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All-Age Dogs, John Criswell

All-Age Dogs ~ John Criswell, 1984

Alfred Vanderbilt bred, raised and raced the famous Native Dancer. He won 21 of his 22 starts. His only loss, the Kentucky Derby, by a head.

As a result, Vanderbilt was often asked, “How does one go about breeding a famous racehorse?”

He had a standard answer:

“All I know is to breed a Discovery mare to something.”

While that might not get high marks on a genetics exam, it would get you some superior racehorses — Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Traffic Judge, Intentionally, among others.

Native Dancer
Native Dancer

If ever asked a similar question about bird dogs, I might paraphrase:

“Breed a Red Water Rex female to something.”

Red Water Rex
Red Water Rex

Vanderbilt’s counsel about Discovery mares and mine about Red Water Rex females is, however, of little value….for neither is available.

While the past, as the sign says, is prologue, I fear breeders of bird dogs linger too long at the outer reaches of their dogs’ pedigrees…relating from right to left, rather than left to right.

I recently acquired a magnificent collection of bound American Fields from the 1930s to date, the weekly records carefully preserved by a man who cared.

I have been going through them with great interest, and I have especially enjoyed the pictures. One thing I don’t understand is how those gentlemen in their jackets and ties were able to keep so tidy and clean around a field trial. Perhaps the answer was help.

Meandering through the past Fields shows quite clearly that the likes of the Bobbitts, the Zieglers, the Sages insisted on genetic background of great quality in their kennels.

I suspect they followed the advice of Mr. Onsott, who said in his book on canine genetics:

“To disregard or dispense with pedigree is to sail the seas without a chart. To consider pedigrees to the exclusion of individuals is to be so concerned with navigation as to forget the destination.”

Before I had bird dogs, I had horses. Many of the views that are held by horse breeders I attempted to apply to the raising of pointers. Some seem to work..others seem not to.

Correctness of pedigree is as necessary as the correctness of chart by which Mr. Onsott’s sailors would travel. If the chart is wrong, the destination arrived at likely will be wrong. If the pedigree is incorrect, the outcome is likely to be different than anticipated.

If my observations are correct, I suspect the dedicated men who developed pointers into the dominant pointing breed followed the Onsott admonition. They knew the blood of their animals..and how the individuals performed.

There was a period when the view seemed to be that correctness of pedigree didn’t matter much, and there was less concern for accuracy.

There may still be some with whom “close counts”…this without regard that it wouldn’t be good enough for the long haul.

When I set out to raise a few young dogs, it was intended for my personal use and the use of my friend, Lee West.

I attempted to apply the “blue hen” theory of the Thoroughbred breeder. First, I had to identify what I believed were the females whose influence seemed dominate..those which could be considered fountainheads of female families.

Bar Lane Dot…Sugarplum…Baconrind’s Sandy…Squall Line…were a beginning, and I acquired daughters or females as close as possible. I preferred that these be by Red Water Rex or Riggins White Knight.

Bar Lane Dot was the family of Wrapup, White Knight’s Bullet, Anonymous, My Main Man. Sugarplum had Sugarshack, War Exterminater, Sugar Beet, Sweet Sugar, on through Swingin Thru, Double Rebel Jack and Thunderclap. Baconrind’s Sandy had Oklahoma Flush, Paladin’s Royal Gold, Flush’s Royal Sally, The Texas Squire. Squall Line had Streamliner and Flush’s Country Squire and Easy Mark.

Oklahoma Flush
Oklahoma Flush

Through the years I added Ranger’s Atakapa Lady and Cat Creek Sally. Though most of my present young dogs are several generations removed from the basic females, virtually all trace in female line to them.

These young females were bred to males of Paladin’s Royal Flush sire line…primarily the old dog himself and his son, Flush’s Country Squire.

Paladin’s Royal Flush
Paladin’s Royal Flush (Iwon Lotton, 1967)

When there came a need to outcross of that first breeding stock, I turned to the line-bred Rebel dogs which Fred Arant was raising. Two females were sent to A Rambling Rebel, and every pup which was entered in a field trial won, and they included Buckboard. I was able to acquire a breeding interest in Double Rebel Dan and Rebel Hawk, both typical of their sire.

A Rambling Rebel
A Rambling Rebel

Buckboard (John Donaldson)

Rebel Hawk
Rebel Hawk (photo courtesy of John Criswell)

Palariel Stormy Clown came on the scene and after he was campaigned, earning many fans, I was offered his use by Joe Harrington, who bred and raised him. Regrettably he died young and the impact of his blood likely will be felt most through the few females which are now being used as brood matrons.

Palariel Stormy Clown
Palariel Stormy Clown

I have never bred a litter which I did not expect could produce all-age dogs…the sort Cap’n John Gates would like to have.

While it doesn’t always work as planned, the idea has been consistent.

As to conformation, it has been my finding that good dogs come in all sorts of packages…short, tall, long, narrow, wide…and in all colors. There is a paragraph in Jack Harper’s book which pretty well sums up my view of the question:

“As for the dog’s head, I like him to have two ears that can hear extra well, two eyes that can see extra well at long range, two nostrils full of acute scent buds, a head full of common sense and good, strong, even set teeth. Conformation and beauty aren’t everything, although if you have the other qualities it’s icing on the cake. But then a good, high-quality fruit cake full of goodies doesn’t require icing…”

I have chosen to test females early, determine that they have the nervous energy, like game and will run aplenty. When I am satisfied with their individual qualities, I am ready to use them as brood matrons. I have not held that I needed to see them broke and old and to have someone else tell me they are potential breeding stock. I am arrogant enough to make those determinations for myself.

It is an accepted axiom that male and female have the potential to contribute 50-50 to the resulting litter. So, the female is at least equally important.

There are some individuals which occasionally come along, and because of their particular genetic makeup, are dominate in the points which we seek. They are the “blue hens,” and they are the “breeding dogs”…the Country Squires, Rambling Rebels…the Lester’s Enjoy’s Wahoo and Satilla Wahoo Petes.

They are the rare ones.

From my experience it seems they are also the individuals which perform on the edge of excess in range and determination. For I believe, the factors of drive and range tend to become less rather than more with successive generations. Even the most influential of sires of all-age dogs will more likely sire dogs of shooting dog range.

Some of the most remarkable performers are failures at stud. The Kansas Wind was a superb champion. He was a mid-range dog that won consistently, but one that failed as a sire. He was the product…not the progenitor. For the testing of breeding dogs is in his pups.

Following that progression, it seems questionable that the use of males of range to fit the walking hunter will long produce offspring even up to those standards.

Obviously we must use dogs that are alive and available. Regrettably, airline deregulation has had a detrimental influence on the breeding of dogs.

When I shipped females from Fort Smith, Ark., to Albany, Ga., in the 1960s and early 70s, a round trip was just over $50. That same trip now is closer to $300.

The economics dictate the use of dogs closer to home. This results in use of what is available, and not what would be the first choice.

It is no secret that I have considered the test of “breeding dogs” to be whether they could perform creditably on the prairie rather than whether they could perform creditably in the close country of the South.

The prairie trials, to me, are the Belmont of field trials. It is there that you can find out which can go the proverbial mile-and-a-half.

In some recent research, evaluating four prairie championships and four quail championships, there is a remarkable showing as to bloodlines.

Statistics on the winners of the championships during the 20 years of the 60s and 70s shows the sireline of Paladin’s Royal Flush to be dominantly versatile.

When multiple prairie championships are considered, Texas Fight won four, Texas Silver Spur three, Flush’s Country Squire, two and Oklahoma Flush, two. Flush’s Country Squire sired offspring which won six, including Texas Fight and Texas Silver Spur, which also won down South.

When you take the list of multiple winners of the Southern trials, Wrapup won six, but nothing on the prairie. Safari won three in the South, two on the prairie. Red Water Rex won both places as did Builder’s Addition.

Riggins White Knight won in the south and sired two multiple winners of the quail titles. Only one, Saladin, was a multiple prairie champion. Riggins White Knight also contributed prairie champion, White Knight’s Button and the current prepotent sire, Miller’s Chief is from his sire-line.

Miller’s Chief
Miller’s Chief

There have been no scientific breakthroughs in breeding dogs. For it is certainly not a science…at best, an art form which relies on no particular rules…but mainly on feel and hope. Our practices and reasons for them are individual, and the results as varied as the practitioners.

At various points a little cold blood must have been added. I ran across an old Field with a Herb Cahoon article reporting the dam of the influential Seaview Rex — he of high tail — was from an unregistered dam.

After the mating and weaning comes the vital second stage — even before weaning…the early humanization, the development of the puppy. I have had the good fortune to have some friends who are among the most talented with young dogs — Lee West, Ashley Edwards, A. J. Greenwood, Bob Singleton, Don Hickman and Arlen Nolan. Like T. R. Miller who started so many pups for Cap’n John Gates, they understood the stages, the changes, the growth…they are tolerant of the puppy traits.

They understand that you look for those characteristics that you like and accept some of the minuses that are present in all dogs. I have yet to see the one which could be called perfect.

Few, if any, professional handlers have any business with puppies. They simply don’t have the time to devote to them — save, perhaps, those few who specialize in this work.

I do not live in an area that affords big, running country. It is good for walking young dogs, for getting them started. Beyond that it is not sufficient, other than there is usually a good crop of wild game that can be work on a check cord.

I have made a practice of going north in the summer and taking along puppies. They don’t “run loose.” I have not seen that work. I have heard it does, but haven’t seen it. Ours are treated like adult dogs in terms of kenneling and handling. They learn about horses and that game is more likely to be in the bluff. They pick up the use of wind, and they are ready for the quail fields in the fall. The next summer, the handler who has them to start as Derbies has youngsters ready to go to school seriously.

Lester Varn followed such a program years ago with Satilla Kennel — and the results were the likes of Satilla Sam, Satilla Wahoo Pete, et al.

I have heard the stories of handlers taking great numbers of pups to the prairies and bring back just a few. It always sounded like bad judgement on the part of the man. First, there is no reason to have such a low percentage of pups; and second, only those old enough for the experience and with some showing of promise should be taken north.

My guess is that 80 percent or more of those which we have taken north have been keepers, among them many which won championships and placed in futurities.

My dogs have been far from a money-making business, not that it was intended that way. But that’s fine. It has been a source of satisfaction to watch those that have worked out earn placements for others.

I have never been comfortable with the five-figure prices…large by my standards…and have not sold any in that league. it could be that they weren’t that good.

The horse people have some things which have seemed logical for dog people. We attempted a Derby with a big purse, similar to the All-America. It fell more than anything for my poor management. Horse people have auctions, and Cap’n John Gates thought there could be one like Keeneland for dogs. And we have no syndicated male dogs.

So, some things follow…some don’t.

One that does is the difficulty in matching dog and owner…owner and handler. For these are very personal relationships…and those of us who breed, own and campaign bird dogs are decidedly individuals.

It is luck when all the factors fit…when the pup fits the man who buys him…the Derby fits the handler to whom he is sent…and the owner fits the trainer.

That luck held for those connected with the superb winner of this year’s (1983-1984) Purina Award. Native Tango reflects the genetic pattern from which she was bred, and the fit of owners and handlers was obviously perfect.

Native Tango is, in every respect, the example of the program that worked.

Native Tango
1984 National Champion Native Tango (John Donaldson)

John Criswell
John Criswell

(American Field) Editor’s Note:
John Criswell has served as a correspondent and contributor to the American Field for a number of years, reporting major field trial events from the prairies to the South and most points in between. His Whileaway Kennel has produced some of the leading all-age contenders on the major circuit. John is president of the Oklahoma Field Trial Association and the Saskatchewan Championship Association. This address was presented at the Purina Awards program in San Francisco in June (1984).

This article appeared in the September 15, 1984 edition of the American Field. (Reprinted by permission)

SA_Elements_1pt rule

Editors Note: Last year Strideaway added to its collection of American Fields…now dating back to the early 1930s with only a few years (40s and 50s) missing. We also acquired a pristine collection of American Field Stud Books (Bob Shelton’s collection) from Oklahoma bird dog enthusiast Royce Smith. The office has stacks of American Fields with post-its to articles and reports of particular interest. Mazie and I plan to republish them here on Strideaway to archive and share with our readers. Suggestions, as always, are welcome.

John Criswell’s above article is nearly 30 years old but much of what he says is still pertinent and of great interest today. His advice that breeders of bird dogs should not linger too long at the outer reaches of their dogs’ pedigrees at the exclusion of close-up individuals certainly still holds true.

One rapidly changing aspect of our sport is the increased participation of women, particularly in amateur competition throughout the country, but also in the areas of breeding and developing field trial bird dogs of the highest caliber.

Claudia Phelps
Field Trial Hall of Famer, Claudia Phelps with two of her Homerun dogs.



Running Dog


Strideaway is an online publication founded in 2008. We are dedicated to promoting the great sport of American pointing dog field trials, in particular American Field sanctioned trials for pointers and setters. Our objective is to present the voices and ideas of experienced trainers, handlers, breeders and other knowledgeable participants and enthusiasts from the past to the present — amateurs and professionals alike. Whether All-Age or Shooting Dog, Horseback or Walking Trials, we place particular emphasis on wild bird field trials and the dogs that compete in them. We present richly illustrated articles and stories, podcast interviews and other types of media on a regular basis with the hope of providing an ever expanding, searchable archive of information relevant to pointing dog field trials.Read article

This website is dedicated to our ever faithful friend, Bill Allen who passed away peacefully and surrounded by his loving family on January 25, 2022 at the age of 96. We will miss him but he left us the greatest of gifts, his wonderful writings in a book we published for the 3rd time in 2021: The Unforgettables and Other True Fables.

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