Half brothers Texas & Santos. Who was first to the bird?
This text is translated from my article in the
Norwegian magazine FUGLEHUNDEN
some years ago
(with different photos)
THE MENTALLY STRONG BIRD DOG

The breeding of better bird dogs is of course both an interesting and an important issue. Methods and ways to get
there can differ a lot. I am taking the opportunity to stir the pots a bit without attempting to claim the best recipe.

Many modern bird dog owners say they'd rather buy a pup from small scale breeders. Puppy factories are avoided.
This is not surprising. When a breeder of so-called Llewellin setters in USA during a period produced about a litter
per week, with the primary goal of selling most of the pups, the alarm bells will ring for most people. Some show
breeds (in Scandinavia included) have seen similar things, though in a somewhat smaller scale. However, geneticists
will in fact claim that well functioning, bigger kennels have a considerable greater theoretical chance of succeeding in
their breeding programmes.  If you select well amongst a greater number of breeding stock, it is generation intervals
of higher frequenses that will give faster and greater progress.
Owen Dawson with his pointer litter no. 228
Let me mention some examples within the pointer breed. A few years ago I
described the Australian Lucknow breeder Owen Dawson. He was a far cry
from the highly commercial Llewellin breeder but one from the old school, with
Waldemar Marr as his idol. Dawson bred a lot over the years (approx 250
litters). He was also an anatomy tutor (with special interest in goats and
dogs). He bred, faithfully following his own ideals, which were good looking
dogs, efficient in finding and handling birds, and easy to train. Some of these
dogs were sold or gifted away, the best he kept, while many of them were
culled. Most of today's dog people regard these methods as reprehensible,
and it's not for everyone to work focused with those methods over several
decades. This is however the way much of our dog lines have been created
and refined up through the times.
Dawson succeeded with much of what he was striving towards but even with
that scope of breeding they weren't perfect. Like most breeders at that level
he was deeply engaged by breeding principals, where he line-bred and
in-bred as far as he regarded it possible.
As one-man-hunting-dogs my guess is that these pointers were quite close to
the ideal. But many of them would not have gone all the way with tough
competition in field trials. Even big scale breeders have to compromise with
some traits. The type of dog Dawson refined was lacking somewhat in mental
toughness and speed & style compared with the best trial dogs. (Even if he
also bred some good trial dogs.)
Dawson's work with the pointer happened at a bigger scale than most
but I will try to compare with Robert Wehle, USA and Giorgio Guberti,
of Italy. Both significantly more famous in international pointer circles.
Wehle was the man behind the highly regarded Elhew pointers. He
started his kennel in the mid 1930s, with the bitch Jem of Fern
imported from Scotland. Wehle focused more than most Americans on
efficient bird finders. He did also consider the looks when he picked
pups in his own lines. Every time he out bred it was with mentally
strong dogs with good bird finding abilities. When Wehle searched for
his stud dogs he only focused on hunting traits, not looks.
Today there are hundreds of breeders in the USA, describing
themselves as Elhew breeders, though not necessarily with Wehle's
primary focus on efficient bird finders. Sometimes it appears that it
has become more important to count how many times former greats
appear in the pedigrees. Wehle's honest, dead serious focus is what
made him a winner. Like Dawson he also had great insight into the
breeding principles. Many of those who attempt to copy him will line
breed in all eternity on what they have of Elhew off-spring. One thing
is trying to consolidate exceptional lines but it's worth remembering
that the mental robustness weakens by inbreeding. Restrictions
against this is still the wrong way about it (like seen in some kennel
clubs and breed clubs). Our understanding of breeding constantly
develops as we go, and there is no doubt that inbreeding has had a
significant place in some of the progress achieved.
Moving on to the Italian legend Guberti, perhaps the greatest pointer breeder of them all. His del Vento pointers have
probably had the greatest influence on pointer breeding around the globe, followed by some other Italian breeders
like Franco Ravetta (Clastidium). Exactly how Giorgio Guberti prioritised in his breeding he hasn't shared too much
about. But he managed to breed class bird dogs for generations, born and raised in large herds. He studied natural
selection between the dogs, in addition to having a rare intuition of which dogs had the right natural qualities. He had
great numbers to select from and with an unequalled insight into the qualities of own blood lines. Other European
breeders (and indeed around the world) would go to Guberti when they needed to improve specific traits in their lines.
Mentally the del Vento dogs have spanned from ice cold, utterly superior to shy, slightly nervous. Laredo del Vento
who came to Sweden showed tendencies of barking when competing in the field. The litter brother Laser, who stayed
in Denmark, showed signs of lack of human contact. Personally, I remember a small bitch called Russia del Vento,
first owned by the late German pointer chairman and personality Karl Wolf. She was shy and quite antisocial but with
a steely focus in her eyes and an uncontrollable hunting passion. In Germany, like many other places Guberti has
been seen as ultimate pointer breeder. Dogs like Brando, Caco, Zambo and Ippocampo del Vento are amongst the
best bird dogs the Germans have had. Ippocampo, litter brother Ippocrate, Fauno, Asso, Cariddi and Ardito del Vento
have dominated breeding statistics over several decades. I was told that Fauno del Vento in his older days was
slaughtered by other dogs in the kennel. I know it can be seen as a lack of respect for one of history's greatest stud
dogs but nature often ruled over man's ideas in Guberti's kennel. (Edit: Since this article was first published, Guberti
was raided by animal activists and prosecuted for animal cruelty. This finished off the old man as a pointer breeder in
a picture which has never given the full story of the man and his life work.)
The recipe for success can to a great extent be to realise your own limitations. Geneticists will likely tell you that one
can't prioritise more than three traits for stability and further progress. Large kennels with clear breeding strategies
might manage a focused continued breeding for four traits. If the incidental hobby breeder then advertises his
priorities with: health, hunting ability, disposition, looks, coat (all of them very general), one can claim he has
swallowed far more than he can chew already. And by the way, what is is hunting ability? The point is that for a bird
dog those three traits must necessarily be hunting traits. Looks can be considered to a certain extent but when
focused on nuances, there's got to be some traits that must be compromised. (We're not considering some lucky
strike amongst the offspring but uniform qualities in litters and lines.) The great thing about looks/appearance is that
it has a high heritability. It's possible to improve considerably already within a generation or two. This is another
essential point. Some traits have considerable lower heritability than others. With this in mind it's not surprising that
the incidental hobby breeder who may line breed without managing to replicate any of the good traits he was hoping
to maintain. Perhaps the breeders of today aren't extreme enough in their choices.  
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