Training Q&A

Questions On Proper Nutrition and The Right Versatile Gun Dog

Versatile breeds like the pudelpointer and German wirehair look and perform similarly in the field.

Question: Now that I've retired I'm hoping to enjoy a long-time dream of owning more than just one hunting dog at a time. I've always had a gun dog and I have two right now, a German shorthair and a springer spaniel. I always wanted to be able to simultaneously own a variety of dogs that are known to work best in a certain way, on a particular kind of game. I have the time now to train and hunt and I think I can afford four or five dogs, one of the retriever breeds, of course, a setter or pointer, maybe even a coonhound and beagle.


But my wife (who's never complained about my dogs before) has thrown up a roadblock based on cost of dog food. I feed a top-quality brand of food. It is expensive compared to some of the lower fat and protein stuff but I've been happy with how my dogs have done on it the past ten years. If I can cut back on the food cost maybe I can bring her around to letting me indulge myself. Do I have to stick with the "good stuff" or will my plan to feed the cheaper stuff during those months when the dogs aren't hunting? (Kansas)

Answer: From the standpoint of how much of a savings will be required to win your wife's approval, only you would know. If, as you indicate, through a long and successful marriage she hasn't given you a hard time about your hunting dogs, you aren't being wimpy by considering her wishes, so a few suggestions will follow. Your wife's long track record has won her your consideration and multiple dogs are the bone of contention.


First, throttle back and take it one step at a time. Owning a variety of decently trained gun dogs is a worthwhile blessing. A handful of untrained outlaws is a pernicious pain in the you-know-what. Don't load up your menagerie all at once. Once you've trained one, move on to the next type. Spread yourself too thin and you'll fail. Your dogs will suffer. Your wife will have an even more legitimate gripe. Dumping a good dog food that has satisfied you and your dogs over the years could be a problem. My suggestion is that during the off-season as well as in-season you stick with the high quality food. While retaining the quality, you might consider reducing the quality fed to each dog. It is to over-feed a dog when using first line quality food.


Unless a dog is in rigorous training, when his diet consists of high nutrient density commercial dog food (properly processed 18 percent and up fat and 26 percent and up protein ) during the off-season, food amounts fed can be reduced by one-quarter to one-third, in my experience, without ill-effect. A dog can be affected when a hunting season serving of eight cups of food is cut back to five or six cups during the less strenuous months.

It is not possible, however, to feed so-called "maintenance food" during the off season and then make up for a nutritional deficiency by feeding larger quantities during the hunting season. On that kind of program dogs will wear down, mostly because, when kept busy and tired, they will not consume the additional amount of cheap food required to approximate a much smaller amount of premium grub. Minimally, you should figure on feeding the "magnum" stuff during any period of time your dogs are working hard.

You might want to compromise, depending upon your training schedule and hunting time. Only a small percentage of active hunting dogs are pushed to their limits in the hunting field or in training sessions. You plan to have multiple dogs at your disposal, a virtual guarantee that none will be frequently worked to capacity. Major dog food companies each produce several "grades" of dog food, all of good quality but priced according to the percent of fat and protein, for the most part. If each dog gets a workout of an hour or two daily or is hunted just on weekends, stick with the same brand (hopefully one that supports and promotes hunting and gun dog activities). Mix the food from the expensive and inexpensive bags.

In recent years, with up to a dozen personal dogs to work, I am no longer able to grind them down as I used to. My dogs have done well on a "maintenance-magnum mixture," and I've saved some money.

Question: If you have time could you write a few lines about the plus and minuses of the drahthaar versus the pudelpointer? I do mostly pheasant and rabbit hunting, plus some years a few days of sage grouse, gray partridge and sharptail. So far I only dabble in waterfowl hunting, mostly jump shooting ducks. (Ohio)

Answer: My assumption is that you are asking whether one breed or the other is more suitable for you, and on the background you've offered I have to say it's a toss-up. If you had included the much more popular German shorthaired pointer it would be a three-way tie.

Individuals among all three breeds share qualities, inherited instincts, trainability, and are similar in appearance and expected to perform nearly identically. Having said that, I can offer you some general characterizations on the two lesser known breeds you've asked about, based upon personal familiarity with drahthaars dating back to the 1950s and pudelpointers to the 1970s, times when both breeds were generally unknown. My first German shorthair dates back to the 1930s.

Whatever the reason, you have a much larger gene pool to pick from if you go for the German wirehaired pointer (drahthaar) than if you select a pudelpointer. Finding a PP, regardless of quality, will be much more difficult than locating a GWP. Both breeds have benefited from their adherents being reasonable and circumspect regarding claims about vaunted abilities and can be counted on to come through in the field.

In North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association field testing, which is based upon seeking versatile gun dog performance, which reflects its Germanic origin and is practical on the North American continent, the German wirehair is second only to the German shorthair in number of entries and percentage of placement. While no more numerous during the early days of NAVHDA in the 70s and 80s, the small-entry PPs led in qualifying percentage.

While drahthaars and pudelpointers are distinctly separate breeds, they have similar temperaments, respond to the same training methods, look enough alike to confuse even the knowledgeable, are expected to perform the same tasks and do so in a virtually identical manner. Seek, find, point, track and fetch. You pay your money and take your choice.

Both breeds are recognized by Chicago's Field Dog Studbook and the German wirehaired pointer by the AKC. Your best source of information about breeders and high quality hunting test qualifiers is NAVHDA, PO Box 520, Arlington Heights, Illinois 60006.

Question: Thank you so much for your patience with me and my endless questions. Much of what you discussed cannot be found in any training book or video, and I learned a great deal in just a little while with you. I forgot what you said about the two look-alike versatile breeds that were in your kennel. But how did you manage to get in on the ground-floor of so many things that are now history? (Wisconsin)

Answer: Anyone who has messed around with dogs for as long as I have couldn't be accused of being smart. A rush of interest in both recreational pursuits and the registration of purebred hunting dogs came after World War II. As a small-town boy during the great depression I was interested in dogs and hunting, even though my dad died before I was four and my maternal grandfather when I was seven. That fascination continued when I got out of the army, started college under the GI bill and wrote the first article I sold to a national publication.

If there are discrepancies in this answer to your question, they aren't intentional or malicious, just the failings of an old man looking back and trying to pull three-quarters of a century off the top of his head. You asked about two kennel mates, so I'll stick with that perspective and what I know as the history of docked-tail versatile German pointing breeds in this country. The solid-liver-colored dog you saw is a pudelpointer, Quest. The other rough-coated, black and white ticked dog next to him is a German wirehaired pointer (drahthaar), Bismark.

The German wirehair is second only to the German shorthair in popularity among continental breeds.

I got my first pudelpointer from John Kegel, Ontario, Canada sometime in the early 1970s. Quest (registered with NAVHDA as Quartermaster) probably is my last. He came from Sigbot "Bodo" Winterhelt who, with Douglas Hume, imported to Canada during the early 1950s the first pudelpointers in North America. Both Winterhelt and Kegel were German-born immigrants to Canada, leaders in the founding and development of the North American Versatile Hunting dog Association, which test gun dogs in a manner reflecting their continental origins. They got me involved early on, as a handler, judge and gunner.

My introduction to the German wirehaired pointer/drahthaar came much earlier. The first I heard of the breed was through the pages of The American Field whose Field Dog Stud Book recognized the breed as German drahthaars. The name I recall as being associated most prominently with its promotion was an enthusiastic and opinionated guy I never met named Gallagher.

But before the American Kennel Club decided to recognize the German wirehaired pointer breed, I had two pups sired by the dog that became the first AKC-recognized Field champion in that breed out of a bitch imported from Austria. Happened this way: With the aid of the state senate majority leader and the chief conservation warden, Guido Rahr, a Manitowoc malt magnate, and I collaborated on setting up regulations assuring permission to train hunting dogs and conduct field trials in Wisconsin during the closed season.

As outdoors writer and dog columnist for the old Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper I was in contact with sportsmen and conservationists. When Rahr returned from a trip to Austria with a nominal drahthaar bitch named Bella, he sought information about where he could have her bred.

He got together with Cliff and Louise Faestel and bred Bella to their Haar Baron's Mike. Mike was the first GWP field champion recognized by the AKC and his dam Haar Baron's Gremlin, won both field and bench championships. Each year my newspaper sponsored a Wisconsin State Pointing Dog Championship under the aegis of the Field Dog Stud Book. Then called a "shoot-to-kill" trial, which was very similar to the current National Shoot-To-Retrieve Association's popular event. Having seen the Faestel dogs perform afield, there was no hesitancy in recommending that union.

There was a fly in the ointment, however. It turned out that Bella was half Drahthaar and half Pudelpointer. In Germany, as long as it is supervised by the proper Stammbuch, crossbreeding among the Allgebrauchshund breeds is considered not a sin but an effort to up-grade when breed officials feel it is warranted. I no longer recall all the technicalities, but I filled out some paperwork. Before the AKC closed its studbook to further individual entries the second of two pups I got from this breeding (Cloverleaf Skid Test, call named Briar) made it into the studbook as a German Wirehaired Pointer.

A half-century ago reporters and editors had to consider some ethical conflicts of interest that apparently don't bother today's "journalists." When offered the first pup, Jaegerin, as a gift, I turned it down. But I had an extra, fairly well trained young Labrador, Duffey's Irish Jig, which Rahr liked because the youngster reminded him of his favorite retriever trial dog, FC Gun of Arden.

So I demonstrated Jig to the satisfaction of Rahr's trainer, Kurt Mueller, at his Manitowoc Kennels and went home with Jaegerin, my first "German wirehair," plus a check for $250. That wirehair/pudelpointer crossbreed ranks as at least equal in precocity to any pup I've had before or since: finding, pointing, backing and retrieving at 4-months of age. She didn't have a lock on precocity. Later, when judging NAVHDA events, I okayed several 4- to 6-month-old wirehairs in natural ability. At least 80 percent of the dozens of pups I owned or started and trained for others were doing a decent job of hunting when 5- to 7-months of age.

Tragically, Jaegerin never made the studbook. At six months of age, a neighbor, hurrying to work, hit her with his car. Her littermate, Briar, replaced her. He did well enough afield so I believe he influenced my son, Mike, to concentrate on German wirehairs when he became deeply involved in training, breeding and judging NAVHDA dogs, including his unmatched Ruff; who, at one year of age, on the same weekend, was awarded Prize 1 in both natural ability and utility testing. Wirehairs remain our favorite versatile pointing breed.

However, without question, the German shorthaired pointer is the most versatile of the versatiles. Like the Labrador among the retrievers, the Kurzhaar is the most popular and the best. Shorthairs lead in numbers; percentage-wise the breed is the leading qualifier in NAVHDA's testing which requires close-working, very controlled dogs, who will hunt, point, track and retrieve on land or in water. They also compete successfully in both AKC and FDSB events conducted in the traditional field trial mode. Among tight-cover, on foot hunters, unless it's the Brittany, no other bob-tailed breeds show up as frequently as Shorthairs.

Add to that, GSPs are the pioneer breed among the Continental dogs in North America. Regardless of when the first one or pair was brought over, few of them were known in the 1930s when I "discovered" them. Looking for a means to supplement our "relief" payment of $20 per month, my mother and I contacted an Illinois breeder who offered to farm out some of his s

tock on a puppy-sharing deal. In those days, shorthairs were large, houndy-headed, rather ponderous dogs. Reputedly they could do anything, such as work upland game, both fur and feather, retrieve waterfowl during the day, tree raccoon and trail fox after dark.

Shorthair folks decided to concentrate on making bird dogs out of these all-purpose dogs. Part of the refinement was accomplished by some surreptitious crossings with English pointers in response to a need to publicize GSPs. Winning field trials and having a champion title preceding a dog's name is a means of attracting public attention and a stimulus to breeding and selling.

About the only game in town then was conducted for pointers and setters handled from horseback, bird dogs that ran fast and far and could be spotted, whether moving or stationary, from considerable distances. While a few lines of imported shorthairs showed some white, shorthairs were essentially hard to see, camouflaged by the dappling of heavily ticked or solid liver coats. It's doubtful if any English pointer tails were cut off. But a lot of open-marked, big-running, apple-headed German shorthairs toed the line.

From a hunter's standpoint, this was hardly reprehensible. These attempts to match performance natural to English pointers failed. But, like horse breeders who outcross to the thoroughbred, using the top German shorhaired pointers we know today.

Currently, field-trial bred shorthairs still do their thing. For the most part it is in specialty trials restricted to breed or other continental pointers or trials for on-foot handlers (Finally the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association's testing of multipurpose dogs now offer opportunity for recognition in keeping with the breed's natural bent.

That history and today's circumstances offer sportsmen a chance to get something likely to match up with individual concepts of what constitutes a good gun dog. No breed and no dog can ever be the answer to every man's dreams. When starting with a pup, check the breeding. If acquiring a started or finished dog, tell the seller what you envision and ask for a demonstration.

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