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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Working Chattie in the Real World

A Working Chatham Hill Retriever goes to water
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One point that Dog people always bring up is the working ability of the breed they love.  We've patiently listened to the complaints that our dogs are not worthy of respect since they've no proven working ability.  That the only portion of the hybrid we've created with any inherent working ability is the Flat Coated Retriever and that the American Cocker Spaniel part of the equation is really just a joke.  Well we always knew better than what the fancy supporters always claimed about Cockers. Pictured above is one of our Chatham Hill Retrievers working in real life as a water retrieving bird dog.  The American Cocker Spaniel breed club maintains this breed is a working sporting dog.  And it was used to flush and retrieve game fowl by our ancestors.  Of course in our modern times its easier to go to the local A&P to get the poultry and meats our ancestors relied upon their hunting dogs to fetch.  Evidence here shows American Cocker Spaniels were in the mix of dogs used.  They are a variant of the Field Spaniels and were often in the same litters as the Springers, Field, English and American variants of Spaniels.  They were sorted within litters according to type in the beginning.  And later as breeding practices became more selective for type the separation was not required as much since the phenotype typically bred true based on size.  But, variants still pop up among these Spaniel litters that type like each Spaniel of the other breeds mentioned.   Its a testament to how the histories of these dogs are very much intertwined.  And the reason why I take what many of the Dog fancy say about no working ability in American Cocker Spaniels with a grain of salt.

A working American Cocker 
In truth American Cocker Spaniels are still used today as working hunting Flushing Retrievers.  And they maintain the working ability that the doubters always said wasn't there.  Apparently they forgot to tell these spaniels that they shouldn't be working anymore.  There are even enthusiast groups that use them on real world hunts as well as trials.  But, my focus here is on real world abilities, because the true measure of a purpose bred dog is not the make believe trials, its the real world abilities of the dog and it's relationship with its owner.  And as our proof of concept we do have Chatham Hill Retrievers out in the real world doing the job of retrieving game under the umbrella of a hunter with a gun.  In this photo you see an American Cocker Spaniel retrieving game fowl on a live hunt.  Clearly not just a cute little lap dog.  And simply put, nothing that the naysayers say applies.   

A Chatham Hill Retriever
The Chatham Hill Retriever is a sporting dog  and comes from a blend of two breeds with a history of being working gun dogs.   It is also a family companion, a therapy dog and disability assistance animal, it is capable of becoming the dog you need it to be or want it to be.  Its adaptable, resilient and very much capable of being the type of dog the naysayers keep doubting it is.  It takes a lot of selective process and patience in choosing the dogs for our breeding program.  In the end the hope is to shuffle the genetic "deck of cards" our predecessors in this breeding game have left for us to work with.  And from what we're experiencing.  Just looking and the outcomes of our efforts.  We're doing far better than our predecessors.  Far better than the veterans in this game.  By remaining focused on our outcomes and ignoring the journey taken by these veterans and choosing our own path.  If I challenge them on their own outcomes, suddenly there is a lot of awkward silence.  Which to me says, well they certainly got proven wrong and have been very derogatory about Chatham Hill for some very unrealistic reasons.

Chatham Hill Retriever with hunting gear on
So the outcomes we present are of a healthy dog.  And a very a good looking one, but also a purposeful one that can fill the requirements asked of it.  These are not dogs that were bred to put in the hands of an elitist field trial participant or conformation show breeder.  They were bred to put in the hands of the people who actually drive the demand for a better dog.  Not just loyal and biddable, but also healthier and with a stronger immune system that can fight off disease and provide a longer living companion that won't provide a growing number of veterinary bills for the majority of its life.  After all, as a buyer we all look for the better return on our investments and if I were to spend my hard earned money on a dog, I would hope that this dog was provided with every opportunity to thrive.  And if I were a person who actually used my dog for a purpose like hunting.  Then I would absolutely want a dog that has a stronger immune system so that the many environmental factors in this world that can trigger a disease are less likely to impact upon my dog.

Buff Cocker retrieves a game fowl
So American Cocker Spaniels can hunt and retrieve.  They can do this very well and even have clubs dedicated to working them in the field for real world hunting enthusiasts.  And the retention of this instinct is something primal.  Its not all about the selective breeding process, since wolves are the ancestor of all dogs as we know them today.   So this hunting instinct is in every dog from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane and every other breed big or small.  This instinct can't be bred away.  And clearly as you can see from the pictures of the Cockers and the Chatham Hill Retrievers on this blog....they make for an excellent gun dog.   

Chatham Hill Retriever hunting in the field
So, when the doubters come at us now and say we have no proven dogs.  I simply ask "How So?".  Because, for some people a dog is proven worthy by how well it does in field trials.  And I really can't see things from their perspective since trials are all staged and prepped for a make believe mock hunt.  It's not real world and its certainly not a true measure of a real working dog.  Its is however a nice way for the owners to pass the time and live vicariously through the ability of their dogs.  But really, for a dog to be a value to its hunter, it has to really hunt.  The dog isn't aware of the ribbon its just won in a trial.  In fact, they don't care about a ribbon.  The human owner does.  

Chatham Hill Retrievers are just what their name implies.  They are a retriever.  And they can certainly fill the requirement of a hardy and resilient hunting companion.  Just like the Flat Coated Retriever and just like the American Cocker Spaniel.   In fact if we go back into history and revisit what a retriever was, you'll discover it wasn't a dog or a breed in particular.  A retriever was a descriptive term given to any dog that could do the task of retrieving.  So basically any dog that could do the job was called a retriever.  It wasn't until later on in history when the registries came about when these descriptors of function started to become a label of type.   

Chatham Hill Puppy, training for the hunt
Well, what about those hunters who believe the parent dogs also have to be proven hunting dogs?  They missed the point I guess.  Even pups produced from parents that hunt can be awful retrievers.  But, then again its not all the pups fault.  there is a nurturing process involved with training these pups and preparing them to become a viable hunting dog.  All dogs are born with the instinct to retrieve.  Some are just more adept for the job than others naturally.  Others may require a bit more patience in the training process or perhaps a better trainer.  And some are just better as lapdogs.  When we have a request for a dog to use for hunting, we know to look for certain characteristics as the puppy is developing that would favor that type of work based on the puppy's behavior.  And the entire litter is sort of prepped for being desensitized to loud popping sounds like from a gun over their heads.  So you might find that our pups aren't scared of the fourth of July festivities  like many other pups would be.  This is sort of an educated guessing process.  But, based on the outcomes thus far, we're pretty good at it.  As far as training from there... its all up to the owner and the methods they employ.  

Game retrieving American Cocker Spaniel
So for everyone that only thought of an American Cocker Spaniel as a couch potato or the little doggie that just serves to be cute and cuddly.   Now you know that they are potentially very good working field dogs.  And surprisingly are just as game as their bigger cousins.  The pictures you see on this post are a mix of Chatham Hill Retrievers and American Cocker Spaniels that are doing their jobs of working in the field or training for it.  Clearly these dogs have all the instinct and drive necessary to do the given tasks and from the looks of things the Chatties have benefitted from this fact by being as biddable and trainable as the big dogs out there or perhaps I should say as the little dogs out there.  In any case its impressive proof that they are in fact real world working dogs across many disciplines.  

Working American Cocker Spaniel
Stereotypes are a funny thing.  They usually come about from the actions of a few examples of any given demographic.  And it's usually the close minded in our world that rely on just the stereotypes to classify things.  So for a very long time the viewpoint of anyone looking in at our American culture and seeing how much of a family dog the little variation of Cocker Spaniel, which our culture calls its own, was always in their minds just a plaything or another toy breed, but certainly not to be taken seriously as a working dog.  What these people then fail to see is anything beyond the given stereotypes.  And perhaps even with some evidence contrary to what they consider the norm, they will still continue to say it's a joke or hardly something to consider seriously.  I'm definitely not going to convince them either way.  But the least I can do is put the evidence out there, that shows otherwise.  And the open minded can make the call for themselves.  The close minded can continue to sit on the fence with their arms crossed in denial.  And I'll continue to see more Chatham Hill Retrievers used for things like both their ancestors are used for.

Chatham Hill Retriever goes to water to retrieve 
And as a tribute to the American Cocker half of the Chatham Hill Retriever equation. Except for the very last photo showing, there has been no  example shown of the Flat Coated Retriever in this post.  That was obviously done on purpose people.  Since, many interested families who come to us for a puppy are also fans of the American Cocker half of this mix.  And I wanted to show that there is quite a bit of intelligence thrown into this mix that usually gets a big question mark hovering over the heads of many stubborn and closed minded people in the dog world that think they know more about American Cocker Spaniels and Retrievers than the rest of us.   Clearly this stereotype of a tiny little ornamental American lapdog is false.  As it is actually a very versatile companion dog that can not only be the family lapdog, but also "turn it on" and go out for the hunt like the big dogs do.  And obviosly this has also been a benefit to the Chatties we've placed in many wonderful homes.

Evolution in dogs is almost entirely MAN MADE


  1. Never have I doubted the worthiness of a dog. Like kids, nurture will do just so much, then genetics, then training. You've got all three going and the combination speaks for itself. Nicely done.

  2. Ray of light.... I happen to believe that all dogs are just programed to chase. Anything that happens to be small and fleeting and in their field of vision is pure game and all the reason for them to go from 0Mph to wide open the moment they see it.

    The long evolved relationship bond with humans just gave the reason for us to harness this potential.

    And just like humans... there are some who are better at it naturally than others. But all dogs can do it. Regardless of physical makeup or size or strength. Some teachers are better than others, more patient, more resourceful. While some students are more observant, determined or gifted.

    Nurture makes the student a product of its environment. Nature is something that was always there. Both are relevant and dependent of each other in order to harness full potential.

    Simplistic, but effective.


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