A handful of working races from Germany have been in the UK for so long that they have been Anglicized, says David Tomlinson
Weimaraner, German short-haired pointer, German long-haired pointer, German wire-haired pointer, large Münsterländer. The list of German dog breeds that have established themselves in the UK is long, but it could be a lot longer.
The small Münsterländer, for example, has often been imported, but has never established itself here, and that also applies to the poodle pointer. The Germans also have their own spaniel, the German Wachtelhund – a solidly coated brown dog that is slightly larger than a jumper. It is not recognized by the Kennel Club and is a breed that I have only seen in Germany.
Shooting is a very popular pastime in Germany, but it’s generally a very different sport than here, and more regulated, with three levels of hunting offices controlling it. These are the lower, upper, and supreme hunting authorities. There are no pocket limits, but the seasons are usually shorter than ours and usually end on January 15th. However, in the case of the partridge, the season ends on December 15th.
In addition, each of the 16 federal states has its own nature conservation and hunting laws. So don’t assume that the rules that apply in Saxony, for example, are the same in Bavaria or Schleswig-Holstein.
German hunting dogs
It is important to understand how shooting is done in Germany in order to appreciate German hunting breeds. Unlike the UK, the emphasis is on tracking rather than actual shooting, which makes a typical German hunter more of a hunter than a shooter.
The Germans do not have a specialist to bring dogs back. There was never a reason for them because they have nothing like our formal drives. Germany is heavily forested, so the pursuit of big game – wild boar and deer – is much more emphasized than here, while hares are more important than pheasants as sports quarries.
Hence, all German breeds are best described as hunting dogs rather than hunting dogs. All are invariably HPRs, with the H being more important than the P while the R often reaches a distant third.
For many hunters, having their dog attack a wounded fox or keep a wild boar at bay is more important than carefully picking up a partridge. While we require our dogs to work silently, Germans would like to know where their dogs are when they are working in thick forests. It is therefore more encouraging than frowned upon to use tongues when in contact with wild animals.
German hunting dog breeds have been Anglicized
Some of the German hound breeds have been so long established in Britain that they have been Anglicized. Selective breeding has largely eliminated the barking and hard mouth that characterized many of the early imports. I’ve heard handlers complain that many of the German breeds are no longer the tenacious dogs they once were, but have been softened and possibly even lost some of the essential drive that was so appealing in the first place.
Weimaraners were one of the first German breeds to be imported into Britain after World War II. Louise Petrie-Hay writes in her book Gundogs: Your History, Breeding and Training that these gray dogs have “a very strong protective instinct that has to be handled tightly so as not to get out of hand”. She wrote this almost 35 years ago and I don’t think that’s the case today.
The German Wirehaired Pointer is another breed that has a tough image. The old joke was, if you wanted to get rid of the cat next door, get a GWP. Guy Wallace writes in his book The Specialist Gundog (2002) that GWPs are not as harsh as they were in the 1980s, but “either sex can be loud and sloppy with other dogs of the same sex”. He added that they are “extremely capable performers with a great hunger for play”.
The German breeds are also distinguished by the fact that they have not been divided into show and work lines. German breed clubs have traditionally always been bound by strict rules, so that only dogs that meet the strict breed standard are used in the breeding program. A similar system would be inappropriate here as it would be impossible to enforce.
Showring German pointers are pretty dogs, so it is not surprising that several breeds have become popular in this country’s showring, particularly the Weimaraner and the APS. In contrast, the GWP never really caught on as a show dog.
The UK’s ban on showing docked dogs also resulted in a reduction in the number of dogs shown, as GWPs are traditionally docked and many of the UK’s best show dogs have worked as well.
In 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, the Kennel Club registered around 3,265 hunting dogs from six German hunting dog breeds. How many were destined to become working hounds is unclear, but it does show how firmly German hound breeds are established in Britain.
Perhaps the most surprising German dog is the poodle, as most people assume that it is French. According to historians, the poodle originated in Germany but was developed and refined in France. Here it was bred to get ducks out of the water.