Are German Shorthaired Pointers headed towards a great divide?

All Rights Reserved Copyright David Veldman 2015
Sue and I on a cold day in March, photo courtesy SportDog Photography
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.

GCH Vjk-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey GCC, the 2016 Westminster winner
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.

A well put together field trial winning GSP
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.

DK’s must retrieve a fox in one of their tests. Photo credit Catrinel Pauna
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 🙂

INT CH VC Sharp Shooter’s Man in Black MH, the top producing NAVHDA sire of any breed and Sue’s grandaddy, a legit bad ass
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.

All Rights Reserved Copyright David Veldman 2015
My versatile who I have high hopes to follow in his granddaddy’s footsteps, Sue. Photo courtesy SportDog photography 
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.

My function bred GSP Sue who finished to Champion in 2 shows and is currently ranked in UKC’s top ten as a Grand Champion
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!

Sue takes versatile to new heights. Photo courtesy Express Yourself Unleashed, Cheryl Baase

15 thoughts on “Are German Shorthaired Pointers headed towards a great divide?

  1. The American Brittany Club is striving, quite well, to keep the Brittany a dual dog, without splitting show and field lines. Those members of your GSP national club should get involved and and do the same.

    I do find your comment of show dogs with a Junior Hunter title a little disheartening. Don’t complain about owners not putting their dogs on birds, and in the same breath, make a Junior Hunter title seem meaningless. At least those of us with show pointing breeds (I have Brittanys) are at least getting them on birds and pursuing a title. A lot of us have limited dog $$ and a JH title is a fun way to learn and let the dog learn. A lot also pursue the JHA title, as well as entering the juvenile levels of field trials. Many, like me, don’t have the land, birds, or money for a pro trainer to go higher.


    1. My problem with a JH is that it really doesn’t prove anything, and I see dogs in my breed being promoted as hunting dogs with only a JH. Also, when I made the comment it was in reference to the dogs that are supposedly the top 50 representations for the breed standard and it’s disheartening that they only have a few with hunt titles, and only the minimal hunt title at that. That’s what’s representing our breed as the top dogs? They look real good but can’t necessarily hunt.
      And to be quite honest? As someone who hunts and has done other venues, a JH does not mean a whole lot to me. A NAVHDA NA carries much more weight with me. A dog holding a 3 second point doesn’t get me far in actual hunting. If the test were limited to under a year old it might mean more. But a 2 year old bird dog that can only hold a 3 second point on birds? Not impressed. If your dog needs a pro trainer to go beyond JH that to me is telling about the breeding on that dog in and of itself. I do all my own training and certainly do not have a ton of money to spend on it but I do make it a priority over showing for this breed.


      1. I so agree with JH comment – I am a firm believer that the JH should not be called JH because that is not what it is – It should have an age limit. I don’t agree with the JHA either – I don’t think an advanced title should exist except at the master level and I do think there should be a level between JH and SH because it is too big of a jump. I also have a grandchild of Cash who is beautiful and I couldn’t agree more with the breeding program. He is the sweetest dog, he is beautiful and he has a fantastic nose and drive and is bidable. I see the divide coming and I hope for the GSP sake we don’t go the way of the Wiem where most of the hunt has been bred out of these dogs. The AKC should require some hunting before the title is awarded to a hunting dog.


      2. A JH title may be earned at any age. Puppy and derby in field trials have age limits. A dog older than 1 year/ then 2 years must perform at a higher level, period. Junior hunter can be tested, performed at any age. Not bad, since it welcomes all competetors at all levels regardless of age of dog. However, it demonstrates instinct and a modicum of obedience. A great place to start.


  2. While I don’t necessarily agree with the two above posts regarding the JH title, I will say that at least, it gets people out there for a fun “hunting” experience and many pursue the sport further.

    At our hunt tests and field trials, we promote going further and give people opportunities in training. Regarding the pro trainer comment, I meant I would need further instruction and knowledge to move beyond the JH realm. The closest place to where I live is 2 hours away, and there is not a lot of access to birds and land in my situation.

    I was basically wanting you all to take the hunting newbies who may come out for Junior Hunt tests and encourage them to go further. And at least be happy that some of the “show dogs” have at least been let loose on birds and have proven desire. But then I look for a silver lining just about anywhere. 😉


    1. Any newbie that comes to our hunt tests for the JH test is encouraged to move further and come out to train. We want members and owners who will continue testing and furthering the breed. The JH title is misleading to anyone outside of the sport. It is an indication of nose and pointing and some trainability but the JH title is very easy to get. A lot of breeders put a JH on a dog so they can sell puppies as both show and hunting dogs and charge more. Field Trials have an age limit on Puppy and Derby because these stakes are meant to be an indication of future ability. It wouldn’t make sense for a 6 year old dog to run one of these stakes for this purpose. I help anyone that comes out with their dog and shows any interest at all. Just because someone shows up to our club with a show dog doesn’t mean I will look down on them. Anyone who wants to put the time in and learn and spend time with their dog, I will help as best i can and encourage them to come back. I have trained and tested to the MH level and have several passes at MH,still working on the title, and my dogs have never been to a pro. I have placed in Amateur field trial stakes as well. My club has many seasoned members who have a TON of knowledge, I use them to help me train and as a second set of eyes to help me work on what I need. let me put it this way – the dog knows how to point and hunt right? you are just fostering that and letting them become more seasoned by taking them out and letting them run in the field, with or without birds, they are learning. EVERYTHING else you do for SH or MH is obedience.Do you want your dog to stand when a bird is flushed? try making him stand when you throw a ball and a hat and a stick etc. When you come to a bird if you have a stop and stand command then the dog should stop and stand for a bird.
      I think there is room for some kind of JH title but my critique of the AKC is this – I think JHA and SHA are a way for them to get more money. What i would have liked to see from AKC is a Natural Ability test that would be like today’s JH test. I think the JH test should changed to be more like the SH test except maybe the dog doesn’t have to honor but it has to be steady to flush, then SH and MH stay as is and you can have an MHA title. I also think that the MH title should have an age limit – the definition in the AKC book is “Seasoned Hunting dog” any dog under 2 can not be a seasoned hunting dog – I don’t think dogs under 2 should be allowed in MH.


  3. I really agree with the majority of what you said. I own a DK and a GSP, I also participate in the German system and NAVDHA. NAVDHA is a great group no doubt, but I feel they have strayed slightly plus they lack any breeding and age requirements that are needed. A 2 yo with 2 hunting seasons experience should not be doing a na test, thus some requirements are needed to ensure natural abilities are being judged and not training or experience. NAVDHA also lacks any strict breeding requirements to hold breeders to the standards set. What the German system and NAVDHA do have right is that they judge each dog the same, against the same set standard, vs. against another dog. The German system does have a strict confirmation requirement, which is why my dog was deemed not breedable although she scored highly in her other tests. Every breedable dog must meet the confirmation standard, and pass other ability, trait, and obedience tests to ensure they meet the breed standard. I do feel they are overly strict, and possibly the best thing would be somewhere in between NAVDHA and the Germans, however stricter may be better than looser if you go back to the subject of your great article. Personally, confirnstion tests would be great, but field trialing shouldn’t even be in the picture, I see that as a side sport like dock diving or obstacle courses. I just don’t see much benefit to the breed for measuring how fast a dog does something (which is what a field trial is, a speed competition). FT don’t measure the versatility, temperament, nose (it just verifies that it works), etc.


  4. We have a 13 month old GSP girl, from a small hunting kennel in Southern Ohio. She picked us :-). She’s been training for obedience, conformation and hunt since she arrived home at 9 weeks. She’s right in the middle of the breed standard, looks small against her competitors, but has already gotten her AKC conformation title, NAVDHA NA prz III at 9 months and is halfway to her GCH. She starts her formal AKC Field Trial training next month and hopes to pass her CGC in a few weeks. I’m equally concerned that GSP are indeed dividing into show and hunt lines. All I can do is working my girl in all dogs sports and breed her to another hunting titleist preferably a VC from NAVDHA like her Sire to preserve the breed standard. Thanks for the article: our Field Trial trainer said that the JH title wasn’t too hard to attain too 🙂


  5. Maybe, once upon a time GSPs were headed toward a great divide, but I don’t believe hat is the case today. Today’s breeders and our parent club are doing a fantastic job promoting the Dual dog. We have more and more Dual Champions every year and it’s quite exciting and good news for the future of our breed.


  6. My mother adopted a GSP about 10 years ago,after falling in love with my brothers GSP. This GSP(or variation of) had bowel legs, elbows that stick out and a thick almost barrel chest. When you took her out in the field she came alive like you would not believe. Between the combination of her strength and willpower my mother at times could not control her. She was much more balanced running in the field than my brother’s larger and more standard GSP.My brothers GSP had a horse like gallop when he ran. My mothers GSP ran like a leopard with the front legs and back crossing each other when she ran. She would jump or climb over 4 foot fences and swim like a submarine in the water just below the surface. Whom ever bred this dog really knew what they were doing, she was a perfectly designed athlete.


  7. I totally disagree with both standards (show/field) : to me a dog is a member of the family , my hunting buddy and sometimes my best friend ! You do not have to worry about weather or not a GSP will hunt , the Germans did their homework when breeding this dog and they LOVE to hunt and they LOVE to please their masters…so if you want to show then show and if you want to hunt then hunt just know one thing your GSP will teach you things you never knew before !


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