The Fallacy of the Hour Dog: An Editorial
(This editorial appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of Field Trial Magazine and since that time a small group in
Pennsylvania has turned the Armstrong Grouse Classic into a two hour endurance stake which is a good idea that has received very little support.)
Last winter in
Texas we put down a brace of derbies. Both were females that run to the front, crack their tails, and have speed to spare. However, they have some conformational differences that were noticeable on the line and, as the workout went on, became pointed. Dog one is the epitome of style — fine boned, long legs, short coupled, high straight tail. Dog two is nicely put together as well, but has a little more bone mass, a little shorter leg, and has a bigger chest.
On this day, they broke away and raced off. After this initial exuberance, they came back in and began to hunt to the front. The differences in their gaits became obvious as we watched and talked about them. Dog one popped with each stride as her long front legs pulled her forward and her hind end came up. She looked happy and light on her feet as she bounded across the prairie. Dog two flowed effortlessly with her back staying almost level as she powered herself over the countryside pushing and pulling evenly with both ends.
For the first 30 minutes, both dogs maintained their pace and it was exciting to watch them. But then the differences in their conformation began to take their toll. Dog one began to slow and shorten at about the 45 minute mark. Dog two continued on effortlessly. At about 50 minutes we reached a windmill with its tank full of cool, clear water. Both dogs jumped in the tank. Dog two drank sparingly and was the first one out. Dog one wallowed in the water and had to be called out as we made the turn to head back toward the truck. Dog one picked up for a few moments but was soon running at a slow lope at relatively close range. Dog two continued where she had left off, stretching out to the front going to all the right spots as her mind and body remained sharp. At an hour and 15 minutes, dog one was barely trotting and would continue that way until we got back to the truck. Dog two finished going away at the same fast, effortless pace she had maintained for almost two hours. Both dogs had had about the same amount of work during the winter, ate the same food, and were even in adjoining kennels, so their difference in endurance cannot be explained by extraneous factors.
|On the Texas prairie the relationship between gate and endurance becomes
Dog one will ultimately be able to compete at the championship level. Any pro worth his or her training fees could build her up some, stop and water her a couple of times, and if necessary hide her for 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the hour. And most likely, considering what a lot of judges look for today, her style on the ground and point could put her in the money. Dog two might have a harder time earning the check because she flows with deceptive ease rather than having that merry hop and pop of her kennelmate and unfortunately far too few trials require a dog to show it has endurance beyond an hour.
And there’s the rub. With so few endurance stakes anymore, most field trialers only care about a dog that will go an hour. With an hour as the bar, many seem to be breeding dogs that, like dog one above, look good doing it but can’t last beyond the hour and many can’t make that without help. There used to be more endurance stakes. The Grand National Grouse Championship is a prime example. When it was first run in November 1943, the 22 setters and 4 pointers all ran an hour in the first series. Then four dogs were called back for a mandatory two hour second series before Cavier (pointer male) was named the first Grand National Grouse Champion.
This practice continued through the 1957 running at Marienville, Pennsylvania when the judges were unable to come up with a suitable champion with bird work even after two of the four dogs in the two hour second series were called back to run a third time. The following year, the second series was reduced to an hour and discontinued completely in 1959. Since then no grouse dog has ever been asked to run for more than an hour, and, with the exception of the Invitational and a rare callback, never more than once to win a title.
On the horseback circuits, there are still a handful of stakes where dogs are required to go more than an hour. Most notable among them is the National Championship at Ames Plantation where the braces are three hours long. But even that is deceptive as only 4 of the 41 dogs entered finished the three hours this past year. Most dogs are picked up prior to the two hour mark. Now, it is obvious from the report that the handlers knew their dogs weren’t making a bid when they threw in the towel. At the same time, the conventional wisdom is that going three hours is so grueling that you have to “save” your dog if it’s not making a bid.
There are many reasons for the lack of endurance trials. The time involved in running them is probably paramount. It takes two weeks to run the 41 dogs in the National Championship. The Georgia Championship this year drew 136 dogs and some must have wondered why they couldn’t have a shorter qualifying series to whittle down the pack. Also, the added time it takes to condition dogs for an endurance stake is a deterrent for many pros. There is no easy solution, but we should approach the idea of the hour dog with a great deal of trepidation before we breed down to the point where an hour dog is hard to find.