What is the perfect dog? I'm not sure there is enough paper in the
paper mill to print all the answers that could be given to that
question. The good thing is that I wasn't asking that question of
everyone else... I was asking that question of myself. It's the same
question every potential dog owner should ask themselves.
All dogs are not created equal. Some dogs don't even look like a dog.
Recently I was looking in the Dog Encyclopedia and there was one dog
that looked more like a monkey than a dog. This only proves that we all
have our own likes and dislikes. It is just a matter of personal
My problem is I like them all. At least all the hunting breeds. I might
have one of each if I had enough room and time to hunt them all.
However, that's not very practical, is it. Most of us own one or two
dogs. Two dog owners usually space them apart in years so that when one
dog passes on there is another that is still in his or her hunting
I've trained my own Labrador Retrievers and Wirehaired Pointers for
around twenty years. However, there always seemed to be something
missing. I loved my labs but I also like hunting over a point. So after
my last yellow lab "Harriet" went to the "Happy hunting grounds in the
sky", I tried Wirehaired pointers. It wasn't a good fit. They were great
hunters but the ones I owned had temperament problems. They were a bit
ornery and I didn't trust them.
So back to the drawing board. I continued to hunt with my Wirehairs
because they were the only dogs I had. However the time had come when I
had to sit down and really decide what I wanted in a hunting dog and
companion. I started researching the internet, dog books and magazines.
This research was an endeavor of love. I can't think of anything I enjoy
more than reading about dogs.
I made a list of what qualities I wanted in my "Prototype Dog".
No matter what dog I chose it had to be a good
family dog . It was a must that it be good with kids.
I have always loved the physical
characteristics of a Springer Spaniel. So it would be nice if it had
some Spaniel attributes.
The dog would have to work close like a spaniel
or a lab. No dot in the distance for me.
I would like this dog's hunting speed to be
somewhere between a plodder and a sprinter. Just work at a steady
comfortable hunting pace.
This dog's medium size would make it easy to
live with in the house or easy to lift over a fence when hunting.
This dog would also have to point out its
Finally, while reading the Simon & Schuster's
Guide to Dogs, I came across a dog that really caught my eye. Dog number
223 was a French Spaniel or Epagneul Francais if you are saying it in
French. The colorful picture of this beautiful dog immediately made me
curious. I had to read on. The description given in the book was
basically everything that I had written on my wish list. One downfall
was that the book said that they were not common outside of France.
Seeing that I didn't have any contacts in France, hopes off getting a
French Spaniel faded away.
The French Spaniel resembles a Springer Spaniel in many ways. It has
that irresistibly adorable spaniel face and puppy dog eyes that just
melt your heart. It is somewhere between 21 - 24 inches tall and weighs
44 - 55 lbs. Along with the Irish Water Spaniel the French Spaniel is
recognized as the largest of the Spaniel breeds. The colors are always
liver and white. The coat is flat and short with some feathering. Unlike
most Spaniels the tail is not docked. The tail is long with setter like
The French Spaniel is one of the oldest spaniels, originating in France
as early as the 1300's. Early 17th century paintings done by Desportes
and Oudry depict the French Spaniel hunting partridges in Versailles. In
the 19th century the dog was almost extinct. A French priest gathered
the remaining French spaniels in his Saint-Hillaire kennels. Here he
rebuilt the lineages that are the representatives of those we now have.
Some theorize that outcrosses of the French Spaniel make it the cousin
of the Small Munsterlander (Germany) and the Drentse Patrijshond
(Holland). It is also thought that the French Spaniel is the forerunner
of the modern setter.
Its primary use was as a setting dog, freezing or pointing as soon as it
scented feathered game. In those days hunters used nets instead of guns.
The hunter would throw out a weighted net and catch the birds alive. The
dog's body would be in a low position with an elongated tail to make it
easier to throw the net over the dog. It was a much different pointing
style than that of today's high tailed American bred pointing dogs. That
high tail would have been frowned upon as it would have gotten in the
way of the nets. Many of the modern dogs with more direct European
Ancestry still point with the low tail.
The webmaster of the Breed club describes the Frenchy as a calm,
methodical hunter who hunts at a moderate pace. It sweeps the area clean
before moving on. It adapts well to any terrain, plains, woods, swamps ,
brambles and cold water. It can hunt any type of game. Although most
owners of the French Spaniel hunt grouse, woodcock, pheasant or ducks.
One French Spaniel breeder knew of someone whose Frenchy demonstrated
its toughness by hunting geese .
It wasn't until two years later that I saw an ad for French Spaniel pups
in Gun Dog magazine. I talked to my wife and in about 5 minutes I was on
the phone to Quebec, Canada. It turns out that Quebec was another
stronghold of these dogs. It makes sense when one figures Quebec's
connection with France. The French Spaniel was first brought to Canada
in 1974 and was given official CKC recognition in 1985. At this time the
AKC does not recognize the French Spaniel. The Frenchy is not wide
spread in the United States. Upon inquiry it is discovered there are
only a handful of French Spaniel owners in the U.S.A.
I talked to the different owners of the respective breeding pair and got
a good feeling. These were not some backyard breeders out to make a
quick buck. They explained that they belonged to the French Spaniel Club
of North America and that no member would breed a dog unless it met
certain standards in confirmation, natural hunting abilities and X-rays
showed no problems with the hips.
No would-be dog owner should ever buy a dog without doing a lot of
research first. I gave the breeder in Quebec a strong indication that I
would most likely get a pup but I continued my quest for information by
sending a long list of questions to some other French Spaniel enthusiast
over the internet. Predictably they all spoke highly of the dog. They
emphasized the care taken in the breeding of these dogs. Scientists are
just now making headway and discovering miraculous methods of cloning
animals. Their goal is to reproduce a perfect specimen. French Spaniel
breeders feel they have made a science of reproducing quality dogs
through careful selective breeding.
I found it interesting that the breeders were careful in who they sold
their dogs to. They wanted a good match. All breeders emphasized that
the breed could be considered a "soft breed". In other words if you
believed in heavy handed training, you most likely would not be a good
match with the French Spaniel. I was told that I just had to be patient
and work with the dog and the dog would perform in time. Once again ,
"Don't worry, its all in the breeding." It may not be ready to perform
at its optimum level as early as some dogs but once it learns something
it doesn't forget. I have found this to be true with my French Spaniel ,
We all know that one of the greatest ways to develop a gun dog's desire
is with a lot of bird contacts. "Belle" started out with pen raised
pigeons, quail and Chukars. She was now ready for wild birds. I had some
land to hunt that was o.k. by Minnesota standards but nothing compared
to the hunting in South Dakota. I'm fortunate to have lived in South
Dakota and still have a lot of friends and relatives who own land in
some of South Dakota's prime pheasant hunting grounds. Getting enough
wild bird contacts was not a problem. "Belle" has been lucky enough to
have made four South Dakota pheasant hunting trips in about a year's
Before her first trip I made sure she was properly introduced to the
gun. More good dogs are ruined by folks who are so anxious to get that
dog in the field that they don't take time to undergo the sequential
steps of introducing the dog to the gun. As a pup she was a little gun
sensitive so I had to take it slow. Now you could shoot a cannon by her
and it wouldn't bother her.
"Belle" was a six month old pup on her first trip and she seemed just
happy to be along. The first two days of the trip she didn't hunt with
any real purposeful direction. Rather she frolicked around sniffing
every mouse nest, badger hole or any other natural smells she hadn't
experienced before. Toward the end of the first trip and on each
subsequent hunting trip she made steady improvement. I guess what I
liked best about her was the close range and the comfortable pace at
which she hunted. She stayed within a very desirable range and was
always checking back to see where I was. She hunted as much to please me
as she did to please herself. At 1-1/2 she quartered with a quality
windshield washer style and had become a reliable retriever.
She made her first point on a pheasant that two experienced German
Wirehairs passed by. It wasn't her most beautiful point. It was more
like a student answering a teacher's question when they aren't quite
sure of the answer. She wasn't real intense. She stood her ground as if
she was saying "I think this is what you want me to find".
Belle points in a similar style as to what has already been mentioned in
this article. The intensity of the point depends on the proximity of the
bird. It is easy to read the dog when it is on point. For a bird that is
a fair distance away she will stand rigid but with a high head and body.
For that bird that is just a few feet away or right under her nose, she
will be in an intense elongated stance.
Some hunters like the dogs that point with the high tail. Again it is a
matter of personal preference. Personally I think the lower stance and
elongated tail is much more esthetically pleasing than the high tail.
When a French Spaniel hits that intense point with that long flowing
tail it reminds you of those fabulous paintings of dogs long ago. It
highlights the dog's features and beauty. . . just like those paintings
, one has to stop, pause and partake of this majestic scene.
The French Spaniel follows a trend when it comes to the pointing breeds.
Continental breeds such as the Small Munsterlander, Large Munsterlander,
Italian Spinone, Griffon, Braque Du Bourbonnais, Pudlepointer are all
becoming more popular. These dogs are in demand because their natural
close working hunting style has not yet been influenced by the desire of
some breeders to do well in the field trialing game . The games have not
gotten in the way of what the everyday hunter wants in a dog.
The French Spaniel Club of North America recognizes the fact that these
dogs mature a little later than some other breeds. With that in mind
they allow natural ability testing to take place 4 to 6 months later
than in other pointing breed organizations such as NAVHDA (North
American Versatile Hunting Dog Association). It is at that time that
one can get a better judgment of the quality of the dog.
The FSC (French Spaniel Club) requires dogs to qualify in both
confirmation and hunting tests in order to be certified by the club.
When looking for a prospective pup make sure to get one from a dog that
has gone through and done well in the French Spaniel Club test or has
tested for an organization such as NAVHDA that puts the emphasis on
There are not a lot of French Spaniel Breeders out there. Those that do
breed don't produce a lot of litters in a year. If you want one it would
be a good idea to get on a waiting list. Depending on the Kennel, one
can expect to pay somewhere between $500.00 and $700.00 for a quality
pup. These dogs usually come with health guarantees.
When importing a dog from another country such as Canada, you may run
into some delays because of rules imposed by Customs. I had to wait
until my dog had the second series of shots before she could be shipped
to me. I think she was 12 weeks old when we got her. I also had to pay
$125.00 for shipping and $50. 00 for the kennel she arrived in . The
cost of shipping can vary a great deal. It is well worth your time to
check on the cheapest possible flight. Purchasing this dog is not an
altogether cheap endeavor. Total costs will be between $700.00 and
$1000.00 for a pup.
If I have one complaint about the French Spaniel, it could be picking
burrs. Picking burrs was not a problem with my Labs or Wirehairs. I've
learned to avoid areas of high burr concentrations unless that area also
contains high bird concentrations. Then it's worth a little extra time
and effort that goes into picking those nasty burrs. If you trim the
Frenchy's hair, it will grow back just like any other spaniel that gets
trimmed up for hunting season . However, I can't bring myself to cut
that beautiful coat .
The only other complaints I have can be directed at my two kids . They
tend to spoil "Belle" too much. My seven year old, Emily wanted the dog
to sleep in her room. So we bought a large dog pillow. We liked the way
the two were bonding. It wasn't long before Emily was inviting Belle to
sleep in bed with her. My six year old son Zach is a little smuggler. He
likes to slip "Belle" some tasty morsels under the table. It sure can be
hard to resist those sad, begging eyes. So as I continue to train my
dog, it looks like I have to continue to train my children as well.
The gentleman I bought "Belle" from had told me, "It is all in her
breeding. Give her time and she will train herself", Well, it
wasn't quite that easy but it has been a fun couple of years working
with her. The French Spaniel is truly a unique dog . Mine is everything
that I would ever want in a dog. We couldn't have done better with the
pick of the litter than we did in choosing Belle. She will be the
matriarch of our small French Spaniel operation. Any one wanting any
further information can contact the website master of the Breed Club or
can check into one of the other web sites listed at the end of this
article . If you want to contact me personally, I can be reached at the
60445 213 Ave.
Dodge Center, MN 55927
Information in this article on the French Spaniel comes from personal
experience, other French Spaniel owners and the following groups:
Let's talk about pointing dog breeds. We have the English setter (which,
according to Spaulding Hoffhacker, is really all any of us needs), as
well as the pointer, Irish and Gordon setters, Brittany, shorthair,
wirehair, Weimaraner, vizsla... that's about the extent of the
relatively common breeds you see advertised in a typical issue of The
Pointing Dog Journal.
Yet the current issue I'm looking at also contains ads for Irish red and
white setters, French spaniels, and German longhairs. (Also pointing
Labs - which, if you look in any issue of Pheasants Forever magazine and
didn't know better, you'd be convinced was the most popular breed of
pointing dog in the country.)
The question that probably leaps immediately to
the mind of owners of the more popular breeds listed above is: Why would
anyone pick a rare breed? Surely, you can find everything you want - and
then some - by choosing a dog from a more common breed. And you probably
don't even have to travel halfway across the country to see one!
I spoke with several owners of some of these rare
breeds in an attempt to answer the why question, as well as to find out
how they became involved with their chosen breed.
One answer I got is something we of the popular
breeds don't necessarily like to hear, but which has a certain amount of
truth to it: Some people want a dog that American breeders haven't had a
chance to screw up.
For example, Irish setters used to hunt. Some still do, but not very
many. You'll see a lot more in the show ring than out chasing birds, and
if you try to hunt one of the show Irish... well, let's just say it's a
good thing they're beautiful dogs.
That's one end of the scale. Another example is
the significant divide between show and field English setters. They
scarcely look like the same breed. And the people breeding the field
dogs will tell you the show crowd messed things up, while the show crowd
will tell you that the field guys are breeding dogs so ugly they'd crack
Then there is the American tendency to turn every
breed of pointing dog into one that can be run in horseback trials. (To
get back to the pointing Labs, although horses and I don't get along at
all, I swear I'll ride in the gallery when they get around to having
horseback Lab trials - and I don't doubt they will, eventually.) Since
we already have pointers and English setters, and since no other breed
has beaten them at their game in better than a century, what's the point
of taking a whole bunch of foot-hunting European breeds and trying to
make them run like a greyhound?
Of course the trial people can respond, with
validity, that most of the European breeds were multipurpose dogs over
there, hunting both fur and feather, at a plodding pace. Most Americans
buy them to find, point, and retrieve birds exclusively; so why not
breed for a faster, more stylish dog? And there is also a good bit of
truth in that statement.
What I found, in talking with rare-breed owners,
is that they arrived at their choice through a pretty logical process.
It's not unusual to find some who have owned one or more of the more
common breeds and simply found that those dogs weren't the right "fit"
for them. In other cases, they may never have owned other pointing dogs
previously, got into it more or less by accident, and have stuck with
what they have because they're happy. And some owners have rare breeds
because of a connection to the country where the dogs originated.
Paul Fischenich, who has French spaniels, and my
hunting partner Jim Cole, who owns a braque du Bourbonnais, both owned
more common breeds before making the jump to a rare breed. Jim had two
pups out of my shorthairs, but when the second one died, he simply liked
the description of the braque du Bourbonnais, got curious enough about
the breed to make some inquiries, and ended up buying one. It didn't
work out for Jim, but that's a long story that has nothing to do with
either the breed or the specific dog he bought.
(There are several strains of braque in France, a
few of which have made it to the States. The word simply means a
short-haired, dock-tailed pointing dog. For example, "un braque
allemande", or a German braque, is the French translation for German
shorthair. And there's also the bracco - same word in Italian - Italiano.)
Paul Fischenich had Labs, got interested in
pointing dogs, and got into wirehairs. The ones he had were on the sharp
side, and he was looking for something mellower and - with no offense
meant to wirehair owners - more attractive. He heard about French
spaniels, which are still quite rare in the States although fairly
common in Quebec (and recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club for more
than 20 years now).
His take is that the French spaniel gives him
something more like the beauty of a setter, but with an easy pace and
close range for the foot hunter. Paul does a lot of pheasant hunting in
southeastern Minnesota, where the covers tend to be small, so he doesn't
need a real ground-burner. The result was a good fit for him. He's had
French spaniels for about 10 years now, and has been breeding them for
the last several years.
Father Daniel Herlihy, a Catholic priest in New
Jersey, has Irish red and white setters. He comes directly from the Old
Country, where he was familiar with the dogs. He remembers his own
parish priest as owning red and whites back in the '50s and early 's.
Thus, it isn't hard to understand why he wanted to own them himself,
here in the States.
Corey Van Donslear, in northwest Iowa, has had red
and whites ever since he was a teenager. He got his first one when a
breeder with a terminal illness was looking for good homes for his dogs.
And Corey has never looked back. He likes their style - a fluid motion
in the field with good speed - and their ability to handle the Iowa
ringnecks he hunts.
The red and white is a good example of some of the problems one
encounters with rare breeds. As hunters, we need dogs that are
physically sound. We're all aware of the problems with canine hip
dysplasia (CHD), and to a lesser extent, elbow dysplasia - and there are
other hereditary issues as well. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org)
maintains a website that shows what percentage of individual dogs from
various breeds are dysplastic. However, there aren't enough red and
whites (or braques) for them to show up on the OFA website. In cases
like that, a potential buyer would be well advised to insist on seeing
an OFA (or PennHip) evaluation of both sire and dam.
At the same time, we shouldn't assume that the
rarer breeds are more likely to have hereditary problems, even though
they very likely have a pretty small gene pool. For example, while there
are some hunting breeds with a high incidence of CHD (Clumber, Essex,
and the more popular Boykin spaniels running in the 40 percent range,
and Chessies and goldens at about 20 percent), pointing breeds are
farther down the list. English setters, spinones - which I would have
thought were fairly rare, but for which OFFA records nearly 700
evaluations - and Brittanys are at the top of the list, running between
15-17 percent. There are enough French spaniels, with about 100
evaluations, to make the list - and at about 11 percent, they are in the
same range as the much more popular pointers, wirehairs, and Weimaraners.
Likewise, while English setters have an elbow dysplasia rate of about 15
percent, the spinone - the only less popular breed to make that list
(the others absent because of insufficient evaluations) - has a rate of
only three percent.
Thus, while prospective owners should certainly
make inquiries about hereditary problems, they shouldn't assume that a
less popular breed has more genetic issues than a more popular breed.
One problem with less popular breeds, however, can be a shortage of
breeding stock. In some cases, Irish red and whites have been bred to
red setters. Whether this is a "problem" depends on one's viewpoint, and
on what happens in succeeding generations. If it happens too often, red
and whites - and reds - will eventually merge into the same breed. And
if most red and white owners are looking for something different in
their dogs than are red setter owners, it can end up that neither group
is well-served by the result.
Irish red and whites, like French spaniels, can be
registered with the CKC. This does give someone considering a red and
white the opportunity to see what's in the background of the dog he's
purchasing. And while both the French spaniel and the Irish red and
white may end up being recognized by the AKC in the near future, some
owners consider this a mixed blessing. While AKC registration carries a
certain cachet, the dogs may end up becoming too popular too fast - at
least in the eyes of some owners of rare breed dogs. The reaction to a
boom in popularity - and for some of these breeds, even a blip in
popularity would likely mean that demand would exceed supply - can be
unwise or even unscrupulous breeding practices.
For example, breeding Irish red and whites to red setters might suddenly
become the rule rather than the exception. There can also be a tendency
to pay less attention to negative health, conformation, and behavior
traits - not to mention the dog's proven ability, or lack thereof, to
perform in the field.
My strong advice to those interested in rare breeds is to do your
homework. You should also be aware of the fact that while we all know
the price of a pup is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the
overall cost of owning a dog, rare breed pups will usually cost you more
than pups from the popular breeds by about double, on average. And you
may have a fairly long wait before you get your pup, especially if the
rare breed in question suddenly becomes more popular.
In my own case, I've already owned all three
popular setters, as well as pointers, shorthairs, and Brittanys. It
might well be that a French spaniel or Irish red and white lies
somewhere in my future.