Could there really exist the perfect dog? One that is an all-around fantastic hunting dog? A canine that is not only an affectionate and playful family pet, but who is also handsome enough to enter the show ring… and win? Impossible, you say? Well, no, but he is unique. Let me introduce this dog to you:
The German Shorthaired Pointer is a sporting dog par excellence, having achieved the distinction of earning more than 100+ Dual Championships since the 1950′s. Only one other breed, the Brittany Spaniel, can claim this honor.
Development of the German Shorthaired Pointer began in Germany – logically enough – in about 1860, or perhaps a little earlier. Until about the middle of the 19th century, hunting privileges had been reserved for the titled and wealthy, who kept large kennels of various kinds of hunting dogs, each with his special purpose.
But with the advent of social change, the sport became available to men of more humble circumstances, and they needed an all-around hunting dog of moderate speed, excellent nose, pointing, flushing and retrieving ability; one who could work closely as well, for this new type of hunter traveled on foot and had no need for far-ranging hounds whose quarry might be miles away.
Well that is quite a tall order to say the least! But patient and imaginative German breeders – to whom we owe so many of our finest sporting and working dogs – embarked on the undertaking with their customary optimism and zeal.
The Pointer Who Started It All
Modern authorities disagree on all but one point: the basic stock was founded upon an Old Spanish Pointer, then very popular in Germany. This fellow was a large-boned, rough-coated, liver-and-white canine with a broad head, and – most important of all – the instinct to pause momentarily before flushing game.
His faults seem to have been a poor nose, a sluggish gait and a surly disposition. It is generally conceded that the Hounds of St. Hubert, which were described by George Turberville in 1607:
“The black hounds originally came from St. Hubert’s Abbey in Ardene. These are the hounds which the Abbots of St. Hubert’s have always kept in honor and remembrance of the Saint, whereupon we may conceive that all good huntsmen shall follow them into Paradise.”
According to historian Edward C. Ash, “these dogs were found mighty of body with short legs, and slow; the bloodhounds of this color prove good, especially those which are very dark and coal black.”
It has also been suggested that the developing breed was crossed with the bloodhound, the foxhound, the setter and almost certainly with the English Pointer to improve the nose; but since no accurate records were kept prior to 1900, and hot dispute over the exact origin abounds, it is impossible to state with certainty all crosses that were tried.
Breeding Gone Wrong
At first the experimental breeding produced some haphazard – even grotesque – results. The breeders themselves were secretive and at odds with each other. There were those who stubbornly pursued perfection of head and ear, others who strove for leaner bodies and longer legs, and still others who were concerned with coat color.
Historians of the breed credit a Hanoverian prince named Albrecht zu Salms-Brauenfels with a major role in the animal’s development. It was he, who, in the midst of the confusion, counseled the breeders to stress performance rather than beauty; to breed only the dogs with the desired hunting abilities, predicting that, in time, the lineaments would take care of themselves. The principle of “form follows function” is true in any anatomical physiological development: the body will adapt to the uses to which it is put.
Note: It is interesting to note that this theory closely parallels the thinking of Charles Darwin, whose writings first appeared in 1858.
This excellent advice was ignored by many; but those who were wise enough to follow Prince Albrecht’s suggestions began to produce the very promising forerunner of the German Shorthaired Pointer. Subsequent inbreeding and linebreeding resulted in the dog we know today – a first-rate sporting animal.
Welcome To The American Kennel Club
In 1883 a Shorthair – Nero von Hopenrade – distinguished himself in the German Derby. Then, several decades later the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America was formed in 1930, and the breed was accepted by the American Kennel Club that same year.
The modern Shorthair weights 60 to 80 pounds and stands 23 to 25 inches at the shoulder. He is a compact animal, with a straight, short back, a deep chest, substantial neck and broad skull. His head is almost rectangular in profile with very little stop, although his brow line creates the impression of a stop.
He has broad, high-set, close-handing ears, nicely rounded at the tip. His coat is short, smooth, and hard, and may be solid liver-and-white, or speckled liver-and-white with solid liver head and ears. He has large nostrils, a square muzzle, and his nose is slightly darker than his coat. His tail is docked to two-fifths its natural length.
A Great Personality
In personality, he is cheerful and eager; he wriggles all over with pleasure at greeting those he loves – and he is quick to accept visitors. He is not a guard dog, but will bark at the approach of strangers until he is satisfied they are welcomed by the family – then he will make friends readily. He is intensely curious. He has been known to recover lost objects, such as a slipper, a glove, or even a camera.
In character, the Shorthair is an enthusiastic and obedient aide to the foot-hunter of small game. He is happiest and most useful when in his natural element – the field – energetically and efficiently using both sight and scent in finding the best-camouflaged bird or animal in the most dense brush.
Hunting Is Where This Breed Is Most Happy
He especially excels in hunting quail, pheasant or duck. The well-trained Shorthair will stand at point a few feet from the quarry until the hunter reaches shooting range; he will then advance slowly – but inexorably – until the bird has been driven into the air, and he will then retrieve – from land or water – the hunter’s prize.
He works closely and quietly, getting his scent from the air – although he can, when necessary, track from spoor, and is used successfully for upland game shooting as well.
He is keen and willing and seemingly tireless. He goes about his job with a workmanlike concentration, and is so determined to accomplish his task that he has been known to retrieve game from trees! With these attributes, then, it is not surprising that he can readily learn the exercises necessary to win Field Championships.
Shining In The Show Ring
What is remarkable, however, is his fine record in the show ring, where an entirely different set of talents is required. It is a tribute to the integrity of his breeders and to the skill and patience of his handlers that so often the very same dog who has won a Field Championship has walked off with Best in Show as well, earning the rare and coveted title of Dual Champion.
Reputable breeders deplore the practice noted in recent years of sacrificing field ability by inbreeding particularly beautiful specimens to get show dogs or, conversely, neglecting acceptable conformation to get field ability alone.
Such irresponsible breeding can cost the Shorthair its Dual Championship potential, and negate the painstaking work of those who developed the breed. With the Shorthair’s growing popularity, this is a real danger, presenting, as it does, the temptation to make quick profits by prolific but indiscriminate breeding.
German Shorthaired Pointers Are Not For Everyone
Despite his proficiency in the field and in competition, the Shorthair is not for everyone. The ebullience which makes him the bane of the man who wants a quiet chair-side companion.
According to the opinion from expert breeders, the person who should not consider the breed is the man or woman who wants a beautiful backyard animal but is unwilling to build a suitable dog run; or the owner who has neither the time nor the inclination to give this highly energetic fellow some useful work to do.
Normal home training of the young Shorthair should begin early, just as with any newly acquired pup; he will be toilet trained, restrained from undesirable behavior, and introduced to collar and lead as readily as any other breed, for he has in desire to please; but training for work in the field is a very different matter, and must not be rushed. Here the aim is to capitalize on the Shorthair’s natural instincts, not repress them.
The very young puppy will joyously and spontaneously flush and pursue any furred or feathered creature, but he soon learns that he cannot catch a bird on the wing, and quite sensibly concludes that he must approach more cautiously. Pointing is a natural instinct with the Shorthair.
A dog is considered to have stood at point when he halts in his tracks, all alertness and keen concentration, and gazes intently at the quarry, leaning forward slightly, and remaining motionless from extended tail to lowered nose. If he raises a foreleg, so much the better – and most Shorthairs do; but this gesture is not the criterion.
Such a dog must be carefully bred and carefully trained, if he is to retain his natural love of sport throughout his life. He must introduced to swimming, seeking, and finding and retrieving games. He is ready for this introduction at about three months; but he must never be pushed into serious work or chastised for errors until he is mature and fully prepared for work in the field.
It may take the dog a year to reach this stage of development, or it may take as long as two years. The perceptive trainer will know when his particular animal can accept commands and corrections. For instance, if, on point, a dog is given the command “Hold!” and if he thereupon tucks his tail and acts afraid, the experienced trainer will realize he is pushing the dog too hard too soon.
The pup’s not yet ready, and the trainer will wait a little longer, meanwhile continuing with the games – for he will not want to destroy the dog’s eagerness for the sport, his willingness, his initiative, or his joy in doing his job.
Thought the Shorthair is hardy and reliable when properly handled, he is sensitive and can be permanently ruined if you attempt to force a high-spirited, adventurous pup to perform beyond his level of maturity. But the time will come, soon enough.
A Word About The Prevention Of Gun-Shyness
The same principle applies here as with the other aspects of the Shorthair’s training. The key is gradual, gentle introduction to the sound of a shot, almost without the puppy’s being aware of it. While he is engrossed in sniffing out game – or better yet – when he has caught the scent – fire a cap pistol at some distance. He will barely notice.
The next day, fire the cap pistol a little closer, two or three times; and be sure that the first time a real shot is fired the dog is intent upon his find and you are seventy-five or a hundred yards away. Soon he will grow accustomed to the sound of a gun and will associated it with his favorite game.
An Ideal Family Dog
The temperament of the Shorthair makes him an ideal family dog. He accepts and loves all members of the household equally. He will sleep indoors or in the kennel. He desires to please and responds to praise and joyfully participates in games or work. He is extremely easy to maintain, and does well on a diet of good commercial dog food, with vitamin supplements added as necessary.
He can be obedience-trained, but may require a bit more patience on the part of the trainer and a little more time for this work than do dogs which are bred primarily for obedience work.
Needless to say, children love him as a companion, for he will gaily chase a ball until their arms tire of throwing it; and he loves nothing better than a romp and a swim at the beach or river, or a walk in the woods where he can explore to his heart’s content.
The German Shorthaired Pointer is an elite-type among sporting dogs, a source of infinite pride and pleasure to his trainer, and a beautiful and affectionate member of the family.