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Pedigree dogs in peril

Some breeds are holding steady, but others are under threat says David Tomlinson

Previously I looked at the winners and losers in the annual registrations of pedigree dogs. The winners included the Bracco Italiano and the cocker spaniel, plus the Hungarian vizsla and its wirehaired cousin, while the losers included several of our traditional favourites, ranging from the Labrador to the English springer spaniel.

There are, however, a number of breeds that, against all the odds, are holding steady, and others that are slipping towards possible extinction.

Statistics can be misleading, and don’t forget that wonderful phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. However, they do make an interesting study, and it’s worth remembering when you consider numbers of registrations of pedigree dogs that, overall, such numbers are down.

Thus a breed that is showing an increasing number of registrations is definitely doing well, and bucking the current trend. What a shame we don’t have any statistics for sprockers, springadors and other cross-bred gundogs. I would wager that the number of sprocker puppies born last year outnumbers all our minority spaniel breeds added together.

Breeds with steady registrations

German shorthaired and German wirehaired pointers

Registrations for these two breeds have been remarkably stable for the past 10 years, with the shorthaired dogs consistently about four times as popular as the wirehairs. Last year, there were 1,436 GSPs registered, along with 355 GWPs.

Flatcoated retriever

Flatcoats are remarkably popular in the show ring, which no doubt explains why the number of registrations for this old-fashioned retriever shows little in the way of decline. True, last year’s figure of 1,251 was well down on the exceptional year of 2007, when 1,718 were registered, but generally numbers are holding up well.

Welsh springer spaniel

In 2006, there were 352 Welsh springer registrations. Last year the figure was 363. These handsome spaniels are doing well, which makes it a shame that we don’t see more of them when we’re out shooting.

Spanish water dog

Last year was the best ever for this quirky breed, with 209 registrations, but there were 198 in 2013. Don’t dismiss this breed as a shooting dog. I’ve seen several working impressively well, while their compact size makes them an attractive proposition for anyone unable to house a big dog.

Irish water spaniel

Classed as a spaniel in the show ring and a retriever in the shooting field, this breed is difficult to pigeonhole. In the past 10 years, the number of registrations has only once dipped below the magic 100. Last year’s total of 138 was close to the 10-year average.

Breeds with registrations in decline

German longhaired pointer

I’m a great fan of the GLP, so am sorry to note that this most setter-like of the German pointing breeds has never caught on here. That’s despite lots of field-trial successes and an outright win in the HPR Championship in 2014. There were just 15 registrations last year.

Chesapeake Bay retriever

These big, powerful North American dogs may have the potential to be the perfect wildfowling companion, but their popularity is waning. Last year there were 39 registrations, compared with 168 some 10 years before.

Curly-coated retriever

This may have been the Victorian gamekeepers’ dog of choice, but fewer and fewer 21st-century gundog enthusiasts are opting for a curlycoat. Last year’s figure of 66 was the second-lowest in a decade, casting doubt on the breed’s long- term survival.

Sussex spaniel

Without an introduction of fresh blood, the future of the Sussex spaniel looks grim, but most breed enthusiasts remain steadfast in their opposition to any outcrossing. Last year just 43 were registered, the worst figure in a decade, but admittedly not far short of the best score of 74 in both 2006 and 2012.

Field spaniel

Like the Sussex spaniel, this is an endangered breed, and last year’s registration figure of 46 will do little to cheer enthusiasts of these handsome spaniels — especially after an encouraging 70 the year before.