Back in the eighties the Heart of Georgia Field Trial Association announced that the teeth of the winners of the Georgia Puppy Celebration would be checked to determine the legitimacy of their registration dates. The Dixie Puppy Classic followed suit in its advertisement the following spring. The same year in its report the Skinny Ham Puppy Classic reported that it also had the teeth checked. Why was this?
John Doe becomes interested in field trials so he buys a spring whelped pup, registers him immediately, and starts running him in trials the next season. His pup is not competitive, and he is disappointed. Something that puzzles him is the observation that the pups against which his pup competes seem larger and better developed than his pup. This is especially puzzling in light of the fact that he has taken good care of his pup and has been feeding high protein puppy chow whereas those larger pups, allegedly the same age, are feed a local brand of lower protein content. He hears a lot of joking about overage pups, but he takes them as jokes - not believing that they could be true. Our neophyte finally concludes that he just has had bad luck, and has an inferior pup, which he then sells as a meat dog. The next time he goes to a local back yard breeder who has been extremely successful in breeding and campaigning pups. He wins puppy stakes at every trial. When our newcomer goes to this individual in April to purchase a new pup he notes that the dog could not possibly have been whelped in January as it is recorded in his pink slip. The breeder relates that of course he wasnít born in January; he was really whelped in early October. The breeder says that the only way you could win field trials was to do this and that everyone does it... a new puppy specialist gets his start.
The next season his puppy wins many puppies stakes. The breeder has advised him not to yard train the pup until after the field trial season because that might "take something out of him." By mid-spring it is impossible for the newcomer to run the "puppy" by himself. The pup has to be herded by scouts and ridden down at pick-up because he has never been taught "whoa" or "come here." In the process of trying to get the dog to hunt and point birds for the derby season our neophyte ruins the pup, or in another scenario declares the pup "too much dog" or "unbreakable." Oh well, our neophyte decides, puppy stakes are really fun and by concentrating on them I donít have to worry about birds, etc. I think that Iíll just run pups in the future. If John Doe is in the Southeast or Northeast he might in future scenarios sell his end of season "too much" dogs to someone in Texas where there is more country for them.
How many times has the above fictional account actually taken place? Iím certain that in your circuit there is the puppy specialist who does nothing but run pups that are never heard of after their puppy season. (There are, of course, a few true puppy experts whose pups go on to win major stakes).
Another observation is the professional who has some "money pups" in his string that he knows will not point or will not point with adequate style. They win for him in puppy stakes when they are three years old.
Then there is the major circuit owner who hunts his well-bred dogs for several years from horseback or jeep. The ones that get to ranging too wide he sends to his major circuit pro as a derby. When the pro heads north to the prairies he has a "derby" with several years of horseback or jeep hunting behind him. Compare the effort the pro must make with this dog with the effort he must make with an eighteen month "pup" with no bird hunting experience. It's a tough row to hoe when some judges expect finished bird work in a derby.
Why Not An Over-Age Pup?
There are two reasons that come to mind. One is that it is dishonest. The dishonesty directly affects us in at least two ways. One is that it gives false impression of early maturity and quality in field trials. Secondly, it makes the sire of the dog appear to be pre-potent when it really is not. This distorts statistical analyses of stud records.
The second good reason for not registering pups with incorrect whelping dates disturbs some bird dog lovers more than the above reasons. This reason is that in many cases the end result is a ruined dog. It is a poor practice to run a legitimate pup for a full season in one course puppy stakes. In these events they are frequently encouraged only to run and not do much hunting. Ask any pro about training pups to be bird dogs after they have had six or seven months of doing nothing but running horse tracks in one course trials. Take an over-age pup, and the problem is magnified in a very large way - so large that many fold under the pressure that needs to be put on them to make them successful derbies.
"You must register the pup for the January following its whelping year if you want to win puppy stakes." Although I am calling it a myth, there is a degree of truth in the statement - perhaps a "half truth" would be a better label. It is my contention that a well-bred legitimate pup with proper training can win puppy stakes. By "well-bred" am referring to a no hole pedigree. A hole is any reasonably close ancestor that is not of the top three or four bloodlines (not the fifth or sixth best or beyond) and \ or any reasonably close ancestor that was not a puppy and a shooting dog or al-age winner. In other words, the ones that have to be registered incorrectly are not well bred to start with. As evidence for my assertion I offer my own experience back in the seventies & eighties. With one exception, every pup that I have started has won in both open and amateur competition in approximately one third of the states in this country. All were registered correctly. The competition has included some overage winners of the countryís biggest puppy stakes.
Aging by Teeth
There are several ways to approximate ages of dogs. The easiest way is by observing the cusps on the incisors. A cusp is a prominence on the tooth (see photograph).
Dogs have three pairs of permanent incisors on each jaw. They erupt during the first half of the first year of the dogís life. When they erupt, cusps (little pointed projections) can be observed on all six incisors on each jaw. It takes almost five years for the cusps to wear off the first two pairs of upper and lower incisors (eight teeth). It takes a year and a half to wear off the first pair of lower incisors. By two and a half they have disappeared from the second pair of lowers. They are worn off the upper first and second pairs of incisors at three and a half and four and a half respectively.
This is a fairly reliable (90%) system for aging bird dogs with normal jaws. I have not found any cases of it over-estimating a dogís age in my examination of approximately 100 dogs. The only errors that I have observed have been in underestimating ages , i.e. teeth indicating an age less that the actual age. The errors were with dogs with non-normal jaws. The claim of dogs chewing on wood and wearing down the cusps carries very little validity for the first couple of years of a dogís life. There are several reasons for this, but I wonít go into them for space limitations. Those who make such claims are usually those with over-age pups. In cases of question there are more sophisticated ways of aging dogs by their teeth. These more complicated ways have been developed by researchers in wildlife management and are not feasible to use on a routine basis at field trials. There are also less reliable ways of aging younger pups.
One must admit that by verifying ages by teeth certain breeds and bloodlines will be placed at a disadvantage. So be it; the price on must pay for those breeds and bloodlines is that they donít develop as fast. False registrations are a poor route to rectify breed and bloodline deficiencies - if you consider slow development a deficiency. A pointer characteristic is that they tend to run bigger earlier. In pointer the White Knights tend to run bigger earlier. The Deliveries through the Rebels tend to develop slower whereas The Haberdasher branch of Delivery (particularly the Squires) move out earlier.
Letís put the puppy back in puppy stakes. Nothing is more fun than a good honest puppy stake. If we stick with honest registrations we wonít lose some of the newcomers who quit after they find out what is going on. We may also gain some of the true aficionados who currently pass on the puppy year, saying that the puppy wins mean nothing. At the present they donít compete because of the factors mentioned above. If things were legitimate in terms of whelping dates and reasonable in terms of judicial expectations of pups theses aficionados would probably be in the heart of puppy competition.