testing with strict breeding controls. Several men are credited with coming up with the idea. The most famous is Sigismund Freiherr (Baron) von Zedlitz und Neukirch. Writing under the pen name Hegewald, his untiring promotion of the versatile hunting dog concept is what eventually led to the creation of all the German pointing breeds. He is also credited with helping establish the Deutches Gebrauchshunde-Stammbuch (German versatile dog stud book). But his single most important achievement was the successful battle he fought for the establishment of a performance-based testing and breeding system.

Another leading figure was Carl Rehfus who wrote under the pen name, Oberländer. Like Hegewald, Oberländer was a nationalist. Highly critical of the British pointing breeds and the “Anglomania” in certain circles of German society of the time, he insisted that there was no need to use English blood in the development of the German versatile breeds. He was also very much against the idea of dog shows and wrote scathing articles about the direction that Germany’s dog establishment was taking. Eduard Korthals and his patron, Prince Albrecht of Solms-Braunfels, also worked hard to establish the new system. But Korthals was an internationalist who tried, but ultimately failed, to establish a pan-European versatile dog movement.

By the 1930s, the majority of breeders in Germany were convinced that, for their purposes, a non-competitive testing and breeding system was superior to the field trial and dog show system used elsewhere. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that hunters beyond Germany, and its neighbors to the east, started to understand why.

Pointers and Setters had been in North America since colonial times, and it is likely that a few individual pointing dogs from the continent made their way across the Atlantic with the waves of immigrants in the late 1800s. But serious efforts to establish viable populations of Continental breeds in North America did not really get under way until after the First World War when small but increasing numbers of GSPs, Weimaraners, Brittanies and Griffons began to appear in the US and Canada. But when war again broke out in 1939, everything came to a grinding halt.

After the Second World War, vast areas of Europe lay in ruins, millions of its citizens had lost their lives, and many of the Continental pointing dog breeds were on the verge of collapse. At first, recovery was slow and difficult. Breed clubs had fallen apart, studbooks had been destroyed, and thousands of breeders and their dogs had perished. But almost as soon as the shooting stopped, dedicated men and women across the continent began the arduous task of rebuilding, and in some cases completely recreating, their breeds. 

And it wasn’t long before many of the tens of thousands of allied service personnel stationed in Europe found out about the local gundog breeds. By the 1950s they were buying as many as they could get their hands on and shipping them home to booming markets in North America and the UK. In the 1960s, as a growing middle class with more leisure time and disposable income than ever before grew across the western world, interest in the outdoor sports, field trials and dog shows exploded.

As a result of all the interest—and undoubtedly the lure of quick money—dog populations skyrocketed. In less than a decade, breeds that had been completely unknown before the war were now numbering in the tens of thousands. The first attempt to organize non-competitive hunt tests was made in Canada, in 1963, by the All Purpose gun Dog Club of Ontario. The club was mainly made up of field trial enthusiasts who wanted to add a water-work component based on retriever trials to their events. They began by adding some German test regulations to North American field trials rules, but for various reasons the club did not last long. It was disbanded in 1965.

NAVHDA Judges 
Undeterred, former club member Bodo Winterhelt, a German immigrant living in Canada, began to work on a new format. In May of 1969 he and other gundog enthusiasts met to form a new club. Their goal was to create a new system based on elements of German tests that would be modified to better suit North American hunting traditions. One of the first orders of business at the meeting was to choose a name for the club. After much debate, the members chose north American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, or NAVHDA. They also agreed to focus on recruiting owners of hunting dogs to the new club instead of trying to convince field trial enthusiasts to adopt a new format. John Kegel, at whose home the first meeting was held, wrote that at the end of the first meeting no one had any idea of just how big the club would eventually grow. Once my liquor supply was exhausted, everyone left not knowing that they had started a new movement that soon would expand to the United States and make history in the hunting dog world. 

The first NAVHDA tests were held in October of 1969 and May of 1970. Growth for the new club was slow at first. Field trials, which had been run in North America for nearly a century, dominated the sporting dog scene, and it was very difficult to convince people that there were others ways to evaluate the hunting abilities of gundogs. Even well-known dog trainer and writer, David Michael Duffey, could not quite get his head around the idea of non-competitive testing. Writing in the January, 1973 issue of Outdoor Life magazine he described NAVHDA testing as ... a form of field trialing that’s relatively new and strange to North American sportsmen and a somewhat alien concept... not likely to spread like a prairie fire in the next few years.

Duffey was correct in predicting a slow start to the new club, but things picked up steam in the late 70s and 80s and by the 1990s, it was growing rapidly. Today, NAVHDA has a membership of over 5,000 sportsmen and women. Its 65 chapters in the US, and nine in Canada, run a total of over 300 tests each year in which over 2,000 dogs are evaluated. What began as a small club with only a handful of early supporters is now a dominant force on the versatile pointing dog scene in North America.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 led to the reunification of breeds that had been separated 50 years earlier. Then, in the mid-1990s, the Internet came along. It was the most significant development on the gundog scene since the invention of gunpowder. Today, there is hardly a breed club in the world that does not have a web presence. For many individual breeders having a website is just as important as having a heat lamp over the whelping box. 

Almost overnight, the Internet stimulated renewed interest in many of the established breeds and breathed new life into breeds that had been struggling for years. These leading-edge technologies have also contributed to the transformation of the gundog scene. We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and test their DNA to screen for health concerns. We vaccinate our dogs and feed them store-bought food. We transport them in airliners and four-wheel drive trucks and we keep track of them in the field with the help of satellites floating in the sky above.

But there are some threats looming on the horizon. The most significant among them is the alarming decline of outdoor sports in much of the western world. In many regions, increasingly restrictive hunting laws are being passed and anti-hunting movements are gaining ground. Access to hunting areas is harder to come by and even field trial clubs and testing organizations are having a tough time finding suitable grounds for their events. And sadly, as older hunters pass on and fewer youngsters take their place in the hunting field, the hunting culture for which our pointing dogs were designed may one day fade away.

Yet, in spite of it all, some things will never change. We will always love our pointing dogs, and through them, forever seek a closer connection to the natural world.

Me and Uma, our Pont-Audemer Spaniel

Breed of the Week: Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla

Craig Koshyk

At first glance, the story of the Wirehaired Vizsla seems fairly ordinary— Hungarian hunters created the breed in the 1930s and ’40s by crossing smooth-haired Vizslas with German Wirehaired Pointers. But if you consider what was going on in that part of the world during the breed’s formative early years, the story turns out to be anything but ordinary.

Hungarian pointing dogs with rough coats are mentioned in writings as far back as 1886. By the early 1900s, “prickly coats” and long-haired1 coats were occurring in litters of smooth-haired Vizslas as a result of the rampant crossbreeding going on in Hungary at the time. Eventually, when the first standard for the Vizsla was drawn up, only the smooth coat was allowed. However, it is clear that some breeders continued to breed rough-coated dogs—probably because they found them to have an advantage in colder, wetter regions. Then, in the late 1930s, two breeders, József Casas and László Gresznarik, decided to make it official. They bred two Vizsla bitches to a solid brown German Wirehaired Pointer named Astor z Potattal. The best pups from the resulting litters were then crossed.

József Vasas and László Gresznarik where not just everyday hunters or breeders looking to build a better mousetrap in some far off corner of Hungary, both men were well-respected gundog experts. Gresznarik, in particular, was known throughout the region as an experienced breeder of German Wirehaired Pointers, Cesky Fouseks and other breeds. In Slovakia, Koloman Slimák—another well-known figure who would eventually go on to create the Slovak Pointer—also began to work on a wire-haired version of the Vizsla shortly after Vasas and Gresnarik got the ball rolling. However, it appears he may have used a slightly different recipe. According to some sources, he German Wirehaired Pointers, Irish Setters, and Pointers into his own line of smooth-haired Vizslas.

The part of Europe in which all three men lived and worked was not an out-of-the-way backwater. In fact, it stood front and center on the world’s stage several times during the early years of the breed’s development. In 1920, the signatories of the Trianon Peace Treaty completely redrew the map of the entire region. Hungary lost almost 70 percent of its former territory, including much of its northern highlands. Suddenly, millions of Hungarians found themselves citizens of a brand new nation: Czechoslovakia. Eighteen years later, on the eve of the Second World War, the situation was reversed. Hungary regained most of the land it had lost in 1920, and was given a large chunk of southern Slovakia. During the Second World War, the front lines of battle passed over the region twice, completely devastating much of it. After the war, Czechoslovakia was reestablished and the borders were once again redrawn.

It is hard to fathom how men like Vasas, Gresznarik, Slimák and others involved with the Wirehaired Vizsla could have continued their breeding efforts during those tumultuous times. But somehow they did and, somehow, the Wirehaired Vizsla survived—barely. Like its smooth-haired cousin, it had come close to extinction during the war, but its supporters rallied just in time to save it after the hostilities ceased. During the 1950s, a state-run kennel was established for both versions of the Vizsla and, by the 1960s, the breed had recovered well enough to be recognized by the FCI. Since the 1970s there has been slow but steady growth for the Wirehaired Vizsla in Europe and North America, but the breed is still far less popular than its smooth-haired cousin. Although still considered a rare breed, the popularity of the Wirehaired Vizsla is growing. There are now breeders in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Sweden, the US, Canada and the UK. Approximately 200 pups are whelped annually in Hungary, and an additional 100 to 150 more by breeders elsewhere.

The first time I ever saw a Wirehaired Vizsla was at an informal training day arranged by a group of enthusiasts right here in Manitoba. The only Vizslas I’d seen before had smooth, short coats, so i was quite surprised to see one that looked like it needed a shave! I was soon corrected by the dog’s owner who told me that the Wirehaired Vizsla is a completely separate breed.

Watching that young dog work through the mud and reeds of a local marsh—we were training for an upcoming NAVHDA test—was a real treat. He had a lot of drive and his coat looked ideally suited to the cover. Over the next few years, I saw other Vizsla here and there, but I never really got the chance to speak to any breeders or owners. It wasn’t until Lisa and I travelled to Hungary, and met an extraordinary young woman, that we finally began to learn more about the breed.

Zsófia Miczek
does not look like your typical gundog breeder. In fact, she looks like she should be on a movie set or at a fashionable café in downtown Budapest. Her pretty face, blond hair, and youthful personality do not exactly shout “hard-core hunter”. But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Not only is Zsófia perfectly at home in the hunting field, she’s a familiar face on the field trial, hunt test and dog show circuit in Hungary and beyond. In fact, she’s the founder one of the most successful Vizsla lines in the world.

Lisa and I met Zsófia at her home just outside Budapest and spent the better part of a warm spring day with her and her dogs in the field. Having photographed a number of smooth-haired Vizsla the day before, we were curious to see how the two breeds compared. The first thing we noticed, obviously, was the harsh, wiry coat. It seemed to be a slightly lighter shade of “russet gold” than the coat of the smooth-haired Vizslas, but still very appealing. Some coats were longer than others. Zsófia mentioned that breeders have now achieved better consistency in this regard, but that her oldest dog had the “old style” coat— noticeably longer and softer than the others. Dogs from more recent generations had harsh, flat-lying coats with just enough facial furnishings to give them a distinguished look without being too fuzzy. In the field, the dogs were all business. They showed a lot of desire as they hunted at a medium gallop out to about a hundred meters. They responded instantly to Zsófia’s whistle as she handled them across the rolling terrain.

Compared to the smooth-coated Vizslas, the Wirehairs seemed a tad bigger with a stronger, more forceful stride. In terms of character, they were a lot like their smooth-haired cousins: happy, friendly and eager to hunt. The strongest personality that day actually belonged to Zsófia. She is a fiercely competitive young woman determined to prove herself and her dogs in the male-dominated gundog scene in Hungary. Lisa asked her if all Hungarian women were so strong-willed and tenacious. Zsófia smiled, and replied:
I don’t think Hungarian women are known for being particularly tough. I guess I am just an unusually strong woman. I have had to deal with the fact that being blond, female and young is a disadvantage in this sport, because most judges and competitors are men, who just can’t accept my success. It’s as if some of them do everything they can to prove that I am not as good as my record shows. Emotionally, it is very difficult and I have a hard time accepting it because, if there is one thing I hate, it is discrimination. But I am not going to step back. I will continue to prove the quality of my dogs, no matter what! 
To me, Zsófia’s reply perfectly echoed the kind of determination the breed’s creators must have had in the early days. It is nice to know that the Vizsla is still in the hands of such tenacious people today.

Here is a video of one of Zsófia’s dogs working a (planted) quail.

1. pups with long-haired coats—a disqualifying fault in both standards—still pop up from time to time in litters produced by smooth-haired or wire-haired parents. 
2. Gresznarik owned the “Selle” kennel until the 1960s. It was taken over by Stefan Hrncár in 1971.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Breed of the Week: The Vizsla

Craig Koshyk

Hungarian is not related to most of the other European languages. In an interesting parallel, it is said that Hungary’s national dog, the Vizsla, is not related to the other western European pointing breeds. Some sources claim that the Vizsla came from Asia minor, just like the Hungarian language. However, unlike the rigorous studies that support a non Indo-European origin for the Hungarian language, the evidence for an ancient, Asian origin for the Vizsla is pretty slim.

Vizsla-20100717183719-Edit©2010 Craig Koshyk.jpg

Coming up with an accurate timeline for the development of the Vizsla is not easy. Many of its published histories read more like wishful thinking than scholarly analysis. Claims that the Vizsla has been purebred for over a 1,000 years or that ancient rock carvings depict Vizslas hunting with hawks are repeated endlessly in books, magazines and especially on the internet— without any attempt to substantiate them or to even put them into an historical context. For example, many authors claim that references to the Vizsla can be found in a 14th century manuscript known as the Vienna Illuminated Chronicle. (1)

If true, such a reference would certainly support the idea that the Vizsla is indeed an old breed of hunting dog. However, no one seems to mention that the Chronicle is written entirely in Latin and that the word Vizsla appears nowhere in it. But it does contain illustrations of hunting scenes, some featuring dogs. And if you squint hard enough and use your imagination, you may see one or two dogs that have a vague resemblance to the modern Vizsla. The problem is, they have a vague resemblance to just about every other short-haired hunting breed. They could be anything from Foxhounds to a Ridgebacks. Yet, somehow, a number of authors have concluded that not only are the dogs definitely Vizslas, but the illustrations actually prove that the breed has been kept pure for centuries! Even the AKC falls into this trap with an absolutely ridiculous statement on its website: Apparently, the breed was a favorite of early barons and warlords who, either deliberately or by accident, preserved its purity through the years. (2)

How an organization that exists to help keep dog breeds ‘pure’ can suggest that early barons and warlords accidentally preserved a breed’s purity is beyond me. Fortunately more level-headed people have taken a closer look at the history of the breed. One of the best analyses that i’ve been able to find is in an article written by Géza Frank Say in The Hungarian Review, Vol. 1, Issue 1, 1971:

A thousand years ago the Magyars occupied the land that is now known as Hungary. These people were hunters accompanied by various breeds of dogs, among them a “yellow dog” used for hunting. This information, however flattering, needs thorough research... This writer...regrets not being in the position to elaborate on the early history of the Vizsla due to a lack of available literature. That there was a “yellow dog” is an undeniable fact.

Okay, the ancient Magyars had yellow dogs; fair enough. Were they similar to the modern Vizsla? I doubt it. My hunch is that they were actually some kind of hound similar to the modern Erdelyi Kopóv (Transylvanian Hound) or Slovenský Kopov (Slovakian Hound) or a sighthound similar to the Magyar Agár (Hungarian Sighthound).

The yellow dogs were undoubtedly used to hunt small game such as hare, upland birds and waterfowl that they flushed for hawks and falcons, and some of the dogs were probably taught to “set” when hunting with a net. At some point, they began to be called Vizslas, but even today the word “Vizsla”—whose etymology is still pretty murky—is a term used to describe a type of dog, not a particular breed. Like the French term chien d’oysel, it may have originally been used to describe any dog that “served the bird” but nowadays it is used like the French term braque. Vizsla simply means “pointing dog”. (3)

In any case, efforts to develop a modern breed of pointing dog in Hungary did not get under way until about the middle of the 18th century when Hungarian hunters, like hunters across Europe, started to shoot birds on the wing. They probably began by crossing whatever local dogs were on hand to the pointing dogs that were spreading across Europe from Spain, France, Italy and, later, from England. By the mid-1800s there was probably a fair number of locally bred pointing dogs called Vizslas, and by the 1880s we find the first records of Magyar Vizslas (Hungarian pointing dogs) in public competition. In 1881 a field trial club was even established for the breed and hosted its first trial near Budapest in 1882. Several Vizslas were entered but it is not known if they were purebred or, as some speculate, actually crossbred with German Shorthaired Pointers or English Pointers.

Whatever they were, they failed to spark much interest in the format among Vizsla breeders. By 1886, the field trial club was disbanded. At around the same time, new hunt tests were being developed in Hungary, but not many Vizslas appear to have participated. It seems that Austro-Hungarian hunters were abandoning their native breeds in favor of the more fashionable English Pointers and Setters. By 1900 there were so few Vizslas left in Hungary that many worried the breed could disappear completely. Fortunately, a few dedicated supporters decided to take action. They searched the country for any Vizsla that appeared to be of “pure” blood and managed to find about a dozen. Out of necessity, they crossed them with other breeds. It is not known which breeds they used, but it is very likely that Transylvanian hounds (Erdelyi Kopóv), German shorthairs, English pointers and Irish setters were used.

Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the breed’s decline continued. By 1914 it was nearing extinction. Then, in November 1916, in a last ditch effort, Dr. Tibor Thuróczy published an article in the hunting magazine Nimród Vadász Újság appealing to his fellow hunters to save the Magyar Vizsla. He succeeded in rallying enough support for the cause and breeding efforts were renewed. In 1920 the breed received another tragic setback. With the signing of the Trianon Peace Treaty, Hungary lost huge parts of its territory to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Many Vizslas remained outside of Hungary and were lost to breeders trying to revive the breed. But the situation did lead to increased nationalism in Hungary and patriotic Hungarian breeders redoubled their efforts. They established the Hungarian Vizsla Club and the first stud book for the breed in 1920. The first official standard was published in 1928 and in 1935 the FCI recognized the breed. In 1936 the stud book for the breed was closed. Crossbreeding was no longer allowed from that point forward and the breed was declared “pure”.

By 1940, the population of Vizslas in Hungary was approaching several thousand, and it looked like the breed was out of the woods. Then, yet again, the ravages of war dealt the Vizsla another near-fatal blow reducing the population to dangerously low levels. The club disbanded, and the original stud book was destroyed by fire. In 1947, reconstruction of the breed got underway in a state-sponsored breeding farm at Gödöllő, east of Budapest. Dogs with known pedigrees, and those without pedigrees but meeting all the criteria for appearance and hunting ability, were used to create the modern Vizsla. In 1956, a new Hungarian Kennel Club was established, and accepted by the FCI in 1963. 

By the 1970s, performance tests and trials had once again been established and breeders started selecting for dogs with a sleeker, more athletic build and a faster, more dynamic working style. The Vizsla’s popularity grew enormously, both at home and abroad, with clubs forming throughout Europe and North America. Unfortunately, along with very rapid and uncontrolled growth came the inevitable development of show and pet lines within the breed. Today, most Vizslas are still naturally gifted, easily trained gundogs. However, the breed continues to struggle with a growing popularity among non-hunters, even in the its native land.

1. The full name is Chronicon Pictum, Marci de Kalt, Chronica de Gestis Hungarorum.
2. American kennel club, “vizsla history”, 
3. For example, in Hungarian, the name for the German Shorthaired Pointer is Német Vizsla and for the Braque Français is Francia Vizsla.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Breed of the Week: The Braque de l'Ariège

Craig Koshyk

Gaston Phébus, author of one of the greatest books on hunting ever written, le Livre de la Chasse, ruled over a region which is now part of southern France. Once known as Foix and Béarn, his lands were renamed during the French revolution, parts of them becoming the modern French département of Ariège.

The Braque de l’Ariège is a fairly modern variant of the classic continental pointing dog. According to a history compiled by Bernard Senac-Lagrange in 1940, and echoed in the FCI standard, the breed came from...
...the old French braques, which in the 19th century were crossed with braques of Meridional (southern) stock of white and orange coat, to give them more lightness and activity.
Jean Castaing, in a detailed analysis of all available records including first person accounts, disputes Senac-legrange’s story and argues that the Ariège was actually created by crossing old style Braques Français with Braques Saint Germain. No matter what its true origins, everyone seems to agree that large white and orange pointing dogs were being bred in the Ariège region of southern France as early as the mid-1800s. 

On June 9th, 1905 at a dog show sponsored by the Société Canine du Sud-Ouest, a number of eminent dog experts met to write a standard for the breed which by then had been named the Braque de l’Ariège. Interestingly, they also employed the services of the well-known sculptor Henry Villard, who created a life-sized model of the ideal Braque de l’Ariège. The sculpture apparently still exists, stored somewhere at the School of Veterinary Medicine in Toulouse.

The breed’s popularity rose steadily in the first two decades of the 20th century, but not without controversy. Some breeders, intent on competing with British breeds, began to infuse large quantities of English Pointer blood into their lines of Braque de l’Ariège. Others began to select for an all-white coat. The results eventually proved disastrous. Cases of albinism began to appear and, as the breed took on a more English Pointer-like working style, it began to lose many of the qualities that hunters in the South of France wanted in their dogs; namely a more moderate pace and range.

It soon became obvious that breeders had gone too far and that something had to be done in order to return the breed to a more classic braque style. So the club decided to allow cross-breeding to a related breed. But before they did, they sought advice from Paul Mégnin, one of the most respected authorities on hunting dogs of the day.
The club did me the honor of asking for my opinion. I left aside the Braque Saint Germain, and even the Braque Français, and I suggested the Bracco Italiano that, to me, seemed to be quite similar to the Braque de l’Ariège: very braque in type, white and orange or white and brown coat, and the samehunting style.1
Mégnin even went so far as to help make arrangements for Ariège club members and breeders to visit Italy in order to select possible stud dogs. Unfortunately, the plan never got of the ground. One or two dissenting club members succeeding in eventually stifling the entire project, basing their objections on the fact that the Bracco Italiano has dewclaws on its hind legs and the Braque de l’Ariège should not. Mégnin was outraged.
What can be simpler than removing the rear dew claws at birth? ... The removal of rear dew claws is legal, easy and safe, and after two or three or four generations [of selection], the rear dew claw can disappear and never come back. But all was abandoned, and today where is the Braque de l’Ariège and what has become of it?2
By 1937 Senac-Lagrange could only find a small handful of dogs that fit the breed standard and declared in a pamphlet that the Braque de l’Ariège had all but died out. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, registrations with the Société Centrale Canine declined until they stopped completely. Castaing wrote in 1960 that the breed:
...has completely disappeared...a victim of the two great scourges that always threaten our native breeds: on the one hand excessive inbreeding to maintain a secondary characteristic [i.e., an all-white coat]...and on the other hand an abusive level of foreign blood that altered its essential characteristics.3
For almost three decades the Braque de l’Ariège remained in a sort of limbo. No one seemed to be breeding them, let alone registering pups. But the SCC did not officially declare the breed extinct or remove its standard from the list of French breeds eligible to compete in shows and trials. Then, in 1987 a small group of hunters met in Toulouse, a city just outside of Ariège. They had come together to launch an effort to find out if the Braque de l’Ariège was truly extinct or if there were still a few remaining dogs living in the remote hills of southern France.

After months of searching, they managed to find several dogs that matched the breed description very closely. It turned out that a few hunters in Ariège and the neighboring département of Haute Garonne had continued to breed the orange and white braques after all! From these dogs, the best ones were selected to serve as foundation stock for an ambitious project designed to resurrect the Braque de l’Ariège.

A new club for the breed was established in 1989 and a breeding program was put in motion. The first litters produced dogs with many of the qualities that the Braque de l’Ariège was originally known for: tremendous desire, a good nose, lots of point, a resistance to heat and sure footing in the mountains, but it took a few more generations to regain the classic look of the breed.

Today, the Braque de l’Ariège is well on its way to a complete revival, but is not quite out of the woods just yet. The population is still very low and almost exclusively in France. Nevertheless, it continues to gain converts among French hunters and has earned the respect of field trailers and judges. A few have even made their way outside of France and as of this writing one is now in the hands of an enthusiastic hunter in the US.

My interest in the Braque de l’Ariège was piqued when I read an article about the breed in a French hunting magazine. Intrigued, I searched the Internet for people i could contact in the hopes of one day seeing one of these rare dogs for myself. I was pleasantly surprised when the president of the club immediately replied to my request for information.

Jean-François Berho lives in southwestern France among the rolling foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. In 2002, with typical Basque hospitality, he invited Lisa and me to stay with him for a few days. We happily accepted, and I’m glad we did. Not only did we get to see his dogs in action in some of the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen, we also became very good friends.

My first impression of Jean-François’ dogs was that they resembled the Bracco Italiano, but with a sleeker, less hound-like appearance. In the field, they were surprisingly agile. Lutin, a male from one of the earliest litters produced by the revival program absolutely plowed through the cover. His daughter Ohry, was just as intense in her search, but faster. I took a lot of photos that day and formed the impression that the Braque de l’Ariège is something very special.

But, then again, we were in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, watching a couple of experienced dogs run on their home turf under ideal conditions. The wine we were drinking—an absolutely sublime Jurançon—also added to the ambiance. Under those circumstances I would have probably found anything with four legs and a tail to be an awesome gundog!

Fortunately, 18 months later I got the chance to spend some more time with Jean-François and his dogs, but this time in Canada. For 14 days straight we worked stubble fields, pastures and forests of central Manitoba, hunting snipe and grouse. What I saw in that time confirmed my initial impressions of the breed: they can be damn good gundogs. One, in fact, turned out to be exceptional.

Ohry, the daughter of Lutin, who we first met in France, arrived in Canada after a nine-hour transatlantic flight and hit the field the very next morning. Within minutes of being cast off into a type of terrain she had never worked before, to find a species of game bird she had never smelled before, she absolutely nailed a point that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Before moving in to flush, Jean-François and I paused to admire the unique scene before our eyes: a Braque de l’Ariège backed by my Weimaraner on the prairies of Manitoba. Suddenly, a bird flushed. We shot. It tumbled. I don’t recall which dog made the retrieve, but it was the first bird of many that we shot over Ohry in the two weeks she was here. 

During her stay I saw enough of Ohry to conclude that she was one of the best, maybe the best gundog I have even had the privilege to hunt over. Her ability to find birds astonished me. Her desire was off the charts. Her run was the most amazing combination of strength and grace that I have ever seen. If I could clone her, I would.

In the years since then, I hunted over another half dozen Braques de l’Ariège and saw a few more in field trials in France. While none ever measured up to Ohry—few dogs could— they did prove to me that a good Braque de l’Ariège can hold its own against any other Continental breed. And in case you haven’t guessed it by now, I am a fan of the breed. I may even own a Braque de l’Ariège someday, and if I do I think I will name him Gaston Phébus.

1 Quoted in Jean Castaing, Les Chiens d’Arrêt, 144
2 Ibid.
3 Jean Castaing, Les Chiens d’Arrêt, 146

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

The History of Pointing Dogs Part 2: Progress

Craig Koshyk

The French revolution began in 1789. When it was Over 11 years later, Napoleon was in power and nearly every aspect of French life, including hunting and dog breeding, had changed forever. Some of the changes were positive. The revolution had given the average French citizen the right to hunt. But for the dogs kept in the kennels 
of aristocrats, the revolution spelled disaster. Many were slaughtered outright and others were stolen, but most were simply released to roam the countryside.
...Braques and Spaniels, reared with the greatest care in the castle kennels, became the property of the first comer. They were sent wandering through the country like wolves and foxes, and they interbred. Great brachs, beautiful spaniels, grey-hounds and sheep- dogs—all these wandering bands of the canine race were fused in a mixture, in a maze impossible to follow...6
For many years after the French Revolution, dog breeding on the continent was a complete free-for-all. There were no breeds, as we know them today. There were only general types of dogs —short, long and rough-haired — basically landraces that had developed in isolated areas. But there were no breed standards, no tests or trials and no long-term breeding plans. Hunters simply mixed and matched their dogs as they saw fit. And, for the most part, they were quite satisfied with what they had.
They often have perfect dogs because they hunt a lot and they kill a lot but the breed of dog is not important... ninety-nine out of a hundred would not hesitate to cross a good short-haired dog with a good long-haired bitch, of any breed of Épagneul or Griffon.7
It took many decades after the revolution for order to come to dog breeding on the continent. When a systematic approach was finally adopted in the 1880s, breeders made rapid progress. And they were spurred on by what can only be described as a British canine invasion.

In 1567 the first dog encyclopedia was published in England. In De Canibus Britannicis, author John Caius describes a new kind of dog that had recently come to England from France.
.... they are speckled all over with white and black, which mingled colors incline to a marble blue, which beautify their skins and afford a seemly show of comeliness.
He goes on to describe, “the dogge called the Setter”: 
...when he has found the bird, he keeps sure and fast silence,
he stays his steps and will proceed no further, and with a close, covert, watching eye, lays his belly to the ground and so creeps forward like a worm... this kind of dog is called Index, Setter, being indeed a name most consonant and agreeable to his quality.
A century and an half later, short-haired pointing dogs from Spain, Portugal and France were brought to the British isles by soldiers returning from the War of Spanish Succession. Most of the dogs were apparently large and slow-moving, but some were said to be smaller and faster. They quickly found a home in the kennels of British sportsmen, who set about breeding and modifying them to suite their tastes. Soon, as Arkwright wrote, “nearly every family of position had its own breed of Pointers”.

In the 1780s, the work of the English agriculturalist Robert Bakewell led to a major leap forward in agricultural production and the breeding of livestock. When applied to hunting dogs, his techniques quickly led to improvements in all areas of performance and appearance. And breeders, spurred on by the desire to one-up their peers, used the techniques to quickly develop lines of outstanding dogs. In his wonderful book "Pointers and Setters", Derry Argue wrote:
If the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the ages of discovery, this was the great age of innovation and competition... The country gentleman was now expected to keep stables of English thoroughbreds, carriages, packs of hounds, hundreds of game cocks out at walk, and kennels of fighting dogs, fox hounds, and pointers and setters all matched for type and color. This was life with style. To keep up with his neighbors he strove to keep better dogs, to acquire a better shotgun and to shoot more birds.8
By the mid-1800s, benefiting from years of political stability, increasing industrialization and modern breeding methods, the British were light-years ahead of everyone else. Their Pointers and setters were faster, further ranging and, above all, far more uniform in their looks and abilities than all others. They were, in the language of the day, “highly bred” and when they began to appear on the European mainland after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, it was as if a bomb went off in the Continental hunting scene.

Hunters from France to Hungary, from Spain to Denmark soon fell in love with the elegant British dogs. Many turned their backs on their native breeds while others rushed to breed their dogs to the first Pointer or setter they could get their hands on. But some wanted nothing at all to do with the new imports, fearing that they were simply unmanageable. Even more interesting was the reaction of the English when they first encountered the Continental pointing dogs.
There is, however, one thing which cannot escape notice the very first time one shoots in company with French sportsmen, and that is their dogs. There is no medium class of animals with them; they are either good or bad, broken or unbroken, eminently useful or worse than useless. The latter form the more numerous class, of course. As for the good ones, they are pre-eminently useful, and it is astonishing what they can do.9
Some so-called German Pointers are, however, perfect monsters in size. I have seen one which was as big as a small donkey. When this fellow came past you at a trot he shook the very ground, at least I used to say so to his owner. 10
The different hunting styles of the Continental dogs were, of course, reflective of traditions of the countries in which they were developed.
The French nation loves sport, or rather the pursuit and capture of animals, passionately. It is, however, true that my countrymen shoot for the pot rather than for sport, and will as a rule overlook a fault in their dog so long as a wounded partridge or hare does not get away...11
In his sport the average German does not belie his Teutonic origin and his close relationship to his English brother. Sport for him is not for show or for the pot, as with some Oriental and other races. Like Englishmen, he is refined in his pleasure, not cruel to animals, a thorough sportsman, who loves his sport for its own sake.12
Game and hunting techniques also influenced how dogs were bred and used on the Continent and it was becoming increasingly clear that the average Continental hunter was different from the average English sportsman. More often than not, he was a middle-class professional or even a member of the working class and, to him, the best dogs were those that could do a variety of tasks.

Partridges are found nearly everywhere, their distribution following about the same rules as hare. They are shot in August and September. ...driving in the English way is not unknown but the regular German way is to walk them up with dogs, generally one dog to every gun, that acts as pointer and retriever alike. English pointers and retrievers were largely introduced thirty or forty years ago but as the average German hunter is not, like his col- league in England, rich enough to keep a variety of dogs and men, and as the grounds as a rule are less extensive, sportsmen tried to train them for both purposes, but had good results in rare cases only. French griffons and poodle pointers (sic) have answered better, but best of all is the old German heavy close-haired dog crossed with English pointer blood. The old dog was rather slow but very intelligent, and the cross improved his staying powers, endurance, and scent. ...In summer he must act as a bloodhound on the trail of a wounded roe, retrieve ducks in the water and act as a spaniel for woodcock and snipe. In September he must take no notice whatever of hares and retrieve them without noticing partridges. This is no tall story; quantities of dogs do it, and all well-trained ones should do it. 13
Many of the English accounts also point out how little concern the average Continental hunter had for pure breeding. 
In fact, the French pay very little attention to the breed of their dogs, as a walk or ride through any large town will at once satisfy you, and I could find more mongrel-bred ones in one day, in the town of Calais, than could be found in England in seven days.14
French sportsman and dog expert, Adolphe De la Rue, actually witnessed the very beginning of the widespread and indiscriminate period of crossbreeding in France that would lead to the development of entirely new breeds, and threaten others with extinction.
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. 15
As the number of dogs bred on the continent rose, quality declined. It seems that the main goal of many breeders was to produce as many pups as possible, as quickly as possible.
I knew a forester that had a dog and a bitch, they were adequate, brother and sister; he told me that he had sold in a single year, two litters from them, each with eleven pups, at the age of two months.16
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 reason:

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. 17
Several years later, an even harsher review was published. It illustrates just how extreme some of the opposition to the native breeds had become. Describing what he’d seen at the 1891 dog show in Paris,
 a Mr. Des Mureaux wrote:
We are shown an animal, usually horrible, and we are told: Here is the last specimen of an admirable breed, unfortunately wiped out —if only it were!—and that it should be reconstituted. I therefore... propose to offer a dose of strychnine to every one of these ugly four- legged beasts and I would give a prize to the first one to disappear.18
Fortunately, not everyone was ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. Influential personalities like James de Coninck in France, Ferdinando Delor in Italy, and above all, Hegewald and Oberländer in Germany, spearheaded a sort of countermovement to the anglophilia running rampant among hunters on the continent. They realized that for all the speed, endurance and style of the British dogs, they were not perfect. What breed is?  For some types of game and terrain, the native breeds were much better suited. But the greatest source of motivation may have been growing nationalism and a renewed interest in the traditional ways of hunting. Many hunters were beginning to realize, just in time, that their native breeds were a vital part of their nation’s sporting heritage and deserved their attention.

When I asked Wilhelm Heinrich, a friend and fellow gundog history buff in Germany about Hegewald he wrote: 
In 1871, when the unity that many generations of Germans had waited and fought for had finally been achieved, Hegewald was in a perfect position to bring this “national awakening” into the hunting and dog scene. There were similar protagonists in the arts, industry, and science. In the hunting and dog scene, Hegewald was the man. His writings perfectly capture the spirit of the “New Germany” with its rapidly increasing economic and military power. He wrote from 1880 to about 1900; mainly articles in various newspapers and magazines. His writings where a mix of romanticism and nationalism and stories about the “German forest and forester” and the “ennoblement of the blood toward a noble German dog”. Through them, he captured the imagination of the young second German Empire. 
These men also realized that if the old breeds were to survive, and new ones created, they had to find a way to identify the best individuals among them to use as breeding stock. The first system they adopted was based on the British concept of head-to-head competition in the show ring and open field.

6 Frederick George Aflalo, ed., Sport in Europe, 127
7 A. de La Rue, Mis de Cherville, Ernest Bellecroix, Les Chiens d’Arrêt Français et Anglais, 40
8 Derry Argue, Pointers and Setters, 35
9 Lewis Clements, Shooting, Yachting and Sea-Fishing Trips, at Home and on the Continent, Volume 1, 302
10 Lewis Clements, Shooting, Yachting and Sea-Fishing Trips, at Home and on the Continent, Volume 2, 93 13 Ibid., 
11 Frederick George Aflalo, ed., Sport in Europe, 125
12  Ibid., 147
13 Ibid., 161
14 Nimrod (Charles James Apperley), The New Sporting Magazine, (Volume 5, 1833): 9

15 A. de La Rue, Mis de Cherville, Ernest Bellecroix, Les Chiens d’Arrêt Français et Anglais, 31 
16 Ibid., 44
17 Ernest Bellecroix, Le Chenil (May 1, 1884) 
18 Mr. Des Mureaux, Le Chenil (June 4, 1891)

Breed of the Week: The Braque D'Auvergne

Craig Koshyk

The Massif Central is a mountainous region in south central France where Gallic tribes battled Roman invaders in the 3rd century and heroes of the French Resistance fought Nazi occupiers and their Vichy collaborators in World War two. It is among the least populated areas in all of Western Europe and is home to one of France’s best-loved gundog breeds, the Braque d’Auvergne.

The history of The Braque d’Auvergne has all the elements of a great adventure novel. It goes something like this: On June 12th, 1798 Napoleon tricked his way onto the island fortress of Malta turned his troops against the ruling Knights of St. John and forced their leaders to capitulate. He then banished the knights from the island and dissolved their order. According to legend, some of the knights returned to their native France and brought with them a type of black and white pointing dog They had discovered on the island. Those dogs eventually developed into the modern Braque d’Auvergne. It is a great story, but there is a problem: it is not true.

In 1944, dog expert Paul Mégnin published the results of his enquiry into the origins of the breed. Among the holes he poked in the Maltese Knight story is the fact that their order was never actually disbanded. The Knights did indeed disperse after the battles of 1798, but the order survived in Russia and Italy and was eventually restored, even in France. Mégnin also discovered that, despite a thorough search conducted by the order’s own archivist M. Chauvelot, no mention of any kind of hunting dogs is to be found in the records. Even the incredibly detailed tome Histoire des Chevaliers de Malte, written in 1726 by the Abbot René Aubert de Vertot, is completely devoid of any reference to hunting dogs on the island. Mégnin even interviewed the ancestors of Commander de Fargues, a Maltese Knight originally from the Auvergne region. None of them had ever heard of their forefather bringing back black and white dogs from Malta. And, despite Mégnin’s myth busting, the Knights of Malta story is still repeated today, although serious scholars simply discount it as nothing more than a charming fairy tale. 

Most experts now believe that the Braque d’Auvergne is another regional variant of the classic old braque found throughout much of France. The black and white coat, they contend, comes from either scent hounds and/or pointing breeds. Even the breed’s FCI standard sort of sidesteps the Maltese origin, saying: Descending from a multi-pointer common source, derivation has been made by a selection to which the Knights of Malta might have participated. 

Whatever the origin, a type of black and white pointing dog had been known in the Auvergne and Cantal regions for generations. It was generally referred to as the Braque d’Auvergne, or the Braque Bleu d’Auvergne due to its blue-black coat. In 1913 a club was formed and the breed’s standard accepted by the Société Central Canine (SCC, the French kennel club). In the 1920s and ’30s growth was slow but steady as the breed gained a reputation as a tough, hard-working gundog. 

But like all the other gundog breeds, the Braque d’Auvergne fell on hard times during the Second World War and by the 1950s was in serious trouble. There were very few breeders left and some of them had taken to crossing English Pointers into their lines in an effort to develop a lighter, faster version of the breed. Fortunately the breed’s parent club was able to restore order and the situation had improved in the 1970s as a new generation of breeders began to make their mark in field trials and interest in the breed increased among the public. By the 1980s and ’90s an average of 300 Braque d’Auvergne pups were being whelped every year. That number remains more or less constant today.

My View

Prior To 2005 I had only seen Two Braques D’Auvergne in the flesh. They were nice dogs, but one was a very young pup and the other was a 14-year-old female, long retired from the hunting field. It was not until I travelled to France and met with one of the country’s leading breeders that I had the opportunity to see how they work in the field.

When we arrived at the home of Bernard Fuertes in the South of France, we already knew he was a serious dog breeder. But when we actually went inside his house we realized just how serious he really was. Bernard’s spacious living room looked like a trophy store showroom. Every square inch of wall space was covered with awards, plaques, medals and ribbons. Every table held its limit of trophies and cups. And yet, the majority of the collection was still in storage in the basement! Clearly this was a man who had dedicated much of his life to breeding great dogs and proving them in competition. And after seeing some of his dogs in the field, we could only agree with the judges who awarded him all those trophies. Bernard has some very good dogs!

I’ve always liked the look of the Braque d’Auvergne. They are sleek, strong and muscular with a unique head shape and deep, rich coloring. The males are especially handsome; their heads have even more character than the females. Compared to some of the other Braques, the Auvergne seems ton be stronger, more solidly built, and a more down-to-earth kind of dog. In action, they were faster than I expected. I had always read about their methodical pace and relaxed way of working. But all of the Auvergnes I saw ran at a medium gallop and covered about 75 meters on either side. Their points surprised me as well; more stylish and intense than I had anticipated and, needless to say, rock-solid.

I did not get a chance to see any of Bernard’s dogs work in the water, but I was told that Braques d’Auvergne are excellent swimmers and take to the water easily as pups. Overall, I found the dogs to be solid, dependable workers that showed a lot of desire. I can see why many hunters in France really like the breed. They are a sort of “out of the box” gundog that doesn’t take a lot of effort to train or handle. There are now a few breeders of Auvergnes in the US and Canada, and I could easily see the breed gaining a certain amount of popularity, particularly among pheasant, grouse and woodcock hunters, and even guys like me who hunt a bit of everything and can appreciate a hard-hunting but cooperative gundog.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals