In an earlier post, I mentioned that Sawyer, like every other GSP, has webbed feet. A few of my readers were surprised at that fact, just as I was surprised by it while I was researching the breed. So, for you, for me, for anybody who cares enough to be interested, but not enough to look it up, here’s a brief history of Sawyer’s breed.
In the dense forests of nineteenth-century Germany, hunters desired a companion that could fill a few different roles. They wanted a breed with a nose capable locating game at distance, enough discipline to hold (point) when game was found, and strength and durability enough to retrieve downed game from both land and water. Historians believe that the breed began as a mix of numerous existing breeds, including the Old Spanish Pointer, the French Braque, and the English Foxhound. Throughout the latter half of the century, the line was mixed with a variety of other breeds in an attempt increase breed intelligence, versatility, stamina, and aesthetics.
In 1872, the breed was entered into the German Kennel Club Stud Book, and in 1925 a female GSP was brought to the United States, thus establishing the breed in America. In 1930, GSPs became an American Kennel Club recognized breed.
The breed is named for its ability to point. As in the featured picture in this post, a dog on point flattens its back and head and becomes very still, creating a line pointing toward game. This instinct is simply an extension of the stalking instinct possessed by many breeds. Most dogs, upon smelling something out of the ordinary, will slow down and deliberately inspect the smell. As puppies, GSPs will stalk nearly anything — a feather, a spider, a dandelion — that they aren’t familiar with. They are set apart, however, by their above-average sense of smell (to detect game from farther away) and their common sense. A GSP quickly learns that if they get too close to their prey, it will flee. They learn to pause before pouncing on their quarry, and after many, many training sessions, this tendency can be molded into the powerful tool that hunters desire.
Shorthairs are praised for their intelligence, for their strong noses, and for their ability to run long and fast, but the breed’s true merit lies in its versatility. GSPs have strong legs, thick nails, and outstanding stamina, which make them effective upland (rocky, mountainous terrain) bird dogs. They tend to be barrel chested, especially if they aren’t spayed or neutered, which helps push through dense thickets of sage. As I mentioned above, they have webbed feet and a dense, water-repellent coat, which makes them sound water dogs as well. Beyond hunting, many GSPs are trained to dock jump — something I’d like to try with Sawyer — many are showed, and some even work with military and law enforcement.
The primary complaint I hear about GSPs is that they’re too high energy. Here’s the deal, though. Sawyer runs everywhere. He never walks. We’re not even sure he knows how. This can be frustrating, especially in a home like ours with tight hallways, because he’ll come flying by and clip you in the back of the knee. It’s a pain, but not a breed flaw. In fact, their energy is what makes them effective hunters. On a given day, a hunter might hike between ten and fifteen miles, over rocky terrain and dense brush. The dog easily doubles that distance, does it faster, requires fewer breaks, and is having fun the whole time. Energy can be a nuisance, but only if it’s ignored. An energetic dog wants to be stimulated, to work, to learn.
There are several more-than-a-century-old pedigree lines in existence. Sawyer is a member of none of them, but he shows more promise every day. I can’t wait to get him out in the field.