I recently added a working line German Shepherd to my pack, and am slowly learning the breed. What is clear and evident to even the most novice dog person is the vast divide within the breed between showing and working dogs. I fear that German Shorthaired Pointers are heading in the same direction. It’s not yet so evident to the naked eye, i.e. not as clear in appearance as it is in the GSD, but like any breed divide, has just as much potential for damage to the breed. Look at so many other gun dogs with the divide: English Setters, Irish Setters, English Pointers, Labradors, English Cocker Spaniels, just to name a few, look like two different breeds from field bred to the show ring. It’s not just looks either that are vastly different, but temperament, drive, natural ability, instincts, and work ethic.
Focusing on one aspect of a dog breed, in my opinion, does it a great disservice. That goes to both sides of the coin. Speaking specifically to GSP’s, we are developing several types in the US: show bred, field trial, German bred (Deutsch Kurzhaars), and what I will call the versatiles. Now, I am sure there are exceptions in every type, I am just generalizing what I have seen overall firsthand in my experience. I’m sure many will disagree and get butthurt but this is MY blog for MY musings and opinions. These are my personal observations on what I see happening to my breed that I am extremely passionate about. A breed that has not been ruined yet by extremes as so many others have, and we need to maintain that vitality.
Let’s look at show bred GSP’s first. Show bred German Shorthaired Pointers can be beautiful dogs. These dogs are bred to the show judges’ interpretations of the breed standard and most are bred solely for looks: correct angulation, flawless movement, the right color that’s trending, etc. The part of the breed standard they are most often sorely lacking however, is the working ability. Many show bred dogs never ever smell an upland bird, much less actually hunt one or retrieve. In my view, this is just as bad as breeding a bad bite or straight shoulders. Just recently seeing the list of the top 50 AKC GSP’s illustrates this. One or two Master Hunters and some Junior Hunters. I don’t hold much stock in a JH title, I could probably put a JH on my Australian Cattle Dog. The GSP was created, first and foremost, to be a versatile bird dog. Form follows function, and when you lose sight of function, form also gets skewed. That’s what I see with a lot of show dogs: too much unnecessary angulation, big dogs with too much substance, and worst of all, FAT or soft dogs that wouldn’t last too long at any kind of work. This is an embarrassment to one of the most athletic breeds, one of the jocks of the dog world. In fact I can’t even wrap my head around how this is accomplished. I find it hard to keep weight on my boys and they are both very muscular and toned with not a ton of exercise. Another downside I’ve seen, and this may be just my personal experience, is some nasty temperaments on show bred dogs that I don’t see in hunting dogs. I think the increased prevalence for this is because a nasty temperament will not work in the field, either with the humans OR working with other dogs.
Field trial dogs are the opposite end of the spectrum. These dogs are bred solely for performance and sport, and very specific performance at that. While they are bred solely for function, the form is often very off. I see a lot of poor conformation in field trial lines: wide fronts with elbows turned out, weird snipey heads, and teeny tiny dogs well under the low end of the breed standard. It has always amazed me that these dogs can do well with such poor conformation, it really speaks to heart in these dogs. These dogs are bred with so much focus on winning, meaning they need to run big, be super fast, and beat the upland specialists that many have lost sight of breed type. So much so these dogs often look like diminuitive cousins of the show bred dogs. This type has experienced the heaviest illegal influence of English Pointers into our breed over the years too. EP’s dominate the field trial world, and it wasn’t hard to slip some winning EP blood into the GSP field lines. It’s quite apparent in their appearance and build, and is the reason for the lemon colored GSP’s that crop up from time to time. This is another downside to breeding to extremes: not only has breed type been lost, but the breed is diluted by underhanded cross breeding.
Then we have the German bred dogs, the DK’s. There’s a lot of good to these dogs, and what people are trying to accomplish with them in the US is admirable. These dogs have FCI registration and straight German pedigrees. They follow the strict German requirements: dogs have to pass hunt testing standards and have hips certified before they may be bred. I believe they have some sort of conformation evaluation but I honestly don’t know much about it. All of this is well and good but I have a few issues with it. The complete closure of the studbooks is limiting. Unless DK breeders continuously import new dogs the gene pool will quickly shrink, which is never a good thing. I have a hard time with the fact that even if my German Shorthaired Pointer passed their testing system and had excellent hips, he doesn’t count because he doesn’t have an FCI/German pedigree (even though you go back just a few generations and it takes you right to Germany.) This is short sighted and close minded and limiting. And don’t even get me started on the name and the sense of superiority these people have with it. You meet one at a training session and here’s what ensues:
Me: “That’s a lovely GSP.”
DK owner: “He’s not a GSP he’s a DK.”
Me, walking away biting my tongue: “Mkay.”
In my head: “DK is German for GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER. Calm your tits. We aren’t in Germany–is your dog AKC registered as well as FCI? Then it’s listed as a GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER. Same goddam thing, stop being a pretentious cockpocket.”
**There are many DK and DD owners I love, but y’all deserve getting a hard time for your pretentious brethren 🙂
Finally, we have my personal favorites: the versatiles. These are dogs tested in the NAVHDA system, which I am clearly a huge proponent and supporter of. In my humble opinion, it’s the best thing available to American GSP’s to keep them true to their origins. It’s based off of the German testing system, in fact created by Germans and adapted for what Americans were doing with the dogs. Another way it’s Americanized is there nothing REQUIRED about it. It’s something for breeders to strive for and not forced upon them. It tests dogs for both upland and waterfowl, with a physical exam for basics included as well. Critics of testing commonly state that one of their problems with testing system is that dogs may take several times to pass before obtaining a title. These critics are typically people who have never tried the testing or have had dogs fail. Testing multiple times and hiding it may be an issue in other venues, but one of the things I love so very much about NAVHDA are the public records you can use to make wise choices about breeding. You can look up a dog not only to see how many times they tested before passing but you can look up each test specifically to see the breakdown of how the dog scored on each portion. Don’t know how many other testing or trialing systems have such an amazing tool available to them.
What NAVHDA lacks is a conformation aspect. I would not want them to try to add conformation because that’s not what the organization is about. However, I would love to see them team up with a registry, specifically UKC, to recognize dogs that title with NAVHDA and finish in the UKC ring. Why UKC? Because it’s the only venue I see in the US where working dogs are truly recognized. Not only that, all the less common NAVHDA breeds, such as the Munsterlanders and Pudelpointers, are recognized by UKC and likely do not want AKC recognition. It is FAR from perfect, and I am sure I will still struggle with showing a working line GSD in UKC. But, where she would get essentially kicked out of the ring in AKC there ARE judges in UKC that refuse to reward the extreme show line dogs and reward function instead.
Both of my GSP’s are what I would call versatile bred. They come from a breeder who breeds for function. He is a lifetime NAVHDA member, and hunts intensely all over the UP of Michigan, Canada, and the Dakotas every fall. Our NAVHDA chapter trains weekly on his property and he dedicates not only his land but his time to training weekly. He’s never shown dogs. However, he adheres to the breed standard and maintains type, and I’ve been able to pretty easily finish both of my function bred versatile GSP’s to Grand Champion. They’ve even both won Best in Shows and beat some winning AKC Grand Champion crossovers. This is what I strive for with my GSP’s—dogs who both excel at what they were bred to do while maintain breed type without falling victim to trends. Further, they aren’t meant to be specialists, they are more jack of all trades but master of none. If you want an upland specialist, you might want to consider an English Pointer or a Setter; if you are a serious duck hunter you might want to go with a Lab or a Chessie. You want a dog you can duck hunt in the morning in October and go out and grouse hunt with in the afternoon? GSP all the way.
Now what of people who have no desire to hunt whatsoever but just love the breed, want an active pet, and still play other games with them? I have mixed feelings on this. I myself am guilty of this with my first GSP. He is what made me fall in love with the breed, and he got me addicted to dog sports. This dog did not lack in activity; I traveled the country with him competing in dock jumping. But seeing his drive and heart made me feel guilty I did not get him into hunting. Later in life when I got my second GSP, Ozzy, that I jumped full force into NAVHDA with, I did finally take Oskar on a preserve hunt. However, the difference with Oskar is that he was neutered. I never intended to breed him. GSP’s are fine for pets in ACTIVE homes, but I don’t think dogs who are not contributing to the improvement of the WHOLE breed standard, both form AND function, should really be bred. I’m sure many will disagree, but that’s my personal philosophy. Breeding dogs who cannot prove their ability to do what the breed was created for and still used for, does nothing to preserve and maintain the breed. It is imperative to keep the bird in bird dogs!