I did my best to keep the speech short and to the point (pun intended). I managed to cover about 500 years of pointing dog evolution and explained how NAVHDA is now absolutely crucial to their further evolution in North America. I concluded with the following thoughts:
We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world.
So dog breeds, breeders, breed clubs and registries all face a choice now. They can evolve, or wither on the vine. Currently some of the most influential structures in the canine world are paying the price for their reluctance or inability to evolve. Memberships are in free-fall, boards are floundering, wracked with internal conflict.
And then there's NAVHDA, an organization well-positioned to actually thrive in this new knowledge-based society. You see, in our high-tech global world, information and communication are king. They are the dominant driving forces behind just about every aspect of life. So for an association like NAVHDA, designed from the get-go to collect, store and share information, this new age might just turn out to be a new golden age.
After all, when we are in the fields with our dogs, we are following in the footsteps of Gaston Phebus. And every time we test a dog we pay homage to Hegewald and Oberlander, Solms and Korthals. But even as we honour the past, NAVHDA's main focus is, and always has been, firmly on the future. NAVHDA has but one real purpose: to help shape the future for hunters, breeders and their canine companions.
The National Bird Dog Championship, one of the greatest and oldest events in canine sport starts next Monday, Feb 8, 2016. First held in1896, the National Bird Dog Championship was a key player in what I think of as the golden age of gundogs. During that time, breeders, handlers, trainers and trialers all made great leaps of progress. Breed clubs and registries were formed, established breeds became more uniform and reached new heights of performance and most of the Continental breeds were created around that time.
But all that ended just before the first World War as the British breeds began their long decline into near obscurity in their native lands and the creation of new breeds of pointing dogs ceased completely.
And that is when I feel we entered into the modern age, characterized by continued growth and development of the British breeds outside of the UK and the rapid expansion of various continental breeds throughout North America. It is the age of the GSP, the Brittany, the GWP, Pudelpointer etc. and the continued rise of the Pointer and Setter. It was an age when a growing middle class of Americans and Canadians swelled the field trial ranks, when new trials and trial formats were developed and new clubs, new registries, organizations flourished. And it was a time when news and marketing of the gundog scene relied on newspapers, magazines, books and to a lesser extent radio and TV.
But that age came to an end just after the advent of the Internet, around the early 2000s. Almost overnight, everything changed. Yes, we still have trials and tests and yes, our dogs continue to improve. But the average age of participants across the gundog world is creeping upward and many club membership numbers are in decline. Few, if any new clubs are being formed, few if any new trial venues or formats are being created and we no longer rely on the traditional media to spread the word, we rely on the Internet, just as you and I are doing right now. And as I said in my speech:
"We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world." And to me, that is what defines what I think of as the post-modern world of gundogs. It is smaller, faster, more knowledge-based and information dependant. It is an era in which we will probably see breakthroughs in canine genetics that will astonish us. I recently read a paper by a fellow I know in Germany. He and his team think they've found the area of dogs' genetic code that determines pointing behaviour (link below). Will we one day soon have genetically modified dogs like we know have genetically modified corn? I have no idea. But even posing a question like that 20 years ago would have been crazy. Nowadays, it is probably being studied by someone in a lab coat. We are beyond the modern age. We are now in a sort of post modern age for gundogs. Hang on to your hat, it's going to be an interesting ride!
*Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26401333
Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals