This web page was first mounted on November 16, 2015 and last updated on March 23, 2018 by Sheila Schmutz.
Lassie Qualities of Sunnynook's Macaw
On January 20, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation newscast mentioned an Alberta couple spending the winter in Arizona, whose Border Collie/heeler cross saved a life. The woman was riding a young, spirited horse when she was thrown and dragged until the stirrup broke and released her foot. When horse and dog returned home alone, with a broken stirrup, and when the dog was agitated wanting to lead, a search party followed on quads. At one junction, the dog clearly did not want to go on the trail the husband thought his wife had chosen, so they turned and followed the dog instead. In short, according to the doctor, blood loss from being dragged 400 m would have been fatal had the family dog not lead the search party the 5 km distance where the woman lay unconscious.
Lassie saved lives as a matter of routine, but of course she had a good trainer who taught her the individual behaviour sequences that came together only on TV. Researchers in animal behaviour have undergone a sea change when it comes to dogs' cognitive abilities, e.g. Scientific American Vol. 24 #3. Primates used to be considered the intelligentsia of the animal world but studies increasingly confirm what observant dog people long knew. The intelligence, cooperation, planning and compassion that dogs can display toward humans is nothing short of amazing.
This newscast reminded me of a feat by Sunnynook's Macaw "Mac". Here no human, but a Bobwhite Quail's life was on the line. While hunting some years ago in the Flint Hills of Kansas by invitation of Janice and Ron Franks (Cedar Ridge Kennel). I'd lost sight of Mac. I waited and called, but having already fallen well behind the rest of the hunters I decided to move on and let Mac find me. When I finally saw him coming he was behaving oddly. He made persistent eye contact and slowed his approach staying well behind me. His manner told me that he was trying to tell me something. Risking falling yet further behind, I turned and followed him. With a renewed spring in his step he lead, but stayed within sight, not searching but going from A to B. After about 300 m, he went on point at undergrowth where oak had been cleared. As I walked past him, the covey rose and I managed to drop a Bobwhite Quail. Everything about Mac's manners was purposeful - he must have left point at last, came to find me, got me to follow him and went on point again. I was in awe at what had just happened. I also was deeply grateful and proud of my long-time hunting companion. At the same time, I found it a humbling experience. After all, we humans think we're in charge - are we not?
|Photo: Sunnynook's Macaw "Mac" (1999-2011) is holding his Bobwhite Quail in the tallgrass - oak woodland quail habitat of the Flint Hills in eastern Kanas.|
Mac's was not an isolated 'break point temporarily to alert owner' incident. Mac's son Muddy Waters' Buteo handles birds very well and simply points until I decide he's been out of sight too long and retrace my hunting route to find him. Last fall, Buteo and Sunnynook's Veery were hunting well ahead and over a rise. One gets a sense of how long one's dog is comfortable being out of sight before it returns. Veery and Buteo's absence was longer than expected and when we changed direction to try and find them, Veery was still pointing the Ruffed Grouse that had ventured into sharp-tail country. Buteo came toward us over the rise with this meaningful and prolonged eye contact - had he just broken point to find us? As I flushed Veery's bird, Buteo stayed behind me, not going on to search as usual. The ruffie got nervous with Veery apparently pointing it at 20 yds for many minutes, and allowed me only a far shot, which I missed.
The late Jan Smith reported a similar event with Sunnynook's Huchen on an exercise walk in the country. When the sun set and Jan turned to head home, he'd walked some distance before he saw Huchen coming slowly over the rise staring at Jan. When Jan turned back so did Huchen. As Jan came over the rise, Huchen was on point. Jan walked ahead and flushed the paired, early-spring Huns.
Jan was well schooled in the principle of parsimony and not given to snap judgements when interpreting animal behaviour; the topic of his research and University teaching. Still, he was convinced that his dog acted out a mental plan involving deferred gratification, not simply chasing the partridge up. Instead, Huchen opted for the joint dog and human goal of having Jan flush and possibly shoot enabling a retrieve. This is evidence of complex mental processing, not formerly attributed to animals.
As a breeder I might ask myself how could we foster such intelligence and cooperation in our dogs. I have too little experience to know, but for starters feel that beyond a sound level of intelligence a cooperative spirit toward people may be helpful. The dog in overdrive, or as the description goes, 'a hunting machine', may not readily balance conflicting motivations. Such a dog may not be able to suppress one or more deeply seated behaviours such as the drive to pursue game. The adaptive cooperation may be most pronounced in hunting dogs that typically satisfy a variety of tasks, especially if these tasks may entail somewhat contradictory motivations such as pointing and retrieving. Herding dogs may provide a similar example. They have sufficient passion to crowd or even nip a large animal at the dog's possible peril, yet hold off and stop the chase when the animal moves in the desired direction - just when the chase looks like fun.
Researchers point toward a special bond, they call an attachment relationship, that underlies intelligent dog-human cooperation. It may be most promising to give the breeding nod to the intelligent, flexibly versatile and cooperative canine. Careful selection in breeding should likely be matched by a nurturing type of training, instead of the hard-nosed non-slip approach often touted. Whether hunting or herding, the dogs that hone their mental acuity in their regular work routine, may be mentally equipped to break pointing to communicate a plan to the hunting partner, or to lead rescue crews to fatally injured loved ones.
by Joe Schmutz, 28 Jan 2016
The Pointing Gene
In this impromptu training photo, Sunnynnok's Cue, Dryas and Dizzy are pointing a pigeon that is about to fly off and return to its home coop. One of the pups needed a gentle tug on the check cord to stop creeping, but every pointing-dog enthusiast will recognize instantly what is happening here. The pups are acting on an age-old canine instinct to stop and localize before the pounce. In this case of a breed that has been bred for pointing among other versatile dog traits for over 100 years, the stop has been prolonged and ritualized into an unmistakable pointing stance.
Cue, Dryas and Dizzy are pointing firmly and naturally at a mere 4 months of age. While no experienced breeder of versatile dogs will doubt that pointing is heritable, Professor Jörg Epplen and his team at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany have recently substantiated this using a complex series of studies in molecular genetics. The article is authored by Denis A. Akkad, Wanda M. Girding, Robin B. Gasser and Jörg T. Epplen, entitled "Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs" The authors focused their studies on four main breeds that are pointing (Large Munsterlander and Weimaraner) or herding breeds (Berger de Pyrenées and Schappendoes). They also used seven other pointing breeds for comparison, with 244 individual dog samples in total.
The authors showed that a region of DNA located on Chromosome #22 appears primarily responsible for pointing, while a region on chromosome #13 appears key in giving herding dogs their herding instincts. Of course, genes do not function in isolation, a truism that many casual observers of genetics and even dog breeders tend to forget. The single pointing gene identified here is part of a large complex of cellular and developmental machinery in the dog's body. A gene is necessary for a behavior to occur, for a bone to grow or a hair shaft to develop, but a gene alone is not sufficient. This is relevant for dog breeders in connection with the second key observations that Epplen and his team report, the differences in the versatile breed's origins.
Interestingly, The German Shorthaired Pointers compared in this study did not show the pointing-gene pattern in this same Chromosome 22 location. Clearly this breed has a pointing gene too but it is apparently in a different location in the genome, possibly with a different complex of cellular and developmental machinery associated with it. The authors point out that Large Munsterlanders and Weimaraners on the one hand, and German Shorthaired Pointers on the other, have different historic origins.
The international kennel club, Federation Cynologique Internationale or FCI publishes translations of the original breed clubs' century-old breed standards, #99 for the Weimaraner, #118 for the LM and #119 for the GSP. Under breed origins, the breed clubs for Weimaraner and LM both point to a hunting dog type of 200-plus years ago, broadly described as "Hühnerhund" or upland bird spaniel, and the GSP club to "Braque or hound".
Far too little of these breed origins is recorded for our benefit but several authors have painstakingly scrutinized the records and offered a glimpse into why and how they were developed. In "The art of medieval hunting: The hound and the hawk" John Cummins, (1988, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey) provides great insight as does Craig Koshyk in a shorter account . The LM/Weimaraner pointing gene pattern was also found in samples from German Longhaired Pointers and English, Irish and Gordon setters. Spain, France and Germany were a hotbed for hunting dogs centuries ago. It is likely that the six breeds listed above share a common origin tracing back to the Hühnerhund or spaniel of that time.
In all likelihood, strategic crosses between dog types were made at that time. Animal breeding was sufficiently far advanced however, so that breeders knew that a breed's strength could be mixed into oblivion with careless crossing. Also, no breeder wants to see malformed puppies or hear from owners trying to cope with a dog out of balance. Crossing is the easy part, the painstaking work that comes afterwards to return to a hoped for balance and consistency in type is much more difficult. Some versatile breeds today have a more recent history of reintroductions than others.
The clubs for the LM and its sister breed, the German Long-haired pointer, have periodically introduced dogs from one-another to widen their gene pools. In the most recent of such efforts, the clubs could not agree on strategy and hence the German Longhair Club introduced German Shorthairs instead of Large Munsterlanders. To their surprise the plan did not go nearly as well as it had when using LMs before. The German Longhair breeders had to reject more of the offspring before they could be satisfied with the crossing outcome, as described by Markus Wörmann (2005, Wild und Hund #21, 71-72). Theirs was a mix across the hound/spaniel divide with less desirable outcomes.
In North America, without a strong tradition of originating dog breeds, and without the institutional tools to protect dogs, breeders and owners, ego-boosting adventures into crossbreeding are common. Here, as H.L. Betten describes it, "we merely imitate – we do not originate" (1945, "Upland game shooting", Alfred A. Knopf, New York).
Two of the pups above, Cue and Dryas, were entered in the HAE test at the tender age of 6 months. They both proved their well-bred heritage and passed a test of hunting aptitude offered for young dogs by the Versatile Hunting Dog Federation. In the coming year, they will likely be entered in the Advanced Hunting Aptitude Evaluation. There they will need to show not only the proper workings of their pointing gene but most importantly how a host of hunting dog traits, including temperament, need to be kept in balance. Such long-term working-dog consistency and balance are not built by one breeder, but are the achievement of a community of breeders working toward a common goal. So they have done beginning with the Hühnerhund to give us a remarkably fine-tuned dog that we are able to enjoy in the fields today.
This drawing was likely pre-planned by the artist to show several characteristics at once, of the time represented. The gun resembles an early shotgun that could be swung and used on moving small game in the 1700s. One of the dogs is shorthaired, suggesting a hound. It is on a lead, content to stay by the hunter. The other two are a large and a small bouncy type, longhaired and keen to go with the flush. The dogs resemble the two broad sources that were to help form the German versatile dogs of today. This time signals a gradual shift in dog use. Prior to gun hunting, the spaniels were used prominently in falconry where the dogs needed to flush for the falcon to begin the chase. Some spaniels of the 'setting' type were used with nets to capture birds the dogs first located. The hound, prior to gun use, was used to track and then 'point out' big game in resting cover in preparation for the next day's driven hunt. These hounds were called "Leithunde" (leading dogs) or lymers in English.
-- Artist is in dispute, but likely Johann Elias Ridinger who lived in Augsburg from 1695-1769. Ridinger was well known for his many representations of hunting scenes.
by Joe Schmutz, 14 Nov 2015
A working girl!
Sunnynook's Bobwhite "Bobbie" loves to come on the mailbox run. The 12 km run seems not to tax her 8 month old joints too much judging from her lead being the same on the way out or home. Besides learning to love water from the melting snow in the ditches, she is learning another lesson. Bobbie naturally started to pick up the beer and juice cans that others rudely tossed out their vehicle window. So, here is our strategy for teaching her without her knowing she's being thought.
Teaching a dog when it hardly knows it is being trained, is a key message of Joan Bailey in her 2008 book "How to help gun dogs train themselves, taking advantage of early, conditioned learning". Swan Valley Press, Portland, Oregon. Bobbie has learned to love to retrieve, to hold when coming without dropping, to trust that I respect her prize for a time at least, and to give when encouraged when she's getting close to loosing interest in holding anyway – before she drops it. One has to read one's dog to get the timing right. Besides learning, and here is the working part, for two cans that day with 10 cents/can, Bobbie has earned 20 cents toward her dog food. On her bonanza days, she earns 60 cents!
Please direct general questions about the content of this page to: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org