Dogs Down Under
Field trials are flourishing in Australia and the English Springer is proving popular both as a working dog and for rabbit control, says David Tomlinson.
When Peter Moxon wrote his classic book Gundogs: Training and Field Trials 60 years ago, the section entitled choice of breed was short and simple. He discussed our familiar retrievers and native spaniels along with setters and the (English) pointer, but the Continental HPRs are dismissed in three short sentences. The reason was simple: apart from a few German shorthairs that had recently been imported, HPRs were virtually unknown in this country at that time.
Today, of course, it’s a very different matter, and there’s a choice of more than a dozen different Continental breeds to choose from. But while we Brits may have been busy importing different breeds to the UK, many of our traditional breeds have been exported around the world. Some years ago, when visiting Tasmania, I met a couple of very handsome English springers, but they were of
show rather than working stock. However, I was interested to learn from their owner that English springers are popular both as pets and as show dogs in Australia, though I didn’t learn anything about working springers down under.
Shooting Times is read widely, so I was delighted but not surprised when I received a recent email from Stephen Sapsead, telling me about his Glastonpark English springer kennel in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Stephen was prompted to write to me because of my liking for traditional springers that have both bone and substance, a preference that he shares. He went on to explain that although he has lived in Australia for over 30 years, he comes from Somerset and still calls it home, adding that he is lucky enough to return to the UK for a few weeks every year.
48 Shooting Times & Country Magazine 16 March 2011
His passion for springers started in his childhood, and he has owned and trained them for over 40 years. It was this lifelong enthusiasm that finally persuaded him to start what he believes is the first professional gundog kennel in Australia.
He went on to tell me “the interest that has been generated here in recent years for springers is amazing. Any litter that we breed is sold before the pups are even born, and to follow that there is a waiting list for the next litter. Many pups go to English people who have migrated here, and since the resurgence of rabbits the shooting fraternity has been getting back into springers. This means that field trials are flourishing once again after 10 years in the doldrums
“When I was a lad in Somerset the springers were a much heavier type of dog than most of those seen in England today: modern English dogs tend to be lighter-built, smaller and often not much bigger than a cocker. In my opinion if you want a cocker then buy one, don't try and breed springers down to that size. With this in mind we have started to produce more substantial dogs. Our dogs will hunt the thickest patch of brambles and they have the size and presence to give it a good shake to find the game that’s hiding inside. At the same time we also breed for the traditional springer strengths of fine temperament and biddability.”
The policy at Glastonpark is to keep 30% of the puppies bred, and some of these are placed out on breeding terms to approved homes. This is a sensible system, as it allows the kennel to retain its gene pool, and choose exactly which dogs it plans to breed from. Trained dogs are
English Springers at an Australian field trial that the Victorian Gundog Club, of which Stephen is president, organises 12 field trials a year,
also occasionally available, offered in three levels depending on age, experience and ability.
Stephen is the president of the Victorian Gundog Club (VGC), which he tells me is “the most prestigious gundog club in Australia and is affiliated with the Victorian Canine Association, the governing body for all things dog. The VGC is responsible for organising 12 field trials a year covering all the disciplines of pointers and setters, utility dogs (the term used by Australians for HPRs), retrieving trials and spaniel and retriever field trials. In Australia retrievers run in the same trials as springers and the handler has to shoot over his or her dog. There is only one judge and a steward and the judge has a brace of dogs under him at a time. The dogs wear a red or white collar as in coursing.
“A few years ago there was a breakaway from the Victorian Canine Association by a large contingent of gundog enthusiasts who set up the Working Gundog Association of Australia (WGAA), under the Australian Sporting Shooters Association. The WGAA also run trials but concentrate mainly on retrieving and pointer and setter trials. The only branch of WGAA to hold spaniel trials in recent years has been New South Wales. These are spaniel- only trials and are run under a two-judge system rather like the UK.”
Termite Detection Dogs
I was interested to hear that dogs from Glastonpark have gone on to become sniffer dogs with both customs and the army, and also termite-detection dogs, a job I’d never considered before but an important one in Australia where termites can wreck buildings. I was also fascinated to learn that springers from Glastonpark are being used for rabbit eradication on Macquarie Island, a World Heritage Site some 1500km south of Tasmania and home to nearly 4 million pairs of breeding seabirds, including 850,000 pairs of royal penguins.
Now that’s somewhere I’d really like to go rabbit shooting over springers, but it might be stretching ST expenses a little to get there.
Shooting Times & Country Magazine 16 March 2011 49
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