The “All Age” Gun Dog

“Judges who don’t know the difference in a shooting dog and an all age dog are poor judges. They are not the same thing.”

“The dog is either a shooting dog or an all age dog. Good judges know the difference.”

These statements are emblematic of a conversation we came across in a gun dog forum between experienced gun dog owners and newbies. The tone became decidedly testy when a novice to that world challenged a more experienced person about the term, All Age.” Not being either, we got curious about the term which sounded very broad to us.
We learned that it is, and it isn’t.

We learned that the term, “All Age” is broad in that is a category found in competitive field trials and hunt tests (which are not competitive). “All Age Stakes” are open to all breeds without restriction as to the age of the dog. After we dug further into the topic, however, our take-away of what an “all age” dog is became simpler to define, and less broad:

It’s the difference between Superman in his cape, and an average guy on the street wearing dress shoes.

A few definitions we found for the term measured an “all age” dog by how far and how fast a gun dog runs, but two other sources refuted this as a simplistic view that diminishes the talents of an All Age dog.

One of those sources was William Brown’s 1982 book, Field Trials: History, Management and Judging Standards. In it, the author describes an All Age dog as one with tremendous bird sense who must exhibit perfect work on both covey’s and singles. The dog must quickly determine the difference between foot and body scent, and uses all his senses to the fullest extent.  An All Age dog must have it all: Alacrity, range, courage and stamina – and “good manners always.”  As Brown puts it, “He must hunt the birds and not handler hunt the dog.”  The dog should be well broken and sound training shows up in good manners.  The dog must be bold, spirited, and tractable, and at all times make his primary goal  finding and pointing of birds for his hunter.

We happened to hear an interview with the Chairman of the Quail Championship Invitational, and esteemed judge of major all-age stakes, John Russell. His explanation of the “all age” dog echoes Brown’s view. We share our take-away from that interview below:

In the earliest field trials, there was only one class performance class, and that was, simply, a bird dog. There were age classifications: Puppy, derby, and all age, the last being open to dogs of all ages, but it was defined by the characteristics of a finished dog as opposed to the juvenile classes of puppy and derby. A finished dog was defined by his polish around game, his response to the handler, and his ability to handle all manner of terrain, conditions, and game. The desirable characteristics of such a dog is intelligence, strength, courage, well made with good vision, hearing and scenting ability. The field trial seeks the dog that defines those characteristics to the extreme. As other performance classes began or were added, primarily the shooting dog. then “all age” became a distinction from the shooting dog class or from other classes, but within those classes, there were still age distinctions, i.e. puppy, derby and all age dogs.  Simply defining an all age dog by how far and fast he can run gives short shrift to the other important qualities in a superb all age dog. The boldness, strength, adaptability and courage to take on the challenge of finding birds over vast prairie land, in deep mud, or in heavily wooded or deep covered areas while drawing on his native intelligence to heed his handler and adjust to the conditions even from an extreme range where his sight and hearing are challenged.  The dog who can do all that to the extreme is the product of those characteristics, not the definition of those characteristics. Above all else, the all age dog has purpose. A drive to find game for his handler. Without that, one simply has a hunting dog.  Having the characteristics of a hunting dog at a supreme level is what sets the all age dog apart.

We circle back to that on-line forum, and offer a tip hat to the person who corrected the upstart newbie with his explanation of the All Age dog. In essence, the poster fleshed out our understanding of an All Age dog by adding that such dogs show much more independence by running to major objectives at great ranges and often with a forward sweeping pattern.  They do less quartering. They can pass up minor objectives to go for a greater objective at a farther distance, and that reveals boldness.  An All Age dog tends to check in with their handler less frequently and from great distances, but always exhibit their willingness to be handled.

One of the great All Age dogs was the brilliant white and liver Pointer, “War Storm,” owned by Bethea McCall and handled by John S. Gates. “Storm” captured the Dominion Chicken Championship, the National Free-for-All Championship and the National Championship, and finished as the Top Field Trial Dog for the 1963-1964 season.

Top image: Portrait of a liver and white pointer (not Storm) an oil on canvas painting by George Garrard (1760-1826). It is available as a print, and in home decor and lifestyle items here.

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