An old-time Missouri quail hunter knew only one breed of dog: the English pointer. He may have heard of English setters, but it's doubtful he would have known a German shorthair from a German chocolate cake.Today, quail cover is less abundant and smaller, so a wide-ranging, hard-running dog like the English pointer usually isn't necessary in modern field situations. However, they still dominate field trial events and are still favored by traditionalists. Because of the changing landscape of the American hunting scene, however, versatile dogs are in vogue. Some of them are breeds that didn't even exist a few years back.
A "versatile" hunting dog, as defined by the National Versatile Hunting Dog Association, is "a dog that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water."
The two most popular versatile breeds, as determined by registration with the NAVHDA, are Brittany spaniels and German shorthairs. The dogs are called "versatile" because it's in their heritage to hunt game, and not just birds.
In America, versatility defines a bird dog that will water retrieve, as well as hunt dead game. In Europe, it's one that not only works birds, but also works rabbits, deer and other game, and will blood trail and bark treed or found game.
Missouri has a long tradition of hounds that trail foxes, coyotes and raccoons, and they do it better than most versatile breed dogs. Running deer with dogs is illegal in Missouri, so the ability or disposition to do so would be a faulty criterion for versatility here.
The definition of what breeds qualify as "versatile" is subjective. Some include Brittanies and German shorthairs, but others think those are in a "popular breed" category with pointers and setters and shouldn't be included as versatile breeds.
The NAVDH, established in 1967, originally divided versatile dogs into three coat categories. They were Shorthaired, which included the German Shorthairs, Vizsla and Wiemaraner; Wirehaired, which included the German Wirehaired Pointer, Pudelpointer, Pointing Griffon, Spinone and German Rough Haired Pointer; and Long Haired, which included the Brittany, German Long Haired Pointer and the Large and Small Munsterlander Pointers.
Now, the NAVDH lumps versatile breeds together into a compact list that includes: German Shorthaired Pointer, German Longhaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Vizsla, Wirehaired Vizsla, Small Munsterlander, Large Munsterlander, Brittany, Pudelpointer and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. The NAVDH also recognizes the English pointer under the miscellaneous category.
For more information on versatile hunting dogs, contact the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), Box 520, Arlington Heights, IL 60006; or visit the NAVHDA website.
Once rare, the Brittany is now almost as common as setters and pointers. It originated in France's Brittany province.
Legend says the Brittany was a poacher's dog in France. Small and inconspicuous, the Brittany was more likely, supposedly, to be overlooked by the warden. It lived with the poacher and worked all game.
The Brittany probably resulted from crossing English setters and Spanish spaniels. Spaniels are the oldest of the hunting breeds, dating at least to the 13th century. Some hound and, perhaps, pointer blood could be mixed in, too. Because the Brittany points and all other spaniels flush, breeders long ago dropped the "spaniel" part of the dog's name.
Brittanies are bouncy, enthusiastic hunters with good noses and strong pointing instincts. They hunt medium range, retrieve and find dead game and make wonderful family pets.
The German shorthaired pointer epitomizes the versatile hunting dog. It historically was bred to handle all kinds of game, from birds to deer. It descends from Spanish pointers, bloodhounds and American foxhounds.
German shorthairs appeared in America in 1925, but didn't become popular until after World War II. Now, they are among the most widespread and popular of upland hunting dogs, along with English pointers and setters, and Brittanies. Most work fairly close and methodically, and they have fine noses. Shorthairs are intelligent and almost self-training. They make good pets and are good family dogs.
A large dog by upland standards, the Weimaraner is about the size of a big German shorthair. In the 1950s, the Weimaraner was hailed as a miracle dog, able to do everything. In time, dog enthusiasts found the "gray ghost," as they called it, wouldn't retrieve as well as a Lab, nor point birds as well as an upland dog.
Today's Weimaraner has been bred for a better temperament and, probably, better hunting ability. It dates to at least 1800, but may go as far back as the mid-1600s. The breed was recognized as distinct in 1897 and was first imported to America in 1929.
The Vizsla is a Hungarian beauty with a lustrous tan/gold coat. Jeff Griffin, in his fine book "The Hunting Dogs Of America" (unfortunately out of print), says that the Weimaraner and Vizsla evolved as noblemens' dogs, though the Vizsla probably predates the Weimaraner, perhaps to the 1300s. He also theorizes the Weimaraner started as a big game dog and evolved to a bird pointing dog. The Vizsla always was a bird dog.
The first Vizslas in the United States were a pair sent from Rome to a fellow in Kansas City in 1950. He thought they were Weimaraners. By 1960, the breed was prevalent enough to be recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The Vizsla is a medium-sized dog that works fairly close and has strong pointing and retrieving instincts. It is a sweet-tempered, sensitive dog that is good with children and makes a good family pet.
Also called the Drahthaar. It's not, as you might think, a curly-haired version of the Shorthair. It is an amalgam of several other breeds: Griffon, Pudelpointer, Shorthair and Stichelhaar (which in turn is a combination of the Pudelpointer, Pointer, Foxhound and Polish Water Dog).
The Wirehair came to the United States in 1920. It never has achieved the popularity it deserves, probably because it doesn't look like a familiar hunting dog. It hunts fairly close, has an undercoat and tolerates cold weather and water almost as well as a retriever.
There are few in the United States, but many in Europe, especially Germany. It was first imported to the U.S. in the 1950s. This thick-coated dog is calm and a close- to medium-range worker.
It possibly has Gordon setter in its background and looks much like a brown Irish setter. It almost certainly descends from the land spaniels of medieval times and shares common ancestors with the Muensterlaenders.
Possibly the oldest pointer, dating as a recognized breed to the late 1700s. The Braque is a big dog, weighing as much as 70 pounds. It looks like a German Shorthair with the heavy head of a hound.
It definitely is a minor player on the United States bird hunting scene. There were estimated to be less than a dozen in the country in the late 1980s.
Methodical and close-working, Braques are affectionate and largely self-training. They have strong natural pointing and retrieving instincts.
The biggest differences between the two are size and color. The Small is always brown and white, and the Large is black and white. The Small is 20-22 inches high; the Large, 24-26.
Munsterlanders are German dogs from Munster. They descended from the early pointing spaniels. By the mid-1800s, they were well established, but they weren't recognized as a breed until 1912. The first Munsterlander probably reached the United States in 1951.
The Griffon looks enough like a German Wirehaired Pointer that they can be confused, but they're distinctly different dogs.Wirehaired Griffons date to 1874 when a Dutchman, Edouard Karel Korthals, began breeding Griffons for their wiry coats and their hunting qualities.
Griffons, an old breed, claim hunting spaniels, otter hounds and pointers in their background. Korthals' genetic invention proved somewhat smaller and more methodical in the field than its close relative the German Wirehair.
The two breeds share many attributes, including a love of water, cold weather tolerance, good noses and ability to endure heavy brush. Griffons are intelligent and make good family pets.
Two Montana breeders introduced the Wirehaired Griffon to the United States in 1920.
This is an Italian wirehaired breed. It's origins are disputable. Some claim it predates the birth of Christ, but it more likely originated in the 1500s.
Some say the spinone is an ancestor of several of the wirehaired breeds. French dog fanciers say it evolved from French pointing breeds. It's a big dog (up to 80 pounds). It works fairly close and methodically, is a natural retriever and can endure heavy brush. It is an ideal pheasant and grouse dog because it is extremely cautious when on game (both birds are prone to walk or run from a point).
You could guess this is a cross between a poodle and a pointer. It's another German dog with a poodle's dense, protective coat and the pointer's bird abilities. Pudelpointers work hard and fast in the field and are intelligent, good retrievers, both on land and in water.
Pudelpointer breeders still are experimenting with the breed, and some are crossing with other breeds to get desirable characteristics. The original cross of poodle/pointer dates to the late 1800s.
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