One phrase I hear quite often is “I don’t want a show dog, they can’t hunt”. When I’m talking to someone who says that I usually just start laughing under my breath at them. Anymore I don’t even bother asking them why they would say that, I just chalked it up to lack of education on the subject. I just think these people just have the macho ignorant guy syndrome.
Pretty much every dog I hunt with is either already a show champion, or is well on their way to becoming a show champion. If they don’t have what it takes in conformation or mental stability to become a show champion then they won’t be part of our breeding program. In my mind there is absolutely nothing that makes a dog a great show dog that will make it a bad hunting dog. For the most part the dogs that win in the show ring have a few good things going for them. Of course like anything judged by other people the “politics” can be a factor in winning, but bad show dogs probably won’t have long term success. The largest percentage of winning show dogs will have good conformation, good breed type, and good stable temperament. As the competition gets stronger the bad conformation will eventually be exposed, bad breed type will be exposed, and bad temperament will be exposed. The one thing about show dogs in our breed that I don’t like is the coats on show dogs can be over groomed. A good GWP breeder bench judge will see right through the over grooming and therefore a dog with a bad coat is not a great show dog, even if it does some winning. But, bench judges can be hard to understand sometimes.Since I feel a good show dog should have good temperament, good breed type, and good structure I think that is the start of a good hunting dog. In my opinion a lot of the hunting dogs have lots of drive and desire, but lack good structure, and thus they will hunt themselves into the ground very quickly. These dogs will always give you maximum effort on every hunt, and this is what most people want in a hunting dog. I’m no different. The only thing I want is to make sure that dog has the conformation to go along with drive and desire. Very few dogs have close to perfect conformation; all dogs have some conformation faults even if they are small faults. After a few days of hard hunting when the dog is tired and sore is the best time for me to see the conformation faults in a dog while hunting them. I have seen dogs I knew had a weaker front end being pushed by the rear legs while the front legs didn’t extend with enough reach or vice-versa. The dogs with lots of drive and desire along with great conformation have a chance to be outstanding. Dogs that don’t have both will never be able to be outstanding hunting dogs.
I tell people that taking dogs to a dog show will expose bad temperament faster than anything. I think most hunting dogs are comfortable in a hunting situation. They let their genetics take over and just roll with most of the adversity along the way because they are hard wired to handle it. When you take them to a dog show they are out of their element. Just think about a dog use to being in an open field running with a handler giving it some simple commands, but basically letting it run wild. When you go to a dog show you always have the dog on a tight lead, there are strange smells and noises everywhere. Most of the time when you walk towards the show ring people are coming up from all directions to see, or pet or just stare at the dog. Then when they get in the ring they run around with some other dogs in a line only to have some strange person look at their teeth and run their hands all over the dog. Some dogs just don’t do well in these situations. It doesn’t mean it is a bad dog if it has minor temperament issues in this situation, but it’s not a great dog if it can’t handle the pressure. The other thing is since it is a competition the best dog should win (once again politics play a role). I have attended far more dog shows than I have wanted to in my day, but from watching the results I think most of the time the best dogs win.
Now one thing to remember that probably gives show dogs a bad name is some aren’t good hunters. The reason they are not good hunters is because they don’t have good hunting dog genes, not because they are a show dog. If a line of dogs has been bred for a few generations for looks (show dog conformation) only and hasn’t been hunted or tested in the field it could very well not be a good hunter. I have noticed a loss of hunting abilities in one generation coming down from a few generations of good hunting dogs. Sometimes you breed two great hunting dogs together and you get average hunting dogs. It just happens. If you are only breeding for conformation you might not realize you just lost some hunting instincts. Then you breed some dogs with less hunting instincts together and get even less. This is how you can lose your hunting genes and someone gets a “show dog” that isn’t a good hunter. Pretty soon all show dogs are grouped into one category which is bad hunting dogs.
I like to use a football player as an analogy when explaining it too people. Let’s say you have lots of drive and desire to be a great middle linebacker in high school, maybe you are even all-state. You go to college with that same drive and desire and you are a good player, but you don’t quite have the conformation (correct size and strength) to become an all-American. Then of course you have no chance of becoming an NFL linebacker because that is a guy with all the correct conformation and the maximum drive and desire to go along with it. Truly great hunting dogs will have everything it takes to be a great show dog, with the drive and desire to run themselves into the ground. The difference between a great dog, and an above average dog could very well be the conformation of the dog. The all-state high school guy is the vast majority of the hunting dogs out there, with a few all-American college guys in the mix, but there are very few NFL dogs.
When you are hunting with a dog that is a good looking show dog that moves across the terrain effortlessly, that has lots of drive and desire with a nice intense stylish point it just looks better than a generic hunting dog doing the same thing. Show dogs and hunting dogs should be the same thing.