One hundred and fifty years ago the people of Germany struggled to create a united nation out of a patchwork of tiny kingdoms, city-states and fiefdoms. Around the same time, German hunters struggled to create their own national breed of short-haired pointing dog. Eventually, both goals were realized. Today, Germany is a rich and united republic and the German Shorthaired Pointer sits in triumph as the most successful Continental pointing breed in the world.
I’ve seen GSPs in Saskatchewan and Slovakia, Arizona and Austria and a dozen other places in between. I’ve seen the wide variety of types within the breed, from traditional utility dogs in Germany, to “little white rockets” in Canada and the US. But when it came time to write my own views on the breed, one very special dog—from right here in Manitoba—came to mind.
His name was Willy. He was prairie-bred and built like a pickup truck. In his prime, he was one of the best sharptail and pheasant dogs I’d ever seen. But as he got older, the many miles of northern prairie he’d covered began to catch up with him. At 14, he was nearly deaf and blind, but he was still able to hobble around his owner’s yard where members of our small pointing dog club would occasionally meet for informal training sessions.
One day, as we were working young dogs on planted pigeons, Willy lay on the grass snoring under the warm summer sun. Out in the field, about 50 yards away, a pup was on point. A handler walked up, flushed the planted bird, and fired a blank. At the sound of the gun, Willy woke with a start. He struggled to his shaky legs and made a wobbly beeline to the field. It took him a while to cover the 50 yards, but once he was there, he made a short cast to the left, another to the right, and found the scent cone. Then, like an ultra-slow motion scene right out of The Matrix, he eased into a picture-perfect point.
I have no idea how many hundreds, or even thousands, of points Willy had made during his lifetime, but standing there that day, I knew I was seeing his last. As his owner took him by the collar and gently led him away, a fist-sized lump formed in my throat. By summer’s end, Willy had passed away. A proper gravestone now marks his final resting place near the training field. To me, and I suspect to many others who had the pleasure of hunting with him, Willy embodied the very essence of his breed: a handsome hunting dog, a brave, loyal companion as honest and strong as the day is long.
Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals