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The Deutsch Drahthaar

by Jerry Thoms   |  September 23rd, 2010 9

Is This the One Gun Dog for All Reasons and All Seasons?

Jack Wilson, a hunter and breeder of Deutsch Drahthaars, along with several other members of the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar organization, is developing a line of these versatile gun dogs bred to more effectively hunt all types of gamebirds. Working within existing VDD gene pools, this group of breeders wants to produce Drahthaars with a strong instinct to search for, point, and fetch upland gamebirds and retrieve all types of waterfowl.

One gun dog that points like an English setter and retrieves like a Labrador? A tough dog that in the morning swims a mile in wind-swept freezing water after a wing-tipped Canada honker, then in the afternoon, carefully points a bobwhite and delicately fetches the bird after you flush and shoot it? An intelligent canine easy to train and handle, quick to mature into a useful hunter, and eager to be your family’s best friend in your home? Is the Deutsch Drahthaar this ‘one gun dog’?

“It is–and it isn’t,” says Jack Wilson, a Deutsch Drahthaar breeder, trainer, and hunter from Watertown, South Dakota. Wilson’s ambivalent response to this “one dog” question is the consequence of living with, producing, and hunting over dozens of Drahthaars on a full-time basis for nearly a decade.

“The idea of one gun dog perfect for hunting all kinds of gamebirds in all types of conditions just isn’t very realistic,” Wilson says. “Though this ‘ideal’ dog is a goal most breeders of versatile gun dogs strive for, like everyone else, we still haven’t totally succeeded. . .but we’re getting closer.”

Despite the fact that the Drahthaar is the number one sporting dog in Europe, the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar (translated “true German wirehair”) hasn’t become all that popular in North America, Wilson points out. “One reason may be that some of these gun dogs have gotten the reputation of being too high-powered, too hard to train, and too hard to control for many hunting situations,” he says. “Likewise, a few individual dogs sometimes show signs of sharpness toward people and other dogs, ‘biters and fighters,’ in other words, that give the whole breed a bad name. In addition, some lines of Drahthaars are known to have a predilection for hunting furred predators and vermin, and in the process, ruining hunts for upland gamebirds or waterfowl.

“The Deutsch Drahthaar breeding programs some fellow breeders and I are developing is designed to produce a gun dog more suitable for hunting upland gamebirds and waterfowl without losing the Drahthaars famous overall aggressive and hard hunting instinct,” Wilson continues. “By using only tested dogs from the German-based Verein Deutsch Drahthaar (VDD) breeding organization, our goal is to produce a ‘line’ of Deutsch Drahthaars (DDs) with stronger bird hunting qualities, less tendency to pursue predators and vermin, and a greater degree of cooperation, biddability, and stability in temperament. In this process, we also want to emphasize a greater uniformity in coat and conformation.

“We think this line of DDs can be created by carefully selecting dogs from the existing gene pools in the VDD,” Wilson says. “And we’ve studied pedigrees and test scores of Drahthaars in Europe and North America to find breeding stock necessary to make this happen. All of this has taken a lot of time, effort, money, and the cooperation of many breeders in this country and Germany. . .the gun dogs produced so far are still works in progress, but we’re steadily getting closer to a Deutsch Drahthaar designed for the kind of hunting most of us do in North America.

“Some breeders in the VDD organization are worried that trying to put more ‘gamebird dog’ into a line of Drahthaars will compromise other qualities that distinguish them from other versatile breeds,” Wilson notes. “But there’s no evidence that this will happen as long as we stay within the parameters established and sanctioned by VDD itself.

“Some of the oldest, most well-established and respected VDD breeders in Germany have recognized that establishing a gentler and less antagonistic Drahthaar is a good idea. It will help to alleviate some of the perceived problems with the image of DDs in general. We think our breeding program will produce DDs with a lower degree of ‘sharpness’ toward other dogs and people. Dogs will be less inclined to pursue predators and more inclined to search for, point, and retrieve upland gamebirds and to fetch up waterfowl.

“Our plan is based on breeding the ‘best of the best’ with ‘best’ being defined as Drahthaars that have solid scores in the VDD testing system,” Wilson explains. “We’re emphasizing dogs whose tests average out as ‘even’ rather than only picking Drahthaars with a combination of high numbers in the various levels of the testing procedures. For example, mating two high-scoring ‘super-dogs’ won’t necessarily result in ‘super-offspring.’ In fact, without looking at the whole genetic package and knowing how to blend the pedigrees, the final product sometimes can be more monster than magic.

“The idea of all this is to produce a final result with a strong but stable genetic base. To do this we’re using some successful methods that other gun dog breeders have proven to produce field trial champion Labradors, high scoring AKC Hunt Test pointers or Prize I gun dogs in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog breeding programs,” Wilson says.

“After many years of studying pedigrees based on VDD breeding and testing standards, going to Germany to research and purchase dogs from European kennels, locating well-qualified Drahthaars in North America, and hunting with the dogs we’ve brought together, we’re on our way to building a kind of Deutsch Drahthaar that we think should be exceptional,” Wilson believes.

“Though some aspects of canine genetics can be approached and shaped from scientific and mathematical perspectives, an actual breeding program still involves a series of experiments that include a lot of variables. For example, you can fairly easily determine shape, size, or coat length and color in most dog breeds. But developing and controlling a certain type of stable temperament in any canine is more uncertain and difficult because the definition of temperament is more abstract and subjective and often a matter of opinion,” Wilson says.

Though most Deutsch Drahthaars excel at tracking and retrieving wounded game, these gun dogs are also dependable pointers on all types of upland gamebirds.

“Though temperament can be evaluated to some significant degree in the VDD formal testing system, the final judgment on temperament usually comes from living with and hunting over individual dogs. On
e person looking at one dog in a test can make some worthwhile generalizations about temperament. But the person who every day has the dog in the house with her and sees how the dog interacts with the housecat, the kids, the visiting relatives and friends can tell you more about the dog’s temperament than anyone.

At the Armbruster HZP last summer in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Deutsch Drahthaars along with Verein Deutsch Drahthaar organization members and judges from all over North America and Europe gathered for the fall test of dogs under two years of age. In simulated hunting conditions, the DDs were judged on hunting desire, intensity, and pattern of search for gamebirds, tracking and retrieving abilities on land and in water as well as stability in temperament.

“Likewise, hunting with a dog and watching how it reacts to other dogs in the field, how it deals with predators and vermin, and how it rates in biddability, cooperation, and obedience–all this will tell more about temperament than anything,” Wilson adds.

“In any dog breeding program, admitting wrong directions, bad luck, mistakes, and failure in achieving certain goals is difficult. Putting time and effort into breeding for specific objectives then finding out that you meet some and miss others can be heartbreaking. And backing up and redeveloping an entire breeding program because it is not working can take a lot of backbone.

Anyone interested in acquiring a Deutsch Drahthaar can research the breed through the background material provided by the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar organization. The VDD judges the members’ dogs by testing them in three increasingly difficult levels of simulated hunting situations. In addition, physical examinations of the dogs are made and scored according to VDD standards before dogs can be certified for breeding.

“In our own experience, we spent several years building a line of DDs that produced good scores in VDD tests and performed just great on gamebird hunts. . .but our last litter included three pups that eventually showed hip dysplasia problems bad enough to indicate a real problem in the whole line. Though hard to do, we identified the source of the hip problem, eliminated some otherwise great hunting dogs from our breeding program, and added some new blood to our line. All of this took time, effort, and money, but in the end, it will be worth it,” Wilson says.

“Buying a well-bred Verein Deutsch Drahthaar isn’t easy–and it shouldn’t be,” Wilson feels. “Because there is so much information available about DDs bred within VDD testing guidelines, judging the potential of a puppy or an adult dog will require a lot of research work on the part of the buyer looking for a new pup or a started or finished older dog.”

Would he recommend a Deutsch Drahthaar as a ‘first dog’ for someone just getting into upland gamebird and waterfowl hunting? Or would this breed of dog be a good choice for some older hunter looking for what might be a ‘last dog’?

“Any honest answer to these questions depends primarily on the personality, physical abilities, experiences, and expectations of the prospective DD owner,” Wilson says. “Someone new to hunting, who is interested in learning about Drahthaars and has the expertise, time and energy to train one, could do well with this breed if he or she conducts a careful search for a ‘line’ that is fairly laid-back and easy-going.

“Likewise, an older hunter, with a lifetime of experience with gun dogs, might look for a ‘finished’ older DD that has been proven as a cooperative, biddable and well-trained obedient individual suited for the needs of someone 60-plus years old,” Wilson adds. “The important part of getting a DD is to find a line of ‘tested and proven’ dogs most compatible with the personality, lifestyle, and hunting habits of the prospective owner. Matching the owner’s personality with the dog’s personality is very important.

Deutsch Drahthaars are judged and rated in the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar organization for conformation and coat. The ideal DD range is from 23 inches at the shoulder and 50 pounds for a female to 27 inches and 85 pounds for the male. Most DDs have a coat length of three-quarters to one-and-one-half inches in acceptable colors that include liver roan, black roan, and solid liver.

Training the Deutsch Drahthaar and Joining Verein Deutsch Drahthaar
The Drahthaar Puppy Manual: A Complete Guide To Surviving Your First Deutsch Drahthaar Puppy Experience and the German Breeding and Testing Systems, as the title suggests, is an essential compendium of useful information on training a young Drahthaar as a gun dog and as a candidate for the VDD testing system. The 122-page paperback written by Roger Smith and Nancy Bohs, a husband-and-wife team who own and operate Altmoor Drahthaar Kennels, covers the training procedure for a Deutsch Drahthaar from picking a pup to finishing an adult as a hunter and or fully developed test dog. (Call Altmoor Orders at 877-284-6743.) The Verein Deutsch Drahthaar/Group North American News Letter, a bi-monthly publication, is part of the VDD/GNA membership package. (Annual dues are $50; call Rhonda or Neal Feazel at 618-372-3170 for more information). The Drahthaar News Letter has articles on training for tests and for hunting, veterinary care and canine breeding genetics as well as a calendar of events, lists of breed shows, and announcements of available litters. Also see the VDD/GNA website:


“In some respects, the Deutsch Drahthaar may not be for everyone because as a breed these are high-powered and very spirited gun dogs. One of my hunting partners compares them to a one-ton truck with a big engine and four-wheel drive–this probably isn’t the best vehicle for Grandma, and it may not be the best choice for a teenager with no driving experience, either. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the truck; it’s just not suited for some drivers. The same logic holds true for Drahthaars and some people.”

Is professional help needed to train a Deutsch Drahthaar as a gun dog?

“That depends on your previous experience in owning and using any sort of hunting dog,” Wilson says. “If you’ve already had some breed of versati
le hunting dog, training a Deutsch Drahthaar should be a familiar process. If you’re new to these kinds of dogs, though, as with any breed of high-powered gun dog, going to a professional trainer with experience in training versatile breeds might be a good idea.

“In addition to perhaps getting professional help, a person with a new Drahthaar really should join the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar/Group North America organization. As a member, you’ll be in touch with other VDD members and many of them are willing to help others train their dogs.

“VDD/GNA, of course, provides the levels of testing for those wanting to use their DDs in the organization’s breeding program. Even those who don’t want to use their dogs for breeding purposes will find that training for and passing these tests is a good way to develop an all around gamebird hunting dog.

“Deutsch Drahthaars are also usually well-suited to the goals and training methods represented by the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association,” Wilson adds. “Most DD owners should feel right at home training and testing these dogs according to NAVHDA guidelines. . .a Drahthaar owner, especially a person with a first gun dog, would be able to tap the experience of other NAVHDA members when training a dog for tests in particular and hunting in general.

“I’ve occasionally been asked if we are trying to ‘Americanize’ the Deutsch Drahthaar. The answer is no. We are developing a kind of DD that can be more useful to the American gamebird hunter. We’re doing this by breeding dogs within the existing gene pool of VDD as it exists in Europe and North America. And we’re creating a different kind of DD without losing the traditional power and vitality of the original gun dog.

“We’re trying to breed DDs that will vigorously search for, point, and fetch up all kinds of upland gamebirds and that will retrieve waterfowl with great enthusiasm and proficiency,” Wilson concludes. “And, at the same time–and this is the hard part–we want a type of hunting dog that is laid-back, cooperative, and easier to control with a stable disposition.

“Our breeding programs won’t please everyone in VDD in North America or Europe. But we do sense a similar movement among some major Deutsch Drahthaar breeders in Germany. Max Steinberger of vom Donaueck Kennels, one of the oldest and most prestigious kennels in Germany, assured me that these same objectives have been put into his breeding program and with several others. And when a breeder who has been developing a line of Drahthaars since 1936 says this, it has to be a serious and needed effort.”

The VDD/GNA Organization and Testing Program
The Verein Deutsch Drahthaar (VDD), a German-based breed club begun in 1902, is an organization dedicated to improving the Deutsch-Drahthaar through a series of required tests and examinations conducted by VDD judges. A “breed warden” must evaluate and approve the results of these tests and exams before a “certified” VDD breeding can occur. The VDD/GNA refers to the Verein Deutsch Drahthaar/Group North America, the official and recognized branch of the original German club, which adheres to the breed guidelines established in Germany.
The VDD testing system is similar to that of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). The VJP and HZP tests are the VDD’s equivalent to the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test in which pups up to 15 months of age are evaluated by qualified judges in simulated hunting situations. In the VJP, usually conducted in the spring, pups are scored for nose, tracking, search, point, and cooperation, as well as examined for physical deficiencies or faults in temperament.
In the HZP, or fall breed test, all the VJP categories are included as well as tests for “desire, search behind the duck, blind retrieve of a duck, and retrieve of game placed by a drag track,” as well as manner of retrieve and obedience.
The VGP is a “utility test,” a two-day event that has two dozen different scoring areas in many respects similar to the HZP. Included are a fox retrieve, a 400-meter blood track, steadiness to wing and shot, as well as land and water hunting exercises. In this test, the dog and handler are judged as a team. The VGP show the dog’s degree of trainability, temperament, and mental toughness.

  • Alfredo Manaciano

    Jack Wilson is trying to take credit for what the German, Austrian and Italian breeders of Deutsch Drahthaar been doing for almost a hundred years. I guess Jack Wilson re-invented the Deutsch Drahthaar? Another blow hard perhap's?

    • Fritz Mohr

      Alot of owner of the Deutsch Drahthaar or members of VDD felt it was a slap in the face for North American and mostly European breeders. Jack Wilson does owe an apology.

  • Leroy Schmidt

    Maybe Jackass should breed AKC German Wirehair Pointer or better yet GWP cross Elhew Pointer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HD, has been a required exam prior to permission to breed for pedigree, poor HD means no breeding or papered pedigree. Jack is blowing smoke and self promoting himself.

  • Hans

    Rumor has it that Jerry took the words out of Jack Wilson and somewhat change it around without Jack knowledge. But the again, why did Jack sign off for it to be release to the magazine????? If it's true, then yes it is a slap in the face for us Deutsch breeder's and we will ban him as well.

  • Phillip Trueblood

    Jack ! What the _ _ _ _ are you thinking? In your own words "VDD may not be for everyone" Look I'm very new to the GNA VDD family but even I am insulted that a fellow GNA member who seems to get it would deliberately sabotage VDD breed. You can not "create a better DD" by watering down your breed stock. Do your self a fave er Jack and get a GWP , PL, or better yet do something you can be proud of and cross any RETRIEVER and any BIRD DOG of your choice but, PLEASE do not try to fix what isn't broken you are using VDDs as lab rats. how ever If you insist on trying to improve the VDD maybe adding treeing loud to the breed testing program. Thank you and good luck with your NEW breed!

  • Rony

    Jack, it is because of people like you that just about all breeds here in American have been watered down. You are taking the best and truest hunting dog breed in the world and are watering it down. What you are basically doing is taking a DD turning it into GWP. I'm just glad there are breeders out there who still recognize the DD for the high energy, high drive, and hardness that the breed was created for. My advice to any hunter deciding to get a DD is to not get one from Jack's breeding program. If you truly want a DD for the VERSATILE dog that they are find a breeder who's stock is versatile and not just bird dogs like what Jack is trying to create. If you want just a bird dog there are other breeds that will suit you better than a DD. Jack also failed to mention that even though they are excellent pointers and retrievers, in the European countries where they originated such as Germany, Austria, Romania, and Serbia one of their main uses is furred game such as boar, badger, fox, and rabbit. He also ignored their natural ability at trailing blood and wounded game. Like I previously mentioned, he is watering down the breed by specifically breeding for their pointing and retrieving abilities and discouraging their super high energy and drive, natural desire and aggressiveness towards furred game, and blood tracking abilities.

    • largefrag

      Jack's words were indeed taken out of context and from what I am told, he didn't get to sign off on the article before it went into print.

      And, his dogs can do it all, not just point and retrieve. One of his pups scored high points in performance at the Armbruster and came in second overall only because of coat and conformation scores. I have a pup of Jack's as well. He is an excellent pointer and retriever. He also is hell on wheels and has as much if not more of the "high energy, high drive, and hardness that the breed was created for" than any other DD out there, I will promise you that. He can track , trail and hates furred game….just ask the numerous raccoons and skunks he has dispatched with ease. Jack follows the letter of the breeding regulation to the letter and the majority of his dogs perform in all areas and the scores prove it. Perhaps everyone throwing stones should either talk with Jack directly or just take a look at some of his dogs and perhaps you might change your tune.

  • Wilbur

    With all this backlash does anyone recommend a DD breeder in the Mid West??? Particularly SD, ND, WY or NE… Thanks

  • Greif and Haress

    I just got a chance to read this..Jack why dont you breed a Cat to hunt for you…Wow we dont need bad press..

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