The Huntaway


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The French have their poodles and the British their bulldogs, so what’s the official dog of New Zealand? Frank Film goes in search.

Hamish Scannell doesn’t have a favourite dog. The Mt White Station shepherd says it “depends on the day.”

He’s certain about one thing, he couldn’t do his job without them.  Like most New Zealand shepherds, Scannell and his dogs are a package deal. He owns a mix of heading and huntaway dogs.

Heading dogs are typically border collies, a breed of Scottish origin. The huntaway though, is uniquely New Zealand, acknowledged by the national Kennel Club as being the country’s only indigenous dog breed.

Frank Film’s latest episode in its Changing South series meets Brian Harris, New Zealand Kennel Club/Dogs NZ President, who’s been pushing for the huntaway to be recognised as a breed internationally, though admits he could be in for a long wait.

The earliest, discovered mention of the huntaway as a stand-alone breed is from an advertisement in an 1884 edition of the Otago Daily Times.

Harris says huntaways were bred by New Zealand farmers, specifically for New Zealand’s topography. “It was too hard for the border collie … we needed a dog that was stronger and more robust.”

He says early farmers bred collies with labradors, fox hounds, rottweilers and other breeds.. There are now more than 30,000 registered huntaways in New Zealand, second only in popularity to the labrador.

While the breed is becoming more common as a pet, the huntaway is quintessentially a working dog, able to cover many kilometres a day across rugged terrain.

Mt White Manager, Richard Smith, says when herding livestock, heading dogs “bring ‘em to you” while huntaways “take ‘em away.”

The huntaway’s noise is its main attribute, a bark ideally suited to push mobs of stock up and over rugged, hilly country.

Shepherds, Scannell and Jared Kelynack at Mt White, say their huntaways are extremely loyal and wouldn’t take commands from anyone else.  A well-bred dog can fetch several thousand dollars.

Banks Peninsula huntaway breeder and farmer, Brian Wilson, is selling four huntaway puppies. He’s keeping one that’s he’s “taken a fancy to.”

Frank Film meets the breeder, the shepherds, the farmers, the dog trialists, and the dogs we can proudly call our own.