National Geographic : 1947 Sep
Born Hunters, the Bird Dogs BY ROLAND KILBON THE spaniel, scrambling up the hillside, paused. In front of him, on the sunny side of a boulder, was the sandy depres sion in which, a moment before, a pheasant had been dusting itself. The scent of game came heavy to his nostrils. After a moment of tension in which his eager tail flicked faster than ever, the dog plunged into the thicket where the bird had sought refuge at the first hint of alarm. In an instant, with shrill squawks and rapidly beating wings, the pheasant broke into the air. The dog, at the far side of the brush, sat to watch it fly. There was a shot and the bird fluttered down. At the command of the gunner the dog was off like a flash toward the point of fall. In a few moments he was back, sitting before his master, proudly looking up for the bird to be taken from his mouth. Man and Dog an Age-old Team Here was demonstrated, with 20th-century refinements, the joint effort which brought about an unusual partnership in the animal kingdom-that of man and dog. Originally, the dog was a larger and more wolflike animal. The man, possibly clad in bear or deer skins, may have used a bow and arrow, a dart, or a sling. But the two were working together to provide something for the pot. Then, as now, the dog was utilizing its superior sense of smell to locate and flush the game. The man contributed his weapons to bring down the quarry which the dog alone could not get. In partnership they assured each other of a meal. In the prehistoric period when man and dog began working together, all were hunters. Today the number of dogs trained to hunt forms only a small proportion of the canine population. Man, to suit his tastes and his mode of living, has reduced many breeds to a size which would have doomed them to speedy extinction in ages when an animal was the prey of any other larger or more crafty creature. For all the tremendous changes which have taken place over the centuries, one funda mental factor in the original partnership re mains. This is the satisfaction which both man and dog draw from their ability to work together. It is all very well for poets and essayists to proclaim the comfort that comes from a cold nose thrust against one's hand when one is moody or discouraged. But any man who really has worked with his pet will testify that the resulting gratification far transcends the satisfaction of passive companionship. Both man and dog are elated at the success ful completion of any joint project, be it the performance of some simple parlor trick or the most taxing blind retrieve at a field trial. This fact explains the tremendous growth of obedience trials in recent years. In these, dogs begin with such rudimentary things as learning to walk at heel and to sit when their handlers stop. They carry on through jump ing and retrieving to such advanced tests as scent discrimination and, finally, tracking. Nowadays there is scarcely a dog show in this country in which obedience trials do not have an important place. Usually they can be found by going to those rings around which the crowd is thickest. Obedience is being widely taught by scout groups and, in large cities, by humane or ganizations which feel that the better behaved a dog becomes, the more acceptable he will be as an urbanite. This wide participation is not a sudden awakening of civic responsibility on the part of dog owners. It arises because obedience trials again bring into play the basic teamwork of man and dog. Instinct Survives Breeding Changes When Georgian's Betty, UD (that UD stands for "utility dog," the highest degree to be won in obedience), retrieves a dumbbell over a hurdle and, the exercise completed, jumps about her handler in pleasure, she ex hibits the satisfaction which her ancestors felt ages ago when one of them brought to hand the game his master would share with him. Betty is a little orange Pomeranian, bred so far down in size from her progenitors which roamed Europe's forests that she would be lost in the hunting field. The fact that she has been reduced to the status and stature of a toy has not dulled her inbred desire to be man's partner. But on the hunting field this original rela tionship most clearly survives. There the dog seeks out game for the pot and brings it back. One has only to watch the pride of any gun dog delivering a bird to know that here is the peak of canine satisfaction. There are rich rewards, too, for the man who guides a young dog through the intricacies of field training.