An exploration into the origins of the pointing dog and how bird dogs developed alongside our changing hunting styles
Co-hosts Craig Koshyk and Jennifer Wapenski launch Hunting Dog Confidential by diving into the origins of pointing dogs. This first episode will kick off a mini-series exploring the origins of pointing dog breeds across continental Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
Summary of Episode
So what’s actually happening when a bird dog goes on point? Did you know that you are likely an experienced pointer? If you’ve ever paused just before swatting at a fly, then you have exhibited this same behavior that makes pointing dogs such effective hunting companions.
Discover fascinating stories about early bird hunting and how certain dogs who happened to “pause” before pouncing became an asset to the hunters of the day. Learn about “bird-batting” and “low-belling”, archaic bird hunting techniques where hunters went out at night to find roosted flocks of birds to flush and actually bat to the ground. Early accounts tell tales of skilled dogs that could locate the birds in the dark and point toward the roosts – perhaps the earliest accounts of hunting over pointing dogs.
As our hunting styles evolved, our preference in dogs also changed as we developed new styles of dogs to match the new methods. The introduction of firearms was a major game-changer for bird hunting; during the transition period to reliable firearms, long-haired and short-haired pointing breeds entered the scene once an extended search and prolonged point became useful to the hunter.
“By the time we get to the 1700s you’ve got light enough guns, and by that time the pointer starts coming out of Spain and starts moving into England. That is the dawn of the golden age of pointing dogs. That’s when the true bird dog – the gun dog, the pointing dog that we know today – came to exist in about 1700.”
Finally, Craig and Jennifer wrap up the discussion with some commentary on the current Coronavirus pandemic, how that affects the bird dog community, and what we can learn from history about reacting to a global crisis.
Tune in to hear the stories, uncover the myths, and discover the history of the dogs that we know and love today.
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Hunting Dog Confidential is presented by Eukanuba Premium Performance Dog Food
Transcription of the Podcast: Origins of the Pointing Dog
Jennifer Wapenski: Craig and I are so excited to launch this podcast, which will be a deep dive into hunting dogs and dog related subjects from all around the world. Our intent going forward is to explore a variety of subjects in sort of a miniseries format, moving from one subject to the next over a course of a couple of episodes.
Our first series is essentially going to act as a as a companion series to Craig’s book Pointing Dogs, where we’ll explore the origins of pointing dogs and how the development of various dog breeds was influenced by regional differences in the places where these dogs came from originally. And, and using this format, we’ll be able to go into greater depth and explore personal anecdotes, follow any bunny trails along the way. And, and then just talk through the stories many of which didn’t make it into print and, and go into greater detail. Just really learning about the origins of these dogs and and how we got to where we are today. So without any further ado, Craig, let’s kick this off with an origin story. What exactly is happening when a bird dog goes on point
The Domestication of Dogs
Craig Koshyk: Well, that’s a great question. And a great way to start off, I would suggest that that was a question that was posed, you know, 1000s of years ago, obviously, you know, humans have been hunting with dogs or using dogs as companions in the hunt for a millennia. And surely, they had noticed, at some point in time that dogs like a lot of predators, just before they pounce on their prey, they actually slow to a creep, and then stop and, gather their thoughts and gather their energies and then spring up on their prey. In fact, I was thinking about that the other day, and I thought that humans probably noticed it, maybe even first off as victims of such behavior. Think about it.
You’re some primitive man or woman running across the savanna and hiding from all the evil things that can come and grab them, well, one of them might just be waiting in the grass in that pose of a point, waiting for you, waiting to just grab you. So you know, it’s a very old behavior. In fact, humans do it. Just think about anytime that you’re going to swat a fly, you know, a fly lands on the table next to your delicious cocktail and you’re thinking, well, I want to get that little guy. You don’t just swipe at it. In fact, you pause, you actually tense up, you focus and then you SWAT at it. That’s how we kill mosquitoes. And we mainly miss flies, but that is the pointing behavior.
It’s really a behavior of many predators. Some have it more pronounced than others, but you can see it in anything from coyotes to wolves in any type of cat. I’m not sure about frogs, and lizards, but I’m pretty sure that most things that capture other things by quickly seizing them probably stopped before they do it. And so that, in the most basic sense, is what we can call a point. It’s that it’s that that brief period of time that a predator gathers its energy and focuses on what it’s going to seize upon. When we look at dogs. Well, that is one of the behaviors in wild canines that we exaggerated. And I’m sure throughout this discussion, we’ll talk about other behaviors because dogs do what all wild canines do, except they do it to the nth degree, almost to an obsessive compulsive level. And that is the result of what we’ve done by selectively breeding them to do that.
The Earliest Hunting Dogs
Jennifer Wapenski: So hunters were working together with dogs long before we specifically bred them to be pointing dogs. How are hunters working with their dogs prior to the introduction of the pointing behavior?
Craig Koshyk: You got to understand that that dogs, the most valid theory nowadays, I think we all have this sort of, and I don’t want to go right back to the year Doc, you know, in terms of the origin of the human dog relationship. But it is interesting to note that a lot of scholars nowadays and a lot of evidence is pointing towards the the idea that dogs actually domesticated themselves in a way. In other words, these were wild candidate or canines that lived around human settlements and when humans started to settle down or when they were having bonfires and throwing their bones away after a nice meal, the dogs realized that there was an easy source of food if we stayed somewhat close to these, these upright creatures, these men and women, and so over the years, a millennia, they basically became more and more docile and more domesticated because obviously, the less shy you were, the more eager you were to get close or willing to be close to humans, the more you got fed.
So it wasn’t long after that. The romantic notion of some caveman grabbing a little wolf puppy and raising them up to being a well trained dog is probably a myth. I mean, even people working with wild wolves to this day that are born in captivity, after four or five generations of quote, unquote tame wolves are still treating them like wild animals, because they haven’t tamed them yet. So in that respect, at some point in time, men and women started to realize that dogs were good to warn of intruders, they were good to perhaps even even sort of indicate that “game is near,” because they got all excited, they could smell it or hear it from a further distance.
But the the real basics, the basic technique of using a dog to hunt with you is to use the dog to do things that we can’t do, they can run faster than us, and they can seize things that we can’t seize on our own. Turns out that men can actually run longer and further, one of the more fundamental techniques of human hunting was just to run something. And I don’t mean speed wise, I mean, just keep running after it until it’s too darn tired and hot and exhausted, and then stick a spear in it, and there you go. But dogs brought speed, they brought a better sense of smell, they could smell something hiding in a bush that we couldn’t see. They brought strength, they brought strengthen numbers, they were able to steer running animals into perhaps a trap or a net that we had prepared for them. So the original way of using any animal for example, to help us in a hunt, or for transportation has to do things that we can’t do, carry heavier loads, or to fly. Falconry and Hawking was created by men because they couldn’t fly, and they wanted to capture things that were in the air, or that were just too swift for them. So that was the original one. And that was probably 90% of the history of hunting with dogs was just using dogs to run after stuff that we couldn’t capture, that was just too fast for us to capture or running after stuff in forcing it into a prepared pit or net or something like that.
From Bird Batting and Low Belling to Pointing Dogs
Jennifer Wapenski: So you told me a story one time about an old technique of hunting that involves finding a bush full of birds at night and flushing them out and actually taking them out with bats.
Craig Koshyk: Yeah, that’s just sort of a classic example of how dogs could have been used, or were used by by men and women who wanted to capture something to eat or for sports. So basically, it’s an old technique, no longer practice, as far as I know. And it’s called bird batting, or low belling and this was something that probably had something to do with the development of pointing dogs. So what you want to do is imagine that during the day, you’re out, and you’d really love to have a bird now let’s pause for a second and remember that birds at that time, were thought to be and were protected mainly for the nobles.
There was a belief way back when that anything that was everything that was closer to the earth was lower in God’s order. Anything that was higher above the earth was higher in God’s order. So just like society was arranged, you’ve got the low people who you know the lowly sort of serfs and the lowly, the low life as it were, and then you’ve got your sort of middle class and then your merchants and whatever. And then you’ve got the noble class. It was all sort of this pyramid of sorts, or upwardly pointing hierarchy. Well, so was the food you ate. Anything that came from under the ground or or low to the ground wasn’t as good as anything that came higher than something that grew tall or something that grew up in trees or especially birds that flew up so high that they were the nobles food.
The nobles hunted them, they were allowed to hunt them and so did the sort of common man but they were poaching them and so you can imagine that during the day, it’s kind of frustrating. Imagine yourself out there today without a gun, maybe with a bow and arrow that you made out of a local twig and some twine. Imagine trying to bag a bird. You might have to come up with some very devious ways to do that. There was bird traps, they had little falling rocks, they had little nets, they had various sorts of things. Well, one of the things that they noticed was that during the day the birds obviously could see you and they could they were just more wary. They were harder to get to. But at night, they they would realize where they roost I mean, we were talking earlier about turkey hunting.
Everybody knows turkeys roost at night. Imagine if you knew which particular trees or bushes in an area of your property the birds rooster that night. but you didn’t know exactly which bush? Well, one of the techniques that they used was they would go out at night and they would use lamps and they would even sometimes put a reflector behind the lamps to concentrate the light beam. They would go half a dozen guys would head out to the field and go towards some of the bushes or low trees where the birds might be roosting and they would take bats and there’s these illustrations, these great illustrations you can find let’s say from about the 1200s do about the 1500s. And even beyond that probably into the 16 and 1700s. In certain areas, it was still practiced. These illustrations show them with like kind of wicked tennis racquets. They call them bats, but they look almost like a badminton racket but bigger and heavier and, and obviously a little bit more lethal. What they would do is they would surround these bushes and shine this bright light which was made of burning rags or some sort of kerosene soaked something or other and they would flush the birds out and the birds would be drawn towards the light and they would strike the birds and kill them and take them home and roast them.
That’s called bird batting. Another variation of that was called low belling where you do the exact same thing, the same light, the same bats and everything. But you would take a massive bell, a cowbell. The bigger and the lower the better because apparently what would happen is the birds would fly out and we’re talking quail, we’re talking partridges, we’re talking perhaps some sorts of pheasants or related birds would come out.
According to the old accounts, they would fly towards the light, but they would be stupefied by the bell, the bell would shock them so that the birds would just fall to the ground in some sort of seizure. Now, I have no idea if this is true, I’ve never seen any, wild Kingdom program of some sort, wildlife filmography, showing birds being stunned by a bell. But there is hundreds of accounts of this actually being a thing back in the day. And what really got me interested in it is the connection with pointing dogs was in a book I translated on the Bracco Italiano, a very famous breeder of Bracco Italiano, in Italy wrote a book. I translated it, it’s called the Noble Bracco and it’s written by a guy named Cesare Bonasegale. He was the ex president of the Bracco Italiana club, and in it he includes in the history of the breed, he includes some letters.
Typically letters exchanged by one monastery to another from one brother from one reverend to another abbot, and their fascinating little glimpses into their lives. And one of them that struck me and him as well as it’s particularly interesting is one where he said, “Oh, brother, Lorenzo, last night I gave into, forgive me, please, because last night, I gave into temptation. And I went out with the guido when his buddies all wentbird batting, and oh boy, did we get a lot of birds and you should have seen! And the dog, he was magnificent, he was able to smell them out from 40 paces, and point to where they were in the bushes.
From that account, and others that are similar to that, the author of the book suggested that some of the pointing dog instinct and some of the selection for pointing dogs was due to this nocturnal type of hunting. In other words, you took a dog with you, and you didn’t know exactly which particular bush would shine the light on, you didn’t know which ones to concentrate on or what area, but the dog would be trotting around you, and all of a sudden, it would sort of slow down and point because it could smell that that bush was full of birds. He wrote about that in his book. What really fascinated me was the fact that he said that he’d been training dogs for 60 some odd years. And early on, he started training his youngest dogs at night, some of their earliest exposure to game and to pointing he did was at night. Just because of that, just because of that idea that that pointing dog is part of the origin of the of how we trained and selected and used pointing dogs was actually done at night and not during the day to find the the bush full of birds.
I mean, it kind of makes sense. Imagine you don’t really have a flashlight, you got a burning kerosene lamp of some sort. But otherwise, you’re sort of poking around on maybe on a moonlit night. Having a dog with you, that could smell them from 40 paces, that’s gonna show you exactly which bush to go towards.
Lumière Dogs to the First Shorthaired Pointing Dogs
Jennifer Wapenski: Sure, and a dog that doesn’t go barreling into the bush to flush them out because you’ve got your own means of attracting them to the light.
Craig Koshyk: It’s just a sort of an energy saving system whereby you don’t have to cover every single bush you just use this dog and go. You can think of it in another way like think of avalanche victims while you use a dog, he’s going to sniff them out from under the snow. In fact, the other day, I saw a really interesting postcard when I was poking around on the interwebs of a dog that was pointing enemy soldiers. It’s from World War One in France. And it shows a drawing, and it shows these French soldiers crouched down behind this little tiny Hill, and a dog in front of them pointing towards a bush. And the little caption underneath it says, Fido pointing where the enemy soldiers are located. So again, this is a behavior that we’ve seen in all sorts of animals and in dogs.
At some point in time, men saw this behavior and realized, “hey, hang on a second, I could use that I could, I could, I can actually take advantage of what this dog is telling me just by standing still, instead of running after something, instead of capturing something or killing something or dragging it back to me, this dog just by standing still is sending me a message, and is giving me an advantage so that I can take more game.” Clearly, that became a thing. It just became, well, wow, this is a great little discovery that we’ve made of these dogs. As dogs are one of the most plastic animals in the universe, in other words, we can change and modify them so easily and so quickly. It really didn’t take long for people to start not just take any generic dog but what about that dog? Well, and this dog over here, this guy’s dog, my goodness, I hardly had to train him. He was doing that as a puppy and for several generations of dogs that have a greater predisposition to this stopping and pointing behavior. Later, you’re going to have dogs that do it right off the get go with hardly any training at all.
Jennifer Wapenski: Sure, and as a trait becomes more desirable for daily use, I could see how it would certainly be be selectively bred for.
Craig Koshyk: Yeah, and there were certain types of dogs that seem to be better candidates than others, and Jacques Espee de Selincourt, in the French author in one of the greatest books ever written on on gundogs, especially on pointing dogs, he and others other great experts have looked into this. Identify a type of dog that in English would be called a leash hound. In German, it’s called a light hound. And in French, they call them Lumière. So limer dogs, it’s L Y M E R, and in English, they sometimes even call them a Lumière dog, or a leash dog. Before we actually had true pointing dogs, actual dogs that would run around and point in the presence of game because they smelled it and that we could shoot it with you know bow and arrow or crossbow or whatever. Before we had that, the main mode of hunting in the area were pointing dogs eventually got created, which is southern France, Northern Italy and Spain. The main one of the main ways of hunting was to use packs of hounds, to run down, they still do this in France, by the way to run down deer.
The greatest hunter of all time, the guy who wrote the very first book, his name is Gaston Fébus, he had hundreds and hundreds of dogs and among them were all these different types of dogs. So you want a bunch of buddies would get together on horseback. And you would say, “Okay, today we’re going to go kill a deer because we need somebody eat or because it’s this is the time of year that we’re going to do that.” You’d get your horses together, you get a bunch of dogs together and your dogs are divided into different types. There were some that could just find the deer and run after it like hell, but not be able to catch it. Meanwhile, a mile or two away in certain areas where you figure the beard is going to go you have stationed even faster, even more ferocious dogs, or you have another pack that’s going to surround it or other ones that drag it down. So there are various ways that dogs were used to hunt boar and they were used to hunt deer and even rabbits and things like that.
Mainly it was because they were chasing them. So in some way or another they were either going to chase it to exhaustion or chase it so that they can drag it down or chase it in some combination of those two things. But before you actually went and ran after that deer, it became a thing that you’ve, well first of all, you have to identify where are the deer. And then it became a thing to say no a specific deer. We’re gonna go get this deer it has to be X number of years old. It has to have this many points on its antlers. “I saw it six Sundays ago.” I want that particular deer. So how do you go and find out that where that one deer is?
Well, you have specific dogs that are very good tracking dogs and they look kind of like bloodhounds, but they have really really good noses. And you use smallish packs of them groups of them to figure out exactly where this deer is and where that deer is. And there’s all sorts of instructions and all these old books on how to, you know analyze the footprints of the deer and even the droppings of the deer and all that sort of stuff. Basically use the scenting dogs to kind of figure out where it’s at. And then from among those sending dogs, you’re going to choose one that’s quiet. In other words, it doesn’t bark when it’s chasing anything. It doesn’t bark when it’s tracking. It’s silent, and it’s slower, and it’s cautious. And when it comes very, very close to the deer, it’s actually going to stop and lie down or just stop.
So it’s got a fine nose that it’s going to track it, and then it’s going to stop. Then you as the observer, you as the sort of scout, you’re going to go, “oh, okay, we found the deer we want to shoot or not shoot, we want to chase down. And he’s over there. And he’s sleeping. So he’ll be there till the morning. So now let’s go get everybody. And that’s the deer we’re going to go after.” So these lymier dogs are Lumière in French, where we’re specifically chosen because of their fineness of their nose, because they were silent, because when they got really close to the quarry, they would lie down to indicate where it was. So now we can go back and get the gang and go hunt this thing.
That is sort of the best candidate we have in terms of the old literature for the dogs that would eventually become all of the shorthaired pointing dogs. Were dogs that were selectively chosen from among tracking and scenting dogs for a more pronounced point and no sound, no vocalization on track or by sight.
The Invention of the Firearm and its Influence on Pointing Dog Development
Jennifer Wapenski: We go from there, where we’re running down animals, or we’re beating birds with bat, how does the introduction of firearms then change the game and therefore change the dogs?
Craig Koshyk: You know, that is the game changer. We can’t really talk about a bird dog like a classic, running full blast, or even at a fast draw and slamming onto a point holding it until we get there and then either advancing towards the game with us or staying still like to do in America and then flushing the game and shooting it. We can’t even talk about a true bird dog world or a true pointing dog until the invention of firearms.
But there is a transitionary period. So we go back to these limer dogs, these dogs that were used to find deer that were what’s called harbored, they would find the harbor of this deer, where it was hidden. By tracking it silently and then sort of pointing it out and then going back and reporting to everybody where it’s at. From there to the invention of firearms, we’re talking about a period of several centuries. Probably just after the Dark Ages, just at the beginning of the renaissance in the Middle Ages, all the way up to firearms light enough to carry and to shoot what’s called wingshooting, shooting things that are flying or flushing from in front of us. That didn’t happen until the early 1700s, maybe late 1600s. But really, by about the early 1700s, you had reliable enough light enough guns flintlocks match locks and various things that you can go and shoot something on the wing.
So in between was a period of several 100 years and there was a transitionary phase and so we see transitionary dogs. We see dogs that are still a lot like the lymer dogs or the lumière. They’re still very high end looking ones. We have other dogs coming in, These are long haired dogs called spaniels. They probably come from another root stock of dogs that were used to flush birds for hawks and falcons and to flush birds into nets. Those are the ones that eventually end up being setters.
The limer dogs or lumière, they end up being the pointing dogs or the pointers, the ones with short hair. The wirehaired ones come much later when they combine them with other curly haired dogs. But throughout a period of probably two to three even four centuries, there was this transitionary period from the say Gaston Fébus in the late 1300s, mid late 1300s all the way up into the 1700s. Where you had dogs that just got more and more progressively more pointy and progressively more searching and and they were searching a little bit further and they would do various things \and the best reports we have are from from Spain and southern France. Two in particular are quoted by William Arkwright in his seminal book called “The Pointer and His Predecessors,” an absolute treasure of a book.
He draws on two Spanish sources from the 15th century and both of them talk about dogs that are used to point partridges and I would suspect these are red legged partridges in northern Spain in southern France. They would point them and the hunters would shoot them with crossbows with blunts with bolts out of a crossbow that has a blunt point that we used to shoot rabbits and birds. This was seen as as an art form. It was seen as something that was just an incredible thing to do that you had a dog that was so well trained, because most of the time you have to train them. Although, as they kept training them what they would do is like any trainer, I mean, you want to train the dog that’s already sort of predisposed. You could train any dog to retrieve, but it’s so much easier to train a dog that’s naturally wanting to pick things up than it is for one that isn’t. So that’s what happened. In the old days, they used to think that “oh I this dog I trained to point therefore all of its puppies are going to because I trained the mother to point,” well, that we know genetically isn’t necessarily true. What is true is that if you spend all that time and with a bunch of dogs, you’ll eventually gravitate towards the easiest ones to train. Eventually, you’ll willing out the pack, so that after several generation, decades and decades, 99% of the dogs you’re training are already pointing before you even train them, really, they’ve just been selected that way.
You have these dogs, that the Spanish and the French and some Italians were training to do this. Then eventually, they found easier and easier and easier wants to train to the point where they didn’t really need much training at all. In one of the sources that Arkwright quotes, he identifies two types, actually three, he says one of these types of dogs will just naturally, when it gets close to birds, it’ll slow down and stop and it’ll stand up and it’ll point and you just look where its nose is pointing, and walk around and take a real good look, because there’s probably partridges there, and then take your crossbow and shoot them on the ground.
Another type of dog, he says, won’t stop and point but it’ll circle the area, it’ll identify this one small area where he thinks the part where he smells, the partridges and it’ll circle around it, that’s called a circling dog. So we identified two types, he called one a pointing dog, and another one called a circling dog. And then he said, “Oh, but the best of all, he says is the one that does both. The best of all is a dog that points when it needs to, or when it circles when it needs to do those are the best dogs of all.” Then towards the end of his treatise, is when arquebus I don’t know how you say it in English, but you know, your big old blunderbuss, you know, the big old guns that had to sit on a rack and that had a little flaming string that was used to touch off the gunpowder. These really awkward guns that were really only good that shoot, you know, things sitting on the ground, or a deer at 50 yards. Well, they started being used by hunters to do that, to shoot birds on the ground with these pointing dogs. The author who talks about shooting them on the ground with a crossbow says, “oh, and now the dogs we have aren’t just aren’t as good anymore, because now these darn firearms are coming in. It’s just now anybody can go and shoot these things. It’s too easy.”
He sort of decries the fact that it’s super easy now to shoot all these birds at the invention of this new thing called a gun. Meanwhile, it was still super hard. These guns were terrible compared to what we have today. But really, that’s the transitionary period. As guns advanced, by the time we get to the 1700s, you got light enough guns. By that time, that’s when the Pointer starts coming out of Spain and France and starts moving into England. And that is the dawn of the Golden Age of pointing dogs. That’s when the true bird dog, the bird dog, the gun dog, the pointing dog we know today didn’t really exist until about 1700.
Jennifer Wapenski: And shooting a bird on the wing has been super easy ever since.
Craig Koshyk: Well you know that’s a really interesting thing. Louis XIII was supposed to be the first man to ever shoot something flying. It was seen almost as a parlor trick. When people first started doing it, people couldn’t believe that they were actually pulling it off. It was seen like Annie Oakley shooting an aspirin off somebody’s head with a mirror behind our backs or anything, it was seen as this crazy trick that they could do. You can imagine you’ve got this flintlock, you know, from the time you pull the trigger to the time the actual shot ends up coming out the barrel is probably like a second, or more. It’s this bizarre sort of scenario where back in the day, it was quite quite a feat. But it didn’t take long for people to get really good at it. And once they did, they also started to get really good guns. Hammerless side-by-sides, smokeless powder was invented just shortly after that, and also now we have cartridges.
When we think about hunting today it does seem a little you know, old fashioned. You know, we’re not using the latest and greatest electronic device in our hand to bag these birds magically. We’re still using a relatively old invention, which is a gun. But in reality, when you look at it in the grand context of everything, it’s a very modern thing. You know, wingshooting with a firearm, with pre loaded cartridges, over a pointing dog is actually quite a modern thing. The one thing that remains from the old accounts from the Spanish, is that it’s an art form. I make this point repeatedly every time I have a conversation about pointing dogs is that shooting birds, on the wing, over pointing dog is probably the least efficient way of putting meat on the table ever invented by math.
The calorie in, calorie out, expenditure sort of balance sheet when you think about all the energy that goes into, like bagging of snipe. Then the energy you get from it from a calorie standpoint att the end of the day. It’s like the worst investment ever. You go back to the 1400s in the Spanish guy with his pointing dog or circling dog and a crossbow wandering around the hills of hot, arid, sunny, Spain trying to shoot a red legged Partridge on the ground. It wasn’t really doing it for food, obviously he ate it and enjoyed it. He was doing it mainly as an art form. It was mainly as a form of self expression and entertainment and just commuting and connecting with nature. Maybe that’s why that one of those monks said, forgive me, brother, I gave into temptation. It was, it was pleasure.
Why Was Europe the Founding Location of the Pointing Dog?
Jennifer Wapenski: And still is today. So, these origin stories that you’ve been telling and that you’ve traced back, it’s Spain, Italy, it’s France, it’s Germany. Why is it that Europe played such a large role in the foundation of our pointing breeds?
Craig Koshyk: That’s the million dollar question, right? We just talked about firearms. There is evidence that the, you know, gunpowder was in Europe in the early Middle Ages, or maybe even a bit before, but it was in China, centuries before that. The Chinese and certain cultures in the East and Asia were using dogs to to run down game, and they were using dogs to flesh game for their hawks for a long time before and that’s where the Europeans caught on to it. So they had dogs, they were hunting with dogs they had, they had hawks, they had guns, they had nets they had, various devices, the same sort of things. But it was only in Europe, I mean, all the evidence points to the to the idea that it was only in Europe in about the late 1100s, early 1200s, when somebody had a light bulb go off over their heads going, “Hey, hang on a second. Let’s use this pointing behavior, not the running, not the fetching, not the swimming, not the biting behavior of a dog, let’s use this pointing behavior, the dog,” why was it there?
I have no idea. There’s no evidence to show that anybody else anywhere around the world cottoned on to that idea. Even though they were using dogs in very similar ways to hunt very similar types of game for perhaps even longer periods of time. Somebody somewhere, just put two and two together. It’s just one of those mysteries I don’t think we’ll ever solve.
Why Craig Koshyk Researched the Origins of Pointing Dogs in Europe
Jennifer Wapenski: And we’ll certainly get into a lot more detail in upcoming episodes about the the specific regions of Europe and how those regional differences fit into the the dog breeds that we know today. But, when you set out to research your book, you went straight to the source and you spent years and years traveling all over Europe, right? Why was that important in telling the stories of the the dog breeds that we know today?
Craig Koshyk: I mean, because it for very selfish reasons. I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t write the book to inform the world about pointing dogs, I wrote the book for me. When I first got into pointing dogs when I first got my first dog Felix, a Weimaraner, I got him almost 30 years ago now. I became fascinated with him, with his breed, and with all the other breeds, and I knew nothing, I really knew nothing about them. All I knew is I was a hunter, I’ve always wanted a dog, I was finally in a position with a house and a fence and a little bit of wear with all so I can get a dog. So I went out and I got a dog I got super lucky in that I got a good hunting Weimaraner, which are rare as hen’s teeth, but I got a good one. And I hunted with him and I had a ball. And it just got me into this rabbit hole.
I thought, I want to learn as much as possible about this dog, about hunting with dogs, and about their their origins, and then where they all are and where they all come from. This is prior to the internet, I figured I’ll just go to the library, I’m a bookworm. I go to the library all the time. And I figured, well, let’s just go and pick up a book, there’s got to be a book out. There’s some sort of encyclopedia that explains all these hunting dogs and all these pointing dogs. What I found is that there weren’t. There were some books that purported to be but they were really just reheated crap that people had written centuries before. It was contradictory. It was incomplete. There are big gaps missing, there are obvious errors.
The more I researched it, the more I realized that there just wasn’t the source. There was just nothing out there that really put them all in one place where somebody could learn a bit about every breed of pointing dog on the planet and their history and how they’re used, and how many are there and what color are they How big are they? What do they do? You know, just all the questions I had about every different pointing breed. I figured, well, I’m gonna have to write this. So I did.
You mentioned all the travel and that’s the reason it took me 12 years. It took me 12, it took me over a decade to write that first book. It’s almost a decade on my second one. And the reason is because I wanted to go to see them where they were. One of the major faults I found with a lot of these books, is that it became clear after three paragraphs of reading, somebody’s description of this dog, it became clear that that person had never seen one in his life. He had never seen one or if he did, it was his neighbors. It was nowhere near where that breed came from.
I figured I’m not going to do like everybody else. If I want to write about Italian dogs, I’m going to Italy. If I want to write about dogs from Spain, I’m going to Spain, the German Dogs from Germany, we went to Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Holland, England, France. We went all the different places where all these dogs came from so that I can get to the source. So I could find people who have dedicated their entire lives to these breeds, and ask them questions about them. I knew I was getting the straight stuff from the right people.
In a lot of ways, dog breeds and a lot of the information that is presented about dog breeds and about dog breeding and hunting and, and even things like field trials and field test. It is really spun, there’s a little bit of a spin on all of it, every dog breed wants to have a unique backstory, and every dog breed, it’s always cool to have a noble guy sort of associated with it, or some really cool event in history, or some famous person having them or some specific cool trait of that dog. Basically to sell them or to at least to provide with a cool story.”This was the old poachers dog, or this is the old foresters dog or back in the day, these dogs did this, or this guy did that with them.”
Some of those things turned out to be true, some of them didn’t. And in fact, some of the true stories when I busted a few myths on certain breeds, some of the truer stories actually ended up being even more interesting. One that’s sort of reminds me of this event now was, the Vizsla is a very popular dog. It’s from Hungary. As I was studying the Vizsla, I had to sort of figure out, where it came from, and how it was developed in its country. Then all the way up into places where they, they first started having studbooks and they got their field trials and tests and their dog system got organized.
Throughout reading of that, Hungary was basically ground zero for two world wars, as was France. I’ve got a dog, a Picardy Spaniel, which comes from Northern France and Picardy. When we were studying that dog, we were driving through northern France, and I’ll tell you what it looks like Wisconsin, or Minnesota, except there’s a graveyard with 1000 tombstones every five miles. That just sort of sets you back. You got these really cool dogs and you’re talking to hunters and you’re looking at the the terrain that they’re hunting and there’s partridges all over the place. And you’re thinking, “wow, this is super cool. There’s some great hunting, these are great hunting dogs, these really cool hunters. I had a good time, but Oh, yeah, right. two world wars just ground that place to you know, to crap.”
So the history of those breeds, is the history of the resilience of those people in those areas. Because the Vizsla as well as the Picardy Spaniel made it through those times, made it through times of absolute horror, when nearly an a generation of young men were lost on the battlefield. People starved in the streets and there was the Spanish flu. Yet these breeds survived.
Conclusion of the Origins of Pointing Dogs
Jennifer Wapenski: And we certainly appreciate that you did that. Because the end product is just an incredible book with so much information about all these different dog breeds. I know I’m really looking forward to going into much greater depth with you in the coming episodes and hearing all your stories about traveling around and discovering more about all these dog breeds at their origins. The the next episode that we’re going to cover will be a more detailed survey across the world. And across time, exploring where and how our dogs became the dogs, though, that we know today. I know I’m really looking forward to getting more into that.
Well, it’s been a good discussion, and I look forward to to the next installment where we’ll go across the world and time and get to know our dog breeds a little bit better. So thanks for your time. And, and we look forward to taking this up again next week.
Craig Koshyk: It’s my pleasure, Jennifer, thank you very much. This is an endless rabbit hole people so hang on, buckle in. It’s gonna be a ride
Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential Magazine and co-host of the Hunting Dog Confidential podcast. She has a lifelong passion for the outdoors, dogs, and wildlife; as an adult, she discovered that upland bird and waterfowl hunting were natural extensions of these pursuits. Jennifer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two Deutsch Langhaars.