Can Show Bred Dogs Work? & the ‘Dual Purpose’ Labrador

What is a ‘Dual Purpose Labrador’? – There are many schools of thought on this and this is my own.

Firstly: Can Showbred dogs REALLY compete with their working/field trial bred peers?

Some can. Not all. Some have great talent. Many show lines just never have any dogs who are well trained and therefore give the IMPRESSION they could not work. Show bred dogs tend to have an upper ceiling of ability that varies from dog to dog. This ceiling may be slightly lower than that of a working bred ‘specialist’, only a fool would say otherwise. But equally most who dismiss show bred labradors ability to be trained to work usefully with pace and style and desire, just have never mixed with people who would trouble themselves to take the time to do so. Structure plays a great part. And temperament too. A showbred dog too heavy and ‘chunky’, with short legs and an excessively heavy body structure will not work well. He will not have any athletic ability and will quickly cause him injury, even if the ‘mind is willing’ to work hard. However it really also depends on the demands of someones working requirements. Ten hour days on the grouse moors chances are, won’t suit a showbred dog. An average 80/100 bird day picking up in a team should not be anywhere above his ability if trained properly and kept GENUINELY fit and lean. Don’t dismiss them, but there is no doubt some showbred lines can be noiser, slower to retain information and slower in pace than working bred dogs. However they also have their plus points. With slightly less adenaline and instinct rushing through their bodies they can often be an ideal dog for a novice handler to learn with. They are often steadier, and the slower pace gives a new handler time to think and react quickly. Trained with drive and enjoyment in mind, not steadiness, in the early days, can result in a lovely speedy dog who enjoys his job and wants to please even if will never win the 100 metre sprint for a bird against a beaters spaniel! Smile.

Dual Ideals:

Coming from a background of horses and riding, the idea of *just* doing one ‘thing’ with a dog never really occured to me. I used to take part in Hunter Trials, and Showing classes with my horses. I used to compete a lot in something called ‘Working Hunter Pony’ which was judged both on Looks and Movement and also jumping ability. They were ‘jack of all trades’, and some might say, ‘Master of none’ (smile) but we had our fair share of wins.

So I am very keen that my own Labradors do not just do ‘one’ thing. For me, the Labrador should be a middleweight, solid dog, but with athletic ability and the brain and temperament to be able to be trained, and enjoy learning new things. It should have the instinct to want to retrieve, and take directional commands, and hunt. It should have a structure that keeps with the moderately substantial Labradors of old, but have the construction to be able to jump, pull itself up steep riverbanks, carry a heavy bird, get UNDER fences and wire and the endurance to go all day at a steady pace.

It should be soft enough to enjoy homelife and love and attention. It should be confident and good natured enough to mix sociably with all other dogs at any time of my choosing. It should be smart enough to retain training information from one day to the next. It should be beautiful enough to please MY eye.

Many internet and kennel adverts often declare kennels of ’dual purpose labradors’. If their owner views their dogs that way then thats of course their own business, however for me, many of these traits described above, can ONLY be tested under competition by a unbiased third party. It is very easy to *say* that we have a labrador that works well, and it is even easier to say that we have a good looking labrador, but are WE as owners in the best place to judge that actually? Not in my view. Folks idea of ‘a good worker’ varies so enormously, for example. You may have one owner who deems half a days picking up on a long line making lots of noise but maybe finding a couple of birds that another dog overlooked ‘good enough’. Someone else will only consider a dog with Field Trial awards at the highest level ‘good enough’. It is so variable.

So for me there are two seperate issues here:

* A Dual Purpose BRED Labrador. Which is basically a dog who’s pedigree is made up of a mix of show and working/field trial dogs. That dog may not take part in any activity of any sort, he may be just a pet, but he is bred along dual purpose lines, by way of the mix of show and working lines in his pedigree (family tree), possibly by accident, or possibly intentionally and carefully.

* A Dual Purpose Labrador. A dog, for me, that takes part and holds awards in both the show arena and the gundog working arena. Therefore has concrete proof to show that he genuinely in the eyes of unbiased parties, has the looks and ability to place amongst his peers in both the ring and at working test/field trial events.

The chances are, in this modern day and age, the Dual Purpose Labrador is almost certainly going to be all or mostly showbred with maybe just a smattering of working lines in there. This is because the conformational demands of the show ring *tend* to lean towards substance, with a decent amount of bone, head, coat, structural angulation and general solidness required. So whilst many showbred dogs can be trained to work to a decent level, sadly most working bred dogs cannot go into the showring and win prizes. So therefore to fulfill the ‘dual purpose’ credential, it tends to lean towards the moderate sized show bred dog with a dedicated and passionate owner who enjoys training and working their showbred dog to ‘run with the big boys’ in the working competition environment.

What level of wins and places means the dog ticks all the boxes to be termed ‘Dual Purpose’? That is harder to say. For us really it would be meaningful (so not 4th of 5 or 2nd of 2) Championship Show awards, and Novice working test awards, but others may have their own higher or lower criteria. For a truely ambitious kennel this benchmark should raise year in year out as more and more is achieved.

It is not an easy path to take. It would be far easier to simply set the bar, as many do to declare their dogs ‘dual purpose labradors’ at just a good looking dog (in the eye of the beholder) that goes out shooting. But We feel at Wylanbriar its important to put your money where your mouth is and show that showbred and dogs with a show/working mix in their pedigree can compete as well as the 100% ‘specialists’ in both show and gundog working worlds.

You don’t have to be mad to do this – but it helps!   :-)……

Diana Stevens – May 2009

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