Forty Years of Sunnynook Large Munsterlanders

This web page was first mounted on February 15, 2018 and last updated on February 22, 2018 by Sheila Schmutz. Text by Joe Schmutz.

When Joe was a teenager in his native Germany, he prepared to become a hunter and this included a dog. The dog had to be fully versatile and, to satisfy a purely esthetic requirement, have long hair and a long tail. A Large Munsterlander breeder was nearest his home, and that settled the choice. After immigrating to Canada, and after Sheila had met Asco von der Lechau (ZGM 67/67) (left with Sheila in 1972), we confirmed that a LM would be part of our new family for good. Asco was older and our two nephews were too attached to him, so we returned home with a new pup instead, Amsel von Siegerland (right with Joe). When hunting friends requested a potential pup, our nephew Ulrich brought Dachs Chamavia. Our first (A) litter was born in 1977. The pups learned game scent and to swim near one of the many dwindling prairie towns - Sunnynook, Alberta. Hence the name of our kennel: Sunnynook. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of both Sunnynook Kennel and LMCNA/LMAC.

Why and How?

One clear goal we adhered to from the start was that this handsome dog was going to stay a fully versatile hunting dog. If we could help it, it was not to be altered at the whim of a breeder and gradually lose its century-old and hard-won breed identity. This identity maintenance is the policy of the founding Verband Grosse Münsterländer in Germany and is promoted by the international kennel club FCI. To achieve this goal, we enlisted like-minded hunters and hunter-breeders. We formed the Large Munsterlander Club of North America, later changed to Large Munsterlander Association of Canada. The change from LMCNA to LMAC was necessary to preserve the jurisdiction of the Animal Pedigree Act of Canada regardless of where breeders might live.

Over the 40 years, we feel we've found a formula that works. This formula places quality dogs into the hands of hunters of diverse game, who like to have their birds in the bag, and who value canine companionship.

In recent years, two separate lines of Sunnynook dogs have emerged. (The line from the original imports is shown on the right above and the more recent line on the left.) This allowed us to cross those two lines in 2018 for the Sunnynook G2 litter.

What has changed in four decades?

Today, forty years later, there are more mature insights available than in 1977, through both science and practice. The veterinary medical community is better able to give targeted advice to owners of working-dogs as distinct from companion dogs, e.g. not neutering. The dog-food industry, or raw food enthusiasts, are now designing nutrition with the canine body in mind, not relying on concepts from livestock fed to grow fast and fat. Animal behaviorists and practitioners now know that a young working dog should be nurtured to maturity not just "broke". Geneticists and practitioners have improved on the simple "breed the best to the best" mantra; now embracing practices such as complementarity in mate choice and the use of DNA testing for many diseases.

What has not changed over 40 years is the need for breeder capacity and honesty in the face of significant challenges. Versatile dogs are especially challenging to maintain because of their enormous behavioral breadth and sometimes contradictory demands, e.g. independence finely balanced with cooperation. An owner's family should be matched with the right dog.

Our formula in context.

After 32 litters and 206 Sunnynook puppies, we have cemented many deep friendships with puppy owners. Not all placements have gone well and not all of the dogs we've placed met our own expectations. Importantly, we've encouraged owners to have their dogs evaluated by trained field and conformation judges and to provide us with their own observations from living with a dog day-to-day, and from hunting with that dog. Some owners comply willingly and capably, others simply wish to buy a dog and be left alone. We avoid the latter category if we can through questionnaires, e-mails and phone conversations, preferring owners that see themselves as part of breed maintenance.

In keeping with a breeder-cooperative breed management based on proven performance, we have used 14 different dams and 22 sires for the 32 litters. This illustrates the obvious benefit of common objectives and breeder collaboration: 4 of our dams were imports, 1 was from another North American breeder and 8 were from our own kennel. Similarly, 8 sires were our own or others' imports, 5 from other breeders and 6 from our own kennel.

The Proof is in the Pudding.

Both performance and litter size are important indicators of the health of a dog population over time. Our litter size has, if anything, increased. The average number of Sunnynook puppies registered from the first 16 litters was 5.9. and the second 16 litters was 6.6, with an average of 6.2. Our pup loss at or soon after birth was 13%. Most literature suggests that 13% is the low end of stillbirth and neonatal loss in dogs, with it being as high as 30% in some situations.

We notice that between us and our participating owners/breeders we have had access to highly qualified dogs for breeding. We treat the VHDF Advanced Hunting Aptitude Evaluation (AHAE), and also NAVHDA's Utility Test, as the gold standard in our kennel. This standard also confirms for an owner that on average the offspring are up to the tasks of upland bird and waterfowl hunting. All females and males in our last 10 litters were qualified at this high level or higher.

The accidental D litter mating of a brother and sister lead to 4 pups with Black Hair Follicular Dysplasia. This is just the type of concern geneticists have about inbreeding: exposing deleterious recessive diseases. This litter also lead to a manuscript about this disorder and ultimately provided the impetus for the discovery of a DNA test to detect carriers before they were bred. That test was developed with colleagues in Switzerland and is in use in many breeds today. Since then, all Sunnynook dogs used for breeding are screened by DNA for this disease, and also for the prior DNA tests developed for detecting carriers of brown coat color.

Many of our dams and sires are now qualified in the VHDF Performance Evaluation which confirms that the dogs not only have the requisite hunting ability, but also the temperament and stamina to put their abilities to work.

It is a testament to the success of performance-based breeding, for example, that the requirements in VHDF Hunting Aptitude Evaluation have been increased to better measure the young dogs' ever-improving abilities. Where in the past, a pup's affinity for water was tested with a dummy thrown, most Sunnynook pups can be induced to hunt the water without a dummy. This "hunting the water" already anticipates the next higher level of testing and the requirements on an average day in the duck marsh.

As important as objective performance testing is for a breeder, ultimately the proof appears in the field. Joe hunts 20-30 days with our dogs in a year. They hunt singly, with other kennel mates or with other hunters and their dogs. It is here we evaluate our dogs' potential, where we decide whether to breed a dog at all or if yes, how often and to which mate. The objective testing still always teaches us a thing or two, but it is primarily for the benefit of prospective owners. It also tells collaborating breeders that our choices were validated minimizing a long-term risk for their breeding program.

We can recount scores of treasured experiences with our dogs. Joe has hunted a variety of waterfowl, or upland game in four Canadian provinces and six U.S. states. We feel particularly rewarded when we observe a Sunnynook pup fitting well into a hunting family and when young hunters learn their craft alongside a dog. This promises to keep the hunting craft alive and the LM playing a key role in it, as the LM has for 150 years.

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