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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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A good nose is an asset that most retrievers possess, and fortunately, one that Golden Retrievers particularly seem to demonstrate. (Just ask the groaning Lab people when the “Golden” digs out that hen pheasant!) Nose is such an essential and constantly used faculty, that it may be a much easier task to distinguish through its apparent absence, than its effectiveness. However, to prevent us from fault judging in this scenario, we would want to note in what situation(s) the dog exhibited such a shortcoming, and a good judge should consider the dog’s total olfactory performance before making any final decisions. Breeders would also be wise to consider this ability over time, as so many different factors, both internal and external, bear influence. We still have much to learn about this primary sense, but we do see evidence of familial influence and would be wise to be alert to it.

Courage is another trait essential to style, and one that is not always effectively tested at Hunting Tests and Field Trials. Sadly, it is one of the qualities many consider to be most lacking in today’s Golden Retrievers, and so deserves more of our focus. Will our dogs brave tough terrain or heavy cover, cold water, ice, currents, muck, strong winds, etc. to get to the bird without balking? And do it again? And even again? Will our dogs challenge these factors and still have the desire to succeed, even when they are tired or stressed? Again, we need to consider the purpose for which our dogs were originally developed. They were charged with lessening a hunter’s burden by retrieving fallen game from places not easily accessible to the hunter, and often under conditions that were less than compelling. We need retrievers for convenience in fetching game at a distance, for their noses (and perseverance) in getting birds out of tough cover, and for their swimming ability to deliver our fallen birds from in and across water. Courage (on land and in water) is not only a highly desirable trait in a retriever, it is essential. Courage is also the quality that provides the raw material to allow our retrievers to be successful in so many other services and occupations. Can it be an accident that some lines are preferred to fulfill these needs?

Perseverance is another related quality that is an essential component of stylish performance. It is again one that we see more readily in its absence than its presence, and also seems to show a genetic predisposition. When we see a dog consistently work diligently, aggressively and systematically, no matter what the circumstances, to find his bird, we are seeing fine examples of perseverance. His attention is not distracted from his task, and he does not let conditions or obstacles deter him. In hunting or testing situations, a faulty performance is evident when a dog gives up and comes in to the handler before finding the bird. Further examples include: stopping his hunt for whatever reason, hunting in a slow disinterested manner, or looking back at his handler for encouragement or direction before a diligent independent hunt. It is also considered lack of perseverance if the dog switches and gives up one hunt for another, or blinks (leaves) the bird without picking it up after finding it. These are all obvious deviations from a retriever’s job description, and when habitual, should be seriously considered when selecting for our next generation.

A soft mouth is often taken for granted, yet hard mouth is one of the most grievous sins a retriever can commit, and one of the most difficult to overcome. Many would agree that this also seems to be an inherited tendency. Because this fault carries such a serious penalty in retriever evaluations, every provision is made at tests and trials to insure that it is determined that the dog alone was responsible for any damage to the bird delivered (even if a live bird was retrieved and a dead one delivered), and any doubt will be to the benefit of the dog. If, however, the judges see the dog tearing flesh or crushing bones, this would be considered sufficient evidence of hard mouth, and would be penalized accordingly. In Field Trial evaluations, true hard mouth is so undesirable; it calls for elimination from the stake. In Hunting Tests, the trainability score might fall so low, that qualification becomes impossible. This is not a trait we want to see proliferate in retrievers, so we need to be aware of it and act accordingly.

The element of style is a quality of utmost value in our retrievers, and one that affords us the most delight when we are lucky enough to experience it. Though style is closely related to of most of the preceding individual qualities, it is comprised of a whole package of attributes that ranges well beyond these specifics. Of all the specific working abilities we evaluate and select for, style is most essential to our purpose, yet may be the most elusive to define. Hopefully, the descriptions of the natural abilities we strive for as outlined in the “other” standard offer us lots of insight into why it is so vitally important to incorporate them into our breeding selections if we hope to improve upon our dogs as a breed. Style is a subject very worthy of further discussion, which may be included in another installment. Your thoughts on this topic are welcomed.
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