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German Shorthaired Pointer puppies sleeping together in the grass.
They’d likely far prefer we show our affection in a different way.

National pride, a lush natural landscape, and abundant game helped develop the German Shorthaired Pointer. The medium-sized hunting breed, abbreviated “GSP,” can work for nearly all kinds of owners in all environments, and is an affectionate companion at home.

The German Shorthaired Pointer’s Beginnings

When 13th century European kings, princes, and nobles owned large plots of land with the sole hunting rights to them, they relied on pointing dogs. As time went on, these pointing dogs began to obtain different names. By the 17th century, the Germans and French referred to pointers as “quail dogs.” The Italians called them “net dogs,” or dogs used to point game birds and “set” or lie down, so the hunter could shoot over them before throwing a net over the dog and bird. These quail and net dogs of all shapes, sizes, and coat types performed different hunting tasks.

When middle-class wealth grew in the mid-1800s, people bought land. This also meant that they had the new ability to hunt in the dense German forests and vast open fields. The abundance of feather and fur animals, including pheasant, grouse, rabbit, fox, deer, wolves, and wild boar, drove a group of German hunters to create a national breed of short haired hunting dog.

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“These hunters used different breeds for different purposes, but they decided they wanted one breed that would stand out,” says Patte Titus, historian of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America. “The dog would hunt, put food on the table, look aristocratic, and be the epitome of a German dog.”

The sportsmen wanted a breed with an acute sense of smell to sniff out and hunt prey of any size, in the field, forest, or water. German hunters didn’t go after their prey on horseback, so the dog needed to locate the game within the hunter’s walking distance. The German Shorthaired Pointer needed discipline and instinct to hold the position and point out the game, giving the hunter time to approach. The GSP’s job also meant retrieving it on land or water or tracking wounded game when signaled. “This canine hunting partner had to be bold and aggressive to approach and pursue large animals, such as wild cats, foxes, and deer, but not bred as a fighting dog,” Titus says.

If a poacher came close, the breed maintained its position and held the game at bay. If these tasks weren’t enough, the hunters’ top priority was a dog who would live indoors as a family companion to protect the household, rather than as a pack member.

Designing the Ideal GSP

German Shorthaired Pointer puppy laying down in the grass.

Different theories explain the GSP’s ancestry. Many believe the attractive, jack-of-all-trades breed began when master German breeders, along with nobleman Prince Albrecht zu Solms-Braunfels, crossed the old Spanish pointer, the old German pointer, and the Braque Français, a French pointing dog. They made additional crosses to the German Bloodhound, and the French Gascon.

During the 1860s, another cross to the English pointer achieved the speed and style of the gun dog the hunters wanted. In 1887, GSP form and function came together as a sleek, loyal, intelligent hunting companion capable of working long days in the field.

GSPs in the U.S.

When Dr. Charles Thornton of Missoula, Montana, read about this breed in a sporting magazine in the 1920s, he knew he had to have this intelligent, versatile hunting dog. He contacted Edward Rindt, a breeder in Austria, to obtain a breeding pair. Thornton imported the first two GSPs consisting of a solid liver male, and “Senta v. Hohenbruch,” a large white ticked female. Bred before they were shipped, Senta v. Hohenbruch whelped the first documented litter of seven puppies on July 4, 1925. Thornton quickly registered them with the suffix “of Everyuse.” Happy with the dogs’ hunting ability, Thornton imported a dozen GSPs.

The breed’s road to acceptance in the AKC Sporting Group in 1935 began in March 1930, when the GSP was admitted to the AKC Stud Book.

German Shorthaired Pointer puppy with a destroyed tennis ball indoors.

Near Extinction in Germany

“World War II took a toll on German breeders and kennels,” Titus says. “The government decreed that all dogs other than solid liver or dark roan colors had to be destroyed because they did not camouflage with the forest.”

According to Titus, German breeders sent their stock to neighboring countries to save the breed from disappearing entirely. Some dogs made their way to the U.S. with immigrants or returning soldiers who had become familiar with the breed while serving in Germany.

The German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America (GSPCA) was recognized as the AKC Parent Club in 1938, with the first breed standard approved in May 1946.

Preserving Hunting Instinct

In keeping with its heritage, many of today’s GSPs achieve conformation Champion of Record title (CH) in front of their names and hunt titles like Junior Hunter (JH), Senior Hunter (SH), and Master Hunter (MH) titles after their names. Fewer GSPs earn the prestigious Dual (DC) Champion before their names, but there are some. A Dual champion title is hard to obtain, because it represents a conformation Champion of Record (CH) title and the title of Field Champion (FC).

German Shorthaired Pointer on point in a field. Photo credit: vik898/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images
vik898/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

GSPCA Hall of Fame members Terry and Janet Chandler of the New Mexico-based Rugerheim Kennels breed, own, and train GSPs for Dual (DC) titles.

“In 40 years, we have produced 27 Dual GSP Champions,” says former GSPCA President Terry Chandler, who holds the record for breeding training and finishing the most Dual Champions. “Achieving a Dual title is challenging because you need many resources to compete, and it takes several years to finish a dog in the field.”

Terry feels a Dual Champion title is essential to the breed’s future. “It acts as a bridge between the field dog and the show dog,” he says. The Chandlers’ first Dual champion, “Bo” (DC Rugerheim’s Bit of Bourbon), took nearly five years to complete his title.

“I love taking a six-to-eight-month-old puppy out for training the first time and watching it develop into a top-flight competitor,” Terry says. “The other thrill I get with GSPs is every time I see a dog point with his head and tail in the air and freeze. I get chills.”

Attractive girl walking the dog. Having fun playing in outdoors. Lovely woman training German Shorthaired Pointer on sandy beach on background of greenery. Concepts of friendship, pets, togetherness
Vagengeym_Elena/Getty Images Plus

After 50 years of breeding GSPs with 23 Dual Champions, Katrin Tazza of Washington Depot, Connecticut, fell in love with GSPs after seeing one on a hunting trip with her father on Long Island. “I was mesmerized by the dog’s white color with dark ticking,” says Tazza. “The pattern was impressive and so distinctive.”

A GSPCA Hall of Fame member, Tazza remembers her first Dual champion GSP, “Augie” Up N’ Adam. “I showed him in the breed ring myself, and he won Best of Breed at Westminster and at the National GSP Specialty, says Tazza. “I also trained him in the field when not many women competed in field trials.” Tazza says when she watches a dog gait in the field, she knows its level of success. “The instinct kicks in when it lifts its head, sniffs the wind, goes out, points, and stands there until you find it.”

When not working in the field or dog sports, the GSP is quiet and relaxed at home. “They’re fast learners and will figure out which drawer contains something they can open,” Tazza says. “When they’re not busy, they want to be in your lap. They also make great therapy dogs — if they don’t eat food off people’s trays.”