German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer
This breed was designed with two main objects in mind: first and foremost to fulfil the role of a versatile gundog and, secondly, to make a pleasant companion dog for the family of the sportsman.
Selective breeding over many decades for sporting instincts means that most, if not all, GSPs have a strong hunting drive within them - demonstrated by the need to get out daily to use these urges to hunt for rabbits, pheasants, partridge, ducks and other game in the hedgerows, woods and countryside. Because of this inbuilt desire, owners of GSPs need to make sure that they train their dogs to recall to the whistle, stop (drop) to the whistle (to stop chasing and hunting onwards), as well as the usual basic obedience commands. With different lines of GSPs come variations in their hunting drive and methods. Some are very fast running dogs with a big, wide natural quartering pattern - ideal for hunting on big plains or fields. Others with a closer range and slower pace are happier in a wood or smaller fields/hedgerows. Having said this, this versatile breed will happily hunt for game in all terrains, woods, heaths, hedgerows, fields, and plains and, of course, marshes and wetlands for wildfowling. GSPs also enjoy swimming and retrieving from water - whether it is a pond, stream, river or the ocean.
A breed designed to tackle all the above work needs to have a strong will and determination to get out and hunt, and a body to match. So strong bone and powerful muscles combined with an elegant outline make up the rest of the dog.
There are various breed standards for this breed: in the UK the height ranges (at the withers) for bitches are from 21"-23" (53-59cm approx.) and for dogs from 23"-25" (59cm-64cm approx.). The American standard has the same heights, but suggests weights for bitches of 45lb to 60lbs (20.4-27.2 kg) and dogs 55lbs to 70 lbs. (25 -31.8kg). The FCI International standard used in Europe, Australia, Ireland and lots of other countries allows for bigger GSPs. Bitches 58cm - 63cm (22 ½" to 24 ¾") and dog 62cm - 66cm (22 ¾" - 26"). I gather the Kennel Club has the UK breed standard under review. The breed standard may be obtained from The Kennel Club or read in many of the books written about GSPs. It outlines the various physical and psychological traits required for a typical specimen of the breed, defines the head features, eye and coat colours allowed, conformation required and faults, etc.. It is the blueprint for breeders and show judges.
Many people, when choosing a puppy use coat colour and markings as their yardstick. GSPs come in a variety of these: the most usual are the liver and white GSPs. These may have ticking, patching, spotting or roaning - or a kind of mixture of several of these markings. The liver colour can also vary from a paler "cooked" to the darker pigmented liver - which may correspond to that of the best dark Continental chocolates! However, sunshine and swimming in seawater may cause liver coats to bleach out to a rusty brown - until the next moult produces a new coat. Heads may be plain liver, or have a blaze and/or white star marking. Another popular coat colour and marking is that of solid liver. This may include a little white on the chest and the tips of the toes. In the last couple of decades of so, some imports have come from Germany to add to the small gene pool of black GSPs in the UK. So now it is not unusual to see black and white GSPs, as well as solid blacks. The same comments apply regarding coat patterns, but, so far as I am away, black coats do not bleach out in the same way as liver coats.
Features one should be looking for in the GSP are really the overall balance of the dog or bitch. Bone should be strong, but not too heavy or coarse, nor, conversely, too fine. There have been various discussions as to how you assess bone, but, frankly, you have only to look at the dog - is it built like a cart horse (with heavy bone) or more like a Thoroughbred Race Horse (lighter bone). Remember, a heavier dog may not be such a fast galloping dog as a finer one!! Both the US and UK standards note that "a smooth lithe gait is essential". This is for a dog, which is required to work all day, hunting in all terrain. They should also have a short coat, "flat and coarse to touch, slightly longer under the tail" (UK standard) - and a close fitting skin - not tight or with folds. To work like this, too, good feet are a necessity - they should be round to spoon shaped, with strong nails and pads, toes well arched and the feet turning neither in nor out. So - flat feet, weak toes and pasterns do not help a dog to work all day in all terrains. The standard does not mention size of feet - GSPs need strong feet to fulfil their tasks. One of which, in their view, is digging! GSPs do love digging holes - something to remember if one has a perfect lawn….
This hunting animal who has to retrieve game ranging from little partridges right through to shot foxes requires a head (with brains!), strong jaw and muzzle, a strong, arched and muscular neck down to a smooth topline from below the withers to the croup and tail. Below that, a deep chest - to facilitate room for the heart, lungs and digestive organs - the American standard asks for it to reach down to the elbows, neither flat, slab-sided nor barrel shaped, but well sprung and then tucking up towards the loins. Well-angulated shoulders and hindquarters should complete the picture of a balanced, free moving dog.
The head is what one notices when one first meets a GSP. The eyes looking at one should, according to the British standard be "medium size, soft and intelligent, neither protruding nor too deep set. Varying in shades of brown to tone with coat. Light eye undesirable. Eyelids should close properly" That seems pretty clear. No entropion (eyelids folding inwards, causing irritation) nor ectropion (eyelids sagging outwards). What the standard does not mention is that GSP puppies may well have only light brown eye colour and that it may take up to 3 years for their eye colour to darken. This is particularly the case with liver or liver and white GSPs.
The vast majority of GSPs like people, so when one meets one, the expression should be that of a friendly, yet confident dog with bright eyes. When working, the dog will be very alert and attentive - keen for the hunt to come! Looking at the international standards for heads, the general requirement is for a clean-cut head in proportion to the body of the dog. The German standard also mentions "strong-featured", along with the specification that it should not be too light, nor too heavy - this is in the UK and US standard too. One does not want a snipy jaw, a short blocky jaw, teeth should be in a scissor bite - and complete. The head should at the top of the skull be sufficiently broad (not heavy) slightly rounded, the central furrow not too deep, and topline of the muzzle showing a slight curve - which may vary from an aristocratic Roman type nose to one with only a slight elevation from the straight line. Dogs have a stronger, more masculine head than bitches - in general. Concave or dished muzzle, such as one sees in Pointers is undesirable.
So - what are GSPs like to own and live with - what are their requirements?
First of all, the GSP is a hunter. You will therefore enjoy going for country walks, in places where the GSP may fulfil his hunting instincts - without being a nuisance to the owner of the land.. Not everyone wants a GSP running along a hedge hunting rabbits and birds and, in woods, there may be deer (Roe particularly) whose strong scent and fast run attract the dog's attention. It is not considered good behaviour to have a dog that chases deer. Woods often contain pheasant pens and birds kept for shooting. The dog will be thrilled to bits with these - lots of fun - but, again, the owner of the shoot and his Game Keeper may take an entirely different view . So, you need to consider if you have suitable walks available for you dog and whether you want a dog that you needs to be trained to keep it under control, harder with a keen hunter than a non-hunting breed. An out of control GSP chasing a fox or deer can easily get run over or cause a road accident. Not only can, but also do - many GSPs have been killed this way.
If you want to work your GSP, then you will have the motivation to train the dog and work with it hunting out game. Training can be very interesting and enjoyable for both owner and dog. And, the old adage is true, a trained dog is a happy dog! The breed clubs and various gundog clubs all run training classes for gundogs and, while the GSP works in a different way from Retrievers and Spaniels, the basic commands are the same.
GSPs generally are happier living in the house, with people, and other dogs or cats, rather than in kennels, but many do spend their lives in kennels. They enjoy company and can get noisy and/or destructive if left alone for long periods, so if you plan on being out at work all day, day after day, and have neighbours - think very carefully before buying a GSP.
The exercise requirement for this breed is as much as you want to do - When young, exercise should be balanced, on lead and some free running - to produce a strong, healthy adult - not a shelly one whose food has gone into too much running, rather than building a strong skeleton and muscle system. A GSP may be quite happy with an hour's walk a day - provided most of this is free running with some hunting interest. When I was involved in GSP rescue and rehoming work, I used to get people ringing up who wanted to get rid of their dogs because they had just got them so fit, with hours of exercise every day, that they could not cope with the lifestyle. Its up to you - the owner - if you want to spend 6 hours every day walking your GSP, the dog will do it (in time, when it is fit) but is this what you want to do every day ? Common-sense rules.
The breed is noted for enjoying the company of children and being a nice family dog. However, the children need to be taught respect for the dog - when eating and sleeping, etc.. and vice versa! The GSP is not primarily a child's pet - I am always surprised at how many people say that is why they want one. This dog is a designed dog for hunting. It therefore follows that it is not a suitable breed for a small child to take for walks, unaccompanied by an adult…. In other countries GSPs are used as sledge dogs, for example, in Norway - they take the sledges up to the hills and forests which are used to bring the game back from the shoot! In America, teams of GSPs have been used for running in teams, pulling "sledges" and purpose built vehicles used for running races, like the Iditarod in Canada. They are widely used in the UK, USA and Australia, for example, as sniffer dogs for drugs and explosives. This role is where some of the GSPs end up who have very strong hunting instincts and a powerful drive for constant activity which has made them too demanding as "pets".
So, when looking for a dog of this breed, consider your requirements in relation to that of the dog. When choosing a puppy - keep them in mind. If you want a more placid, family dog, look for a puppy with corresponding temperament - the breeder should be able to help you, having reared the litter, and knowing each individual puppy. If you want a real goer to hunt in the field - look for the bright, active puppy, constantly exploring and sniffing. Don't buy your puppy just on the cute markings. Markings change, anyway, as the white on liver and white or black and white dogs may fill in with roaning or ticking as the dog grows older - choose the right natured dog for you. Check out whether it will retrieve or run towards a thrown toy, if you want a retriever. Does the puppy like people - is it bold - or retiring ? Consider the whole dog, its nature, its conformation and type before you decide on a puppy.
The right GSP in the right home will be a success story - but, sadly, some are failures through no fault of their own.
About the author : I am in my mid-50s and have had dogs since I was a child, when I had a mongrel, followed by a lovely liver and white Pointer who lived until he was 15 yrs old. Not being able to find a suitable Pointer puppy successor for him, my parents bought a GSP puppy dog instead. After leaving the classical record industry in London, where I organised major classical records and was involved in international marketing, I took my DMS and DipCIM at the Anglian Regional Management Centre in Essex and then my M.Sc. in Business Administration at the University of Bath and bought a GSP bitch (Birkenwald Anushka). Since then I have bred on from her line, brought in an US import (since deceased from old age) Buck Hollow Tabor of Wildbach and enjoyed working my dogs on local shoots in Somerset and showing them at Open and Championship shows. In 1981 I helped with the founding of the GSP rescues and started, with 3 colleagues, GSP Rescue (Devon/Somerset) for which I was "Secretary" and chief rescuer/rehomer. I gave this up after 18 years, when I moved to West Cornwall.