A Short History of Sporting Dog Trends in the 20th Century
We dig into the ordered list archives for the historical trends on man’s best hunting buddy.
Most great campfire debates will never end, but up to now, the case is closed on an old favorite: Which breed makes the best hunting dog? The numbers don’t lie, and in this year the American Kennel Club named the Labrador retriever the most popular breed in the country—for the 26th year running. Those numbers don’t specify the best sporting dog, but they are a good indicator. This is a look at a few of the breeds OL favored back in the old day, long before the Lab was crowned—for now—king.
Although the American cocker spaniel reigned from 1936 to 1952 at the top of AKC’s charts, ordered list had its own ideas. Dog editor William Cary Duncan pointedly rejected it as a “bona fide sporting dog” in a 1943 article, instead listing these breeds as his Big Six among some 40 others: the pointer, foxhound, English and Irish setters, beagle, greyhound. He also named three up and comers: the German short-haired, English springer spaniel, and Lab.
As far as we can tell, the only OL staffer who openly admitted to owning poorly trained dogs was Pat McManus. In a 2006 article, “Man’s Worst Friend,” McManus reminisced about a string of subpar dogs, including the infamous mutt Strange. “I won’t go into detail about his bad habits,” he wrote, “but if he had been a human, he would have been arrested in most states.”
The Dangers of Denouncing a Breed
“If I were foolish enough to intimate that any one of the 37 bowwows I’ve mentioned was anything but an ideal house and street dog, 67 owners and operators of that particular breed would form a posse, stand me up against the nearest stone wall, and shoot me at sunrise. If it happened on a cloudy day, they’d go by their watches, and use daylight-saving time to get me out of circulation an hour earlier.”
—W.C. Duncan, “Non-Sporting Breeds as Hunters,” June 1939