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The History And Heritage Of Sporting Dogs In North America

by the Ontario Sporting Dog Association


          This  is a copy of the paper that the Ontario Sporting Dog Association presented at the Premier's Symposium On North America's Hunting Heritage held recently in Ottawa, ON, Canada. It's a pretty broad based presentation covering history and present uses, etc. of Hunting or Sporting dogs in North America.


          Honored members of parliament, respected government officials, natural resource personnel, provincial, federal, and international, fellow sports people, ladies and gentlemen: my name is John Bell. I am president of The Ontario Sporting Dog Association. I stand here today as an ambassador to the sporting dog associations of Ontario, Canada, and North America. Sporting dogs are the breeds synonymous with the age old, outdoor activity of hunting. Whether it be a relatively new breed developed in the past century or one dating back to prehistoric time man has used dogs to pursue and assist in the harvest of wild game animals. They provided food, fur for clothing and shelter, and even the gathering of foundation stock for our present day domesticated livestock. Mans best friend has played a very significant role in the history and development of civilization.

          How many hunters in North America haven't had their pulses race with the sound of a hound in pursuit of game. Who hasn't had the satisfaction of seeing their retriever drop a downed bird at their side and wait for an encouraging pat on the head? We all know the rush of excitement that comes with the explosion of a pheasant or grouse flushed by a spaniel. For most hunters, the use of sporting dogs is an integral part of hunting, and a part that adds the most to the hunting challenge. They share an experience and a bond; common to men, women, boys and girls that dates to the first settlers in North America.

          Hunters spend countless hours, days and months, training and conditioning their dogs. The satisfaction and end result of hunting with your dog is to say the least gratifying. You are ensured a more successful hunt, with better opportunity to select the prime animal pursued. Animals hunted can be easily recovered if lost or wounded thus dogs offer good conservation ethics.

          The Norwegian Elk Hound is one of the oldest inhabitants of Scandinavia. Long before he became the companion of the Vikings he roamed the hills of Norway. This magnificent breed was a fearless hunter and devoted companion. Skeletal remains date him back to 4000 BC.

          The Pharaoh Hounds were favored as hunters and faithful loyal companions in the daily life of the kings and nobles of all periods of ancient Egypt. They were frequently depicted in drawings and carvings. The breed remains unchanged and today is known as the National Dog of Malta. They are now used primarily for hunting rabbits, and accordingly called "Rabbit Dog".

          The history of the use of dogs in hunting dates back thousands of years. With each development of each breed, man created the dog that he thought would best suit his needs and assist him in his quest for existence.

          The American Kennel Club lists 24 breeds of Sporting Dogs, and 22 as Hounds. The Canadian Kennel Club lists 29 Sporting Dogs, 30 Hounds, and 26 in the Terrier group The United Kennel Club, the second largest registry of dogs in North America, lists 291 breeds and recognizes 223 as Hunting or Sporting dogs in Canada and North America. We have taken the bulk and summarized the breeds into classes, with a short history and use for each group. The group names and breeds recognized by the different kennel associations vary somewhat but are relatively the same.

          The largest group with 64 breeds called "Scent Hounds", were developed from existing Mastiff stock by breeders focusing on superior scent characteristics and tenacity. Common characteristics of the scent hounds include pack behavior, methodical tracking ability and a body type more conducive to speed than their ancestors had. Specific breeds, varied sizes, and body types were developed in each country to fit the specific hunting needs. This group includes Foxhounds, Beagles, Coonhounds, and most other hound breeds.

          The earliest record of the importation of foxhounds to this country was on June 30, 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family and hounds. The earliest organized hunt was a pack organized by Thomas, 6th Lord of Fairfax in 1747 in North Virginia. George Washington, the first president of the United States was an ardent foxhunter with his own pack of hounds. Washington's diaries are full of stories of foxhunts in and near the nation's capital. He recounts the time that hounds were running in earshot of the capital while congress was in session. Many congressmen ran to watch and several of them, swept up in the excitement, mounted their horses and joined the chase. Canada is the site of the earliest established foxhound club in North America. This was the Montreal Hunt established in 1826. In the United States, the Piedmont Foxhounds were established in Virginia in 1840. Both packs still operate successfully to this day.

          There are six major breeds of Coonhounds that are registered with United Kennel Club. These dogs were bred from English Foxhounds, red Irish Hounds, French Hounds, and German Brindle Schweisshunds. They were bred to assist in hunting for food in the early days of the settling of our country. The earliest recorded field trial or night hunt competition as they are called was in 1924. The breeds recognized then and today are The Treeing Walker Coonhound, The American Black and Tan Coonhound, The Bluetick Coonhound, The Red Bone Coonhound, The English Coonhound and The Plott Hound. Coon hunting competitions in North America out number all other sporting dog events, and have a registry three times larger that of any other group.

          The first mention of Beagles in North American history was found in town records of Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1642. These records stated that each household should keep a mastiff dog and a hound or Beagle to hunt and keep wolves from the town. Before the time of the American Civil War, hunters used small hounds to pursue fox and hare, but these were of an inferior type. In 1870 General Richard Rowett, from Illinois imported the best strains of English Beagles he could find. By 1891 The American Book Of The Dog described the Beagle as increasingly popular as an American Field Dog, partly because of the fact that by then game birds were becoming scarce due to market hunting and sportsmen were switching from bird dogs to Beagles. Shortly before 1900, Mr. Hiram Card from Elmira, Ontario began the development of the famous Blue Cap strain of Beagles. The National Beagle Club held the first Beagle field trial in North America in Hyannis, Massachusetts in 1890, which is still in existence today. In 1954 the Beagle became the most popular breed in A.K.C. registrations

          Deer Hounds are usually one of the many trailing scent hounds listed above such as Walkers, Beagles, Foxhounds, and are specifically trained to chase deer. They are widely used across Canada and North America. Almost all hunt camps in northern Ontario use Deerhounds.

          Bear hunting with hounds has been a popular sport in North America for hundreds o years. In the early 1800s a German settler with the last name of Plott settled in Tennessee in the Smokey Mountains. Plott brought with him a pack of hounds that were famous in Germany for their tenacity, courage and drive. This was the origin of the Plott hound. These tough hounds became well known as the breed of choice for bear hunters. Today many different breeds are used as well. This would include Redbones, Blueticks, Black & Tans and Walkers and various mixtures. Quite often misunderstood, bear hunting with hounds is not about killing bears. The true success is the development of a strong pack of Bear Hounds that can bring the bear to bay or have the bear climb a tree. At this point the decision to harvest the bear can be made. Nuisance bear management in the U.S. often employs bear hound hunters. The specific bear that is causing the problem is easily pursued, identified, and if the bear is treed it may be sedated and dealt with as the MNR employee decides. With an estimated growing population of 152,000 bears, Ontario shares the highest bear population with Alaska and British Columbia.

          The second largest group at 58 breeds "gundogs" includes The Water Dogs, The Pointers, The Setters, The Flushing Spaniels, and The Retrievers. The gundogs are grouped accordingly to their skills, as they have diverse backgrounds and varied physical characteristics. Even before the invention and widespread use of firearms, this group was already in use as helpers for hunters. They were eventually used only as "bird dogs". The Labrador retriever was actually a native of Newfoundland. It was a working dog bred to retrieve and pull nets full of fish to shore for local fishermen. They were first noted by Colonel Peter Hawker in 1814 and in 1820 were brought back to England where they were welcomed with open arms by the English Sporting Gentry. At the end of the 1920's they'd become so popular that the AKC. decided to separate all retrievers and gave the Labrador there own classification. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was the very first native North American Sporting Dog recognized by the AKC. It's foundation stock came from a pair of dogs shipwrecked off the coast of Maryland in 1807. By 1885 a definite type had developed and they became famous for their ability to retrieve 200-300 ducks a day from the icy, rough waters of Chesapeake Bay. The American Water Spaniel was developed by "market hunters" in the Great Lakes Region of the United States, in the early to mid-1800. The Boykin Spaniel was first bred by South Carolina hunters, during the 1900's to provide the ideal dog for hunting ducks and wild turkeys. NAVHDA hunting dog breeds all originated in continental Europe. The emerging middle class wanted to hunt all the game previously available only to the nobility. What they needed was one dog that was capable of doing everything necessary for hunting. It had to be one dog that could live in or at the home of the hunter, and could hunt game equally in the fields, the forests, marshes, ponds and rivers. A dog that pointed, retrieved, and tracked; and did it on land as well as in water. By the mid 19th century all of today's versatile dog breeds were in place, but it took a hundred years to get these breeds to North America in any numbers. American and Canadian servicemen serving in Europe saw the dogs and hunted with them, saw the potential usefulness of the dogs for North American hunting conditions and brought the dogs with them when they returned home. In the mid-1960's, a few people living in Ontario but with a background well based in the European dogs and dog traditions, started the old country style of testing. The dogs had to satisfy the various aspects of the tests rather than compete against other dogs. The originating group became known as the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. In the last decade, CKC has registered 15,525 dogs of the versatile group. All the breeds that exist today originated in Europe, and Germany. The group includes the German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Pudel Pointer, Small Munsterlaender, Large Black and White Munsterlaender, Weimaraner, German Longhair, from France the Brittany Spaniel and Braque Francais, from Italy the Spinone, from Hungary the Viszla, and from Czechoslovakia the Czesky Fousek.

          The third group at 40 breeds defined, as "Terriers" are small to medium sized dogs which were developed to fit the area they were used, the type of vermin they were used on, and the size to fit those uses. The terrier breeds were fierce little hunting dogs that include such breeds as The Jack Russell Terrier, The Rat Terrier, The Toy Fox Terrier, and many more. They were used to hunt fox, badgers, rats, and other smaller game.

          The last three groups in the hunting and sporting dog list having an accumulative list of 61 breeds are "The Northern Breeds", "The Sights Hounds and Pariahs" and "The Curs and Feists". The Northern Breeds were developed in the cold northern regions and proved vital to the survival of the humans with whom they lived. They were used for drafting, herding, hunting, and guarding. They include such breeds as The Siberian Husky, The Alaskan Malamute, and The Norwegian Elkhound. The Sight Hounds and Pariahs were developed in the Southern Hemisphere, in the continent of Africa and in South East Asia from the southern wolves. They were developed to handle the hot climate, run at great speeds with coursing ability, necessary to pursue prey in open country. They include such breeds as the Whippet, the Greyhound, and the Irish Wolfhound. The Curs and Feists were developed by early settlers in the southern United States, as all-purpose dogs. Curs are excellent tree dogs, used to hunt squirrel, coon, mountain lion, and bear. They also hunt wild boar and are excellent stock herding dogs. Feists are descendants of terriers brought over by English coal miners and other immigrants. These terriers probably included breeds such as Smooth Fox Terriers, Manchester Terriers, and the now extinct white English Terrier. Whippet, Beagles, and Italian Greyhounds were crossed up for speed and hunting ability. Today they are primarily used to hunt squirrel.

          There are thousands of dogs registered and not registered in Canada and North America as sporting dogs. The United Kennel Club recognizes 223 sporting and hunting dog breeds. According to figures compiled from the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, the Field Dog Stud Book and the state licensing surveys, there are 18,500 retriever people and 42,000 bird dog (pointing breeds) owners running more than 200,000 dogs. There are some 58,000 people involved in 511 annual Beagle events. Meanwhile the United Kennel Club reports that more than 200,000 coon hunters with 625,000 hounds belong to 1,300 affiliated clubs and enter 4,000 licensed night hunt competitions, more than all other hunting dog sports combined. The UKC licenses over 10,000 challenging, fun, relaxed, family oriented events annually.

          When the American Kennel Club was formed in 1884 shows and trials were held in Canada under their rules, but by 1887 a need was found for a truly Canadian club and the Canadian Kennel Club was formed. In their first year only 350 dogs were registered. Their first sporting dog field trial was held in Chatham Ontario in 1889. The CKC. was deemed to be a very progressive organization and by 1903 it wisely allowed women to speak at its meetings. In 1999 CKC listed 29 sporting dog breeds and registered 22,636 litters, They also listed 30 hound breeds and registered 4,220 litters. The CKC terriers listed 26 breeds and registered 6,585 litters. The CKC currently registers 100,000 dogs each year and has a total of 3 million dogs in its registry. Each year 26,000 dogs are entered in obedience trials and 12,000 are entered in field trials. The American Kennel Club was formed in 1884 to promote shows and trials. In 1998 almost 2 million dogs competed in over 15,000 AKC events. Each year the American Kennel Club registers 1,200,000 dogs and 555,000 litters. The United Kennel Club was founded in 1898 in the US and registers 250,000 dogs annually. The 3 major kennel clubs together total 1,550,000. dogs registered each year in Canada and the US. These numbers do not take into account those dogs registered by many other organizations such as the Chase for Foxhounds, and The Professional Kennel Club for Coonhounds, or the millions of unregistered dogs born each year. A conservative estimate of sporting dogs currently in North America would number in the several millions. The ownership and maintenance of these dogs provide the livelihood for countless thousands of North Americans.

          As you can see hunting with hounds, retrievers or any other sporting dog breed is an ancestral heritage passed down from ancient necessity and sporting enthusiasm. Whether the purpose was procurement of food or purely the sport of chase, hunting with dogs is and has been an important part of our history, and culture. It is a part of thousands of people today in every way and should be a part of our future. The breeds of today specialized and proficient at the type of hunting they are genetically developed for are the result of many years of dedication, training, and certainly great expense. The average person can not begin to comprehend the economic value of dog breeding, hunting, and related industries. Sporting dog owners buy/sell economics provide related employment, opportunity, and enjoyment far beyond the imagination.

          Ralston Purina the world's largest dry dog food and cat food producer, is only one of the hundreds of manufacturers in the sporting dog-related industries. In 1999 Ralston Purina sales totaled $ 4,720,500,00. They directly employed 19, 204 people. The Canadian division in 1998 alone had $ 298,816,000. in sales, and employed 525 people. SHUR-GAIN another large dog food producer and a member of Maple Leaf Foods, employs 1200 people in the feed division. Maple Leafs last year gross sales was $3,551,000,000 and employed 12,000 people. Iams Company sells premium dog and cat food in 77 countries. It employs 2000 people, and has a gross annual sales in excess of $800,000,000. The list of related dog food suppliers, sales, and manufacturers alone is astronomical. The related manufacturing of sporting dog equipment and supplies not to mention the hundreds of other products used in the various types of activities is too numerous to list. The 4X4 pickups, dog boxes, training collars, vet services, kennels, collars and clothing just to mention a few. If it were possible to calculate the economic value to the nation directly or indirectly of the countless related businesses and products, it would surely be in the millions of dollars. The sporting dog people support the livelihoods for countless thousands of Canadians and North Americans. This is a billion-dollar industry and a National North American Sport.

          Activities with sporting dogs encourage sportsmanship and family participation in a wide variety of venues. Some of the more popular events field trials, are held for retrievers, pointers, spaniels, and hounds of all types. These trials encourage the breeding and use of each type of dog in their particular area of hunting expertise.

          Special fenced areas to train and trial dogs are now in use with great success all over North America. Pheasant farms, quail hunting preserves and bird hunting and training areas were probably the first to be used to protect their dogs and ensure an adequate supply of well fed, protected game to train with. Lately, training and trailing areas for hounds of all types have come into being in areas from South Florida to Northern Manitoba. Some of the advantages to using these training areas for Sporting Dogs, in accordance and with The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Bill C-139, are; · They control the area used by the dogs and provide for maximum control of these dogs during training and trailing. · They reduce or eliminate the chasing of non-target wildlife species. · They reduce or eliminate conflicts with domestic livestock and other landowners. · They reduce or eliminate trespass complaints. · They provide immediate identification of participants and locations of training and trailing facilities. · They reduce or eliminate the chances of dogs being killed or injured by automobiles on roads and highways. · They reduce the number of dogs lost in unfamiliar territory, thereby reducing landowner/wildlife problems. With the obvious advantages to sporting dogs, their owners, property owners and the general public, these fenced training and trailing areas have been recommended for continued and expanded use by the American Kennel Club, Canadian Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, The Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliance, The Ontario Sporting Dog Association, and The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Most if not all Sportsman's associations and groups fully support hunting with dogs and the use of training areas. Another popular modern training aid has been the use of radio telemetry equipment to track and retrieve sporting dogs. This telemetry equipment is the same type used by wildlife agencies to track and monitor various types of wildlife ranging from small mammals and fish to grizzly bears and moose. These transmitter collars and receivers has become an invaluable tool to aid in the safety and recovery of sporting dogs throughout North America.

          The continued use of sporting dogs in North America, and throughout the world should be encouraged for the links they supply to the tradition of the past, and as a valuable aid in hunting and wildlife management. Good conservation ethics have been instilled historically and maintained through the use of sporting dogs on all game animals. Nearly all game animals can be, or are hunted in North America, with the use of dogs in one context or another. The use of Sporting Dogs in Ontario, Canada, and North America, is a part of our history, tradition, and heritage.

          I would like to especially thank the Ontario Sporting Dog executive, the countless people that supplied information, and the associations who have helped in the creation of this paper.

          I would like to thank you for your time and attention, and hope you have found our topic informative. If any one would like more information on sporting dogs in Ontario please feel free to contact talk to our people.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).