Many years ago, not knowing a thing about hunting, I asked my brother-in-law a very novice question about his Lab: “So does he help you?” To this he replied “Yeah. He points.” and laughed with a buddy of his.
I had absolutely no idea what that meant, and I just kinda smiled and carried on. What is pointing? Is that really a thing? Was he making a joke and that isn’t a thing? If pointing is a thing, do Labradors point?
A few days later this interaction crossed my mind again, so I started looking into it and I quickly realized what I missed. It’s so controversial, I figured there’s probably other people wondering something similar. So, I thought I’d share what I learned.
So, do Labradors point?
Yes, there is in fact a subset of Labradors that do point. In 1991, the American Pointing Labrador Association was founded to help improve the specific line of Labrador. There is quite a bit of opposition to the idea that Labradors can be pointers. Deniers often cite the quality of the point in their dismissal of recognizing the line.
It became very clear to me after understanding the controversial nature of suggesting that a Labrador Retriever “points” that my brother-in-law was making a hunting joke. Though we never discussed it again, I’m assuming his Lab simply flushes and retrieves. If those terms are new to you, do not worry! I have taken the time to explain those and some other foundational things about pointing that will explain the traditionalists view on why Labs are not true pointers. Let’s dig in!
What Are the Types of Hunting Dogs?
There are three primary categories when it comes to hunting dogs:
The primary purpose of pointing dogs is the ability to locate and tip-off bird hunters to the exact location of game birds. Examples of Pointing breeds were covered above.
Flushing breeds are different from Pointers in that they behave once they have identified game. They do not gracefully approach the game and pause to give the hunter time to approach and prepare. Instead, once they identify the presence of a game bird they immediately pounce at it in an attempt to send the bird into flight.
The appropriate strategy, and therefore breed to bring along, is determined by the game being sought. Some game run from hunters and will immediately go into flight once they sense danger. Examples of these birds are pheasants and quail.
This is the category that Labradors, hence Labrador Retrievers, are most recognized in. Retriever breeds are bred to have soft mouths for the purpose of not damaging the game that they retrieve. It is actually an extremely important trait, as failing to handle the game with care can result in them being inedible. Other breeds that fall into this category are Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to name a few.
What Does it Mean When A Dog Points?
Pointing is a physical stance taken when the location of game is identified. The dog will come to a complete halt and lean it’s nose forward in the direction of the bird. It will remain completely still to allow a hunter to approach the bird get within feet of it. The purpose is to improve the accuracy of the shot for the hunter.
How Did Pointing Start?
According to Wikipedia, pointing can be traced back to the 1650s in England. It is believed they may have originated in Spain. The pointing breeds were used most often by hunters catching game by net as opposed to using guns. Given the importance of not spooking the game using only a net, pointing breeds were bred with great discipline over time.
How Do You Get A Lab To Point?
The argument that traditionalists typically make is that Labrador “Retrievers” are actually retrieving dogs. This takes the conversation from being more general in nature about practical activities into a more scientific one. There is generally not much denial of the fact that Labs can be taught to perform other hunting activities that seem to replicate pointing and flushing. This goes for the reverse as well, with non-retrieving breeds having enough intelligence to “retrieve” the wounded game.
Genetically and instinctively, Labs are retrievers and perform that function better than non-retrieving breeds. They have what is known as “soft-mouths.” This results in them carrying the hunted game in a very cautious manner and not clenching down on them. This is what they were bred to do, and they do it fantastically.
The same applies to more traditionally accepted Pointing breeds. There is a harshly judged “form” that really separates the century-bred breeds from the imposters. This form takes into consideration the dog’s physical position, it’s position relative to the game, and the sequence and timing of the act in its entirety.
Keeping that in mind, Labrador Retrievers can be trained to “point”, but many reports accuse them of having improper form and execution due to it not being a natural instinct. This would be similar to a scenario if a non-retrieving dog were to be trained to bring back game, but did not exercise the same care that Labradors do in the process.
Pointing training can be found on the APLA website, and you should expect to spend well over $1,000 just to get started.
Best Pointing Dog Breeds
If a pointing dog is what you are after, there are a handful of breeds that consistently rank as top choices among hunting professionals. Even the AKC recognizes a couple of the breeds as well. Here are some of the more popular ones:
- Germain Shorthaired Pointer – these guys make the list of excellent all around hunting dogs. They have been bred for pointing for over 200 years.
- Vizsla – also referred to as the Hungarian Pointer, this breed has excellent pointing ability and is very trainable.
- Brittany – the American Brittany made the AKC’s list as well as many others. According to the American Brittany Club, this breed is effective on both land and water, and has an extremely keen nose.
- English Setter – one of the most popular breeds in the AKC registry for hunting, this breed is versatile in different terrains which can expand your breadth in terms of location.
My hope is that it is clear why this is such a hot button topic. Simply answering the question “Do Labradors point?” is not enough, as it can easily be argued both ways. Understanding the perspective from traditionalists is important. It provides the ability to respect the preservation efforts around the classification and labeling of pointing breeds. Considering the practicality of how we use hunting dogs of all types is key. It should be easy to see how strong of an argument both sides have.
If you prefer the traditionalist view on pointing or are potentially going to be training your for competitive show, then you may be better off considering another breed. Other breeds can provide the advantage of having natural instincts for pointing as part of their genetic makeup. If you are simply looking for an all-around good hunting companion that is trainable to perform the three vital hunting tasks we covered, then the Labrador is likely a great fit for you!