What's up?
Text: Torsti Mäkinen, photo: Torsti Mäkinen & Maud Matsson

What's up, doggies? What have you done since I wrote about you the last time? That was 8 months ago and I feel that you have changed a bit. Not so much in your bodies but more on the mental level. You seem a bit calmer now, more sagacious, and if my impression is not entirely wrong, you have become more obedient. The last thing is of course important, but even more important is that you have started to really care about your master and mistress. You check us up all the time when we are outside, particularly you Rospiga, already when we let you out of the door of our house. You stop and turn around and look at us like asking: "What shall we do now, what is the agenda today?" Lärka, you often forget this and get soaked up in your own plans and dreams. You go in one direction or another to check up whatever you were thinking of, but in the end and often without calling you, when I open the door to my car you will still be there, eager to jump in. You have changed so much Lärka, and you are so easy to live with now. The reason why you changed so much was that both you and Rospiga came to your first heat early this spring. Coming in to heat for the first time does nothing but good for you, young bitches. Once you have been in heat 3 times you will be considered as mature dogs and the best part of your and your owner's life with you begins!

Of course Lärka, you still have your own way. You like to set up the conditions for your life as much as possible. It seems like your cooperation with us is more on an emotional plane than on an intellectual level. You stick to us because we provide you with food, shelter, entertainment, security and love. We are your pack, your family and your destiny, something you have to live with and like to live with but: When it comes to perform a serious mission, like hunting, you like to believe that we cannot help you there, but your own lucid mind can figure out the path of the work much better than we can.

In a sense every dog is right there, when thinking that way. We humans do not have the eyes, the ears and above all not the nose of a dog. That is basically the reason why we started to live together with you tens of thousands of years ago. When we saw how easy it was for you to determine the position of any game, small or large, we took advantage of you and helped you in killing it. You were able to find and hold game much larger than you possibly could kill but together we were able to kill it. Then we shared it together. Evolution then improved this cooperation to the mutual benefit for both of us. At some point in time, before the evolution had made any great wonders in the mutual cooperation, you were - however - lost to it, dear Lärka!

Although you never got any bigger splash of this cooperation trait, we have made you, and we do not hesitate to give ourselves the credit, to a usably cooperative dog by delicate training. The only thing we have really failed is the obedience based fetch of dummies and cold birds. You have found this task immensely offensive and meaningless. Well, Maud's insistent work by every means of persuasion has finally broken up your shield towards this repulsive task, and you can today search for, and find one or two dummies and cold birds but that is it. You did not pass the compulsory fetch test to be able to start in open stake trials. However, when a bird is shot for you during hunting, you have no problems to fetch it. Unfortunately, my Dear Lärka, this does not count in field trials! Until you learn to obey the rules you will be a "persona", or should I say; "Canis non grata" at the trials.

However, you are not entirely hopeless. You have some really good sides; I would like to say exceptional traits that most other birddogs, or any other breed of dog for that matter, most often lack. You and Rospiga were tested for your mentality in late May by Sweden's most knowledgeable test leader. To the test leaders and our own great surprise you Lärka were found to have excellent nerve stability! Very few setters are that cool in this trait. In addition you showed a great courage on the test track, you relaxed completely and very promptly after every test situation and solved the problems offered to you very swiftly! You are a really cool dog, Lärka!

Your greatest weakness is your almost total lack of social competition drive and that is the trait that together with your softness hampers your will to please, in fact you show very little will to please. Your lack of will to cooperate with us humans, together with your excellent nerves and courage, makes you so difficult to understand at times. On the other hand, it also makes you to a very cool, although a bit indifferent dog that never gets nervous or fearful and who tries to solve all everyday social happenings with kindness in the first hand. In other words: You are socially a bit indifferent but a very secure and friendly dog, and so far that is your best trait!

Now, do not in any way feel depressed just because we do not yet appreciate you as a gundog. Your far away cousin, late Briz, was just as "hopeless" as you are at your age of 3.5 years today. When 2 - 3 more years had passed Briz had, like turning a hand, turned into a true "Professional Hunter" and Earls and Barons hunted over her and paid overwhelmingly for doing so! That will also be your future someday, a PH - the PH Lärka!

Rospiga! You are just so cute! Yes, you may not like it as your best trait but that is the truth - you are cute! You are also cool and together with Lärka you danced your way through the mentality test track without any worries at all. Your nerve stability was bordering to excellent and what you lacked in courage you made up with a lot of happiness in life itself, and did not allow the stress on the test track to let you down for a second. Your sharpness and will to defend surprised us all, even the test leader, and despite of your lack of courage you did not back away in threatening situations. Your sharpness is, however, of a good nature, used only when needed and never otherwise, never in the wrong situation. In social life friendliness is your foremost trait and everyone is happy with having you around. You make people happy just by your presence!

As a gundog you are a natural born hunter and birddog. Just yesterday when we visited a friend you made a very extensive ground search for something that I thought was some kind of bird scent. Finally, after a persistent nose work you found and flushed a black cat in the tall grass. Even more remarkable, when you had bolted after the escaping cat, I could stop you with a single command! This is also your hallmark on the field. You are very easy handle in any way and to guide in the wanted direction. Once you find scent you will analyze it with great persistence. You back (respect) other dogs points completely naturally and this is most likely due to your low social status - you are a soft dog! The late Foxy, the Queen of the mountains, never respected any other dogs point but she simply stole it, just like that. She was not soft in any way; she was a natural born pack leader and every bird, regardless of who found it, was her!

Your, and equally Lärka's softness are new traits for us. We have not experienced such soft dogs before and that has forced us to think and train you in ways that are new to us. It took a while to learn, and I must confess I was a bit irritated to start with, since I have always favored, and got used to, a bit harder dogs. Now, several years afterwards, I am tempted to say that it is not entirely wrong to have a soft birddog. Both of you lack, from my point of view, in social competition drive and social status, and this has made it extremely difficult with the fetch training for example. I cannot say that you are particularly entertaining neither; I mean that you do not like to play a lot with us. Rospiga, you have been a bit better in that sense and you did indeed pass the fetch test and can now start in open stake trials but..... it took Maud nearly two years to train you for this simple task!

I have by the way started to doubt the common breeding policy of setters. Why on earth do we breed setters like they were 200 years ago? In those days the setters did not have to fetch. Their duty was to find and point birds - period! The extremely rich people who could afford to run birddogs, also had a battalion of field servants and retrievers who did the dirty work with the dead birds, while the Earls and Lords and the setters continued forward to find and kill another brace or two of grouse. No one can afford such hunting parties today and have not afforded them for 100 years or so, but today's setters do not only have to find and point the game, in addition they have to do the dirty work of the retrievers after the kill. This would be perfectly OK had the will to fetch at some point in time been bred into the setters but it has not! You cannot say that it can't be done since chance do it now and then. If chance can do it then man can also do it - provided the problem is first recognized and accepted. No, instead thousands of setters are at any given point in time tormented to do something they have no genetic prerequisite whatsoever to do. Why is this? Pure conservatism? Spaniels can both hunt and fetch and all setters descend from spaniels, remember this, folks!

Rospiga! At least you have started to find some pleasure in the fetch work, even with dummies and dead birds. I am not really sure if it is genuine pleasure from the fetch work itself - or if it is just a result of your will to please, something you have in much greater amount than Lärka? One trait affects another, one trait makes up for the lack of another trait and all this mixes up into a complicated puzzle that is difficult to analyze for the dogs master and mistress, who are quite often rather kennel blind. It is not uncommon at all that a dog is overestimated or underestimated by its owners. When a knowledgeable outsider has a look at the same dog he will find it completely different. Already the late Briz puzzled me a lot and I started to ask her questions like; who are you, what do you want, how do you feel and what can I do for you? She gave me a lot of answers and the answers were both simple and at the same time fascinating! What she only wanted most of all was to be highly regarded and loved, despite of her weaknesses and low self-esteem. Once we understood this and started to give her all the appreciation she wanted and needed, she also turned into a great gundog!

What do you think girls, do I try to understand you to the best of my ability? Well, Lärka; your courage makes you to utilize me a bit more than what common courtesy towards your master would allow. You are persistent in your demands and you take advantage of the fact that with age my brain has gone softer than what is good for a serious dog owner! Rospiga; you use your very soft nature and cuteness to make me spoil you beyond what is generally accepted as a good discipline in the relation between a dog and its master! Whatever, it shows that we at least have a lively communication. Sometimes we understand each other, sometimes we misunderstand each other, but I still think that a mutual understanding dominates our relation most of the time.

In the end; all I know for sure, dear girls, is that I love your pure presence immensely and I do not ask for more! Whatever you give me in addition to that in the future, and I know you will, is pure bonus for me!

Now my dear girls - let's put an end to this letter and this day!

Says yours truly!

© Text: Torsti Mäkinen, photo: Torsti Mäkinen & Maud Matsson