Margaret Cotton

Versatile Hunting Dog Test Assn (NZ)



European hunting breeds, now commonly known as Versatile Hunting Dogs or HPR’s (hunt, point, retrievers) were developed to carry out the duties of the specialist Pointer, flusher, retriever, and trailing hound. Whilst not themselves specialists in the facets of a hunting dogs work, they enabled the average family to own one multi-use working gundog.


A few of these breeds, like the Vizsla and Fousek, are very old. Many of the German breeds were developed in the late 1800’s.

One common theme in all these dogs is their docked tail. The tail has the fine end removed; usually 1/3 to 1/2 of the length is docked. Not for them the short stubby look. Generally these breeds sport a particularly long tail, the tail tapers to a fine tip with little flesh covering and little coat. This thin end is easily damaged whilst working, hunting for game, in New Zealand scrubby ground cover and trees.

photo copyright Craig Koshyk


All the various Versatile hunting dog’s work encompasses the open field, marsh, scrub covered hills, riverbeds, and forest. A particular characteristic of these breeds is the use of their tail to indicate they have scented game. This lashing/wagging tells the astute hunter what type of game the dog is scenting, how close it is. Unfortunately for the dog, an undocked tail takes a right hammering on the scrub, gorse, manuka, matagouri, pines and willow. The undocked tail has more force in the lash, it can be easily split at the tip. Once the tip splits it resplits over and over again. These tails do not heal quickly.


To compare the tail of these breeds to a Labrador or other retriever is incorrect. The Labrador’s tail has a fat padding and thicker dense coat. The Labrador was developed for work after the shot, mainly in more open areas and wetlands, it is much more a retriever of shot game than a finder of game to shoot. To compare the Versatile hunting dog’s tail to that of a Setter is also incorrect. The Setters were developed to work more open country, fast wide ranging dogs specialising in upland bird work. The Setters tail also has coat cover and feathering.

Pointers are also open country working gundogs originally bred to simply find and point while a more specialist retriever was sent to retrieve, those that are used in our bush today as a Versatile gundog also suffer tail damage.

Spaniels, in particular English Springer Spaniels, seem to be the only gundog with a reasonable hair cover on the tail that can suffer tail damage if undocked. The spaniel has a furious wagging of the tail when working, and in particular when on scent of game. These dogs are most often working scrub and thickets, flushing game from heavy cover. In Sweden it is reported the English Springer working gundog is suffering tail damage with expensive repeat veterinary treatment and even amputations.

GSP hunting in fallen trees to flush out pheasant

When tail docking was banned in Sweden the German shorthaired pointer club undertook a study of tail damage in several litters of pups. As the dogs aged, the tail damage became more common and more serious. Suffice to say that most European countries allow the legal docking of working Versatile hunting dogs.

You don’t see many of the Versatile hunting dogs in the New Zealand show ring. They are most appreciated as companion hunting dogs. In New Zealand we have ideal hunting conditions for these breeds; they are used to hunt rabbit & hare, ducks & geese, quail & pheasant, used to indicate deer presence and to track wounded game.

The ground trailing abilities of these dogs helps in the retrieval of game in heavy New Zealand cover. These dogs are working in the NZ high country, river flats, amongst willow, gorse, matagouri, manuka, pine and native forest as well as the cover along waterways, ponds and swamps.

Vizsla has retrieved bird from cover


What will be the outcome if these breeds cannot have dock tails? The NZVA is not considering the potential for tail injuries in working gundogs. Will the high cost of treatment for tail injuries put people off hunting? What a waste for breeds which live for the hunt. You will never see in the show ring the style, alertness, desire and movement that hunters view in their dogs working game.


Why hasn’t the NZVA taken a lead from overseas and made provision in their Bill to retain docking of working gundogs? Do they care more for their ideals than they do for the dogs? Is it a case of being kind to be cruel?



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Updated 30th May 2004