Post by Airedale From NY on Feb 29, 2012 at 6:42pm
Long before and for as long I have been involved with Airedales there has always been controversy about the notion there are Airedales bred as field-hunting lines and there are Airedales that are bred for just showing or for the pet-companion trade and that they are different, this debate still continues today. The old well known Airedale hunting lines like Oorang, Ouachita, Cabin Hill and Mooreland to name a few will raise the hackles on any Airedale Terrier Club member when they are mentioned. This show dog vs field dog business is not just an Airedale Terrier controversy, the same type of debate goes on in other hunting breed circles also. Some of the other breeds I have owned and hunted with are caught up in pretty much the same crap.
All the hunting-sporting dog breeds have at least a few affectionados for the show ring, while some sporting breeds are favored for showing more than others all are shown by their breed club to some extent. One thing that is readily observed that more often than not there is a noticeable difference in appearance between field type hunting dogs that are seriously used by hunters and those that are primarily bred and raised to be shown or as pets. Lets take a look at those big differences in appearances that can and have occurred.
Irish-Red Setter field type hunting dog.
Irish Setter show dog.
From the show folks point of view they are all about breeding their dogs to fit the breed clubs standard to the point of obsession, they have a picture in their minds and a written decree of how their breed is supposed to look and to deviate from that look is sacrilege! Example, what is written in the paragraph below about Airedales pretty much sums up the show breeders mindset and criteria for their breed and is pretty much echoed for other dog breeds that hunt or work.
"There is no such thing as a working type of Airedale and a show type. The Airedale should be one dog not a field dog or a working dog, it is one dog. There is only one correct type of Airedale for any purpose he may be put to. There is no more excuse for breeding large, soft-coated, houndy eared, thick skulled, light eyed mutts, and calling them working-hunting type of Airedale"! Of course these rants are directed squarely at the old well known hunting lines mentioned above whom many times fit their berating description.
English Setter show type.
English Setter field type hunting dog.
Serious hunters on the other hand have a different view and criteria, they are for the most part all about performance and by performance I mean after a hard day or night of tromping around in the field and woods looking to take some game they want their dogs to show something for their efforts and breed their dogs accordingly. Not only are hunting abilities taken into account but conformation which leads to speed and stamina along with the maintenance of a field dog's coat are important factors also.
The Setters pictured above are two glaring examples of the field vs show differences in the appearance department from what a hunter breeds and what the show crowd favors. From most accounts the Irish Setter after many many years and generations of total neglect in actual field performance testing has become almost useless as a hunting dog. The Red-Irish Setter field type has been brought back as a hunter in recent times and has become a decent performer as a hunter on birds again. The English Setter a breed of which I have had some limited experience has somewhat suffered the same fate to a lesser degree especially so when it comes to their coat, some of the show types still can hunt, find and point a bird but overall they are for the most part have seem to have fallen out of favor by hunters moving toward the field English Setter when it comes to hunting. There are other subtleties in appearance besides just the coat, the field dogs are somewhat smaller and lighter in build and speedier, the heads are different in shape and the ears of the field dogs are shorter.
What cracks me up is when I watch a big dog show on TV like Westminster and the announcer reads the breed club's hunting history behind these two popular hunting dog breeds and proceed to heap on accolades about their hunting prowess and how those long coats are there for protection from the briars and brambles. They believe and would like the public to believe that one could take those dogs out of the show ring and hit the field for a hunt and fill your vest's game bag with birds as long as the dog was trained properly. But the fact of the matter is most of those show breeders have never actually hunted their dogs or even tested them, and much the same happened with most of the relatives in these dog's pedigrees for generations. Yet they still assume it will be a great bird finder. Also I would like to hear an evaluation of how wonderful and practical those long protective coats are after a real day afield in the briars, brambles, stickers, dirt, water and ticks, then spending the rest of the day combing, grooming and cleaning that tangled messed up coat. Now I suppose if I owned a show coat Setter and it was a very good performer in the field I could shave the coat off but I believe a serious hunting dog should never have been bred for such a coat that drags on the ground in the first place, no real hunter would truly argue for it, it makes no practical sense!
Another breed that I have long time experience with is the Beagle, one of the oldest and refined hunting dog breeds in existence and even these little guys have subtle differences between the field-hunting version and the typical show Beagle. The beautiful hound pictured on top is a typical show type Beagle, black blanket back with tan head and white trim underneath and on the legs, in fact two Beagles closely resembling this dog won best in show at the big Westminster show in recent years.
These two hounds are typical in look to the type of Beagle used by serious hunters and trial folks. A close look shows the differences between show and field especially in the head. Beagles can be of any typical hound color, bluetick, redtick, lemon and white, mostly white, and the black blanket back and tan which all the show types seem to be.
I can tell you as fact that sport Beaglers who hunt and trial are about as serious as they come and will spare no expense when it comes to their hounds. I can also say that all the hunting Beagles I have been around are much the same as the two pictured below the show type. The reason is a simple one, hunters want results, the field type Beagles are just better at real hunting and trials. Looking the part of a hunting dog is one thing but that is not enough of a qualification, for the serious hunters the dog has to act the part also.
While I am personally not a big fan of some German dog breeds I do like the way Germans go about breeding their hunting-working dogs. To be registered or certified in their breed club they must be tested and proven on game. Some of our Coon Hound registries do a similar test when single registration is opened. For instance a non registered grade Black and Tan must not only fall within the breed standard in look but that dog will have to prove it can tree a wild coon before it is accepted for registration. That in my opinion is a sound method in not only producing decent looking dogs but also dogs that live up to what the breed states they were bred to do in the first place.
I can go on and on citing examples like those above to the point of boredom but anyone that has taken the time to read the content of this blog will know what I am trying to convey to hunting dog breeders of all breeds but especially to the Airedalers who are attempting to breed the real deal, TEST, TEST, TEST! Believe me it does not take long hunting drives and abilities to fade without testing breeding stock and it bugs the Hell out of me to think of the Airedale Terrier going the way of the Irish Setter as a hunting dog.
I have been asked many times why do I not get involved with the Hunting Working Airedale group and put voice to all of this field vs show preaching and maybe some kind of opening of minds and meeting in the middle could be worked out. This very discussion was brought up and held a year or so ago by members of the Traditional Working Airedale board and below is what I had to say about it with no apologies.
All I can say is that this HWA group has really lost it's way as to things pertaining to Traditional hunting with Airedale Terriers!
Back when this event was in it's formative stages I was contacted by one of the head honchos, I believe his name was Gilbert and he sent me a big packet of information explaining how the mission of the HWA group was to bring back the hunting Airedale.
I actually was excited and hoped between Henry Johnson's new Full Cry Airedale column and this HWA group that the hunting Airedale would get some exposure and a kickstart to be again considered a viable hunting dog for serious hunters. After reading the info in the packet I did have a couple of concerns. One was the involvement of the Airedale Club Of America and the other was this whole party was skewed to bird hunting.
My concern with the ATCA was they are blinded by the breed standard and they do not have a favorable view of the the Airedales that fail to fall within them. That included most of the so called hunting lines such as Mooreland and Ouachita, Redline types or mountain bred as they like to refer to them, the very Airedales lines I happened to favor simply because they were so much better at hunting. Also any Airedales from other registries like UKC would be out along with purebred grade dogs.
As for the bird hunting I knew that Airedales had a bit of a reputation for birds and over the years I in fact hunted both upland and waterfowl quite a bit with my own Airedales. That being said I never in my life have considered the Airedale breed "bird dogs". They are Terriers, varmints from Rats to Coons, big game from Lion to Bear is their claim to fame, fur hunting fools that just so happen to like hunting birds too.
Take a look at the three hunting categories on this message board, (and on this blog) it in itself is a pretty good representation of how Airedales are used for hunting and where most of the interest is, small and big game"FUR" hunting posts dominate bird hunting posts by an 8 to 1 margin.
Pickup any book that has information about Airedales hunting or go to any hunting dog message board and make a post about hunting with Airedales and I can assure you most of the information you will get will be about hunting some kind of "FUR"!
So I have a big problem when the said goal is to bring back the hunting Airedale but the event curriculum is so weak when it comes to testing for what game hunting Airedales are actually used for and famous for.
I was not then and I am still not against their bird hunting event but there is a reason Airedale Terriers got the reputation for the dog that they are and it ain't from hunting birds. If the core mission of this event is to bring back the hunting Airedale there must be some kinds of tests held for the the stuff and the ways most Airedales in this country are actually hunted and especially for the event to be legitimate for any real hunters who look at their fur event and basically laugh at it.
So getting back to the invite I got from the HWA, I proceeded to sit down and write a whole bunch of tests-events that could be done to address the type of hunting Airedales are traditionally used for and that I know would have appealed to real hunters.
Back in them days I was pretty active in Coon hunting and belonged to a local club and was in charge of several of what I like to call the day events. I could see no reason why those same events could not be used for the Airedales.
Nothing overly hard or radical and bare minimum, basically the same types of benchmark events held by other tree dog registries and breed groups. There is some hunting skills involved for what is listed but it is mostly a lot of fun for the dog and great for kids and women to participate in. Good for spectators too as most of the goings on can be witnessed.
That urine soaked drag run event which they run now in my opinion should be used as a puppy natural ability test.
A true field trial, the same the Coon hunters run.
Swim races, the same as Coon hunters run.
Treeing contest, the same as Coon hunters run.
To obtain the top honor for their "Master Fur title" there should be actual hunting involved in a typical hunting setting to allow the dog to prove itself as capable. To get a meaningful Master Fur title I think an Airedale should be free cast at night alone and have to range out and strike a wild Coon track, trail and locate the correct tree and bark tree enough so the hunter and judge can find both dog and the tree the coon is in and actually and see the Coon in the tree. Any Airedale that could accomplish this test would certainly be able to transfer those same skills to big game. A two hour time limit should be good. These night hunts would have been easily arranged as the tests were held in Ohio back then, Ohio is the epicenter for competition Coon hunting and Coon dog clubs so it would have been very easy to find a willing club and make some arrangement to accommodate.
I sent these preliminary suggestions back to the HWA and in later years also posted much of the same stuff on the Real Working Airedale board as it was frequented at the time by many who were involved in the HWA.
Well as they say the silence was "deafening" I never heard a thing from the HWA nor did anyone ever reply to any posts I made on the message board so I pretty much figured out what they thought of me and my hair brained ideas.
The fact of the matter was minds were made up, the folks putting on this shindig were bird hunters and the tests were going to be geared toward birds and bird dog type training and that was that. So for me that ended anything I was going to have to do with that outfit.
I just want to say for anyone that is into bird hunting big time with their Airedale the stuff the HWA does may be fun for you and you might want to give it a try but for me it is not my cup of tea, my belief always has been that any kind of hunting with an Airedale is a positive thing including bird hunting!