44 GUNDOGS FROM GERMANY
GUNDOGS FROM GERMANY
However worried we may be about the importation of foreign breeds to the detriment of our native breeds, the sheer quality of many of them deserves our praise. The Alsatian, as it was then known, drew our admiration in the first World War and has never looked back. And, just as Pointers were brought here by soldiers returning from the Peninsular War at the start of the 19th century, so too were German pointers by soldiers serving in Germany after World War 2. When I was first based in Germany, forty years ago, the gundog favoured locally was the Small Munsterlander. The next time, in a different location, the Korthals Griffon vied with the German Wire-haired Pointer and, around the third location I worked in, local sportsmen used the attractive Langhaar, which I first thought to be an Irish Setter, so great was the resemblance.
Pointing dogs have been known on the mainland of Europe since the thirteenth century, Latini writing in 1260: '...others are brachs with falling ears, which know of beasts and birds by their scent' and Albertus Magnus recording in 1280: '...they get to find the partridge by scent and thus...they point...at the birds.' But the Romans too made reference to a shaggy-haired dog called the Tuscan, which would indicate unseen game, such a dog being of great value to hunters of any century, before and after the invention of firearms. Early in the 17th century, the naturalist Gesner noted that: '... We Germans and the French call these dogs quail-dogs...the Italians call them net-dogs.' He referred to such dogs as Vorstehhund, literally, dog that stands before.
In Hungary and Germany, pointing dogs were produced in smooth, coarse and long-haired varieties, to give us the Vizslas and the pointer breeds from Germany of today. According to Wenze, the Vizsla was known in the region of the kings of the House of Arpad (11th to 14th centuries) but was used as an all-purpose hunting dog until the late 19th century. At that time, the German pointer was being standardised through Hector I and Waldin, a whole-coloured brown dog. The Weimaraner, like the Vizsla, was initially used as a multi-purpose hunting dog, for tracking deer and boar, for instance. Liver-roan smooth-haired pointing dogs were not however confined to Germany, as the French pointers indicate.
The coarse-haired pointers, favoured in Germany, Italy, Hungary and what is now the Czech republic, had a reputation for greater hardiness and persistence. There are distinct similarities between the Hungarian coarse-haired griffon, the drotszoruvizsla, the Cesky Fousek and the Korthals Griffon. Korthals developed his variety from German and French breeds including the Barbet, avoiding the use of hound blood which brought with it contrasting instincts and temperament. He was Dutch-born, but lived in Biebesheim, hunting in the marshes between the Rhine and Main rivers. In the 1870s he began with seven rough-haired dogs, obtained in France, Germany and Holland. He eventually produced a number of superlative hunting dogs, with superb stamina, remarkable scenting powers and hard bristle-textured waterproof coats. This has led to the blood of this breed being used again and again in the breeding of German Wire-haired Pointers.
In 1989, Tony Jackson, edited a new book 'Hunter-Pointer-Retriever' (Ashford), beautifully illustrated by Marion Jones, which I contributed to, that did much to spread the word. Before that, writer-photographer David Layton's book 'All Purpose Gundog' (Standfast) did much to explain the differing training needs of the HPR breeds, and they are different. The German pointers have found favour with rough-shooters here. The rough-shooter expects his dog to range wide or close according to the terrain, confirmed by the handler's signals. The dog is expected to be a ground-scenter and an air-scenter, a soft-mouthed retriever and a gamefinder. It should be capable of holding game on point until its handler is within range and then flush it. It must be able to work with equal ability in water, dense cover or in open country.
This slowness to mature must never be confused with stupidity or lack of innate ability. Here is a group of dogs that can follow wounded game or track deer and boar, work with the falcon, quarter ground close or wide, hold game on point, flush on command, mark and retrieve shot game, work in water and dense cover, withstand the cold and the wet, and yet provide companionable loyalty and affection for their owners. These highly versatile dogs were developed in a stern demanding school by experienced sportsmen over several centuries. We should recognise and enjoy their special talents and their spiritual needs. I live near two Weimaraner owners; one dog only goes out tethered to the pram, the other is walked very very slowly and is never off the lead. Both dogs look profoundly depressed; they are essentially hunting dogs which need to express themselves.
In GSPs the 'white factor' or white body, liver head and pink pads, has cropped up here as well as in the USA. The tricolours, defined as 75% black, 10% liver and 15% white, considered highly undesirable both in GSPs and GWHPs, have been described by one coat-colour expert geneticist as 'impossible'! The colour black still excites discussion in the GSP world. In the 1920s, Christian Bode, with his Altenauer strain, became concerned about poor pigmentation in his stock, mainly yellow eyes and pale faded coats. He introduced the blood of a black Pointer to rectify this, with success, although objections to this coat colour in GSPs continues today, especially in America. His dogs were once referred to as Prussian shorthairs and his methods illustrate the value of improvement in defiance of dogma, perennially needed in breeding animals but rarely seen in the world of the pure bred dog today.
The Langhaar is gaining ground in Britain; it may look like a setter but works as an all-rounder. In Holland it is the favoured wildfowlers' dog. A Dutch Langhaar won the title of World Field Trial Champion in Spain some twenty years ago. It is an extremely handsome breed with an admirably wide range of coat colours. Combining handsomeness with usefulness has long been man's desire in breeds of dog. The German gundogs have always had to earn their keep and I hope British fanciers will honour this heritage. Maxine O'Connor writing in Countryman's Weekly nearly five years ago stated that "...if we do not breed from correctly constructed, strong GWPs with good coats and correct mouths that are capable of working, then tragically the breed will become as Labradors and Springers - a show/working split." Her GWHP won Crufts that year and her words apply, not just across the German gundog breeds but across gundog breeds of every country. The German gundog breeds once sneered at as 'Teutons' are here on merit and deserve to be perpetuated as highly competent working dogs - and handsome ones too.