Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ferraris and student drivers

I thought I should post something this evening because I know (using my 'top secret' voice) that something really quite fun should happen tomorrow -- if all goes to plan, we're going to meet royalty. But there should be all kinds of pictures of that tomorrow evening.

Mike @ Living with Bird Dogs has an interesting post about his thoughts on why successful field-trial dogs aren't necessarily bad for hunters and may, in fact, be better for their respective breeds. In an unrelated note, Bill @ The Black & Tan Bombshell has some nostalgic memories of Momo (and I use 'nostalgic' to suggest that his memory is playing kind tricks), and more importantly a question about whether prospective owners can buy 'too much dog'?

As folks may know, I became a hunter after watching and learning and training with Momo -- a dog whose pedigree contains a number of strong, individual dogs, but which are interbred with sweet-tempered, family dogs who look good and like to hunt. I have no doubts that all his little anxieties come from me as his apprentice-handler. When it came to a second vizsla, we (it was really me) wanted a dog with some more 'ooomph' in its family line -- and while they are cousins through a very talented grandmother, Jozsi is overwhelmingly stocked with Rebel Rouser bloodlines. Based on his ancestors' successes, he should be the Ferrari to Momo's BMW. Here's a pic of the two sportscars after a hard day at the lighthouse.

But if we had acquired a 'Jozsi' before a 'Momo', I think we might have been telling a different story. I left Mike @ Living with Bird Dogs a comment about whether he thought paper titles also sometimes let inexperienced, or hyper-competitive, numpties acquire dogs that are beyond their abilities. I had that experience this weekend at a hunt test, when in answer to the question that Lou (one of the judges) asked the handler of a hard-running dog 'do you hunt grouse with this dog?,' the non-sequitur answer came back 'Yes, his parents were National Field Champions.' Lou's question was a subtle way to get to the fact that while this hard-running dog found birds, he was way too motivated to listen to his owner -- and that his owner's answer would net him very few wild birds and probably few hunting partners.

To answer Bill's question: yes, I think new bird-dog owners can over-extend themselves by relying on field-trial titles, especially, to purchase a new pup. Now, I don't happen to think that field-trialing is necessarily bad for dogs -- but I do think that it's not so productive for their owners. Now I know several folks who successfully campaign their dogs in field-trials and who I respect a lot -- but I also know enough horror stories to know that anything that involves human beings competing indirectly through other animate objects (whether it's race-horses or pitbulls) doesn't always turn out well. And I don't honestly care if Momo is better than someone else's dog on a given day -- but I am genuinely flattered when folks like Bill say nice things in public about my dogs.

The question about whether strong field-trial performance and subsequent breeding betters a given breed is an interesting one. I know that it's an ongoing conversation that Wendy + Chris at Widdershins have with Lisa DeForest of Upwind Kennels (and with whom they have co-owned numerous vizslas over the years). Lisa has been producing Dual Champion vizslas (dogs that excel on both the show and the field-trial circuit) since 1986 and, from what I gather from Wendy, believes that breeding from successful field-trial dogs creates a stronger, harder hunting vizsla; Wendy moderates that by saying that vizslas have always been known as close hunting dogs for the foot-hunter and that relying on field-trialing to better the breed is to diminish the 'dual-purpose' nature of the vizsla, namely to also be an affectionate human companion. All I can really tell you is that whatever balance they strike seems to work well for us. I also ventured a few initial thoughts on titles and field-trials in an earlier post here.

To respond to Mike's post: I think folks who buy bird-dogs of whatever breed should think seriously about what, where, and how they plan to hunt -- and then look for a breed and, ideally, try to see the prospective parents work. Failing that, titles will allude to a dog's potential, but if you can't drive, your Ferrari is still useless.


Rio Rocket said...

Well written post. Great title for the post. I wish they gave titles for best snuggler cause then we could put a CH in front of Rocket's name. We don't know how to drive our 'BMW' but we are having fun with the driving lessons.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. As a trainer I see a lot of folks who buy a 'ferrari' hunting or herding dog for the same reasons they bought that Humvee that nevers get off road - as a fashion accessory.

It doesn't bother me that the Hummer spends its life in suburban driveways and parking lots, but the poor ferrari dog all too often ends living a life filled with frustration. His and his owner's.