The long version of how Lisa and I decided to get Léo can be found on my blog. The short version is that I shared some photos I saw on a Facebook group for the Picardy Spaniel and wrote If you've ever considered getting a Picardy pup, now might be the time! Check out these photos of pups from the first litter whelped in the UK and try to resist.
And the more I looked at the photos, the more I felt my own resistance fading. At one point I had to step away from the computer to plead with Lisa,: Talk me down dear, help me step away from the edge. I fully expected her to provide me with some solid, logical reasons why I should not get a pup at this time. But instead of being reasonable and helping me resist, she said: A new pup!? I'll go get my purse...
So, despite my best efforts, the first person to give into temptation was...me! The photos below are the ones that pushed me, and Lisa, over the edge.
When asked how the first litter of Picardy Spaniels ever whelped in the UK came to be, breeder Ade Maurice wrote:
"Inca (Ithaque de Passemarais) was the second of our two bitches that I brought in from France from the renowned breeders Natalie De Passemarais Stalter & Michel Stalter in November 2013 with the assistance of Eric Chivot.
A decision was made with Lorena Gleiß, the owner of Justus, that we should mate him with Inca. Justus is an outstanding dog who's German owner Lorena does a fantastic job with whether working, trialling or showing, she should be very proud and rightfully so. I take my hat off to both her and Justus!
We mated on day 13 of Inca's season in France at the home of Claire and Alexis Josse near Amiens on 3/10/2015 and a litter of 10 beautiful pups with 6 males and 4 females were born on 3/12/2015 the first of the breed born in the UK.
The first born was a female and was named "Lorena" after Justus's owner (it being an "L" year in France in 2015) and we kept her here. Of the remainder Leonidas went to Denmark with Ingvild Holvik, Leroi went to Canada with Craig Koshyk and Lolita went to James Dean in Iowa, USA. The rest are all in the UK. Many thanks to Sheila Hackelton for putting up with me and this folly!!"
Léo was born in December, and that meant he'd be ready to go to his new home in February. But since his new home is in Manitoba where February is colder than a polar bear's coin purse, we decided to leave him in the UK until things warmed up. Fortunately super-trainer Julian Apps agreed to take Léo for a few months and help Léo get an absolutely fantastic start to his hunting career. While with Julian, super-photographer Sarah Caldecott dropped by one day and took some awesome photos of our boy having fun in the field.
Even before he arrived in Canada, Léo had already stolen the heart of a pretty Canadian lady, his flying partner Lauralee. And upon arrival, his welcome party soon devolved into an absolute love-fest. More photos of the first few weeks here.
Léo's first trip across the border to the south was to run in a NAVHDA Natural Ability test near Fargo. And as you can probably tell by the smile on my face in the photo below, he ACED IT!! Léo was not only the first Picardy Spaniel to ever run in a NAVHDA test, but he earned a perfect score of 112 out of 112. And as he did so, he turned a lot of heads and gained a lot of interest for the breed among the hard core hunters that were there. Lots more photos and details here.
Léo's first wild duck retrieve was on September 1st, the opening day of the 2016 waterfowl season. I knocked down a plump mallard into a stubble field and Léo fetched it to hand, hardly a feather out of place. His first point on wild game was a week later, on the opening day of the upland gamebird season. He pointed a pair of sharptailed grouse... and I promptly missed both.
From then on, every time we took Léo to the field, forest or water, we would see him make huge strides in every aspect of his performance. His search went from the random crazy run of a puppy to a bold, forward search of a top-notch gundog. His points became more intense and he started nailing them at greater distances. He ended up fetching everything from snipe to giant Canada geese with the softest of mouths and I could not be happier with the overall ease of handling him.
Here's a list of some of the firsts for Léo in his first season ever. I should add that not only are they firsts for Léo, but many of them are likely to be firsts for the breed in North America.
First points: woodcock, snipe, ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse, prairie chicken and pheasant. He also pointed pen-raised chukar partridge at his NA test.
First retrieves: woodcock, snipe, ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse, prairie chicken, pheasant, mallard, teal, gadwall, pintail, Canada goose and Snow goose (white and blue).
First encounters of the nasty kind: skunk, porcupine.
First hunts with other dogs: Souris (Weimaraner), Uma (Pont-Audemer Spaniel), Kolby (Braque du Bourbonnais), Sula (French Spaniel).
First time hunting in: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota.
In the field: Léo hunted an average of 4 days a week for over 3 months this year, and after every hunt we drove home with big smiles on our faces. Not only is he an easy-to-handle, eager-to-please gundog, he has a ton of drive and natural ability. At less than a year old he was able to handle some of the most difficult-to-hunt wild birds in some of the most challenging terrain in the world like an experienced veteran. I am convinced that Léo has all the potential to become a world class gundog. His only real challenge will be to somehow overcome my meagre training skills.
In the house: The words that come to mind when I think of Léo at home are calm, easy-going and friendly. He rarely barks, he never whines and he's never met a person or dog that he didn't like. In fact Léo has such a calm, friendly way about him that the folks at his doggy day care sometimes put him alone with dogs that may be a bit shy or overwhelmed and just need a buddy to help them settle down. If he wasn't so busy hunting, I am sure Léo could become a canine therapist.
Conformation: I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert in canine conformation. All I know is that dogs should have 4 legs (one on each corner) two eyes (side by side) and a tail (above the bum). Beyond that, the finer points of shoulder layback, toplines and craniofacial axes are beyond me. That said, several friends who are experts in canine conformation have told me that Léo is very well put together and moves very nicely.
His only obvious conformation fault is a minor one. His coat has some curl to it, but it may not remain that way. It turns out that the coat on Picardies can change a lot as they grow. When they are born, the coat is mainly white with patches of brown and spots of tan. As they grow, the brown "invades" the lighter areas and the tan points become more defined. Léo's coat changed that way, but it also went from flat laying as a newborn to quite curly at 4 months of age. Over the last three months it has changed yet again. It is now mainly straight and flat laying but has some cool waves along the back and curls around the neck and on the ears. So what will it end up being when he is all grown up? My guess is something similar to his father's coat, with a few more waves or curls. And I'm OK with that, Justus is a very handsome dog!