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Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
The German Shorthair is a multipurpose hunting dog who doubles as a great family companion. An active family, that is. He is highly energetic and highly intelligent. His alert and protective nature makes him an excellent watchdog.
The German Shorthair is a versatile hunting dog who can not only point birds, but also hunt rabbits and raccoons, trail deer, and retrieve on land or from water.
If you’ve ever admired the versatility, athleticism and stamina of a decathlete, you’ll admire the German Shorthaired Pointer. Whether you can live with such an energetic, strong and challenging companion is another matter entirely. This hunting dog was bred to do it all, including being an attentive, family-loving companion and a watchdog for the property. Few breeds are more versatile -- and more demanding of their owners’ energy and attention.
The German Shorthaired Pointer is a wonderful choice for very active families. If you’re the kind of person who’s always in the outdoors and wants your dog with you, there are few better companions for the longest hike or run you can dream up. Their size and natural protectiveness will help keep you safe on a dawn training run. Your children will be loved and attended to by your Pointer, and while this dog will likely alarm bark if someone's at the door or on your property, they're usually not aggressive with people or strange dogs once they know you’ve got it covered.
Underestimate the need to keep this dog exercised in body and mind, however, and you and the dog will both be very unhappy. Left to his own devices, a bored German Shorthaired Pointer who doesn’t get the exercise he needs will take matters into his own paws: digging up the yard, climbing fences to explore the neighborhood, barking at everything that moves and chasing small wildlife and pets with the zeal of the determined hunting dog that he is.
These dogs need daily sessions of heart-pumping exercise, the more the better. They also need training to control that energy in the off-leash full-out runs they require. They’re a natural for high-drive canine competitions, as well as – no surprise here – hunting anything they’re legally allowed to go after. These dogs are up for anything, and have lively minds and trainable natures.
As befitting a dog of such versatility, the German Shorthaired Pointer can have a mind of his own. That means training and socializing from an early age is essential to keep your companion under control. Big, strong and enthusiastic, this breed needs to be taught how to behave around the children he loves, or you’ll be picking the kids up off their fannies. They may also need to be trained not to "hunt" the family cat or other small pets.
The German Shorthaired Pointer packs a lot of lean muscle into a powerful 40 to 70 pounds or more. Their distinctive "ticked" or spotted coat usually comes in shades of brown and white, although some other patterns and colors do occur. The tail is usually cropped to a few inches in length, and the ears are large and flop down.
The grooming needs are minimal; a fast weekly brushing, occasional bathing and regular nail trimming and ear cleaning are all that he needs.
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The German Shorthaired Pointer is an early example of fine German engineering. He was created in Germany in the mid- to late 19th century to be a multipurpose hunting dog. The GSP was probably derived from the German bird dog crossed with various German scenthounds. English Pointers were brought in to give the new breed some elegance.
Besides being a super hunting dog, the German Shorthair is a standout in the show ring. Two German Shorthairs have taken Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club: Ch. Kan-Point’s VJK Autumn Roses (Carlee) in 2005 and Ch. Gretchenhof Columbia River in 1974.
Today, the German Shorthair ranks 16th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 24th in 2000.
When he is brought up right, the German Shorthair is a great family dog with excellent manners. He is active, to be sure, but once his exercise needs have been met, he is a calm house dog who is content to stay nearby without demanding all your attention. His strengths include a high level of intelligence and a loyal, fearless nature. In the field, he’s an aggressive hunter, a trait that can carry over into the home if cats, squirrels or birds stray into his territory.
Most GSPs learn quickly at an early age, although some require more patient training than others. The young German Shorthair may not fully gain control of his brain until he reaches maturity at two years of age, so be prepared to live with puppy shenanigans for a while.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the German Shorthair, the “teen” years can start at six months and can continue until the dog is two years old.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect GSP doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a German Shorthair, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The German Shorthaired Pointer is a relatively healthy breed, but some health problems are of concern.
One is hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that may require costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life. Hip dysplasia is less common in German Shorthairs than in many other breeds, and people who love the breed hope to keep it that way.
Cancer, eye diseases and some problems with the skin have been reported.
One of those eye diseases is called cone degeneration. It is not common and a DNA test allows breeders to identify dogs with the disease to prevent passing it on.
Some German Shorthairs have a condition called entropion in which the eyelids turn inward. This is bad because eyelashes can rub against the cornea, causing pain and potentially damaging the eyeball.
Overall, though, the GSP is essentially healthy – a strong motivation for good breeders to keep the breed that way by continuing to do health clearances on their breeding stock and for puppy buyers to support those breeders’ efforts by seeking out their dogs.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Before individual German Shorthairs can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the GSPCA requires them to have hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHIP; a clearance annually from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation until they are six years old and every two years after that; an Optigen cone degeneration test with results registered with the OFA; and an OFA cardiac (heart) exam performed by a board-certified cardiologist. Optional CHIC tests for the GSP are an OFA elbow evaluation and an OFA thyroid evaluation from an approved laboratory. You can search the OFA and CHIC websites yourself to see if a pup’s parents are listed.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a German Shorthair at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The German Shorthair’s water-repellent coat has thick, short hair that protects the dog from brush and helps insulate him from the cold. The coat itself is easy to care for — brush it weekly with a rubber hound mitt or firm bristle brush to keep the hair and skin healthy — but the breed has a couple of grooming quirks you should be aware of.
First, the German Shorthair sheds. More than that, he sheds dark and light hair, so it will show up on your clothes and furniture, no matter what color they are. The coarse hairs are often difficult to remove from upholstery and carpet. Seasonally, the German Shorthair has a heavier shed, called “blowing coat.” He’ll need more frequent brushing and bathing during this time to remove all the dead hair.
Second, the droopy ears may not get enough air flow. Warmth and moisture build up, allowing bacteria and yeast to proliferate. To prevent infections, keep the ears dry and clean, using a solution recommended by your veterinarian.
The rest is basic care. Trim the toenails every few weeks. Long nails can get caught on things and tear off. That’s really painful, and it will bleed a lot. Brush the teeth frequently for good dental health.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Start your search for a breeder at the website of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America. Your puppy's breeder should be a member in good standing of the national club and have agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores. Look for a breeder who is active in some form of canine activity such as hunting, field trials, showing or obedience.
Ask the breeder for written documentation that your puppy's parents were cleared of genetic problems, including at a minimum hip certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip); heart health certification by a board-certified cardiologist and OFA; eye clearance within the previous year from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF); and testing clear for Cone Degeneration Disease, an eye disorder found in the breed. Many breeders also get their dogs' elbows and thyroids cleared by OFA as well.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a German Shorthair puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring, a hunting home or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, field titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult German Shorthair might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult German Shorthair may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a German Shorthair in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the German Shorthairs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a German Shorthair. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love GSPs love all GSPs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bulldog rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a GSP home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your GSP, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your GSP to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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