There is pictorial evidence as early as the 4th and 5th Centuries that dogs were used to hunt game for falcons and hawks. They were called bird dogs or hawk dogs and possibly descended from the ‘Silk Dogs’ of the Tibetan highlands. Some of these dogs, instead of putting up the game, hesitated and stood, staunchly indicating the position of the game with their nose, whilst other types flushed game for birds flown directly from the fist.
Later, when other methods of hunting were developed, this natural tendency to indicate the quarry before seizing it or putting it up gained in value and by selective breeding and training established what we now term ‘pointing'.
As more and more forests and wildernesses were brought under cultivation the hunt moved to open fields. The invention of firearms and later of shot cartridges was a significant development. The space, greater range and better chances of hitting a running or flying quarry meant a considerable increase in the demand from hunters for pointers.
In the first half of the 19th century there was no question of any scientific knowledge concerning breeding. The increasing demand for a better nose and greater speed and endurance than the coarse and slower type of fowling dog normally to be found among hunters initiated many experiments and several breeds of dog appeared.
Not every experiment had positive results and enthusiasts in Germany in particular set about correcting this. Up to this time breeding had been haphazard and they proceeded to set about it with typical Teutonic thoroughness.
The German Shorthair
After about 1870 came a time when the conformation of the German Shorthair as we know him today became more settled. A few years later there was a turning point in the history of these dogs, when there appeared a dog called Waldin. He was a fine looking all brown dog and was thought to be the ideal pointing dog. He was mated to a good bitch called Holla Hoppenrade, who had won prizes for conformation in London. There was some confusion among the leading breeders when it was discovered that the new carefully bred “ideal” dogs were being beaten in the field by distinctly badly proportioned dogs. However this was overcome by more careful breeding, and it was not long before “ideal” dogs were winning in the field. They achieved this by well planned line breeding and inbreeding to only the best individuals of the established families.
(acknowledgements to Michael Meredith Hardy)
The German Longhair
By the mid 19th Century a type of longhair had developed. It was large rather than small, fairly slim of build, long with a large head and a sharp nose. The colour was light with patches and the conformation was considered to be elegant and beautiful. The character on the other hand was self willed, headstrong and obstinate: a dog that was difficult to handle but faithful and hard in all weathers. The original longhair was both brown and white and black and white and thought to be like the Spanish fowling dog. These somewhat heavily built longhairs, which were not fast and which hunted along side the guns, were crossed with the faster pointers and setters from England.
The German societies each set a breed standard and held shows to promote their dogs, encouraging those lines which had inherited the best hunting characteristics.
To firmly establish these “pedigrees” the societies sought to lead by example, so for the first German Dog Shows in Frankfurt in 1878 and then in 1879, written breed standards were formalised. These two shows set the basis for the subsequent breeding of the variety of German Pointers where much emphasis was placed on improving and perfecting their hunting characteristics. The breed standards for German Shorthaired Pointers and German Longhaired Pointers set at this time were followed three years later by the breed standard for the German Wirehaired Pointer and twenty years later by the breed standard for the Weimaraner.
(acknowledgements to Karl Brandt and Ed Booter)