Duckhill Digest   

Number 44
Oct 2012 







Legacy Labradors


 Legacy Labradors are of the original strain of Labradors

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Training Seminars and Field Trials 


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Retriever Gundogs and Field Trials


  It was a cold, windy October Saturday. Rain steadily pattered against the windows. Dove season was over. Nearly two months spanned the long wait for duck season. The wind was too high to fish. The boy was a pain in the neck. The old man thought that the time was propitious for a lesson on dogs.


"Boy," growled the old man." Come in here next to the fire and we are going to have a little lesson on duck dogs. Sit in that chair there and listen while I tell you about cod fish and Labradors and fowling pieces and gundogs."


"Yes sir," said the boy somewhat reluctantly.


"Boy" said the old man. "I am going to broaden your knowledge with a little history. The Labrador retriever is the best duck dog in the world today, and he got his start catching codfish for British fishing fleets. In the fifteen hundreds and sixteen hundreds, they use to fish in the summers off the coast of Newfoundland. They caught the Cod on long hand lines back then and didn't have barbed hooks. A lot of fish flopped off of the hook on the way into the fishing dory, and a dog that could catch the momentarily disoriented fish more than earned his keep."


The old man paused to light his pipe and continued, "The next big step for Labradors came in the 1800's. The invention of breech loading shotguns   gave birth to a great appetite for shooting birds in England and Scotland. King Edward VII was an avid shooter and drove the development of a whole culture of driven shooting. Grouse were a favorite and pheasants were a prime target. Great stature and importance was attached to production of large numbers of birds by game keeper. The great estates were judged by the numbers of birds shot and collected. It didn't take long for folks to figure out that a good retriever found more birds in tough cover and tracked down enough cripples to get the numbers up. They also found that calm, well behaved dogs did not flare birds and thus helped the numbers. The Labrador found his niche in life."


The old-man paused and stepped over to stir up the fire. He gazed out the window for a moment. Then he continued, " The British were pretty smart. When they figured out how great was the benefit of a good gundog, they put a quality control process in place. They started field trials to identify the dogs that were really good at their job, so that they could breed better and better dogs. They were smart enough hold the trials in the working field and they evaluated the dogs while they were performing the actual job. They knew that anytime you let people start interpreting the dog's job, the people would screw it up. The British field trial system has been in place since 1900 and is today still producing great gundogs that are calm enough to sit for driven birds and expert at tracking down crippled birds."


The old man got up and began pacing, heralding a major pronouncement. With a negative head tilt, he announced, "In America we have gone down a different path with retrieving gundogs. In the US, in the 1920's, rich Northeastern seaboard sportsmen started copying the British Edwardian Shooting party. They bought big estates, built big houses, imported British and Scottish game keepers and duplicated British driven shooting. They also imported Labrador Retrievers. The first American retriever trial was held in 1931 in New York, and it was run under British rules. For about ten years they stayed with the British field trial model which served well for breeding selection to produce better gundogs."


He stopped and took his glasses off, pointing them at the boy. The boy braced himself for this meant a major declaration was coming."Then the Northeastern Sports rewrote the rule book. They divided field trial folks into professionals and amateurs and barred the professionals from judging and from serving on advisory committees to the American Kennel Club. This effectively separated the professional trainers from the business of designing field trials. The end result was supposed to be judges that designed tests that tested the qualities of a good gundog."


The old man replaced his glasses and pointed a finger at the boy. "What they got was a bunch of judges that made up tests evaluating whether or not a dog was an energy conservationist. Mother nature designed the dog's ancestors to be conservers of energy. The less energy the ancestor used, the less game he needed to catch to survive. As soon as these Eastern sport judges figured that out, they started to set tests that allowed them to eliminate the energy conservers. They would set up a test where it was hard work to follow the straight line to the bird. Then they penalized the dogs that followed their natural tendency to take the less-work route. They might put a bird on the far side of a pond. The dog that simply ran around the pond was penalized. The dog that took the hard-work route, swimming through the middle of the pond won. Now that is a way of separating dogs in a field trial, but it is not a satisfactory evaluation of a dog's game-finding talent. Finding birds is the only valid test of game-finding talent."


The boy spoke up, "Well, Billy's dad has a great field trail dog, and he says that it is important that they go in a straight line"

The old man's eyes glinted and the boy knew immediately that he had walked into a trap.


The old man responded, "Billy's dad has it half right. Field trial dogs are one thing, gundogs are another. It is important for the field trial dogs to go in straight lines. It is important for gundogs to get the birds quickly and efficiently. It is important for field trial dogs to be under precise control and be handled to the exact spot where the bird is. It is important for gundogs to hunt up the dead birds and track down the cripples whose locations are fuzzy and often guessed at. "

Looking out the window and then back at the boy, the old man said."The bottom line is a man has to decide whether he wants a field trial dog or a gundog. For a field trial dog the behaviors judged are not natural and require a lot of training and maintenance training. For a gundog the behaviors are generally natural and easy to train. They don't need a lot of maintenance training. The gundog behaviors are easily judged by counting how many birds are collected."


The old man glanced again toward the window, and he said, "It looks like it is clearing a little outside so we need to wind this up. I want you to train my new lab puppy and I want her trained as a gundog, so you only need to train two behaviors. The most important is steadiness. She needs to sit quietly in a high distraction environment such as 100 ducks circling while several gunners are shooting. In temptation level that is very similar to a British driven shoot."


He picked up his pipe and pointed, saying, "Then she needs some directional control. When the shooting is done and there are 4 dead ducks floating out in front of the blind, while a long unseen cripple has sailed 100 yards out to the right, then the dog needs to get the long unseen cripple first, before he has a chance to swim off. This requires whistle stopping and hand signals."


"The old man gave a slight grin and said, Now the weather looks broken sufficiently for you to hike down the pond and catch me a couple of fish for dinner. Take your fishing dog with you."


Robert Milner / 350 Bailey Morrison Drive / Somerville, Tennessee 38068 / 901-428-6694