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The Difficulties in Breeding Dual Purpose Labrador Retrievers

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Page updated
04/01/2015

Can we ever have another Dual Champion Labrador? 
The difficulties in breeding dual purpose Labradors.
by Joy Venturi Rose

Trying to maintain a good line of Labradors is not easy.  Whether your main competitive interest is in the show ring or for work it takes dedication in preparing one’s dogs, luck and some skill in retaining the positive attributes you have bred for, whilst avoiding health problems like hip or elbow dysplasia and hereditary eye disease.  A lot of money is spent (and wasted), a lot of time is spent which has to be juggled between work, family and any other interests you may be foolish enough to try to have.  Veterinary science may have beaten a lot of diseases such as distemper which plagued breeders early last century but we now have more easily diagnosed ones, especially genetic ones, to contend with which have replaced them.   If, like us, you are foolish enough to aspire to both work and show your Labradors, the path seems even more perilous, the expense higher and the time commitment even heavier.  Also, most modern day kennels are small by comparison to the past.  Often keeping under double figures is the norm.  Dog numbers in the mid-teens is often considered a large kennel. 

These social factors are, I believe, the main ones which make it most difficult to produce a Dual Champion.  We have achieved championship show awards with most of our field trial winners and currently Oakingham Monarch of Leospring (Ch Marfell Seafarer x Oakingham Heidi Noon) is the only current Labrador in the UK to have awards in open field trials and to have won breed classes in the championship show ring.  In addition, Ch Carpenny Anchorman is the only current Champion (in partnership with Penny Carpanini) to have Field Trial and Working Test awards.  We enjoy the challenge but it sure is not for the faint hearted as many times you appear to be paddling against the stream. 

It is small wonder then, that most breeders choose to specialise in just one discipline but of course, specialisation tends to result in a pursuit of excellence which can result in a slow evolutionary drift which changes and splits the breed.   Without having to select for working ability and activity show dogs can become heavier, less easy to train for their original role and undergo anatomical changes which may look attractive but which may hinder health and active functionality.  Likewise, if field trials are the main objective, in pursuit of more speed, one can sacrifice bone, substance and double coat, all required to warm and strengthen dogs that are mostly required to work a long hard day picking up. 

Even the phlegmatic temperament, of the original working Labrador, required patiently to sit at drives, all day long, under a lot of temptation and then retrieve when instructed, can be lost as opposed to the requirements of a majority of Field Trial dogs to walk up at heel for relatively short periods of time and collect perhaps half a dozen birds over the day.  This can lead to the selection for hyper alert Field Trial dogs, required to do very quick smart work with maximum style.  The resulting thoroughbred horse temperament of these lean, sleek machines can actually suffer higher anxiety levels then the show dogs who may be more sluggish having inadvertently been selectively bred for greater back fat levels  (Grandin T., & Deesing, M.J.,1998).   These are of course extremes.  Sensible and dedicated breeders of either persuasion recognise when things start to go wrong and attempt to redress the balance.  Unfortunately, novice breeders or those who are really only interested in their Labrador as a tool, to get them where they want to be, cannot always see or do not feel the issues are important.  The look of an animal is more than just skin deep, it represents its anatomy and conformation which when correct reduces injury, wear and tear and enable it to work most efficiently.  There is also an important interplay between, structure, physiology and temperament.  Greyhounds are not Rottweilers are not Labradors. 

What might encourage Labrador breeders of both disciplines to appreciate or understand the other side? 

Firstly, more education on why the Labrador breed standard is important and what the potential pit falls are if it is interpreted in an exaggerated way or just ignored. 

Secondly, breed clubs need to consider events which generate an understanding between the two sides.  Their have been such attempts. The Bench and Field day put on by the Midland Counties Labrador Club some years ago and the Labrador Club 2003 Breed Centenary were very successful and generated positive comments and a willingness to repeat such activities on both sides of the camp.  The fact that the LRC now run an annual show gundog training day alongside their water tests as well as the Show Gundog Working Certificate are comparatively recent developments and have already led to a significant increase in the number of Labradors achieving their show gundog qualifying certificates.  Both these last two events need knowledgeable working people to judge Ch Warringah's Bunya Owned and bred by by David Coode.  A Dual Purpose Labrador with Working Test Awards and The Working Gundog Certificate on Game.  Bunya comes from a line of home bred full championswhich at least promotes a better understanding of their show colleagues.   Quite a few show people are interested in working their dogs but they often do not know where to start and feel the working side laugh at them.  We are fairly fortunate in the “soft” south as there are a few working dog trainers here who are happy to help the show people.  I hear it is not as easy north of the Watford Gap or in Scotland!  The Show Gundog Certificate and the Kennel Club’s new Gundog Working Certificate are the only non-competitive avenues open for show people in the UK.  They are not perfect but at least they are a start and some kennels such as Fabracken and Warringah were quick to grasp the opportunity to show what their dogs could do.  I would urge more of the top show breeders to try and set an example and promote the retention of the working instinct of our Labradors as something of importance.  Otherwise why will others bother?  

On the working side, a more overt acknowledgement that the breed standard is a functional template, not just a show template.  For example, factors such as a double coat are actually useful in keeping a dog warm and therefore should be encouraged as a part of good welfare.  In other words taking shared ownership and responsibility for the standard and explaining how they would like to see it interpreted for a healthy, stylish good looking working Labrador and why.  More pictures of the better looking field trial dogs in our yearbooks would also help.

Could we ever have another Dual Champion Labrador?

If we look at other gundog breeds the examples of current Dual Champions are quite interesting.  Whilst most of us would not be surprised to know (because they represent sleeker fitter looking breeds) that there is a Dual Champion Pointer and comparatively recently there have been a number of German Shorthaired Pointer Dual Champions.  We might be more surprised to know that there is (Left) Darley’s Babbling Brooke from Darleigh (winner of field trial awards) and half show bred Dam of  Ft Ch Darleigh Thunderbolt.  currently both a Brittany Spaniel (still an HPR breed I know) and a recent Gordon Setter Dual Champion.  The Gordon Setter certainly surprised me as the divergence in type between the show and working Gordon is as far apart as the Labrador.  If we look a bit closer we also learn the same to be true with the Pointer.  Listening to Peter Griffiths, speaking at a recent Kennel Club seminar on dual purpose gundogs, on how he and his wife produced their Dual Champion Pointer was interesting.  He stated that some of his working Pointers could walk underneath his show ones, so small were they, but he and his wife set out with the aim of a Dual Champion, mixed lines accordingly and achieved their goal. 

Of course what holds people back is that all around us we hear that it is impossible to have another Dual Champion Labrador and the split is too great.  Not only that, but the real die-hards will never even admit that a dog with any show blood in it will work at all!  But in actual fact a quick look through some breed reference texts will show this is definitely not the case.  In The Workers by Isabella Craft and Gary Johnson I quickly found eight of the more recent Field Trial Champions had show lines in their pedigrees.  The trick is how to continue on from the first ‘crossing’ as it were.  Some years ago, I was speaking to the owner of Ft Ch Styleside Hawk (Secret Song of Lawnwood X Styleside Heather) who admitted that he really did not know how to breed on down from the dog.  However, even today these crosses between show and working lines can gain top level success in the Field.  Ft Ch Darleigh Thunderbolt (F.T.Ch. Craighorn Bracken ex Darley’s Babbling Brooke from Darleigh) has qualified and competed in the Retriever Championships for the past two years and this year made it to the second day.  His dam’s breeding is a mixture of Poolstead and Rocheby breeding with Sh Ch Poolstead Pumpkin and Rocheby Royal Oak in the 3 generation pedigree.  The quality of the dam line may be a key when seeking to improving overall looks in working Labradors as so often it is the bitches which are the most untypical. Thunderbolt was bred by Mrs. C Keeley

Also, not all Field Trial dogs are black whippets or Greyhounds and can be introduced to show breeding without detriment as can be seen in some of our top show kennels.  I just really wish more of the better looking ones would be shown at least in the Field Trial classes.  Yes, by current show standards they need (sadly) to carry a little more weight but it is surprising how many retired Field Trial Champions expand a little in the girth as they get older and the differences between them and their show cousins are diminished quite considerably.  In fact there are a number of entirely Field Trial bred dogs who would not look massively out of place in the show ring.  Graham Roberts Riversway Field Trial Kennels include some very typical looking dogs.  His young open stake dog Wendearose Hector of Riversway (Ft Ch Riversway Act X FTW Endacott A good looking open field trial Labrador Wendearose Hector of Riversway (Ft Ch Riversway Act X FTW Endacott Guinea) belonging to Graham RobertsGuinea) is extremely typical of the breed and comes from a line of better than average looking Field Trial dogs.  It is probably no accident that their pedigree goes back to the very good looking Labrador and Retriever Championship winner FT Ch Holdgate Willie owned and bred by Gabriella Benson.  This dog appears to have been a major influence in both mine and most other successful Dual purpose breeding being behind Susan Scales’ two-day open stake winning dog, Manymills Drake, who also had some good show awards and obviously his son Lyn Minchella’s Field Trial award winning dog, Ch Abbeystead Herons Court.

I very much doubt that a Dual Champion could result from show lines alone, but a mix of show lines which have working ability and Field Trial lines which are good representatives of the breed standard is, on the evidence, if people would try, worth the gamble.  Well, at one time it was thought impossible to get to the moon and climb the north face of the Eiger but it was done and of course once somebody does it then others always seem to follow.  Every individual contribution adds up to the bigger genetic pool we have to choose from and ultimately every little helps.  In summary it is not impossible but how many want to give it a try?  

Joy Venturi Rose (Leospring)

 

 

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