by Mark Dinsmore of L'Etoile du Nord Kennels
Well maybe not, since I am borrowing this from a breeder I have followed for the past decade, and odds are he has been inspired by other serious breeders and maybe a serious client… So, these aren’t my words, but we do share sentiment on how many prospective clients give too many breeders (fill in the breed of your choice, this isn’t a Drent or Spinone specific thing) an easy pass. I have permission to post this and have made a few light edits, mostly grammar and format for readability since this was originally a multi-part post. I will identify any additional thought(s) I have added with (Ed.). So without further ado:
One Breeder's Perspective
There has been an explosion of people starting to have litters (most certainly since the pandemic, Ed.). So how do you know if they are knowledgeable and have dogs that are worthy of breeding? Frankly, you don’t and many are not. I have decided to give my perspective on what someone looking at getting a puppy should be looking for, and some of the questions you should be asking.
I see a lot of people advertising puppies out of "Great" hunting parents. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen someone advertise anything less than that. Really? Every one of those dogs is a GREAT hunter. Says who? Sorry but reality is such that they all can't be great. Secondly, who is making that judgment?
Questions that should be asked:
First and foremost, can you go see the dog hunt? It is the old adage, seeing is believing. At a minimum, the breeder should be able to have a video for you to see of their dogs hunting.
What are they hunting? Wild Birds? Pen raised birds. It does make a difference. Wild birds are by definition wild. They will not tolerate a dog that is a sloppy hunter. A dog pressures the bird too much, the bird leaves. A pen raised bird will often just sit there. It doesn't matter that the dog is inches from it, frankly it has very little survival instinct or skills, it has never needed them. I have often seen where someone has had to pick up the bird and throw it, to get it to maybe fly. Also, a dog often doesn't need to hunt to find birds that have been put out for it. It is just an Easter Egg hunt. I understand that it can be hard for some people to hunt wild birds, and hence hunt planted birds. I will say at least the dog is getting to see some birds, but please don't say it is a great hunter, as you have no way of knowing if that is true.
How often do the dogs get to hunt? A couple of times a year for an hour or so? Doesn't really tell you much about the dog’s ability. To know just how good of a hunter a dog is, it needs to get out A LOT. It needs to hunt when the birds are plentiful, and more importantly when the birds are scarce. The truly great dogs will hunt all day to find that one bird, and not only will they be hunting, but they will also be hunting HARD.
I would caution you to take what you hear about the dogs being great, with a grain of salt. Remember, it is one person's opinion. Ask hard questions.
A bird dog is just that, a hunter of birds. But without training how can a dog rise to its true potential? Not all dogs are created equal. Training separates the wheat from the chaff. A Breeder needs to train their dog, before they can brag about how good they are. It is a question a prospective buyer should be asking.
Training shows a breeder a number of things. Does the dog have the brain and mindset to be able to handle training? Training is stressful for dogs, just as it is for humans. Not all dogs can handle that. It shows how quickly a dog can adapt to new situations, and trust me, they must be able to adapt in the field while hunting. It shows what level of intelligence a dog has. Dogs are not robots; they must be able to think in the field and make decisions while they are hunting. They must be able to learn where birds are likely to be. Training also shows biddability, the willingness to work with you.
So, your dog is a "Natural" and doesn't need to be trained. Sorry but NOPE. No one can tell me their dog wouldn't be better without training, not to mention without training you are not able evaluate to the afford mentioned comments on training. Case in point. Many of you have probably heard of a dog by the name of Vernon de L'Escarbot. Vern was a "Natural" at 4 months of age. He ran the field well, quartering, and always turning into the wind. He found and pointed birds and was staunch. He retrieved to hand starting with his first ever shot bird. Did he need to be trained. ABSOLUTELY. He would never have achieved the heights without the training, plus I would have not known just how good he truly was. ALL dogs will benefit from training. When asking a breeder how well their dogs are trained, don't accept them saying they are "Naturals", frankly in my opinion that is just a copout.
So, you are not as lucky as I am to live in the country with wide open tracts of land to run on, nor birds to train with. Send the dog out to a trainer. How can you say it is too expensive to do that, if you are making money selling the puppies out of those dogs? There are things I can't do training wise. Right now, I have a young dog with a trainer to be trained to be handled off a horse. I don't have a horse at this time, so I can't train him. I went online, posted what I was looking for, Found, met with and dropped off Styx for training with the trainer, all in less than 24 hours. (We too needed a trainer with a horse, we did our own search, made the appointment, and was part of the training event. We did what was needed to ensure our dog was set up for success. It was a super cool afternoon to boot, Ed.).
A reputable trainer will have trained the dogs they are breeding. That doesn't mean they have to fully broke, but they need to go through some level of formal training to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and suitability for breeding.
Knowledge of the breed
A reputable breeder should possess a good amount of knowledge of the breed. It doesn’t mean they have to know everything, but they should have a good grasp on many subjects.
At a minimum:
A breeder should know the history of the breed.
What the conformation standard of the breed is and where their dogs fit in that. They should be able to articulate why their dogs are in standard and not just say they are in standard. Be able to list strengths and more importantly weaknesses, and EVERY DOG has weaknesses.
What the working standard of the breed is, meaning how they are supposed to hunt, and not simply say their dogs are good or great hunters. Every single one says they have good or great hunters. Do you really think every dog is great. They should be able to tell you exactly why they are great, based on the working standard, not based on what their opinion is. Sadly, most people don’t know how the dogs are supposed to hunt.
A breeder should know the lineage of their dogs, not just say they are great lines, but rather why they are great lines and what the titles mean. I am amazed when someone says they are “Champion lines” but then don’t even know what the titles mean and the requirements to achieve them. Always remember a pedigree is just a piece of paper. Too many people just breed dogs based that piece of paper, not based on the actual dog. Remember, you are buying a dog, not a piece of paper!
Do your due diligence and ask questions. A reputable breeder wants questions (Ed.). If they can’t answer your questions or give you vague answers, is that what you want? I suspect you aren’t looking for a vague dog.
Remember, knowledge is power.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in my first ever IABCA Show with Ila. The IABCA has a unique format where they limit the number of entries, so each exhibitor gets some one-on-one time with the judge. Also, the judge will provide a limited written critique on your dog against its breed standard. Judges are both foreign and domestic, some are new, others may have quite the resume!
The IABCA format allows you to show your dog a lot, if you signed up for everything that your dog is eligible for. Our two days were composed of four shows, two each day! Judges evaluate an entire Group, e.g. Sporting group, one breed at a time, then judge the group as a whole. With a brief lunch break, Groups are rotated to a new judge and then you show again. At the end of the day the first show gets all its "Best in Show" dogs run, then the second show follows soon after. It makes for a full day of dog showing! On day two, with shows three and four, everyone is rotated again, so your dog gets seen by a new judge. The only difference is there will be a few special categories run, and then at the very end any dog who earned a Best in Show placement from any of the preceding shows can compete to see who won the whole enchilada!
For a rare breed there is no other way to build that much ring time! In all Ila was shown seven times on each day (in the blazing heat I might add) and should have been shown at the final event, but I was unaware of her eligibility to do so.
The IABCA has multiple categories which are treated as their own individual show. I find this to be interesting, and depending on your situation, you can enter your dog under multiple categories and squeak out an extra show and the possibility to win!
The downside for a rare breed like the Drent (or super low entry breed like the Spinone), just as in conventional showing (AKC or UKC), judges truly have little or no knowledge of your breed. Most assuredly they have not taken Judge's Education for the breed! Sure, they have the breed standard at their side, but that alone isn't sufficient to make a full and legitimate judgement. Of interest Ila's judges stuck to what they knew - movement. Then quickly perused the standard and went back over certain aspects of her during the write up phase to see if she matched what they believed they had read. All in all, most observations made were pretty good, and mostly accurate.
There were a few observations that were a bit comical. For example, one judge would have liked to see Ila with more muscle! In reality, she is the most well-muscled female Drent I have ever seen. She has surpassed her mother in that department, which is saying something. I'm not sure what she was expecting, but I took a moment to explain to the judge that Ila was a hoss for her breed. The other item that sticks out at the moment is the judge would have liked to seen more hair on Ila's ears... I of course explained to her that what she was seeing was a correctly groomed Drent, and that Drents with shaggy ears were in fact ungroomed savages living at the local homeless camp - this got a lot of laughter from her.
In principle you show your dog like you would at any other dog show, but you get face time with the judge and a critique. Dogs are rated on a scale of three to one (one being the best) on their overall conformation to the breed standard. The judge can grade some, all, or none the top grade and so on. Still there will be only one winner from each breed, with placements of first through third... At the group level, be it "Bred by" or regular, Dogs can be placed first through third with the first-place winner being able to go on to compete in the Best in Show. There are more classes to compete in, and each class is treated as its own show, and consequently there are more opportunities to win rosettes at the end of the day.
If your dog receives good grades, you can apply for IABCA titles. If anything, this is the one area the IABCA could be more protective of. The number of top grades needed is surprisingly low. If you have a nice dog, odds are it will grade well enough, and therefore become eligible in short order for a title. It then should go without explanation, Ila qualified for her International Champion title, and only needs one more point for her second IABCA title.
The titles are not what will bring me back though. Overall, the shows were well organized and ran efficiently. Their group awards, little medallions, are a tad outdated/silly. But their Best in Show rosettes are quite nice. For me it will be the ability to put my dog in the ring and have fun talking about her and educating others about her breed. There were plenty of people excited to see and pet their first Drent!
We used to send this by email to our clients many months in advance, now it lives here getting updated from time to time and the link finds its way to your inbox. Yes, we know, it could be a year or more before a new Two Gun pup will cross the threshold into your home. Which means, right now is a wonderful time to start looking into different training options and methods, as there is little pressure. You can read, ask questions, seek out advice, find a local trainer: observe training sessions, etc. and really see what is going to work for you. Making these kinds of decisions once you have the puppy is a whole lot like attempting to fix an airplane while it is in flight...generally not advisable. So here it is, I have dusted off the Recommended Reading list yet once again.
What do these books have in common? They are in tune with modern canine behavioral science vs. the old school ways. We believe in working smarter and not harder whenever possible and these resources will certainly help you to do so.
Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training, by Karen Pryor
The Puppy Primer, by Patricia B. McConnell
- for that matter, any Patricia B. McConnell book on training/dog behavior
How to raise a puppy you can live with, by Clarice Rutherford
When Pigs Fly! Training Success with Impossible Dogs, by Jane Killion, founder/creator of Puppy Culture. This book picks up where we left off with the Puppy Culture protocols, we used with our puppies and isn't just for "impossible" dogs! However, those who are intending to develop your Drent for field work please disregard pages 80-84 her ball & tug games run contrary to your aim.
Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw
The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare
Absolutely Positively Gundog Training, by Robert Milner. To learn the mechanics of "Positive/ Force Free Training" and developing a retrieve based on stimulus control.
The Drentsche Patrijshond for the North American Fancier, by B. P. O'Connor
Since we have you here in the mindset to learn and read. In short, the "early" pediatric spay/neuter is being strongly implicated/tied to joint irregularities, tendon injury, and even increased the risk of many cancers, amongst many other developmental issues, please take some time to review these scientific articles:
There are also some great training resources on the internet:
Leerburg / The Michael Ellis School for Dog trainers: Michael Ellis is considered by many to be one of the World's Greatest dog trainers. He uses LIMA principles to achieve incredible performance from a wide range of dogs for all types of dog sport. Michael's system covers a wide range of topics and is both highly effective, humane, and applicable to all aspects of canine sports.
McCann Dog Training: I am a big fan of McCann as they offer a wide range of well put together videos covering all manner of training challenges using Rewards and Markers, and even offer online courses here.
Dog Training by Kikopup: Run by Emily Larlham, owner operator of Dogmantics. She shares her impressive skill with easy to learn and follow videos for the regular person. Solving unusual problems suddenly got easier, if not surprisingly fun using her methodology.
Higgins GunDogs: Mr. Higgins has used his experience and background in training falcons for the benefit of gun dogs. This method hinges upon a dog's natural cooperation with his boss/co-hunter. The Higgins method isn't exactly 100% fully force and pressure free as its creator pitches. However, the Higgins Method presents stress to the dog in a minimalist and constructive fashion and is without question the best overall and most humane, system for training and managing a high drive gun dog! We use the Higgins Method with all our dogs.
Regular visitors to this spot will note I have included Standing Stone Kennels, removed them, reinstated them, and now note they are off again... They have been moving in the right direction. It is important to note that SSK pays their bills by producing content on a rapid production cycle. So, it is important to recognize that the quality of their content varies widely. A knowledgeable trainer can easily sort the wheat from the chaff whereas the novice may not. Therefore, my best advice is to use their content with objective care, or leave it be if you don't know what good training looks like.
How do you make long arranged and much anticipated breeding plans sweeter? Well, you have the stud you selected over two years ago win big! Bono Cooper van de Bezelhonk, aka, Bono recently won the 2022 Vereniging De Drentsche Patrijshond Championship Club Match, #1 of 106 Drents present for the event! We couldn't be happier, or prouder!
I had always imagined running a dog or two in AKC's and/or NAVHDA's hunt tests. But due to my career, the ridiculously long hours I used to work, and living overseas or other locations too far off the beaten path I never got to do any of it. So now that I have the time, it seemed appropriate to try it out.
I fully understand why my mentor isn't a fan of these things, and to be honest I've learned these avenues aren't really my jam. Having said that the part I do like is being able to showcase a field dog that was "trained" using Force-Free techniques. So why do them? I hope to open a few eyes to the possibility of using modern techniques to guide (train) their hunting dog. Not only can a field dog can be trained using humane means, but exceptionally high levels of performance can also be achieved without the need to "take any hunt" out of your dog - an expression I sadly hear all too frequently in and around this type of venue.
With that being said, we signed Fizzy up for a Double, Double being held outside Kennewick WA, and I went. She did a great job, locating on average 4 birds on each outing, with only 5 to 10 minutes in the 'bird field' no less. She ran well, made nice stylish Spinone points, and held each one until I could get to her. In some cases, this was an extended period as I was on one side and she the other of the bird field.
Fizzy went 4 for 4 with great ease as a yearling. If her retrieve was a bit tighter, she would be ready for the AKC Senior Hunter test and just a few heart beats away from Master level! So as part of her journey we will help guide her in making a few improvements in her performance. She has been both interesting and fun to work with so far. I expect to have a lot of fun with this dog once our flight pen gets filled with birds here soon! Afterall, it's about the dog(s) having fun with them and getting out of the house once in a while.
You might think with six weeks of hunting lined up we would be wiped out and ready to come home by the end. If you did, you would be mistaken. I did have to miss a day of hunting to retrieve Robert for his Christmas break visit with us, and we elected to take the following day off to do family things. We did have a few days of heavy rainfall threatening to take a day away from us, but it all worked out and we made at least a short hunt work somewhere.
As mentioned, it was a big trip, with 6,606 miles driven in total, 3,498 of which were put in over 39 days of hunting. The dogs smashed 165 pounds of dog food and we hiked 180.44 miles in the pursuit of these little birds. We made new friends, had some good times with old friends.
It was clear many of the coveys had late hatches. In the early season, several birds that had been harvested were surprisingly small, covered with copious amounts of pin feathers and even bare chests! Oh my, if only we had been able to “shoot and release”, some were so small. This only reinforced our normal hunting practice of hunting only covey rises, doing what we could to deliberately leave singles and flushed birds be where they were and move on to the next. This tactic worked well for us overall, and we managed to locate 83 unique coveys of Mearns quail during our time.
The dog-by-dog report:
Fowler: did his typical work, which is to say, he did a nice job. Sure, he’s almost twelve now and he’s slowed down a bit. But his nose still works, and if he smelled them, he had them. He found his fair share of birds, made nice points, and of course did a fine job of locating and retrieving downed birds.
Powder: had another great Mearns season even though she started this season very overweight and out of shape due to the late season Singleton she gave birth to. We had also hoped to work her using the Higgin’s Method to improve a few elements of her performance, namely steadiness after the flush/shot, but that too was sidelined by a bad shoulder injury and then her pregnancy. Despite losing that opportunity Powder crushed her eighth Mearns season. Moreover, she has done a fantastic job of teaching our other dogs the ways of the Mearns given her deliberate and consistent style of working and reliable points.
Tule: had a banger early season and upon retrospect we made some errors that didn’t help her end on the note she deserved. Tule ended her summer wonderfully steady and cooperating with our other dogs with a remarkably high level of fidelity. She was a total rock star for me while guiding at Sage Canyon Outfitters. The key was, we believe, she hunted with our dogs. Dogs she knew and trusted. Dogs managed in our way or the Higgin’s way. We thought she was ready to hunt with others, and well, we were wrong. As her Mearns season progressed her performance slackened. It was unfortunate and it’s on us 100%. We will get right by her this coming summer!
Ila: man, she had a rough go of it. She had a disproportionate number of hunts that held little to no birds. We even back hunted a number of those areas with her mother to again come up empty handed. Her performance was good, she did her job. But after so many dry outings it seemed to affect her confidence towards the end. As a side note, I so desperately wanted to capture video of her work for my mentor, and somehow it translated to my worst work with my GoPro, ever. And that is saying something. A videographer I am not. I recorded countless hours of the inside of my pack mostly… Jenna did begin to record us occasionally with her phone towards the end. Ila’s feet are as if set in concrete on a covey rise, and after shots are made. She even caught a quail on a covey rise without moving a foot! Ila also did great work on her ‘alright’ queue, which is the opportunity to relocate or even flush when given the queue, little more than a step or two mostly just to observe the bird flying away – just fantastic. We were frustrated for Ila. Overall, she did the work one would expect when there was work to be done from dog that will hopefully soon become a recognized Higgins Gundog. We intend to expand upon her Field skills this summer, again using only Higgins/LIMA methods. I am excited!
Fizzy: now here is our success story. We started her with the Higgins System as a young pup, and she did great. Maybe a little too well. She very quickly and easily became steady to release with essentially no effort. Then she kinda seemed to stop caring about birds. With that we backed off and focused on letting her be a puppy. Not that the Higgins Method uses high pressure or the use of any lightning to get the job done. It just happened to be too much too fast for her, and we needed her to ‘love’ birds more. Fizzy started her Mearns season following, but not dogging our more experienced dogs. Due to Powder & Folwer’s pronounced stalking behavior, and me making improvements in consistency with my handling she just began to naturally co-hunt with and back them. From her earlier exposure, she knew putting up birds never pays the bills. She was a killer on singles, the only dog we intentionally hunted on flushed birds. As season progressed, she began to work more independently until one day I blew her off, opting to pay attention to Fowler & Powder. Fizzy had the covey, but overcooked it, and found herself in the middle of them when they flew. She stood there and watched them fly. As the birds flew off, I called her over and praised her for returning. After that, she knew the deal with coveys. When in doubt hang back and point. She went on to have a killer puppy season and we look forward to finishing her out the Higgins Way this summer.
My mom and son visited for the holidays; we did some cool stuff and saw lots of rainbows. I caught a flushing bird in my hand! It was a good trip, and it all went by far too quickly. We are already looking forward to our return. Until then take care,
Brian & Jenna
Well, it is done. Our second shot at producing a litter of pups using imported frozen semen. We learned a great deal last summer, and we did our best to apply all the lessons learned. Let us now hope it pays off, because this is an expensive endeavor both emotionally, and financially!
Ila ovulated sometime late on the 24th-ish based on the test results. So, we had her bred on the 27th, 28th, and the last shot was just completed this morning.
Ila ended her hunting season in excellent condition, and at a healthy weight. We switched to Inukshuk Pro a year ago and have strong results for the dogs with it. Normally we battle weight loss during hunting season, but this is now a thing of the past with this food. While this may seem like a small thing, she started her heat cycle within a few days of our return from 6 weeks of non-stop hunting in Southern Arizona. So, we aren't playing catch up to get her up to a healthy breeding weight.
Yaris' frozen semen arrived in perfect shape, thawed perfectly, and was in the exact condition his semen report indicated. No surprises or complications, which is always a welcome addition to such a situation for all. Ila did her part and was super compliant, allowing all the handling and manipulation needed to pull the procedures off like a real champion. Each one of the three procedures went off without a hitch - textbook perfects each time!
So, whatever it is that you do to create good providence, we kindly ask that you begin now, if you haven't already done so.
Our YouTube Content
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.