The Do-Everything Dog
An old-time Missouri quail hunter knew only one breed of dog: the English pointer. He may have heard of English setters, but it's doubtful he would have known a German shorthair from a German chocolate cake.Today, quail cover is less abundant and smaller, so a wide-ranging, hard-running dog like the English pointer usually isn't necessary in modern field situations. However, they still dominate field trial events and are still favored by traditionalists. Because of the changing landscape of the American hunting scene, however, versatile dogs are in vogue. Some of them are breeds that didn't even exist a few years back.
A "versatile" hunting dog, as defined by the National Versatile Hunting Dog Association, is "a dog that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water."
The two most popular versatile breeds, as determined by registration with the NAVHDA, are Brittany spaniels and German shorthairs. The dogs are called "versatile" because it's in their heritage to hunt game, and not just birds.
In America, versatility defines a bird dog that will water retrieve, as well as hunt dead game. In Europe, it's one that not only works birds, but also works rabbits, deer and other game, and will blood trail and bark treed or found game.
Missouri has a long tradition of hounds that trail foxes, coyotes and raccoons, and they do it better than most versatile breed dogs. Running deer with dogs is illegal in Missouri, so the ability or disposition to do so would be a faulty criterion for versatility here.
The definition of what breeds qualify as "versatile" is subjective. Some include Brittanies and German shorthairs, but others think those are in a "popular breed" category with pointers and setters and shouldn't be included as versatile breeds.
The NAVDH, established in 1967, originally divided versatile dogs into three coat categories. They were Shorthaired, which included the German Shorthairs, Vizsla and Wiemaraner; Wirehaired, which included the German Wirehaired Pointer, Pudelpointer, Pointing Griffon, Spinone and German Rough Haired Pointer; and Long Haired, which included the Brittany, German Long Haired Pointer and the Large and Small Munsterlander Pointers.
Now, the NAVDH lumps versatile breeds together into a compact list that includes: German Shorthaired Pointer, German Longhaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Vizsla, Wirehaired Vizsla, Small Munsterlander, Large Munsterlander, Brittany, Pudelpointer and Wirehaired