As dog shows and field trials became popular, 19th-century Americans looked to standardize the breeding and use of hunting dogs, starting with Pointers and Setters.
Up until the late nineteenth century, the use and breeding of hunting dogs in North America was rather chaotic. Dogs were used in a variety of different ways, whether it was market hunters using Setters to retrieve waterfowl or big game hunters using Pointers to track and hold wounded elk at bay. There was no consistency in the breeding, either, as different types of dogs were often mixed and matched at will.
Before long, though, some of the same concepts from the industrial revolution found their way into the dog fancy. In order to achieve consistent results, fanciers knew they needed to apply a consistent technique along with a form of quality control. Registries were formed, pedigrees were issued, and dogs were judged according to newly established standards. The result was consistency in breeding and a standardized form and function for the dogs.
While hunting was still an everyman’s activity, dog enthusiasts knew that they needed “men of means” in order for dog breeding to really gain momentum. Before long, success in the show ring and in field trials was accompanied by increased social standing. This increased attention—and financial backing—was exactly what hunting dogs needed to reach their golden age.
Pointers and Setters were the first breeds to become established in North America, but imported dogs from Europe soon followed. The “Russian Setter” (likely a Wirehared Pointing Griffon) was an early arrival, followed soon after by the Brittany, German Shorthaired Pointer, and the Labrador. We discuss some theories on why—with the exception of the Griffon—those early imported breeds went on to become some of the most popular hunting dogs in North America today.
We end the episode right around the end of the second World War, when returning servicemen and women were bringing new German hunting dog breeds back home to North America. The economic boom and the growth of the middle class fueled an explosion in popularity for many of these dog breeds. For some dogs, popularity was both a blessing and a curse. Stay tuned for the next episode where we discuss some of these examples.
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Jennifer Wapenski is the Director of Operations for Project Upland Media Group, LLC 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.