Purebred Preferences

From the April 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe. Pictured above: The mixed English and American Foxhound pack of the Radnor Hunt near Philadelphia was founded in 1883. Photos courtesy The Sporting Dog by Joseph A. Graham

Sporting and Non-Sporting

I love books. Specifically, I enjoy dog books written by purebred dog breeders. My library includes volumes from the 1800s and works that chronicle the recognition of breeds during the 20th century. The list of authors is a veritable “who’s who” of the men and women who built the dog sport we know today. I frequently refer to their sage advice in my efforts as a breeder and writer, and I’m often struck by the language they used. Their words generally reflect the attitude toward dogs that prevailed at the time of publication. Not surprisingly, this attitude has evolved—often dramatically—since the American Kennel Club was founded in 1884. In my estimation, the collective opinion of purebred dogs in the U.S. can be divided into four periods, each representing a span of approximately 40 years. These periods are marked by the social changes and technological advances that influenced American culture-at-large as well as our preference for a particular kind of dog. In a series of articles, I’ll examine these periods: Sporting and Non-Sporting (1884-1924); Puppies and Veterans (1924-1964); Friends and Family (1964-2004); and Rescue and Preservation (2004-present) by considering the words and pictures published in a single book from my library.

America Is Not England

When Joseph A. Graham’s The Sporting Dog was published in 1904, the American Kennel Club was a fledgling organization that recognized roughly five dozen breeds and varieties. Dogs were classified as a breed that hunted or one that did not. The Sporting division included nine foundation breeds (Pointers, English, Gordon and Irish Setters, Chesapeake Bay Dogs, and Clumber, Cocker, Irish Water and Sussex Spaniels), as well as a dozen Hound breeds and a 
half-dozen Terriers. The Non-Sporting classification was reserved for companion breeds as well as breeds that worked, but did not hunt. As for the Sporting breeds, Graham is quick to give credit where credit is due. “These regular breeds are all British,” he points out. However, the author notes that many of the Sporting breeds had become Americanized almost as soon as their trans-Atlantic journey was complete. “There has been a conflict, sometimes bitter, between those who would adhere strictly to English ideals and standards and those who would press into recognition of the American changes,” he writes. “It is foxhounds and shooting dogs which have become, under American conditions, something essentially different from what the British sportsmen established and have maintained as filling their conceptions of utility and good looks.”

Below left: English Setter Ch. Cincinnatus’s Pride was a bench champion and field trial winner that combined the Llewellin and Laverack types. Below right: Ch. Meteor’s Dot II was a “heavy weight” Pointer, considered by bench judges to possess beauty and symmetry. Photos courtesy The Sporting Dog by Joseph A. Graham

“To the Englishman, sport goes with the land and breeding with the sport,” Graham observes. “In England the landowner has most of the sporting dogs. In America nine out of ten pedigreed shooting dogs are bred and owned by lawyers, merchants, and other townsmen who shoot by sufferance or invitation on the lands of other people. Breeding, even shooting, is an amusement and an incident. It is lightly picked up, lightly pursued, lightly forgotten.” Graham notes, however, that the American sportsman pursues his passion with a bit more leverage than his British counterpart. He writes, “Where we have the advantage is in the abundance of game—now, alas, becoming by degrees a scarcity—free to almost anybody, a country of immense extent, foxes which are wild animals, and the Bob White, a bird upon which the field dog can exhibit every quality, best to lie and trickiest to hide of all shootable feathered creatures.”

The two breeds best suited for hunting quail in the uplands of America have been the Pointer and English Setter. In the AKC Studbook for 1902, 893 English Setters and 708 Pointers are listed. “Out of the 893 English Setters, 756 have Gladstone or Count Noble blood; in the great majority of cases both,” Graham reports of the type preferred for shooting in the U.S. and its territories. These “American Llewellins” were the descendants of dogs bred by an Englishman of the same name whose dogs achieved great success in field trials. Conversely, the “Laverack” type were imported in the 1870’s and were highly regarded on the bench for their uniformity of appearance. “There are 53 which are either modern Laveracks or carry a controlling infusion of that blood,” Graham notes of the Studbook entrants. The author suggests that three-quarters of the Setters and Pointers in America at the time were not even registered. Of the Pointers that were, the finest hunted for sportsmen in New York and St. Louis. Graham writes, “Sensation, a large and very handsome dog, was imported by the Westminster Kennel Club. He was, both in looks and in pointing ability, a superior dog, but had not the decision and snap in his bird work which the field trials required.” According to the author, the New York show of 1889 presented the finest collection of Pointers ever seen on an American bench.

Riding Clubs and Hunting Packs

“America has much more of a fox hunting [tradition] than the average citizen might suppose,” Graham reveals. “In England hunting is a sport of such eminent prestige that society news, fiction, and even political reports are continually keeping it before the public. In America nobody hears of fox-hunting except its votaries.” The author’s comment refers to a practice that was once popular up and down the Eastern Seaboard and westward into Texas. Graham writes that unlike British aristocrats, most American fox hunters were a secretive lot that took great pride in their contempt for the press. “The sporting papers rarely have anything of hunting information which comes directly from authentic sources,” he notes. “Yet there are few counties in the South or Southwest which have not their quota of fox-hunting enthusiasts.”


Graham offers a treatise on English versus American fox hunting. He writes, “The English hound is taught to run as a pack, not to do individual work. The pack is taken to a cover in which a fox is marked, so to speak, where the earth has been stopped up the night before so that he lies above the ground.” Graham describes a very different practice in the States. “In America there are no covers kept as there are in England. There is no earth stopper except in Montreal. Consequently, the American hound has got to work as an individual. Our woodlands are larger and rougher than in England.” The author also advocates that American fox hunters will pardon all but a single defect in a hound. “That one quality is inability to stand the pace,” he discloses. “The hound which strikes, holds, and stays in front is always the American foxhound man’s admiration. The bone, color, the symmetry, these are all incidents.”

Below: The black Greyhound, Diana, was the best coursing hound of 1895 and 1896.

Both the English and American styles of fox-hunting have had their adherents through the years. “I like English blood to give color and style, but the original importation and the first cross are not tough enough for our work,” Graham reports of his correspondence with a Mr. Hudspeth, the owner of a pack in Jackson County, Missouri. “They may have been good enough for well-kept country on the other side, but, especially with the unnecessary weight and bone he carries, a run of half an hour with my pack makes his feet so sore that he cannot be taken out for a week after.” It did not disturb Mr. Hudspeth to have a “scratch pack.” To the contrary, devotees of the English style of “riding to hounds” maintained packs that were rarely, if ever, cross-bred. Graham quotes Mr. Charles Mather whose Avonwood pack was kenneled just outside Philadelphia: “The foxhound has been bred with care for a longer time than the Thoroughbred horse…There is no more reason why you should use any other than the thoroughbred hound for the chase than why you should use other than the Thoroughbred horse for the race.”

Go West, Young Man!

The breeding of Greyhounds in the United Kingdom predates that of even the Foxhound. As Graham considers, “Coursing, in its ancient and honorable character and its association with the early aristocracy of sport, may deserve the first place in the annals of dogdom…The records of breeding have been kept regularly during a period much longer than that covered by any other breed of dogs.” In America, however, the breeding and coursing of Greyhounds was the provenance of the rancher, not the nobleman. “Greyhounds were early introduced on the plains by cattlemen who had a taste for sport,” according to Graham. “Some army officers and soldiers on the frontier made a point of bringing out dogs for the same amusement.” The—as yet unfenced—open prairie with its abundance of jackrabbits provided fertile ground for dog racing. By 1885, coursing had taken hold across the West. The city fathers of Davenport, Iowa, built an enclosed park that became a fashionable Sunday destination where the Waterloo Cup was the sport’s biggest prize. By the turn of the 20th century, the center of interest in coursing had moved to California. As Graham reports, “The whole population began to be interested, and large sums of money were invested in the [San Francisco] park.”

At the time, little attention was paid to showing Greyhounds on the bench in America. “Usually some professional handler has one or two good bench specimens, which he carries around because he is practically certain of winning prizes with them on account of the small competition,” according to Graham. “These bench winners nearly always disappear from view after their usefulness in this respect has passed.” The author notes that devotees of coursing had a prejudice against showing at conformation events. As Graham relates, “A prominent English expert told me that the courser who patronizes bench shows in his country is likely to create an impression that his dogs are degenerating.” However, at the larger shows, the author notes that coursing dogs were frequently exhibited. “The best display ever seen east of the Rockies was in the St. Louis show of 1897,” Graham notes.

An American Original

When it comes to a preference for Sporting dogs, Graham says that Americans have always been clear as to how a dog is expected to perform. A dog’s appearance, on the other hand, was of little consequence to most early U.S. dog breeders. This was particularly the case with sportsmen who depended on their dog’s nose to fill the pot. For duck hunters, the most dependable partner was either an Irish Water Spaniel or a Chesapeake Bay (Retriever) Dog. Graham suggests, “Ducking men are not sticklers for pedigree, and many of them in the West prefer a cross-bred dog to either its water-spaniel mother or setter sire.” The exception to this rule was a group of men who worked the rough waters along the East Coast. According to the author, “The Carroll Island Club, of Baltimore membership, is where the Chesapeake Bay Dog is most highly honored and most carefully bred.”

Graham was a 30-year member of the Maryland club. He notes that the pedigrees of the members’ dogs could be traced back to the 18th century. “The beginning of the Chesapeake was a cross between the Newfoundland and ‘the common yellow-and-tan-colored hound,’” offers Graham. “The strong power of scent, its hardihood, its shorter hair, its medium size and its remarkable endurance come from the hound, while its love of water, its powers of swimming, and its extraordinary ability to endure cold, its furry coat, wonderful intelligence, and general good temper are all due to the Newfoundland.” According to Graham, crosses with the water-spaniel were made to influence color and retrieving ability.

By the early 20th century, the fortune of the nation’s duck hunters had taken a turn for the worse. “Retrieving from water is in a bad way as part of American sport,” Graham reports. “A glance at the benches of any show tells how feeble is the interest.” The author draws a connection between declining registrations of Chessies and Water Spaniels to the decimation of waterfowl numbers. “If ducks could be protected from the reckless slaughter which follows their flight every mile from the breeding grounds to the Gulf and back; if only spring shooting could be effectually abolished, these two breeds, magnificent in the water, would have an increasing popularity,” Graham proposes. Thankfully, preservation efforts by American sportsmen and women over the past century have ensured a future for the wetlands that are the natural home of both ducks and duck dogs

Below: This amiable Chesapeake Bay (Retriever) Dog was bred by members of the Carroll Island Club of Baltimore, Maryland.

On the Sporty Side

Not every dog in Victorian America was a gundog or a hound. In fact, the registration of Non-Sporting breeds was on the rise when Graham’s book on Sporting dogs was published. For example, the 1902 AKC Studbook records 1,380 Collies and 860 Boston Terriers. “In our country, however, none of these other breeds—ignoring dog-fights and ratting—is used to an appreciable extent in practical sport,” notes Graham. “They are kept as fancy varieties and as companions. In fashion and on the benches the semi-sporting dogs have forged ahead fast within a few years, and now collectively outnumber in the studbooks and shows the actual servants of the gun and leash.” Interestingly, the author reports that the Non-Sporting breeds differed little from their cousins across the pond. This was particularly true of one game little dog that would have a meteoric rise in popularity in the U.S.

“Since visiting at a friend’s place in the country some months ago, I feel compelled to give Fox Terriers a position among true sporting dogs,” offers Graham. “This gentleman has dozens of Fox Terriers about his place and will not admit any other dog. “He says they are more agreeable company, are better watch-dogs, do not suck eggs or worry sheep, stay at home, are hardy and less troubled with diseases.” The author’s friend also indicates that the breed is useful on raccoons and rabbits. “They are good on ‘coons because, while they are weak on the trailing side, they are much quicker than hounds in preventing the escape of the game after a tree has fallen, or when for any reason the ‘coon has been compelled to take the ground,” Graham reports. “They can start more rabbits than can Beagles or large hounds; and if a man knows how to hunt the American hare and how to station himself, he would rather have a dog which starts game quickly than one which trails faithfully.” Fox Terriers are first-class squirrel dogs too, the 
author notes.

“Moreover, our English friends usually manage every year to trot out a few new champions which they are willing to send over to replenish our supply and perhaps to set new fashions of long heads and toppy ears,” Graham says. According to the author, the breed’s foundation in North America is built on dogs imported by four notable kennels: Mr. August Belmont’s Blemton; Mr. Winthrop Rutherfurd’s Warren; Mr. G. M. Carnochan’s Cairnsmuir; and Mr. G. H. Gooderham’s Norfolk. “From these great nurseries, Fox Terriers, both smooth and wire hair, have been distributed all over the United States and British America,” writes Graham. “The Fox Terrier must surely be the most adaptable of all dogs. You can see him reveling in the snow around Duluth and St. Paul, equally lively and at home in Mobile and New Orleans.” Even today, the Fox Terrier remains a sporty, if not Sporting, dog. 

Below: Ruby Matchbox, a Wire Fox Terrier owned by Mr. J. Wallace Wakem of Chicago, was imported from England following her Crystal Palace win.

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