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The vanishing Weimaraner

Twenty-five years ago, the ?grey ghost?, as the Weimaraner is often referred to, was to be found at the heel of many an up-and-coming countryman. It also found favour on the show bench, and at sporting estates and field trials. As the years went by, it was almost impossible to avoid them, and such is the eye-catching nature of the breed that anyone who was anyone wanted one of these silver-grey HPRs. So, what, if anything, went wrong? Why, a quarter of a century later, do there seem to be fewer Weimaraners out in the field, up on the hill or in kennels across the country? What is it that made this once numerically booming breed fall out of grace with the shooting man and woman, if, indeed, this is the case? If you?ve never seen a Weimaraner on point then you?ve missed a treat. To watch them quarter the ground in search of game is almost as good, and to walk home at night with one tired by your side is almost unheard of, for the breed can go all day, wiping the floor with most other gundog breeds for stamina. They make excellent wildfowler?s dogs and, if you?ve taken to the breed, they get under your skin so that you simply have to have another, and possibly yet another, to see if the first one was a fluke and if you can get a second to be as loyal and dependable. So, why aren?t they everywhere? Why don?t they usurp other breeds ? not only other HPR breeds, but Labradors and spaniels, too ? for they can turn their paw, if correctly trained, to anything you want them to when out shooting?

But here?s the rub with the Weimaraner and the reason behind so many good dogs failing: they can be incredibly difficult to train and to deal with generally and, if anything, it?s the origins of the breed that are to blame for this and not necessarily individuals within the breed. However, it does little good to lay the blame solely at the door of history without first taking a look at the Weimaraner?s beginnings.

Noble origins

First bred in the 1800s by the nobility of Weimar in central Germany, specimens of the breed were culled if found to be without the criteria required by their masters. The criteria were strict. This was a dog of beauty, unique in its stance, colouring and ability, as befitted the status of a nobleman. The dog had not only to be able to work, but to use its own brain to act on its master?s orders and to work out of sight if need be. This was a well-built dog, strong and agile, and unique in its stamina. Not only was it supposed to work, often on large game, but it was expected to guard home and hearth. This was no kennel dog ? the Weimaraner was so prized and good at its job that it was allowed to share its master?s home, something that was unusual in that age.

Travel forward to the 20th century and this stunning, mostly short-haired German HPR caught the eye of US and British officers returning from World War II. Dogs and bitches began to trickle into the US and the UK. Under strict guidance from those who had first seen them work in Germany, the dogs worked well, in the main, and by the early 1980s the breed began to pick up in number.

Beauty?s curse

The problem with the Weimaraner is its stunning looks, which, of course, it was originally bred for ? among other attributes ? and it wasn?t long before numbers of the breed exploded, often with dire consequences. For no matter how often breeders and advisors emphasised the downside to owning a dog of this breed, people still sought them out.

Weimaraners were bred to be at the heel of a master all day, every day, to be fiercely loyal and to be capable of holding large game. That may be all well and good if you are a Weimar noble with an unfurnished castle, who has the day free to stride or ride about your estate with your dog by your side, and if it?s the 18th century when no-one is going to kick up a fuss if your dog bites the odd peasant or two. Translate that to the modern day and you are going to have some trouble.

Unless worked by an extremely competent handler who has all day to spend with their dogs ? and here I include women handlers, who are often brilliant with the breed ? the Weimaraner is more than capable of making its own mischief. It is not good at being left alone for long periods of time, and will destroy your home or kennels through what has been termed ?anxiety separation?. You can?t really blame a dog that has been bred for generations to be at its master?s side every waking hour for such behaviour, if its master or mistress has to work for eight hours a day. The Weimaraner can make one hell of a mess, ripping soft furnishings to obliteration. It also makes noise ? day and night, if alone. It does not relish being shut up in the kitchen while you toddle off upstairs ? it wants to be with you. It is fiercely loyal and may mistake a cuddle from your nearest and dearest as a threat. It will also kill cats, fight and generally make a real nuisance of itself if not exercised adequately and allowed to follow its natural HPR instinct.

No matter how good a dog may be while working, if you have trouble with it elsewhere in your life, you may not be willing to repeat the experience. As well as looking fondly back on days out on the hill or foreshore, you will undoubtedly remember the bad times. Weimaraners are like that: brilliant or diabolical, there seems to be little middle ground with them. In some cases, it really is once bitten, twice shy.

Though efforts have been made to breed out some of the worst extremes of the Weimaraner?s attributes, it can be a difficult companion. That said, I once owned the most fantastic Weimaraner bitch, which was better, nicer and cleverer than any Labrador. You make your own choice, armed with the facts. There will always be Weimaraner supporters, but others will tell you different