“Form follows function” is an axiom favored by breeders and judges of purebred dogs, and perhaps nowhere is this truth better expressed than in the versatile hunting companion known as the German Shorthaired Pointer. The all-purpose gundog, with its symmetrical construction, enduring agility and animated intelligence, is the prototypical model of canine efficiency and resourcefulness in the field.
In 19th century Europe, political and cultural changes afforded the common man opportunities to hunt on lands previously reserved for royals and noblemen. According to author C. Bede Maxwell in her book, “The New German Shorthaired Pointer,” published in 1972 by Howell Book House, German sportsmen wanted an all-purpose hunting dog right from the start. Maxwell writes, “Such men did not want to maintain big kennels of specialized breeds, even had a saying that a man who went hunting with three dogs had NO dog!”
Historian Maxwell theorizes that, as with the development of other hunting breeds in Europe, the early experimental “Shorthairs” were a result of “endless variations” of mixing the Old Spanish Pointer with the ancient St. Hubert Hound. The Hanoverian Hound, a breed rarely known outside of Germany, may well be an ancestor of today’s modern dogs.
By the 1870s, type varied considerably, although one early supporter, Prince Albrecht zu Solms-Brauenfels of the Royal House of Hanover, provided direction for breeders of the day. Maxwell writes, “He told them that the only way to develop the wished-for utility dog-of-all-virtues was to take and use only the dogs best performed in these requirements, not to worry at this early stage about outward appearances. These would with time take care of themselves.”
In an effort to produce the desired versatility, German breeders crossed their dogs with very nearly every type of pointer and hound, even introducing the occasional Setter. By the 1880s, brown or brown and “tick-chested” dogs were becoming known for their strength and speed, as well as for their noses. In 1883, two dogs, Nero 66 and Treff 1010, tied for first in a German derby and contributed mightily thereafter to the development of the emerging breed.
Known as the Kurzhaar in Germany, the German Shorthaired Pointer was brought to the U.S. by the turn of the 20th century by immigrant families. None of these dogs was registered with the American Kennel Club, however, until 1930. The breed competed for the first time at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 1935 and, in 1974, Ch. Gretchenhof Columbia River became the first of his breed to go Best in Show at Madison Square Garden, handled by Jo Shellenbarger. In 2005, a bitch handled by Michelle (Ostermiller) Scott went Best at the Garden when Ch. Kan-Point’s VJK Autumn Roses gave the crowd a memorable performance that was dubbed “the stack heard ‘round the world.”
Another Shorthair bitch, Dual Ch. NMK’s Brittania V Sibilstein, was handled by Shellenbarger’s son-in-law Bruce Schultz to two Group firsts at Westminster in 1987 and 1988. ‘Brit’ is perhaps most noted as the first Best in Show-winning bitch of any breed to earn an AKC dual championship.
The German Shorthaired Pointer remains a versatile companion today, capable of competing successfully in the field on Saturday and the show ring on Sunday. AKC registrations for 2011 verify the breed’s popularity, placing the breed 15th of the 173 recognized breeds.
A Versatile Aristocrat
The General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard describes the look of the German Shorthaired Pointer as “that of an aristocratic, well-balanced, symmetrical animal with conformation indicating power, endurance and agility, and a look of intelligence and animation.” Today’s capable and attractive Shorthair is light years removed from its 19th-century ancestors.
The standard describes the breed as “neither unduly small nor conspicuously large.” Essential to this hunter’s versatility and aristocratic appearance are its medium size and symmetry. Versatility, in fact, could be the Shorthair’s middle name, and its “high performance in field and water” offers living proof of the breed’s ability to hunt feathered game, and trail furred quarry, with style and grace.
“A dog well-balanced in all points is preferable to one with outstanding good qualities and defects,” as indicated by the breed standard. Owing to its “clean-cut head, sloping shoulders, deep chest, powerful back, strong quarters, good bone composition, adequate muscle, well-carried tail and taut coat,” the aristocratic German Shorthaired Pointer possesses a look of nobility and a graceful outline, with a balanced gait that is powerful yet smooth.
In her AKC Gazette breed column titled, “The Versatile Hunting Dog—Part I,” Betty Sandberg acknowledges the German Shorthaired Pointer’s prowess for the hunt when she writes, “The versatility of the breed has been a big selling point all down the years even unto this day. Assuming one has a well- and carefully-bred representative of the breed, there is very little asked of him that he cannot do.”
A Clean-Cut Head
Heads of 19th-century German Shorthaired Pointers leaned heavily in the direction of either their pointer or hound progenitors. Maxwell refers to such dogs as “the head and ear deal,” owing to their breeders’ stubbornness to breed for appearance alone. In time, breeding for performance allowed a “German head,” neither pointer nor hound, to become expressed, as distinctive as it is free of exaggeration.
The “clean-cut” head of the modern-day Shorthair is “neither too light nor too heavy, and is in proper proportion to the body.” Although head variations still exist within the breed today, its intelligence and animation are nonetheless to be expressed with eyes “of medium size, full of intelligence and expression, good-humored and yet radiating energy, neither protruding nor sunken.” The preferred color of the almond-shaped eyes is a dark brown, and “china” or “wall” eyes disqualify.
Reasonably broad, arched on the sides and slightly rounded on top, the Shorthair’s head is unlike that of either pointer or hound. “The foreface rises gradually from nose to forehead,” according to the standard and, unlike the modern-day Pointer, “the median line between the eyes at the forehead is not too deep and the occipital bone is not very conspicuous.” Likewise, the breed’s ears are unlike those of the hound. They are “broad and set fairly high, lie flat and never hang away from the head.” Ears are to be placed “just above eye level” and should extend to the corners of the mouth without having to be pulled in that direction. Ears may be “correspondingly longer” on heavier dogs, but ears too long or fleshy are considered faulty.
As an all-purpose gundog bred to retrieve as well as point, the German Shorthaired Pointer’s jaws are powerful, with well-developed muscles. The breed standard describes a muzzle that is “sufficiently long to enable the dog to seize game properly and be able to carry it for a long time.” The length of muzzle is proportionate to its depth, and a pointed muzzle is undesirable, while a “definite Pointer stop” is a serious fault. The nose is brown in color, with a “flesh-colored” nose disqualifying, and an extreme overshot or undershot bite is likewise a disqualification.
A Coat of Limited Colors
The coat of the German Shorthaired Pointer is “short and thick and feels tough to the hand,” as described by the standard’s section on coat. Perhaps owing to its early hound ancestors, the hair is “somewhat longer on the underside of the tail and the back edges of the haunches.” On the head and ears, the hair is to be “softer, thinner and shorter.”
Coat color, limited though it may be, is an important element of breed type. The AKC breed standard describes color as “solid liver or a combination of liver and white, such as liver and white ticked, liver patched and white ticked, or liver roan.” Although a Shorthair may be entirely liver in color, its coat is nowhere to appear to be solid white. “White ticked” is a complete intermingling of brown and white hairs, and may appear with or without patches of solid liver.
According to Maxwell, some early 20th-century American sportsmen were not averse to crossing their Shorthairs with other breeds. “In early years of importation here, hunting men buying from pioneer breeders such as Dr. Thornton [of Missoula, Mont.], not understanding they were buying purebreds, sometimes did ignorantly crossbreed their German Shorthaired Pointers not only to ‘the agile American Pointer’ but to the agile Springer, Setter, Coonhound, even to the agile Heinz in his many varieties.” The resulting puppies no doubt appeared in a virtual rainbow of colors, so perhaps to guard against the continuation of such indiscretions, the AKC breed standard requires a dog “with any area of black, red, orange, lemon or tan, or a dog solid white” to be disqualified.
The common man’s hunting dog with uncommon good looks and an adaptable disposition, the German Shorthaired Pointer thrives today as a versatile companion with an aristocratic form that capably follows its every function.