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Which gundog breeds originated in Germany?

A handful of working breeds from Germany have been in the UK for so long that they have become anglicised, says David Tomlinson

German gundog breeds

In Germany, hares are more important than pheasants as a sporting quarry

Weimaraner, German shorthaired pointer, German longhaired pointer, German wirehaired pointer, large Munsterlander. The list of German dog breeds that have become established in Britain is a long one, but it could be a lot longer.


The temperament of the Weimaraner has improved

The small Munsterlander, for example, has been imported many times, but has never become established here, and the same is true of the pudelpointer. The Germans have their own spaniel too, the Deutscher wachtelhund — a solid-coated brown dog a little bigger than a springer. It’s not recognised by the Kennel Club and is a breed I have only seen working in Germany.

Shooting is a hugely popular pastime in Germany, but it’s generally a very different sport from here and more heavily regulated, with three tiers of hunting office controlling it. These are the untere, obere and oberste jagdbehörde (lower, higher and highest hunting office). There are no bag limits, but seasons tend to be shorter than ours, typically finishing on 15 January, though in the case of the grey partridge the season closes on 15 December.

In addition, each of the 16 German länder (states) has its own nature conservation and hunting laws, so don’t assume that the rules that apply in, say, Saxony are the same in Bavaria or Schleswig-Holstein.

German hunting dogs

It’s essential to understand a little of how shooting is practised in Germany to appreciate German hunting breeds. Unlike the UK, the emphasis is very much on the pursuit rather than the actual shooting, making a typical German jaeger much more of a hunter than a shooter.

The Germans have no specialist retrieving dogs. There’s never been any reason for them because they have nothing quite like our formal driven shoots. Germany is heavily forested, so there is a much greater emphasis on the pursuit of big game — wild boar and deer — than there is here, while hares are more important than pheasants as a sporting quarry.

Thus, all the German breeds are best described as hunting dogs rather than gundogs. All, without exception, are HPRs, with the H rather more important than the P, while the R often comes a distant third.

For many jaegers, it’s more important that their dog will tackle a wounded fox or hold a wild boar at bay than delicately retrieve a partridge to hand. While we require our dogs to work silently, the Germans like to know where their dogs are when working in dense forest, so giving tongue when in contact with game is more likely to be encouraged than frowned upon.

German gundog breeds have become anglicised

Several of the German gundog breeds have been established in the UK for so long that they have become anglicised. Selective breeding has largely eradicated the barking and the hard mouth that characterised many of the early imports. I have heard handlers bemoaning the fact that many of the German breeds aren’t the hard-going dogs that they once were, but have become softened and possibly even lost some of the essential drive that appealed so much in the first place.

Weimaraners were one of the first German breeds to be imported into the UK after World War II. Louise Petrie-Hay, writing in her book Gundogs: Their History, Breeding & Training, notes that these grey dogs have a “very strong guarding instinct which needs handling firmly if it is not to get out of control”. She wrote that nearly 35 years ago and I don’t think that is the case today.

The German wirehaired pointer is another breed that has a tough image. The old joke was that if you wanted to get rid of next door’s cat, get a GWP. Guy Wallace, writing in his book The Specialist Gundog (2002), remarks that GWPs aren’t as hard as they were in the 1980s, but “both sexes can be noisy and be stroppy with other dogs of the same sex”. He added that they are “extremely capable performers with a great hunger for finding game”.

The German breeds are also notable for the fact that they have not divided into show and working lines. Traditionally, German breeding clubs have always been bound by strict rules, so only dogs that conform to the strict breed standard are used in the breeding programme. A similar system would be inappropriate here as it would be impossible to enforce.

Show ring German pointers are handsome dogs, so it’s hardly surprising that several breeds have become popular in the show ring in this country, most notably the Weimaraner and the GSP. In contrast, the GWP has never really caught on as a show dog.

German shorthaired pointer

German shorthaired pointer

The ruling banning docked dogs from being shown in England also led to a reduction in the number being shown, as GWPs are traditionally docked, and many of the top show dogs in the UK were also worked.

In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, some 3,265 gundogs of six German gundog breeds were registered by the Kennel Club. How many were destined to become working gundogs is anyone’s guess, but it indicates how German gundog breeds are firmly established in the UK.

Perhaps the most surprising German dog is the poodle, for most people assume it is French. According to the historians, the poodle originated in Germany, but was developed and refined in France. Here, it was bred for retrieving duck from water.