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Breed Profile: Small Munsterlander

Breed Profile: Small Munsterlander

munster_f"A small what?" was the typical response Jim Julson used to get when he answered the common question: "What kind of a dog do you have there?"

"This is a Small Munsterlander," Julson would repeat. He then would go on to explain, as he had done dozens of times in the 20 years he has owned the breed, what a Small Munsterlander is.

"The Small Munsterlander originally came from the Munsterland region in the northwestern part of Germany, where the breed was developed to hunt upland gamebirds and waterfowl as well as track and find small and big wounded game animals," Julson says. "As we know the breed today, the Small Munsterlander was developed in the early 1900s by reviving some original old lines of a locally produced small, long-haired pointing dog and adding to the basic Small Munsterlander brood stock other breeds including the Large Munsterlander and the French Brittany."

munster_4In the early 20th century, Small Munsterlander breed clubs were formed and breed standards were established in Germany and other continental countries. By the 1970s a few Small Munsterlanders started to appear in the U.S. and Canada. The Small Munsterlander Club of North America was formed at that time and the popularity of the Small Munsterlander slowly developed with a growing interest in the breed coming about more recently.

When asked why he settled on this breed, Julson replies, "Because, in my opinion, there is nothing prettier or more impressive than a Small Munsterlander on point with its head and tail held high in a perfect pose. The silky hair on the legs and ears and the long hair on the long tail make for a classic picture of the ideal gun dog.

"Another reason to want a Small Munsterlander is to watch one go through thick, tall cattails to find a wounded Canada honker that swims 200 yards into ice cold, wind-whipped water. Fifteen minutes later the 38-pound Small Munsterlander comes paddling back to deliver a 10-pound goose. That's another good reason to own a versatile Small Munsterlander."

Julson is not alone in his appreciation of the Small Munsterlander's small size, striking appearance, and strong versatility as a hunter. "On a trip to Germany back in the early 1970s, I saw a Small Munsterlander and was impressed with the way this relatively small German dog naturally quartered in the field and naturally pointed upland game birds," says Tom McDonald, one of the first hunters to bring the Small Munsterlander to North America.

"I also was impressed by the way the dog retrieved on land and out of water. And I was really pleased with the calm temperament of the Small Munsterlander around other dogs and other domestic animals as well as having good manners as a house dog," McDonald recollects.

American Roots  

McDonald's early experience with the Small Munsterlander encouraged him to partner with his hunting buddy, Paul Jensen, to form the Small Munsterlander Club of North America. The organization developed a relationship with NAVHDA for certified hunt tests. The SMCNA also maintained a close connection with the official European Small Munsterlander groups to keep close genetic ties with dogs from the continent.

munster_3A second Small Munsterlander club has recently emerged in the United States. The Kleine (German for "small") Munsterlander-Group North America, or KLMGNA, was formed to develop a closer relationship with the German Small Munsterlander club in order to increase the standards for training and hunt testing. To accomplish this objective the group is working to bring in more award-winning Small Munsterlander genetics from European countries. The KLMGNA has also added blood tracking to the requirements for passing grades in the club's hunt test program.  See for more information.

"Generally, I've found that Small Munsterlanders are as easy to train as most any other breed of versatile gun dog," says Ed Erickson, a professional dog trainer from Isle, Minnesota. "A few might be late bloomers and some may be a little stubborn, but most are as quick to learn and are as level-headed as German shorthairs.

"In most cases, Small Munsterlanders born in late winter or early spring can (with training) hunt the first fall, but don't expect a fully-matured performance," Erickson adds.

"Do expect your young Small Munsterlander to get some good hunting exposure and contribute to the hunting experience."

Though most Small Munsterlanders are "natural retrievers," many owners use a "trained retrieve" to ensure a particular dog will dependably fetch when in a field or water "testing" experience or on a hunting trip. "I use a trained retrieve or force-fetching method on all my Small Munsterlanders mainly to insure a dependable search, pick up, and return of any bird I send them after during any kind of NAVHDA or German-type tests," says John Liscovitz, president of KLMGMA.

"I do my force-fetching in five-minute sessions to avoid creating anxiety and resentment in the dogs. Going at it any longer just creates problems whereas shorter lessons over a longer time seem to keep the dogs more receptive and happier."

House vs. Kennel  

While at work, many Small Munsterlander owners keep their dogs in outside kennel runs during the day then bring them into their homes at night (and all day on weekends and holidays). The breed is consistently described as a very good house dog.

munster_2"The relatively small size and mild temperament of most Small Munsterlanders make them easy keepers outside where a medium-size kennel run will be enough to adequately hold them," says Allison Wilmer of Phoenix, Arizona. "And inside the house my Small Munsterlanders can be set free and they stay calm without roaming all over or tearing up the place.

"Our family and friends who hunt desert quail with us always comment on how calm and laid back Dot and Dolly, our two Small Munsterlanders, are in the house and out in the yard. But what a difference there is in their energy levels and working speed when we're on a hunt," Wilmer adds. "In talking to other Small Munsterlander owners, we've found that the majority chose the breed because they are good house dogs as well as natural hunters and easy to train."

For anyone in search of a Small Munsterlander pup, the usual guidelines apply. Do your homework — read about the breed and try to observe adult hunting dogs in the field and in water at hunt tests. Also, contact breeders and watch how Small Munsterlanders act in the house and in the yard at the breeders' homes.

See if you can be invited on a hunt to get a firm idea of how Small Munsterlanders perform on upland game birds (and small game animals) and waterfowl. Join one or both of the Small Munsterlander clubs to find pups from officially hunt tested parents and grandparents.  Join a training and hunt testing organization. Carefully calculate the significance of the scores over several generations.

Inquire about certified general health exams for genetic flaws such as hip dysplasia when looking at the parents of a litter.  Inquire about why this litter was produced and what the breeder's objectives were. Ask the breeder to discuss the individual differences they see in each pup.

What does the breeder do to evaluate each pup in terms of temperament, physical structure and conformation to predict physical performance and stamina in the field, and what do they do to expose the pups to such "outside" factors as other people, kids, terrain, birds, fur, weather and water?

Gaining Respect  

"Hey, is that a Small Munsterlander?" the hunter said when he first saw one of the dogs belonging to Melissa Herz, a guide at a major commercial hunting enterprise in the state of Washington. Herz smiled when the client with the shotgun recognized her dogs as a breed becoming more recognizable in her part of the country — and maybe all across North America.

munster_7Herz has contributed to the Small Munsterlander's popularity by testing several of her dogs in NAVHDA, gaining Versatile Champion titles for two of them. She has used her prize-winning Small Munsterlanders to produce some special litters with pups sent to many states and parts of Canada. A Small Munsterlander belonging to Herz appeared on the cover of GUN DOG five years ago.

"The cover picture has been both a kind of blessing and sort of a curse," Herz says. "On one hand, the image helped to raise the profile of the breed with hunters interested in their versatility. On the other hand, I'm getting more calls from some people who say they are avid hunters but, I suspect, are really just looking for a canine companion or house dog that is simply 'something different,'" Herz says.

Because of this, Herz, like many Small Munsterlander breeders, thoroughly questions anyone who inquires about buying any of her dogs and quizzes everyone about what, where, and how often they hunt.

"Like most all our club members, I'm glad to see our dogs become family members, but they must first of all go to hunting homes where they will be used and proved in the field and on the water as versatile gun dogs," Herz states.


In the beginning, Airedales were hunting dogs. The working class people in the West Riding of Yorkshire, who developed the breed, needed a dog that could scent game, had the size to be able to tackle larger animals and could be taught to retrieve. The answer to this need turned out to be the Airedale.

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Braque Francais

In the days before France became known as the cradle of artists and the center of the fashion world, it was a superb upland hunting destination. The hills of the French countryside were planted with a variety of agricultural crops and the forests and mountains were teeming with wildlife. Grouse, pheasants and partridge were common in the farmlands and wild birds were a staple food for many rural families.

At the same time, pointing dogs were becoming more popular in Europe and a select group of French breeders set out to develop a breed that had the athleticism necessary to hunt hard all day and the instinct to point and retrieve birds. Using Spanish pointers and various European hounds as their root stock, these breeders began to develop dogs that embodied all of the qualities they desired.

The result of their efforts was the Braque Francais. The Braque became known for its keen determination and overwhelming desire to please its master. Careful breeding resulted in a dog that could be relied upon to obey commands in the field and hunt hard all day long, a dog that had intense prey drive and could also serve as a family companion, playing with the children, yet acting as a watchdog in the dark of night.

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Curly-Coated Retriever

With textured curls and a sleek frame, the curly-coated retriever often triggers double-takes from onlookers. At a distance, the curly-coated retriever is often mistakenly identified as a Labrador because the curly shares the Lab's conformation and passion for finding, flushing and fetching gamebirds. But surprisingly, the curly was not descended from the Lab. Rather, the curly is thought to have been bred from the English water spaniel, the St. John's Newfoundland, the retrieving setter and the poodle, according to the American Kennel Club.

Up close, the curly is much different from a Labrador: Its coat is made up of short, stiff hairs tightly wound into ringlets covering the main body, the top of the head and the ears.

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Flat-Coated Retriever

Once upon a time, when English gamekeepers reigned supreme on the estates of the nobility, they needed a dog that could find and retrieve birds that might have been missed after a driven shoot. But their mortal enemies, poachers, also needed a dog to find and retrieve birds€¦only in their case, in the middle of the night. In both instances, for the law-abiding and lawbreaker alike, the flat-coated retriever was often the dog of choice.

For whichever task they were assigned, the dog needed to have an outstanding nose, be exceedingly biddable, and when they were working for the poachers, be fast and agile enough to escape the bull mastiffs the gamekeepers employed to patrol the estate during the hours of darkness. These traits, still present in the breed today, are a not-so-well-kept secret for this relatively rare retriever breed, which has achieved the highest levels of success in all of the AKC's dog sports except for retriever field trials. Flat-coats were in 90th place in 2011 on the American Kennel Club's 'popularity list ' of the 173 breeds recognized by the AKC.

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French Brittany

'Some French Brittanys can be drama queens when training pressure is applied, ' notes Jim Keller from Keller Gun Dog Kennels near Lincoln, Neb. 'By 'drama queen' I mean this breed sometimes tends to overreact with a lot of emotional outbursts when specific behavior is required of them.

'For example, when being taught to force fetch, some French Brittanys will squeal and squirm in an effort to get the trainer to leave them alone. And some trainers will back way off and let the dog have its way, ' Keller says.

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Portugese Pointer

Ralph Fedele told me his first choice was a whippet, not a Portuguese pointer. He'd been a bird hunter in a previous life, before children. He now wanted a small dog with short hair — less mess in the house — that was good with kids. Then his wife got into the act.

'My wife said, 'Look at this dog I just happened to come across on the internet,' ' Fedele recalls. 'I looked at the pictures and said, 'That's the dog. Let's call this guy and get that dog.' My wife, just completely coincidentally, is Portuguese, although she had no prior experience with the dogs. '

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Standard Poodle

From the Middle Ages, Europeans have always considered the standard poodle a hunting dog. According to Canadian breed historian Emily Cain, Europeans categorized it as a spaniel. However, the French breed name, caniche, comes from chien canard, or 'duck dog, ' so they have also classified it a retriever.

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Irish Red and White Setter

If you ask the owner of an Irish Red and White Setter what makes these dogs special, almost uniformly the answer is, 'They are natural pointers. ' Many say their dogs have earned a junior hunter title with absolutely no training at all and never having had any exposure to birds prior to the time they started running in the tests.

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German Shorthaired Pointer

German shorthaired pointers have been particularly popular in the U.S. with gamebird hunters looking for a do-it-all versatile gun dog. There are approximately 10,000 German shorthairs annually registered with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Likewise, shorthairs are the dominant breed in NAVHDA and have produced top scores in Natural Ability, Utility, and Versatile Champion testing for the past several decades.

German shorthaired pointers are also one of the main dog breeds in many kinds of field trials and a variety of hunting contests. And all across North America, shorthairs are the common pointing breed for the average gamebird hunter just about anywhere there are gamebirds to be hunted.

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Irish Water Spaniel

'Beannaithe ' (Blessed) is how the old Gaelic hunters in Ireland viewed the Shannon spaniel that later became known as the Irish water spaniel. Developed to retrieve waterfowl and upland game, the breed proved to be so versatile it could do just about anything except dance Irish jigs and reels. But there are those who contend that given proper instruction and the appropriate music, an IWS could probably master these intricate step dances, also.

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Llewellin Setter

There's no sight more classic than a pair of gun dogs working a gamebird with one dog pointing and the other backing.

The canines in this case were two Llewellin setters on a South Dakota pheasant hunt last fall. The two dogs stood frozen with heads and tails high in a picture-perfect pose. As one of the hunters walked in to flush the pointed bird, two hens and one rooster rocketed out of the prairie grass. One well-placed shot brought down the long-tailed ringneck and one dog ran out, picked up and brought it in.

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English Springer Spaniel

Leave the open country birds and serious waterfowling for the dogs that are bred for that kind of stuff, the pointing and retrieving breeds. Spaniels really shine for small-water ducking and thick-cover upland birds — bobwhite quail, woodcock, ruffed grouse€¦and, oh yes, pheasants.

If ever a dog was created to hunt pheasants, it is the springer spaniel. I simply can't understand why the breed isn't more popular, given the vast number of rooster hunters in the U.S., but there you go. The really good ones — and I had one like that — can be almost wizard-like in the way they approach the game.

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American Water Spaniel

Developed by 19th-century market hunters in the Upper Midwest, the American water spaniel has always been a dual-purpose dog, equally talented for waterfowl and upland gamebird hunting. From the beginning and continuing to this day, AWS owners have been determined to maintain the breed's dual résumé. Ironically, that determination has prevented them from displaying the AWS' versatility in the field events of the American Kennel Club (AKC).

These events come in three distinct formats: one for pointing breeds, one for retrievers and one for spaniels. Thus, for a breed to participate, it must not only be AKC-recognized as a Sporting Group breed, but must also be grouped in one and only one of AKC's three classifications: pointing breed, retriever or spaniel. AKC doesn't allow dual classifications.

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The Weimaraner, from the beginning of its breed history more than 100 years ago, has been known as the 'Gray Ghost ' — a good nickname for a gun dog with a silvery coat and somewhat spooky-looking yellow-amber eyes. Originally developed in Germany at the court of Weimar (hence its name), the Weimaraner was successfully bred to be a versatile hunter of upland gamebirds, waterfowl, predators, and big game.

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