Friesland is a northern province of the Netherlands. Several breeds of domestic animals were developed there including the Friesian cow, the Friesian horse and two breeds of gundogs, the Wetterhoun—a type of water dog—and the Frisian Pointing Dog, better known as the Stabyhoun.
The Stabyhoun is another local variant of the widely-distributed longhaired pointing dogs found throughout much of northwestern Europe. It is probably related to other pointing breeds from nearby regions, such as the Drentsche Patrijshond
and the Small Munsterlander
, but was often crossed with the Wetterhoun, a retrieving breed developed in the same area. When foreign hunting breeds were introduced to Friesland from Germany, France and the UK around the turn of the 20th century, the Stabyhoun was more or less abandoned by hunters.
But the breed managed to hang on as a mole catcher. Moles were, and still are, considered a pest in the region, so catching them was helpful to farmers. Around the turn of the 20th century, a market was created for the mole’s velvet-like pelts which were used to make coats and other articles of clothing. Due to their small size, Stabyhouns were carried in the baskets of bicycles, and since they had a keen sense of smell and were eager hunters, their owners would take them from farm to farm to earn extra income catching moles.
In 1942 the Stabyhoun and Wetterhoun were recognized by the Dutch Kennel Club and a breed club, the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Stabijen Wetterhoun
(Dutch Stabyhoun and Wetterhoun Association) was formed in 1947. Today the Stabyhoun is still fairly rare in the Netherlands, but its population is said to be increasing. There are also breeders in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the US and Canada. A few owners do participate in retrieving type tests sanctioned by the breed club in the Netherlands, and I have heard reports of a hunter or two in Norway and Sweden who may use their Stabyhouns as pointers. But most agree that the FCI’s Group 7 may not be a perfect fit for the breed.
Hanneke Dijkman, the secretary of the hunting and working committee of the Stabyhoun and Wetterhoun club in the Netherlands, explained that most Stabyhouns are simply pets.
It’s correct there are only a few people who hunt with a Staby or do hunting tests. I’m one of them. The people who do hunt with them are pleased with the dog’s performance, but they are mainly used for retrieving work. The main reason the Staby is not used for hunting is because a lot of people and breeders see it as a family dog; a nice dog to lay on the couch. People are not willing anymore to spend a lot of time to train a dog. Field trials require a lot of training and time, and everybody is too busy today.
I have only seen about a half dozen Stabyhouns, most of them in the Netherlands. They were all great-looking, lively dogs, much loved by their owners. But they were pets, and none were used for any form of hunting.
We did manage to set up a photo session with a Stabyhoun near the town of Poortugaal and it was a lot of fun. The dog, a handsome young male, greeted us with a wagging tail and an eager look in its eye. Our friends who had arranged the meeting brought a few pigeons to see if we could get the dog to point.
The dog’s owner is not a hunter, but she was eager to see if her dog was interested in the birds. And he was. In fact, he was very interested. But despite our best efforts, he did not point them and seemed just like any other high-energy dog blowing off steam in the field. I got some great shots of the dog and was very happy to see a Staby in the field. But what I saw only reinforced the idea that the FCI’s pointing dog group may not really be the best place for the breed. It might be better off in Group 8 for retrieving, flushing and water dogs.
Even so, it is clear that, for all intents and purposes, the Stabyhoun is no longer a hunting breed. Its small size, once prized by mole catchers, is a now seen as an asset for families with small children, or people living in smaller houses or apartments. Its lively, friendly temperament makes it a great companion, and its athletic build and eager-to-please attitude makes it a good candidate for activities such as flyball and agility.
I recently came across an article about a Stabyhoun participating in a trial for pointing dogs in Sweden. So it looks like there are at least one or two people out there that are using their dogs for hunting-related activities. You can read the article here.
Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals