Different people have different ideas of what dog makes the perfect hunter’s companion. For some it’s the hyper-active Springer, a dog that just doesn’t let up and leaves no bush unturned. For others it’s the new world Labrador, a true gunner’s dog and a specialist retriever and if given a chance can be a good all-round hunter too. Many breeds that have been excellent hunters, finders and retrievers of game have sadly disappeared or become so rare in the field that they no more get a mention in working dog tales; Poodles come to mind, once thought to be the smartest of all working breeds, and the King Charles Spaniel, a small French breed, probably (and this is only my opinion) used in French falconry as the sparrow-hawkers companion, why else have such a small falconry spaniel in the field unless it was for use with sparrow-hawks or maybe with Hobbies or Merlins
These little French spaniels, (like so many so called “gundogs”) was in existence long before the invention of the shotgun. Sussex and Clumber spaniels too have slipped by the way-side in the popularity steaks of the hunters four legged pal. Both these spaniel breeds were bred, I believe, to be purposely slow and ponderous for the simple reason that a man can keep up with them in the field, not just any man, but a man with a goshawk on his fist. If you have ever seen a team of Goshawk and fast spaniel work together you will understand the problems involved in keeping up when the brakes just don’t work!
Anyway, other folk prefer the Pointer or Setter, or English Pointer or Setters as they are know both in Ireland and in the UK, but these dogs are originally of French and Spanish origin and should still be in what has come to be known as the Hunt, Point and Retrieve group of dogs. But these two have been bred as total specialists as breeders have concentrated on only the Point aspect of their skills which is a shame. The Europeans though have what is (in my opinion again) the right idea. Most dogs in this group are what it says on the tin; Hunters, Pointers and Retrievers; from German Shorthaired Pointers to Munsterlanders, beautiful Hungarian Vizlas to ghost-like Weimeraners, the bulky Italian Spinones to the strong and elegant pointing Griffons.
Yes, I purposely left the little guy ‘til last; the small hardworking French Brittany Spaniel, or Brittany as it is called now. (the Spaniel was dropped as it is such a good pointer.)
When I was growing up I had my heart set on two things; a good dog and a good hawk. The hawk, as far as I can remember was going to be the old traditional Goshawk, filler of pots and slayer of all things edible. The dog though was either a Hungarian Vizla or a Brittany. Now as I write this, and after flying different Goshawks and owning a Brittany for twelve good years, I reckon it will be the Brittany all the way for me. Never in my life of owning different types of dogs have I had or seen such an easy-going and hard-working dog to spend time with. As a pointer (and I am no expert) I have had my dog on point for three quarters of an hour on pheasant, while my buddy searched and retrieved his Goshawk and returned for a second flight. After flying different hawks and falcons over the year’s at all different types of quarry, I can honestly put my hand on what’s left of my heart and say that there were many, many days that would have been a total blank if it were not for my old Brittany, he found game in the unlikeliest of places and at the least likeliest of times. He made the good days good and if there were really bad days
(thankfully these don’t stick in the memory like the good ones) he was never to blame.
Brittanies are small for a pointing breed and will not cover the heather moors like an elegant Pointer or Setter, but for a dog to throw in the car when you are out with a Harris hawk one day, a Spar the next and a companion for that week away with the falcons, a dog that absolutely suits the Irish falconer or rough-shooter, a dog to lie in the garden and keep out of the way until he is needed, my money is on the Brittany.
As I said earlier, every man has his own choice of canine hunting companion and that’s the way it should be. It leads to a life of variety which is always a good thing. Once the sun shines occasionally and we can head for the fields with a dog at our heels, life will never be too bad.
Ps. photo below is my six week old litter, all little characters
and all trouble!