Pet First
The Pointing Lab, Fact or Myth?
By Joe R. Lock

When I first heard of the pointing Lab, several years ago, I thought someone was either making it up, or was terribly mistaken. I have been involved with hunting dogs, including most of the pointing breeds, spaniels, retrievers, beagles, foxhounds, and coonhounds, most of my life, and I had never heard of, much less seen a pointing Lab. After reading several articles by well known hunting dog writers about the pointing Lab, I was still in disbelief and agreed with the fraternity of conservative dog men who chided, "A bird dog is either a pointer or a flusher. All retrievers are flushers, case closed!"

That fervent stance began to gradually subside after I met CKC registered Prince Charles of Rocky Creek, known to all who love and admire him as Charley. This big, high energy, yellow Labrador retriever has so far earned 66 points in two CKC sanctioned hunt tests, on his way to a title in the Novice class of the (would you believe it?) Pointing Lab Category!

When I bought Charley, I was not looking for a pointing Lab. In fact, there are only a handful of breeders in the United States who intentionally breed Labs that demonstrate the pointing instinct. I wanted a Lab that would find, flush, and retrieve upland birds, and that could also retrieve ducks and doves. I bought Charley when he was 8 weeks old, and began socializing him with all the things of the world in which he would come in contact. This included toys.

I noticed right away, that as he approached one of his toys, he would pause and stare for several seconds before pouncing on it. As he grew, this stare or "point" lasted longer and longer. I thought this behavior to be strange indeed for a breed that is supposed to boldly flush and not point. Just to further satisfy my curiosity about this little anomaly, I thought I would try the old pointing dog trainer's method of reinforcing the pointing instinct by tying a bird's wing on a string on the end of a long stick and dangling it in front of the pup. Charley pointed the wing!

I still thought this pointing thing would wear off when he later got into real birds. Certainly when he saw real birds run and fly he would try to jump in and catch them. When Charley was 4 months old, I took him to a game preserve to introduce him to live quail. We planted a few birds and let him have at it. He flushed the birds and never seemed to give a thought to pointing them. We were happy and went on to complete the training. Incidentally, Charley flushed and retrieved 10 straight quail that day!

About a month later, we set forth on our second outing. He did a great job in hunting and seeking out the birds. This time however, he was not anxious to jump in on them. The more birds he found, the longer he would pause before going in on the bird. This pause became a bonafide point. I became very perplexed. Though this pointing behavior would be fine for hunting, it would cause him to score low or even fail in a hunt test. A flushing dog is expected to find the bird and then go in and boldly flush. As the season went on, Charley's pointing instinct grew so strong that now he would hold a point until I flushed the bird, just like any of the pointing breeds. I realized that, want him or not, I had a pointing Lab.

How did this pointing Lab phenomenon come about? Any web search on the internet can give you tons of information on the history of the Labrador retriever. Most of it is in agreement that the breed started in Newfoundland and was used by fishermen to help haul in nets and perform other various tasks. Labs were quickly adopted by hunters to retrieve game and later were used to find game as well. Some articles say that pointing dogs were occasionally crossed with Labradors. These speculations were based on research and some common sense type theories. It will probably never be known for sure as records of who begat who were rarely kept. One probable theory that seems to have as much credibility as any is that the pointing Lab can be traced back to the old Spanish pointer and that this pointing gene resurfaces from time to time in present day dogs. By now you know that I am not a geneticist and you are probably offended if you are one. However, as simple as it may sound, if the pointing gene has been inherited from the Spanish pointer, the whole concept of the pointing Lab is a little easier for me to take.

But, do we need another pointing dog? The answer is, why not? It is much more difficult to stifle an instinct than to nurture one. If a Lab has the pointing instinct, then the trainer should help to develop it. The CKC hunt test rules for retrievers and bird dogs have a category for pointing Labs, and the rules set up for them are a little different than for other pointing dogs. For example, the pointing Lab does not have to hold a long point. The longer the better, but a minimum of 3 seconds for a Novice dog is all that is required to pass the test.

The proponents of the pointing Lab state that this dog is not a separate breed. It should be trained and handled just like any other Lab. The only difference is that it points instead of flushes. Charley is now 2 years old and his pointing ability is excellent. He doesn't always lock up solid when he gets scent from a distance like an English pointer may do, but when he points, get ready, the bird is right under his nose.