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Pointing Dog Blog

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Breed of the Week: German Longhaired Pointer

Craig Koshyk

If you tell the average North American hunter that you have a German Shorthaired Pointer or German Wirehaired Pointer, he or she will probably know exactly what kind of dog you are talking about. But tell that same hunter you have a German Longhaired pointer, and the response you are most likely to get is a blank stare follow by: “say what?” Yet, the German Longhaired Pointer is actually older than its Shorthaired and Wirehaired compatriots. It also has a strong and well-regarded club in its homeland, a growing population in North America and even a small but active following on the field trial circuit in the Netherlands, France and Spain.

During the late middle Ages, long-haired hunting dogs could be found throughout most of the low-lying, marshy regions of northern France, Holland and western Germany, where they went by a variety of names—Chiens d’oysel, Épagneuls, Spionnen, Stöberhunde, or Wachtelhunde.

Originally they were used mainly to flush game for hawks and falcons or into nests but, with the development of guns light enough to shoot birds on the wing, hunters began to select them for a more pronounced pointing instinct. The French developed chiens couchants (setting dogs) they called épagneuls
 and, from them, the English developed Setters. In Germany, the transformation of flushing breeds into pointing breeds happened somewhat later, and it wasn’t really until the mid-1800s that the idea of a national breed of long-haired pointing dog caught the imagination of German sportsmen. Like the national short-haired and wire-haired breeds that would be developed somewhat later, the German Longhair was created by blending local types of hunting dogs with breeds from other countries. It is likely that French épagneul breeds, English Setters and Pointers contributed to the mix and, according to some sources, even Newfoundland Dogs and Collies may have been added.

Naturally, with all the mixing and matching going on, a variety of types emerged. The most common color was brown and white, but black and white and even tricolored coats were also seen. There was also a lot of variation in size and overall look. It soon became clear that if breeders wanted to establish a national breed of long-haired dog, something had to be done to standardize it. 

So, in 1879 a number of influential personalities met in Hanover during an exhibition hosted by the Vereins zur Veredelung der Hunderassen (Association for the Refinement of Dog Breeds) to come up with a standard. When the meeting concluded, a dog named “Mylord 1”, born in 1875 and owned by a Mr. Gustav Borcher from Brunswick, was declared the model for the German Longhaired Pointer, and a breed standard based on him was written.

Despite the fact that there were some excellent black and white dogs in the breed (and even some tricolored dogs owned by none other than Prince Albrecht of Solms-Braunfels), the official standard only allowed brown and white coats. To understand why black and tricolor were rejected, we have to consider the political situation at the time and the traditions of the region. First of all, for many breeders, brown was simply the most attractive color for long-haired dogs and the one they were most accustomed to seeing. Others may have believed that brown dogs were less visible in the forest, and therefore better equipped to stalk big game or to lie in wait for poachers. But it is also very likely that black and tricolored coats were just
 too “English” for some of the more patriotic breeders. Like their French counterparts, 19th century German hunters had a sort of love-hate relationship with all things English. Some liked the idea of using English blood even if it meant black coats. Others vehemently disagreed.

In 1893, Club Langhaar was formed by Freiherr (Baron) Friedrich von Schorlemer-Alst, and others. They established the first field tests for the breed and, since they encouraged their members to select their breeding stock based on performance, not just appearance, they allowed black in the coat. But Club Langhaar was centered mainly in the Westphalia and Rhineland regions of Germany; it lacked the support of breeders in other parts of the country who eventually formed another club in 1897: the Verein Deutsch-Langhaar.

The two clubs coexisted for a number of years and followed the same standard, with one large exception. Verein Deutsch-Langhaar rejected black in the coat while Club Langhaar allowed it, at least for a while. In 1908, Club Langhaar reversed its position and decided to no longer accept black dogs. In 1926, the two clubs merged to form the Deutsch Langhaar Verband.

Throughout the early part of the 20th century, breeders in Germany continued to refine the German Longhaired Pointer. The breed soon gained a reputation as a tough-as-nails “forester’s dog”, an excellent water worker and a calm steady tracker of big game. But it never man- aged to gain the same level of popularity among German hunters as its Shorthaired and Wirehaired cousins. Like the Weimaraner, the German Longhaired Pointer was more of a niche breed valued for a slower, steadier style, strong protective instinct and “sharpness” on predators. But unlike the Weimaraner, it did not capture the attention of sportsmen outside of Germany until the 1970s, which was probably a blessing in disguise. Today, the breed is still mainly in the hands of hunters. It is thriving in its homeland and is gaining converts in many other counties, including the US and UK.

Compared To German Shorthaired and Wirehaired pointers, German Longhaired Pointers are relatively rare, but I have actually come across a good number of them in my travels. I’ve seen some in Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, France, Spain and the US. And while I did see some variation among them in terms of look and working style, i found no difference at all where it counts the most—in their desire to hunt. I first saw GLPs in Germany when I was there hunting rabbits and pheasants with a group of Weimaraner owners. There were a few GLPs in the group and they were quite impressive to watch. They hunted hard, pointed well and retrieved everything shot for them.

On another visit to Europe, Lisa and I saw GLPs at field trials in the Netherlands and France. Overall, the quality of their performance was excellent. They ran fast, with a high head and pointed staunchly. What I saw confirmed what I had heard about Dutch GLPs. They were faster and wider ranging than the ones I’d seen in Germany. Despite these and other encounters with the breed in Europe, I could only guess at how they would adapt to conditions in North America. After all, I’d watched them hunting rabbits in the heather-covered sand dunes of an island off the coast of Germany—hardly woodcock cover. And, in the Netherlands, I saw them crisscross spring wheat fields bordered by busy freeways—not exactly Saskatchewan sharptail country. So, in 2009, when I got an offer to chase South Dakota roosters with a couple of GLPs, I hopped in the truck and headed south.

I met up with Cortney Schaefer, her husband Scott, and father, Alan in the south central part of the state. For two days I followed along and photographed their GLPs in waist-high grass, along tangled tree lines and into cattail sloughs with knee-deep water.

The dogs covered the ground at a good clip, not field trial speed, but a strong, medium gallop. They ranged out to about 100 yards, sometimes a bit more. Points were solid and productive. Their desire was obvious. The older dog—a five-year-old female—was like the Energizer bunny, never letting up 
no matter how long she was on the ground. Her ten-month-old pup had a nasty run-in with some barbed wire on the first day and, despite receiving more than a dozen stitches, spent the rest of the weekend trying to convince Cortney to let her off leash to get back into the hunt.

As I drove home to Canada, I thought about the remarkable thing I had just witnessed. I’d seen German-bred GLPs help their American owners limit out on South Dakota roosters, in late November, on hard-hit public land! I guess my first impressions of the breed were confirmed in South Dakota: GLPs can be damn good hunting dogs.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals