I am so pleased to welcome today’s Guest Blogger – Dan Voss, Otsego, MN who sent us this thought-provoking article about the “one size fits all” approach to the judging of all-breed field events. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Dan, and just so you know, we all hope you will continue to send us field related content – our readers do love it!
Dan Voss, Otsego MN
The view from the back of the gallery was breathtaking. The sun was low in the evening sky, casting long shadows from the horses. A slight breeze fanned the steam rising from the sweating horses. Whispers in the gallery had a sense of excitement. One of the handlers eagerly called his dog on point, quickly we rode to the find hoping not to miss a single second of this performance. The handler dismounted and casually strode to the front of the dog, the bird was flown and all was in order. The dog was sent on, and while the handler moved to the front time was called and the gallery was alive with chatter. “Who’s going to beat that?” said one. Somebody else was overheard, “I don’t know, that’s the best dog I’ve seen.” And so it goes at every field trial that I’ve had the pleasure of riding. The discussion usually centers around whose dog did the “best” job.
Best. That’s quite a term. Best for what? Best for a Pointer? Best for a Gordon Setter? Or, as seems to be the case today, best for a pointing dog. There seems to be an unwritten standard by which all pointing dogs are to be judged. I’d like to quote two paragraphs from the Melting Pot, an editorial written by Craig Doherty.
‘When we get to the aesthetic values of a competitive performance there is a set of universal criteria that all seem to agree on. We admire a dog that goes to the objectives with a fast and fluid gait. We expect the dog to work to the front and have eye appeal both in motion and on point. A dog that hits its bird hard and has great style on point is going to be more impressive than a dog that slows and potters around before it finally points. We want a dog that will handle even at extreme distance. A dog that goes out on a limb and holds bird until found is also going to impress the majority. And possibly most important, we want to see the dog finish its hour going away.’
‘If this trend continues, the distinctions between the breeds will diminish to the point where the only way you can tell the difference between an Irish, Gordon or English setter will be by the color of it’s hair, while the only way you’ll be able to tell the difference between an English and German pointer will be the length of its tail. From the perspective of someone breeding show dogs, this is a serious problem – for the rest, it may just be the final step in the naturalization of the various continental breeds to becoming American dogs. Although the melting pot theory of explaining the history of the United States may be extreme suspect when it come to people, open and fair field trial competition may turn out to be a true melting pot for bird dogs.’
If Mr. Doherty is correct, and I believe he is, there is an unwritten standard to which all pointing dogs are judged. These unique breeds share one common feature, pointing upland birds. Isn’t it odd that unique breeds, originally bred for specific terrain, climate or working manner are all judged to the same unwritten standard? Should they be subjected to some arbitrary standard in the field that covers all pointing breeds? As an example, the Spinone Italiano recognized by the AKC in 2000, has been characterized as a dog “…that does not hunt for themselves but for their master” and is “not too fast in their speed while searching out game.” (source SCOA) While the AKC breed standard states, “He has a remarkable tendency for an extended and fast trotting gait.” Now, how will that measure up to the unwritten standard applied in an all-breed stake? Well the answer will be, it doesn’t. Should people who have Spinone’s really care if their dogs can win in all pointing breed competition? I rather think, they don’t.
Are restricted breed trials the answer? Well, yes and no. Conceivably restricted breed trials face a problem, lack of dogs in the area. What does a person do if the their area of the country doesn’t have enough of “their” breed to hold a trial, or maybe there is a small group of dogs but not enough to make a major stake? In the AKC a dog needs a win in a stake that has 13 or more starters, without a major a Championship cannot be awarded. All-breed trials would then be their only venue. Yes, there will be individuals that manage to hold their own in all pointing breed competition and these very dogs, when entered in restricted breed trials, can help keep the bar high when entered in the restricted breed trial. Looking back at the Spinone example, how will they fair in all-breed competition? It’s quite possible that in an area of a larger population of dogs, enough to have Spinone only trials, dogs of lesser caliber could become Field Champions. Dogs of higher caliber in areas with smaller populations competing in all-breed trials may not be able to finish titles. The dog world is pretty fickle when it comes to breeding dogs. Most people seem unable to see the quality of the dog unless it has a title. I’m not advocating making it easier to finish Field Champions, just that in the scope of dog breeding, advances may be brought about faster by breeding to the better dogs and a restricted breed stake can identify those animals and help accomplish that goal.
In a perfect world we could have competitive field trials and award Field Championships without having a “Melting Pot” effect. Is such a system conceivable? I guess it is, but I rather doubt it ever could be practical. Judges would have to be versed in each breed’s working standard and not reward dogs that trend to the unwritten standard that is in use today.
In closing, a couple of questions need to be answered.
Is the only method for breed improvement through all-breed competition or can the breed be improved through a restricted breed format?
Are there performance qualities unique to Gordon Setters? And if so, isn’t it time that we put that to paper?
By doing nothing we stand to lose some of the qualities that we hold dear, and that my friend, will be a sad day.
© 2004 Dan Voss
The Melting Pot, an editorial by Craig Doherty, Field Trial Magazine Summer 2001