Northwoods Nirvana (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011)
Some things seem meant to be.
When Betsy and I bred Northwoods Chardonnay in 2011 to CH Houston’s Blackjack, owned by Frank and Jean LaNasa, the pick of the litter was an extremely handsome, dark-headed male. We raised him but sold him as a 10-month-old to Frank and Jean. Now five years later, in partnership with Paul Hauge, we bought him back.
And it’s wonderful to have him with us.
His registered name is Northwoods Nirvana (2011 was the year of naming dogs after rock stars) and his call name is Pete. But everyone always calls him Perfect Pete because…well, he is. He truly has it all—excellent conformation, style on point and the characteristic, long, easy gait of the Houston dogs. Plus he has an easy disposition and is just nice to be around.
In 2015 on a North Dakota prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for Northwoods Nirvana; Northwoods Rolls Royce backs.
Not only was Frank interested in Nirvana because he owned the sire but also for his potential. Frank groomed him on the prairie for horseback competition on sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken.
Frank’s work paid off this fall when Nirvana was named RU-CH at the National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship held at the Buena Vista Marsh near Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, in a field of 47 dogs. This prestigious trial is run from horseback on native prairie chickens.
2016 National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship placements: Frank LaNasa, on right, with RU-CH Northwoods Nirvana; CH Skydancer Triple Nickel on left.
Pete has quite a pedigree. He is line bred to Houston through his blue-hen dam Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice) and sire CH Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle). He is a first cousin to winners CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock and RU-CH Erin’s Prometheus, who were sired by Blackjack’s litter brother, CH Ridge Creek Cody.
Now at just five years of age, Pete is himself a noted sire. He has been bred to about 12 females and produced 11 winners so far including the following:
- His son CH Skydancer Flash Forward won the 2016 Region 19 Amateur Shooting Dog Championship held at the Namekagon Barrens near Danbury, Wisconsin, on native sharptails.
- His grandson CH Skydancer Triple Nickel won the 2016 National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship (when Pete was RU-CH).
Pete is certified OFA GOOD and his DNA is on file with the American Field. He is available for breeding at both our Minnesota and Georgia kennels. The stud fee is $1,000.
P.S. Two weeks after we bought him back, I took him into the woods for a guided grouse and woodcock hunt. Though he had not previously pointed either bird, he did a bang-up job and took to it easily and naturally.
Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009)
What we think, what we know or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.
~ John Ruskin
It’s amazing and humbling to think about but 20 years ago today, on June 6, 1995, Betsy and I whelped our first litter. We bred a strong, blocky-headed, handsome black-and-white male English setter to a chestnut-and-white female. Even though she wasn’t pretty, she had a powerful combination of bird-finding and pointing instinct.
Finder’s Keeper (RU-CH Pat’s Blazer Banjo x Spring Garden Rose, 1991)
We never thought that 47 litters and 301 puppies later, we would have created a bird dog business that sustains and fulfills us. For not only did we produce lines of setters and pointers of which we are proud but we formed deep friendships with people from all over the country who share our love of fine bird dogs.
A. G. Murray, Jr., is an attorney and serious bobwhite quail hunter. A.G. and his wife Mary Beth drove from their home in Oklahoma to buy a puppy—a male they named Colonel—from that first litter. Last summer, they again travelled to Minnesota to pick out their fourth setter from us.
Our first litter out of Spring Garden Tollway x Finder’s Keeper produced five males and three females. CH Blue Streak is in the upper right looking at the camera and CH Blue Smoke is in the lower center.
The sire Spring Garden Tollway (Charlie) and dam Finder’s Keeper (Sparks) weren’t our first bird dogs. Charlie was preceded by a Brittany spaniel I purchased in 1980 but it was Charlie with his verve and tenacity that got me hooked on field trials. After buying Charlie in 1987, I was determined to find more good grouse dogs and spent the next seven or so years sorting through a dozen or more dogs—buying puppies and started dogs from the best dogs in the country. I hunted over them and then Betsy and I competed with them but not until we bought Sparks in 1993 did we find a match for Charlie.
CH Blue Streak (Spring Garden Tollway x Finder’s Keeper, 1995)
It was a gut feeling and also perhaps a bit of beginner’s luck but that first breeding of Charlie to Sparks succeeded beyond our expectations. It produced two field trial champions, CH Blue Smoke and 4XCH/4XRU-CH Blue Streak and, essentially, laid the foundation of all that followed. Out of Streak, we got Blue Blossom and Blue Silk. Silk produced our two best sires, Blue Shaquille and Northwoods Blue Ox, and out of those males, we have current dams Chablis, Chardonnay and Carly, and Grits, a wonderful male.
Blue Silk (CH First Rate x CH Blue Streak, 1999) and her sons Northwoods Blue Ox (by CH Peace Dale Duke, 2007) and Blue Shaquille (by Houston, 2004)
Blue Chief was whelped in our second setter litter out of Sparks by CH First Rate in 1996. Chief was a dream come true for me—a big, tri-color male with incredible instincts. Betsy and I learned early that Chief was a pre-potent sire and we found an excellent cross in Blue Blossom. In fact we bred Chief to Blossom three times, our first “nick.”
Blue Chief (CH First Rate x Finder’s Keeper, 1996)
Chief’s reputation grew and he became popular as a stud around the country. He sired 32 litters and produced 11 dogs that won 86 field trial placements. His contribution to the breed is still evident in championship-caliber setters such as CH Conecuh Station’s Pressure Test.
Kevin Sipple, a school superintendent in Wisconsin, bought Elle, a Chief x Blossom female in 2006. He brought her to a grouse camp owned by friends and shared with several serious hunters. Kevin has since purchased another female setter from us and now his five hunting partners have bought our setters, bringing the total number of Northwoods dogs in camp to nine.
CH Dance Smartly (CH Northern Dancer x CH Vanidestine’s Rail Lady, 1991)
But Betsy and I don’t breed only English setters; we’ve carefully and selectively bred pointers, too. In 1997, we bred CH Dance Smartly, our liver-and-white female and first field trial champion, to CH Brooks Elhew Ranger. We kept a male named Dasher that Mark Fouts chose for Fallset Fate, his Elhew-bred female. Out of Dasher and Fate we got Prancer who produced Vixen, our current dam.
Bill and Gail Heig own Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. They offer grouse hunts to a select group of hunters and for more than 20 years, I have spent part of each fall working as a guide. Betsy and I will never forget the honor Bill bestowed on us in 1995 by placing the Minnesota Grouse Championship trophy Dancer had just won on the center of the lodge dining table.
Bill has bought many dogs—both setters and pointers—from us for use in his own guiding string. Over the years, guiding customers of his have become our clients and friends.
Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011)
Another pivotal litter was whelped in 2005. Dr. Paul Hauge is a dentist from Wisconsin who has long been involved in field trials and setters. Not only did Betsy and I campaign his excellent female CH Houston’s Belle but, with Paul, we planned and whelped Belle’s litters.
The sire of that 2005 litter was Gusty Blue, a grandson of our CH Blue Smoke. One of the female puppies was Houston’s Belle’s Choice. She became an exceptional producer, especially when bred to Blue Shaquill—our second “nick.” Choice’s genes, somewhere back in their pedigrees, are in every one of our setters.
Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) and his granddam Houston’s Belle’s Choice (Gusty Blue x CH Houston’s Belle, 2005) had a good day in the grouse woods with owner Bob Senkler.
A later breeding of Belle to CH Can’t Go Wrong produced an uncommon litter. Every male that was given a chance to compete in field trials won, including RU-CH Land Cruiser Scout and two champions, CH Ridge Creek Cody and CH Houston’s Blackjack.
Betsy and I bred to both Cody and Blackjack but all three have been used as sires by other kennels around the country including Grouse Ridge Kennels, Skydance Kennels, Waymaker Setters and Erin Kennels and Stables.
Even though we focus on setters and pointers used in the pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock, Betsy and I are proud that our dogs are bought by hunters throughout North America and in Hawaii and Japan, too. Dogs have been used by their owners—some of whom are professional guides—to hunt most every type of upland bird whether in the woods, mountains and desert or on the prairie.
Northwoods Prancer (Dashaway x Fallset Fate, 2008)
We are also proud to have produced 13 dogs that have won 23 American Field championships or classics with 16 runner-up placements. These titles have come at local, regional and national events, some with more than 80 dogs entered. Our dogs have won on grouse and woodcock, quail, prairie chicken, pheasant, sharptailed grouse and chukar partridge. They have won stakes in every age category and in walking and horseback trials. Importantly, our dogs have won for both the most experienced handlers and the least.
Our dogs have amassed a nice list of national and regional awards:
• Micheal Seminatore English Setter Cover Dog Award
• William Harnden Foster Award
• Elwin G Smith Setter Shooting Dog Award
• Bill Conlin Setter Shooting Dog Derby Award
• 5X Winner/3X R-U Minnesota/Wisconsin Shooting Dog of the Year
• 4X Winner/3X R-U Minnesota/Wisconsin Derby Dog of the Year
Northwoods Rum Rickey (Blue Shaquille x Snyder’s Liz, 2012) and Northwoods G (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013)
Our earliest litters had one clear goal—to breed dogs that could win grouse field trials. But when Betsy and I formed Northwoods Bird Dogs in 2002, we refined our focus. Without losing the athleticism, flair, poise and polish required of championship-level performances, we wanted to produce dogs that had it all—smart, natural wild bird dogs with excellent conformation, superior instincts, wonderful dispositions and that were good-looking, too.
Now, 20 years later, Betsy and I are breeding the seventh generation of setters and fifth generation of pointers. What a rewarding, gratifying journey.
CH Dance Smartly (CH Northern Dancer x CH Vanidestine’s Rail Lady, 1991 – 1999) was our first grouse champion and the beginning of our line of pointers.
Perhaps no other breed of bird dog has had more selective breeding based solely on their performance in the field than pointers. Even so, pointers are also excellent hunting companions and house pets.
In addition to our English setters, Jerry and I always have owned pointers. We’ve bred, trained, competed and lived with them for more than 20 years and are now producing our fifth generation.
Eight of the nine puppies Northwoods Vixen whelped on April 21, 2013, by CH Elhew G Force at seven weeks of age.
In the southern part of the country and in particular where bobwhite quail are sought, pointers far outnumber setters and other bird dogs. But in the north, there is much misinformation and bias against them. New clients, friends and others invariably ask two questions: Don’t they run too big? Do they make good pets?
Don’t they run too big?
This bad rap likely comes from field trial competitions where pointers dominate. Even though setter Shadow Oak Bo won the three-hour National Championship in 2013 and 2014, pointers hugely outnumber setters at the high end of horseback shooting dog and all age competition and have since the early 1900s.
Representing the third generation of pointers, Northwoods Prancer (Dashaway x Fallset Fate, whelped March 22, 2008) points with high head and confidence. Jeff Hintz moves in for the shot. Photo by Chris Mathan.
But our pointers—whether male or female—hunt the cover at the proper distance. On the prairie, they open up but in the grouse woods or southern piney woods, they hunker down. Most importantly, our dogs handle easily and want to go with the hunter.
Do they make good pets?
Absolutely! Our pointers have two speeds—one for the field and one for the house—and they are smart enough to know the difference. Again, whether male or female, they are wonderful pets. Some traits are intangible, some tangible and others are just plain interesting.
Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, whelped April 17, 2011) is a sweet, calm dog in the house and loves to lay in the warmth of the sun.
• sweet natured
• even tempered
• independent but never aloof
• very easy to house-break
• rarely bark (except to guard the house)
• natural tendency to retrieve
• love to lay in the sun, even on a hot summer day
• can seemingly “hold it” for hours on cold, blustery days
• short, stiff hair is shed twice per year and can be difficult to remove from furniture and clothing
Dashaway (CH Brooks Elhew Ranger x CH Dance Smartly, 1997 – 2010) had extraordinary strength, grace, ability and personality. He represents our second generation.
Beautiful, powerful, graceful, cool.
Besides endearing personalities, our pointers have all shared appearance and performance traits in the field and on point.
Our pointers are beautiful with nicely shaped heads and sharp eyes that don’t miss anything. Most are evenly masked. Some have clean white bodies while others are ticked and have body spots.
Their conformation is beautiful, too, and they move with power, strength, flair, grace and agility. On point, they are breath-taking. Posture is lofty, intense, cool and composed. Jerry and I once found Dancer, ankle-deep in snow, 20 minutes after time at a championship in Gladwin, Michigan. Even though shivering, she stood tall and staunch and had that grouse pinned.
Flies have landed on fourth-generation Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, whelped April 17, 2011) but they don’t bother her composure and posture on point.
Our line of pointers.
Jerry and I strive to breed dogs that have it all—talent, brains, personality, conformation and looks. Even though our final decisions are joint and mutually agreed on, Jerry deserves credit for masterminding our breeding program. Through travels for training and field trial competition, he has a vast network of friends in the bird dog world and talks to them often. He studies canine genetics, anatomy and personality and his stack of reading materials always includes bird dog magazines. Plus, he has a photographic memory for pedigrees.
The foundation of our pointers is the Elhew line which was conceived by the late Bob Wehle and practiced for more than 50 years. His goal was to breed a dog that not only performed well in the field but also trained easily, had pleasing conformation and the personality to be good companions. Bob usually stayed within his line but continually looked for outcrosses that “nicked” with his dogs to improve what he had.
We also use Bob’s approach. We stay in our line with its strong Elhew background but constantly look for outside pointers that successfully nick with ours.
Pesto (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, whelped April 21, 2013) is the fifth generation of pointers bred by Northwoods Bird Dogs. She exhibits all the best traits–style, confidence, conformation, intelligence, talent, temperament and looks.
These two dogs–a pointer and a setter–have 14 championships and runner-up championships between them in horseback and cover dog venues.
Much attention—too much, in my opinion—is focused on the tail of a bird dog. I refer not to what the tail indicates about a dog’s thoughts or emotions but rather how the tail looks when a dog is on point and, in particular, how straight and vertical it is.
“Poker straight,” “I like a straight stick” or “My dog points with a 12 o’clock tail” are familiar phrases used by those fixated on tails. Usually, they are inexperienced or demand little of their dogs. I recently spoke with a successful handler of horseback shooting dogs about a prospect. In our entire conversation, he never once asked how the dog’s tail looked on point.
In my experience, when bird dogs are used to pursue wild birds, whether in the open, the grouse woods or the southern piney woods, birds are rarely plentiful. In addition, the terrain can be rugged and the conditions tough. Most of the dog’s time is spent in the search for game. In these places it’s not the tail that finds birds.
On a dark, damp day in October, the pointer lead my guiding clients and me from grouse to grouse to grouse.
Instead, what finds birds is:
1) intelligence combined with experience that chooses the most likely places;
2) an efficient gait that allows the search to continue over long periods of time through punishing cover and circumstances;
3) a superb nose that draws the dog towards the faintest scent of birds and allows it to locate and point accurately.
Finally, at the conclusion of all that work and for a brief time, I see the dog on point. I notice its posture, intensity and focus on bird location. And, oh yeah, I look at the tail. Very often and especially under trying field conditions, the tail isn’t “poker straight” or “12 o’clock.”
And it doesn’t have to be. The tail needs to be good enough so it doesn’t detract from the essential qualities that brought the dog to that place. On the other hand, if the dog has the intelligence, the gait, the nose and a beautiful tail, then that’s like the cherry on an ice cream sundae.
The setter has it all–intelligence, gait, nose and perfect tail……like a cherry on a sundae.
Blue Shaquille (Houston x Blue Silk) on the prairie of North Dakota. Photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
On average, the most likely division is one whereby half the chromosomes in any gamete (reproductive cell) come from the sire and half from the dam but all possibilities will exist ranging from 100% of paternal origin to 100% maternal.
~ Malcolm B. Willis, Genetics of the Dog, 1989
Averages. What do they mean?
Weather forecasters, statisticians, sports announcers and insurance underwriters all make decisions—some of which are extremely important—based on averages. They are a slick way to slice and dice large sums of data in order to draw conclusions, theorize, forecast and make assumptions. But they might mean nothing when it comes to a specific occurrence or individual.
The “average” July day is sunny and 84 but what does that matter if your wedding reception is held under a tent due to a downpour and temperatures is the mid 60s? Or if LeBron James “averages” 25 points per game but only scores 12 in Game 7 and the Heat lose, his average becomes a nonfactor.
In the dog breeding world, if half the pups in a litter are more like the sire and the other half are more like the dam, then they “average” out to have inherited about half of their traits from each parent. But if the dam was mentally unstable or had a major fault, it certainly matters which parent the individual pup took after!
Most tools used by dog breeders—things like pedigrees, coefficient of inbreeding and percentage of blood calculations—all rely on averages. They show what genetic traits could be carried by certain animals. Those tools provide a place to start, but once a specific dog is standing in front of you, those averages cease to matter. Now we have an individual with its inherited attributes, strengths and weaknesses. It might be similar to others in the litter…but it isn’t the same. Each dog is unique and could be more like a parent, a grandparent or possibly even a great-grandparent.
Choosing which individuals—not averages—to breed will make or break a breeding program. First-hand knowledge and careful evaluation about a specific dog’s traits are crucial.
…the distinction between a good and bad specimen in the canine world is conformation.
~McDowell Lyon, The Dog In Action
Good conformation in a dog is highly valuable but essential for a working dog. It allows a bird dog to perform its job effortlessly and gracefully. It provides stamina for long periods of work. It endows the dog with durability for many years of service. Also conformation that is pleasing to the eye can be appreciated even when a dog isn’t working.
Northwoods Nirvana displays ideal conformation for strength and endurance.
Two characteristics form the foundation of good conformation: balance and symmetry; angulation of the front and rear limb assemblies.
Balance and symmetry refer to a dog having proportional size and structure from front to rear, top to bottom and between the individual parts. Some examples of improper balance and symmetry are:
- heavy fronts combined with light rears (a common fault in setters)
- heavy bone without corresponding musculature
- overly large heads
- short necks
- long bodies with short legs
Northwoods Lager shows how the parts should fit together.
Correct angulation provides the propulsion for the dog which gives it strength, speed and stamina. These angles work like levers, multiplying the result for a given amount of effort. It is critical that both assemblies are angulated in unison and don’t work against each other. Examples of improper angulation include:
- straight shoulder blades which cause the front legs to hit the ground too hard
- straight rear legs which cause a reduction in drive and speed
- over-angulated rear legs that interfere with the front legs when in motion, also called crabbing
Northwoods Parmigiano displays good shoulder angulation and balance between front and rear assemblies.
A well-performing dog is the result of good conformation.
~ Robert G. Wehle
At Northwoods Bird Dogs, Betsy and I apply a singular conformation standard to both our pointers and setters. We adopted it from legendary pointer breeder Robert Wehle.
These are the details we look for:
- square, balanced head
- long neck and smooth shoulders with angular blades that are well laid back
- feet should be tight with the dog standing well up on the pad
- front legs should be straight with a medium-deep chest (as opposed to wide)
- back should be slightly arched and have strong, developed loins
- well-tucked stomach
- well-angulated hind legs
- hind quarters should be square and straight
- tail should be set and carried high
For more information about conformation and locomotion in dogs, read McDowell Lyon’s excellent book, The Dog In Action.
When Betsy and I sit down to discuss litters we’d like to produce, it’s a fun process but it also takes hard work. We look at individual sires and dams. We also look at possible combinations of traits, characteristics and tendencies of those dogs, both in the field and in the kennel.
We also evaluate litters already produced. While appraising one dog from a litter gives us some idea of what its parents can produce, an even better option is to evaluate an entire litter. Then we can truly get a feel for the preponderance and/or scarcity of the various traits we’re breeding for.
We’re fortunate to train many dogs we’ve bred and this summer has been fantastic. We’ve looked at offspring from seven litters—from first-year dogs and puppies to three-year-olds.
Six of seven puppies from our January 2011 litter by Northwoods Chablis x Northwoods Blue Ox litter are here for early training. Betsy and I kept two and four are client-owned. We’re getting a good look at what first-time dam Chablis is passing on. We’re very pleased with our initial impressions—all are naturally staunch on point, back and, to some degree, retrieve. They have a strong urge to hunt for birds and are beautiful on point with lofty posture and high, straight tails.
Last year the breeding of Houston’s Belle’s Choice x Northwoods Blue Ox produced seven puppies and all have been in for training. Again, four are client-owned, Dan Stadin, the man who works with us, owns one and we own two. This litter is being steadied to wing and/or shot and is finishing out with great character and intensity. It should be an exciting fall for these one-year-old dogs and their owners.
Parmigiano Ox x Choice (2010) male
In addition to those two, this summer we’re training offspring from the following litters:
2011: Northwoods Prancer x CH Westfall’s Black Ice
2010: CH Houston’s Belle x Northwoods Blue Ox
2009: CH Houston’s Belle x CH Magic’s Rocky Belleboa
2009: Houston’s Belle’s Choice x Blue Shaquille
2008: Old Glory Bluebell x CH Magic’s Rocky Belleboa