In attempts to save the wirehaired pointing griffon in America, ideology in breeding split clubs and bird dog lineage
In North America, despite a very early start—the first wirehaired pointing griffon arrived in the United States in 1887—the breed has always played a minor role on the gun dog scene. Unlike the Brittany and the German shorthaired pointer (which coincidentally were promoted by some of the same individuals who imported some of the first wirehaired pointing griffons) the griffon never really caught the attention of mainstream hunters and field trialers in the United States or Canada.
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A breed club was formed in the U.S. in 1916, and the wirehaired pointing griffon managed to gain some notoriety in the 1920s and ’30s. But the Second World War dealt it a hard blow, and the club folded. Interest was rekindled in the 1950s and there were soon enough wirehaired pointing griffon breeders and enthusiasts in the United States to form an American Kennel Club (AKC)-affiliated club for the breed, the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America (WPGCA).
Working with some of the original stock brought over before the war, as well as a number of newly imported dogs from France and Germany, members of the WPGCA made some progress toward developing solid hunting lines. However, without a formal breeding program and no tests or trials to evaluate their dogs, it was slow going.
Even when the club established its own testing and breeding program in the 1970s, the situation did not really improve. There were still too many dogs from untested and unproven parents being bred in the U.S. In spite of a few outstanding individuals, the overall quality of the breed remained uneven.
By the 1980s club members were sounding the alarm. Many believed the breed was in deep trouble and that something had to be done. There were only three options: use the remaining good dogs, import griffons from France or Germany, or use “foreign” blood.
As we shall see all three ways were eventually attempted, but not without some heated debate that would eventually lead to deep divisions in the breed that remain to this day.
On one side of the divide were breeders who chose a combination of the first two options. They felt they could improve the situation by using the good dogs already in North America and imported dogs from Europe. They have made tremendous progress in the last 30 years, and are now producing bird dogs that are the equal of any other versatile breed. Many of these breeders are members of the American Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Association (AWPGA), a club formed by members of the original club who disagreed with a controversial crossbreeding program. In 1991, the AKC formally recognized the AWPGA as the breed’s parent club in the U.S.
On the other side of the divide were members of the original club, the WPGCA, who chose the third option. After much debate they decided to embark on a crossbreeding program involving the Cesky Fousek, a wire-haired pointing breed from the Czech Republic. In her book Griffon: Gundog Supreme, author and club member Joan Bailey explains the circumstances that led to the decision.
In 1983 we held our annual board of directors meeting in conjunction with the field test in Redding, California. . . . Early in the meeting someone asked: “What females do we have for breeding?” The answer was “Few to none.” . . . we faced the problem squarely. We acknowledged that there are only three ways to rejuvenate a failing breed . . . It was agreed that we had tried the first two methods over and over without lasting results. We accepted the fact that the only way to save the Griffon was to inject
The club chose the Cesky Fousek in part because, like Eduard Korthals, its members felt that all rough-haired pointing dogs were of the same family. They claimed that Fousek breeders in the Czech Republic had actually used wirehaired pointing griffons after the Second World War to revive their breed and therefore felt that using the Fousek to revive the griffon was not nearly as extreme a step as breeding to another breed like the German shorthaired pointer.
The first griffon-Fousek pups were born in 1986. More litters followed. The results were generally positive and the club decided to continue with the program. Eventually however, due to the fact that breeders no longer had access to the Korthals’ wirehaired pointing griffon breeding stock and had been using mostly Český Fousek stock since 1985, members decided to rename the club and officially convert to representing the Cesky Fousek breed (Bohemian wirehaired pointing griffon) in North America. Today, the club is known as Český Fousek North America.
I believe that the bottom line for any hunter seeking a griffon in North America is to understand that there are options. Good-to-excellent hunting dogs are available from breeders on both sides of the divide and the differences in the dogs’ looks and performance are, for the most part, fairly minor. Therefore the first step in getting a good griffon pup should probably be to do some homework to find a breeder, breed club and breeding philosophy that you agree with.
In addition, prospective owners should be cautious of the increasing numbers of griffons being bred for the show ring and companion animal market without much regard for their hunting abilities. Bill Jensen, one of the most experienced wirehaired pointing griffon breeders in North America, offered his opinion on the matter:
I am very concerned with the division into show and field types. It has happened to most of the working breeds, and griffs are now in the process. It’s an evil outcome of the free enterprise system. Bench shows should test that the dogs will point. How else will they know that they are wirehaired pointing griffons?
From their home base in Winnipeg, Craig Koshyk and Lisa Trottier travel all over hunting everything from snipe, woodcock to grouse, geese and pheasants. In the 1990s they began a quest to research, photograph, and hunt over all of the pointing breeds from continental Europe and published Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals. The follow-up to the first volume, Pointing Dogs, Volume Two, the British and Irish Breeds, is slated for release in 2020.