By Dr. Becker
Alert, adaptable and affectionate, there’s a lot to love about the German wirehaired pointer, originally bred to help hunters both point to and retrieve downed game. They’re still capable of those things, of course, but this dog, a member of the “sporting” group of canines, is literally designed for the elements and to work hard.
Reasons why this breed excels in these areas include the fact that, as his name suggests, he has a “wiry,” water-repellent double coat for superior protection; they’re tough and persistent whether their hunting skills are needed in the water or on land, and they’re very intelligent.
As a carefully considered mix between the foxhound, pointer and standard poodles, these dogs could be called multi-tasker, with the German name Deutsch Drahthaar, which attained its first recognition in Germany in 1870. The American Kennel Club took a little longer to award status; papers were finally extended in 1959. Adults of this breed stand 22 to 26 inches at the shoulder and can weigh anywhere from 45 to 75 pounds.
When they’re small, their coat may be softer and silkier and sometimes wooly, which, as they grow older, may be less easy to care for, but they shed very little. These dogs’ coloring is generally a combination of liver and white, spotted, roan or a ticked pattern.
Roan refers to a fine mixture of colored hairs with white hairs; ticking (small spots or flecks of a different color) is small. You could almost call it “hombre,” with either dark skin with lighter two-toned hairs, or just the opposite. Additionally, the distinctive beard and mustache sported by the German wirehaired pointer, aka GWP, can make them look rather like a walrus.
While the rest of the time these dogs don’t require a lot in the way of grooming, and have an infrequent need for bathing (look for natural shampoo) their “harsh” coat can be “stripped” — “dead hair plucked out by hand or with a stripping knife” — a tedious job that calls for such tools as a stainless steel comb, a bristle brush and an assortment of stripping knives. Many owners elect against this procedure and choose to clip their GWPs instead.
If you choose to participate in this tedious ritual it should be performed every spring and fall and started when the puppy is very young. Ask your veterinarian and groomer for advice.
German Wirehaired Pointer: Personality Plus
In regard to their personality and proclivities, Vet Street has several colorful descriptions, such as “boisterous hunting dog is a multitasker par excellence,” along with such adjectives as versatile, active and demanding:
“He’s an active, complex dog with special needs (i.e., an owner who can match his intelligence and activity level) … Like most dogs, GWPs become bored when left to their own devices. They can become noisy or destructive if they don’t have other dogs to keep them company and don’t receive much attention.
But when they live with a family committed to giving them plenty of training, exercise, and attention, they thrive. They do best in a suburban or rural home with a large yard or other opportunities for safe outdoor activity.”1
Incredibly hardworking even on the trail, they’re known for having a lot of stamina, so it’s important to channel that energy toward some kind of activity if he’s not on the hunt. They’re excellent at scenting, too. This breed thrives on nose work tasks, and I recommend pet parents consider enrolling their GWPs in this constructive hobby early on.
They do well and relish games and responsibilities such as agility courses, obedience classes and even helpful jobs such as search and rescue, therapy and drug detection or pulling people along on skis (called skijoring). They can even handle several such responsibilities at once.
It’s usually the most intelligent and strong-willed dogs who do this, but while German wirehaired pointers take very well to anything new you might want to teach them, they also require focused activity so they don’t go off on a tangent.
Call it their unique brand of inborn creativity and independence, but you may also notice how well they respond to praise and food rewards. Like every self-respecting dog, these guys enjoy playing, as well as going along on hiking, running and camping activities, but make sure they know the rules and stick to them.
German Wirehaired Pointer: Interactions With Others and Training
Vet Street give this breed four out of five stars for getting along well with children if they’re older and not subject to possible rough play; five stars for other dogs — with caveats — and alas, one star for its ability to accept cats unless they’ve been raised from puppyhood to accept them. Consequently:
“Older dogs encountering children for the first time will need supervision, especially if young children are involved. They may or may not get along with cats and other small pets. Puppies that are raised with cats often accept them as part of the family, but older GWPs who aren’t familiar with them may simply view them as another type of prey.
Keep them separated if you have any doubts at all. Most do best in a home without cats or other [prey-like] pets such as rabbits or hamsters, and you would do well to warn neighbors with free-roaming cats that their pets may be at risk.”2
Keep in mind, too, that as an excellent watchdog, if German wirehaired pointers aren’t familiar with human guests who may happen by, they may be downright unfriendly, so keep that in mind. As such, if you live in an apartment, this breed may not do well because of their penchant for barking and regular need for outdoor play.
Among family members, however, they’re playful, affectionate and may choose a favorite. All these interactions are dependent upon his early training and socialization, which you want to start as soon as you bring him home. Eight weeks old is not too early; waiting until they’re 6 months old may reveal bad habits that have already begun, and they’re so much tougher to turn around when they’re older. I recommend these pups continue socialization classes their entire first year of life.
At least an hour of strenuous exercise is recommended daily. You may also find that when they’re given a task to do, such as fetching the morning paper or playing games that require memory work, they’ll be eager to do well, especially if you give them a treat.
Other Items of Interest Regarding GWPs
Healthwise, German wirehaired pointers generally have no predispositions for illness or disease, but hip dysplasia is one disorder veterinarians have run across. Entropion and progressive retinal atrophy are problems that may impact these dogs’ vision, and a common bleeding disorder known as von Willebrand disease may occur.
As PetWave notes, Identifying the symptoms and signs of canine von Willebrand disease is the first step to knowing if your dog requires medical attention. It affects both males and females in about 50 different breeds, and, although they may exhibit few symptoms, those symptoms may diminish as they get older. It may only appear if there’s a traumatic injury such as caused by a dog fight or accident.3
For an excellent resource into this breed, the German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America4 is a storehouse of information. Certification requirements can be seen at the organization’s site, which offers additional information about these and other possible physical problems related to the breed. If you’re thinking about adding a German wirehaired pointer to your family, there are many in rescue groups and shelters waiting to find their forever homes.