"What's that dog? Some sort of giant spaniel?" No, it's a large Munsterlander. David Tomlinson tells us more ...
My questioner was pointing to a large, longhaired black-and-white dog with an impressive white flag of a tail. The answer was no, it’s a large Munsterlander (LM).
The large Munsterlander does resemble a large black-and-white springer, for this is the most spaniel-like of all the German breeds of gundog that we have in this country.
Of its German cousins, it has the closest affinity with the small Munsterlander and the German longhaired pointer, for the conformation and even the style of working is similar.
However, neither of these two breeds are permitted to be black and white, though occasional black-and-white puppies are born. The Germans are very strict about such matters, so a puppy that is the wrong colour cannot be registered.
Quite why the LM has never become more common here is something of a mystery, for it is an attractive and hardy dog with real ability. When I asked Rory Major, one of Britain’s leading trainer of HPRs, to name his top 15 breeds earlier this year, he put the LM in at number four, ahead of both the German longhaired pointer (five) and the German shorthaired pointer (six).
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Why is the large Munsterlander not more popular?
Rory commented: “This is another breed that I can’t understand why it’s not more popular: the trouble is that there are not enough people working them. They have bags of enthusiasm and will go all day, but you only see one or two decent ones in field trials. However, this is a breed on the up, as the recent import of German dogs seems to have improved their hunting ability. Remember that this is traditionally a woodland dog.”
Curiously, the large Munsterlander is not, as far as I am aware, numerous in its native country. I’ve twice been shooting in the north German province of North Rhine-Westphalia, close to the town of Münster, but on neither occasion did I see a single LM. Perhaps I was unlucky, but I did see plenty of other HPR breeds in action, including small Munsterlanders and Weimaraners.
Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the name small Munsterlander is misleading, for these dogs are hardly any smaller than the large version, but they are typically brown-and-white roan. Despite attempts to establish them in this country, they have never caught on and just one was registered here last year.
Training takes patience
Peter Hartley is a reader and long-time LM enthusiast, so I asked him why he thought the LM had never become established as a serious shooting dog in the UK, let alone a rival to the GSP or GWP.
One of the reasons, he believes, is that they are relatively slow to mature and that training one satisfactorily takes “a lot more patience than the average gundog owner/trainer is prepared to spend. I always started fundamental house training and basic obedience at 10 to 12 weeks, with ‘fun’ retrieves at six months. Like all intelligent animals — and the LM is extremely intelligent — their junior growth period is quite long, and so serious gundog training is best delayed until 12 months.”
Peter added: “Between nine and 16 months, these dogs tend to go through a ‘teenage’ rebellion phase, so be prepared. Not until the LM is two years old should it be taken out on a shoot, and then with caution. However, at three years old, the LM is fit for proper work and it just gets better every year, until selective hearing occurs at eight- to nine-years old.”
House not kennel
Peter did emphasise that LMs are very much people dogs, far happier living in the house than kennels. This does cause one problem: they are great shedders of hair. He now has a hospital-standard German vacuum cleaner that has helped reduce the fur in the Hartley household.
Though I’ve seen LMs running in tests and trials, I’ve only twice been in the shooting field with them. On both occasions the dogs I saw performed admirably. Guy Wallace, in his book The Specialist Gundog, describes the LM as a “much-underestimated gundog having a lot of natural ability and natural sense… They hunt with great style and will point and retrieve naturally, are good stalking dogs and can be worked under longwings [falcons] or shortwings [hawks].”
If you want to learn more about this good-looking German, visit the Large Munsterstander Club’s excellent and comprehensive website , which covers every aspect of the breed from showing to working. It even includes a list of large Munsterlander field trial award winners, dating back to October 2008.
The club, mindful of the breed’s origins, holds two natural aptitude tests a year. “Ideally every LM would do at least one natural aptitude test during its lifetime as it is helps to preserve the working origins of the breed”. A great idea and one to be encouraged.