The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP)

German Shorthaired Pointer

She may not be the best choice as a first dog for the uninitiated, but the versatile and high-energy German Shorthaired Pointer makes an excellent dog for an active family. Long celebrated for her performance as a gundog, she is easily trained, hardy, agile, and friendly, with an insatiable appetite for work—hunting, tracking, or tirelessly retrieving the toy you tossed into the water for her. She has inspired fiction and non-fiction writers alike—to say nothing of painters and sculptors—and excels in competitive sporting events. The GSP, with her lean, sinewy build and distinctive 'ticked’ coat, is at once an exceptional athlete, a superior hunting dog, and a loyal companion.


Other Names

The German Shorthaired Pointer may be referred to as the GSP.


German Shorthaired Pointer Mixes

German Shorthaired Pointer mixes may be available from shelters and rescues. While a German Shorthaired Pointer mix may share common physical traits and temperament with a GSP, any number of other breeds' characteristics may also be present. DNA testing is not a standard practice in most shelters, so breed mix is usually a best guess based on appearance and any information provided by previous owners when the dog is surrendered.


If you want to adopt a German Shorthaired Pointer mix or AKC registered GSP, contact shelters or rescue groups to let them know you’re interested, as they may maintain a list of specific requests. Be advised that even in an AKC registered German Shorthaired Pointer, the personality may differ from the breed standard based on a dog's unique genetics, experiences, training, and socialization.


Common German Shorthaired Pointer mixes include Labrador Retriever, Weimaraner, and retriever- or spaniel-type dogs.

Physical Description

Coat

German Shorthaired Pointers possess a striking coat in solid liver, or a combination of liver and white: it may be ticked (dotted), patched (large liver spots against a white coat), or roaned (a fine mixture of white and liver colored hairs). It is a taut coat, short, thick, and water repellent, but a little longer on the underside of the tail and the back edges of the rear end, or 'haunches.’ The GSP coat feels rough to the touch, except for the softer, thinner, and shorter hair on the ears and head.


Height

Average Height: 21-25 inches


Weight

Male: 55-70 pounds

Female: 45-60 pounds

Breed Standard & History

The German Shorthaired Pointer is either square or slightly longer than she is tall. She wears an intelligent, animated expression and possesses the look of nobility, her lithe gait balanced and well coordinated, and without wasted effort. She is neither overly small nor unduly large; her outline is graceful, with a clean-cut head, sloping shoulders, a deep chest, and adequate muscle. Her tail is typically docked to 40 percent of its length, held horizontally when she walks, and hanging at rest. Her head is properly proportioned with the rest of her, with medium-sized, almond-shaped eyes in dark brown, and full of expression. Her ears are broad and lie flat against the head, which is reasonably broad, arched on the side and slightly round on top. She has a powerful jaw, and her muzzle is sufficiently long to take and properly carry game for a long time. Her short, strong, and straight back rises slightly from the root of her tail to her withers; her loin is slightly arched and her hips broad, falling somewhat toward the tail in a graceful curve.


The modern German Shorthaired Pointer came about as a multipurpose hunting dog sometime during the mid- to late 19th century, although a version of the dog may have existed as early as the 17th century. The forerunner was the German Pointer or German Bird Dog, a large dog with a keen nose created through crossbreeding between Spanish Pointers and Bloodhounds. Hunters selected for dogs with docile and obedient personalities, but over time added Pointer bloodlines from England to refine the breed, resulting in a more 'elegant’ canine who worked well on land and in the water. Prince Albrecht zu Solms-Braunfeld of the Royal House of Hanover encouraged breeders to select dogs based on function over form, eventually resulting in a lean, athletic hunting dog who also made an affectionate companion.


Dr. Charles Thornton of Montana imported the first known German Shorthaired Pointer to the United States in 1925, and then began breeding them; five years later the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the GSP. But after WWII, many German breeders hid their prized dogs—along with other valuables—in Yugoslavia, sharply limiting the GSP gene pool for West German breeders, who had to rebuild the dog from scratch. In the United States, the German Shorthaired Pointer continued to thrive and enjoyed its peak success in competition in 1968. The GSP companion dog appears as 'Pearl’ in a popular detective series by Robert B. Parker, and in various works of nonfiction; today she continues to shine as a top-notch gun dog and all-around agreeable family companion.


AKC Breed Category

Sporting Group

Personality

General Temperament

The energetic, eager, and highly trainable German Shorthaired Pointer is intelligent and friendly, and enthusiastic without being nervous, although she can develop separation anxiety if you routinely leave her alone for long stretches. She is a house dog, and not a yard or kennel dog—left to her own devices she may become destructive. And while she’ll love the entire family, she may choose a favorite. She will bark to announce visitors or strangers, and may show reserve around them, but is not an aggressive dog. She is the consummate people pleaser and will try especially hard to make you happy when you reward her with praise, play, or food. Male GSPs make slightly more outgoing companions and more aggressive hunters than females; but if your female has a litter of puppies, she will protect them fiercely.


Family Life

Are German Shorthaired Pointers Good with Kids? GSPs do well with children, especially if they’re raised with them, and in particular with older kids: they have lots of energy and make active playmates. They can be too high-energy around toddlers; the best scenario is a home with older children who understand how to interact with dogs.


Are German Shorthaired Pointers Good with Other Pets? GSPs can get along with other dogs, but sometimes show aggression towards dogs of the same sex. They may also show aggression towards small, furry animals (cats or rabbits, for example) because of their hunting heritage. If your GSP is raised with the family cat, she’ll probably be fine around her, but may not be as docile with the neighbor’s cat who wanders into your yard.


Protective

Are German Shorthaired Pointers Good Guard Dogs? The GSP makes a reasonably good guard dog. She is intensely loyal to her family and will bark and alert everyone to visitors or strangers, but without showing aggression. Nor will she welcome visitors with indiscriminate tail wagging, but may be reserved around them.


Energy Levels

On a scale of one to five—five being high-energy—the German Shorthaired Pointer is a solid five. You must give this hardworking dog ample opportunities for exercise, because she needs it in spades; she will gladly curl up with you on the sofa afterwards. And you’ll need at least a six-foot fence if she will be outdoors unsupervised, as she will try to escape her enclosure when she grows bored in your absence.


Specific Concerns:

  • She can be energetic to the point of rowdy, high-jumping exuberance, and needs abundant exercise: if you are inactive, the GSP is not for you.
  • Separation anxiety can be a problem in this breed, and too much confinement will possibly lead to neurotic barking, hyperactivity, and destructive chewing.
  • Her demeanor around strangers can be very friendly to somewhat reserved, so her alarm bark may be welcoming, or a bit protective (but she is not aggressive).
  • Some GSPs are determined cat chasers, and they can be aggressive towards dogs.
  • Obedience training is a must; while she is relatively easy to train, the GSP has a mind of her own, and may ignore you when something more interesting distracts her. Keep training sessions short and positive.

Requirements

Indoor 

The German Shorthaired Pointer wants to be indoors with you and your family, but is a poor choice as an apartment dweller because of her exceedingly high level of energy. Left alone for long periods she may turn to destructive chewing and neurotic barking. Obedience training is crucial for the GSP, and crate training is recommended.


Outdoor 

The German Shorthaired Pointer was made for an active outdoor lifestyle. She may be susceptible to hypothermia in the cold, if she burns up what fuel she has in pursuit of prey, and then finds herself in a wet and windy environment with a dropping temperature. The best thing you can do is keep her well fed and hydrated, and possibly switch to food with a higher fat content in winter. Likewise, her feet are vulnerable to injuries if she will work in deep snowpack; dog boots can help.


Your GSP will perform well in the heat, especially when she can hop into a nearby pool or river to cool down after exertion.


Exercise 

A walk around the block is child’s play, not even a respectable warmup for the GSP: this gal needs at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day, and preferably more if you can give it to her. If she is not a gundog, she’ll do well with long walks, or running or hiking with you. She’ll also enjoy a prolonged game of fetch in the back yard.


Endurance 

Because this breed was developed for work, the German Shorthaired Pointer can rise to just about any occasion where endurance is required.


Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: Once conditioned, German Shorthaired Pointers can easily manage a three- to four-mile maintenance run. Start with short runs, one to two miles, on regular days for about a week. Once she’s comfortable with shorter runs, you can gradually increase your distance with her. It’s best to avoid feeding her two hours before and after her run, and if you have no backyard pool, she might enjoy a 'kiddie’ pool to hop into after a warm-weather run. Wait until your GSP is 18 months old, after the growth plates in her long bones have closed, to start running with her.
  • Hiking Miles: Once conditioned, the German Shorthaired Pointer can easily keep up with you on marathon hikes, and in fact often makes "top five" lists for best hiking breeds. You won’t out-hike your GSP.


Food 

Most German Shorthaired Pointers thrive on two to three cups of high-quality kibble daily, given in two meals, although gundogs may need increased rations or a higher fat content diet during the winter hunting season. Like people, dogs are individual: how much you feed your GSP depends in large measure on her size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Consult your vet to fine-tune your dog’s diet. She should not be allowed to 'graze’—you should be able to see her waist when you look at her from above, and to palpate her ribs (not see them) without pressing hard.


Alone Time 

The German Shorthaired Pointer scores low marks for tolerating alone time: keep her inside with you, and try not to leave her alone routinely for long periods. If your lifestyle will not allow for this, the GSP is probably not the dog for you.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

10-15 years


Grooming

The German Shorthaired Pointer’s coat is easy to groom and sheds only seasonally. Use a firm bristle brush on her coat once weekly, and bathe her as needed. Check her feet after she’s been working in the field, and dry her thoroughly after a hunt to keep her from chilling. Examine her ears regularly for signs of infection, including a bad odor, redness, or tenderness. Trim her nails every month, and brush her teeth regularly—if she’ll tolerate it—for good dental health and fresher breath.


Common Health Issues

While this is generally a healthy breed, some health problems in the German Shorthaired Pointer may include:


  • Hip dysplasia – a deformity of the hip joint where the ball joint of the femur, or femoral head, does not fit properly into the hip socket, or acetabulum. Mild cases can be addressed through diet and exercise, but more severe cases may call for surgery.
  • Cancer – this is one of the most reported health problems in a survey of GSP owners; types of cancers most often reported include mammary tumors, mast cell tumors, and lymphosarcoma.
  • Lymphedema – a valvular blockage of lymph flow or twisted lymphatic ducts cause tissues to swell.
  • Entropion – a condition of the eyelids usually detectable by six months of age; the eyelid rolls inward, irritating or injuring the eye. This condition can occur in one or both eyes, and can be corrected surgically.
  • Von Willebrand’s disease – an inherited blood disorder caused by a clotting deficiency. Signs are excessive bleeding after an injury or surgery. Most dogs with von Willebrand’s lead normal lives.
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) – a potentially life-threatening problem commonly called 'bloat,’ which can occur in a deep-chested dog who is fed one large meal per day or who rapidly consumes large volumes of water; the stomach becomes distended with gas and then may twist, resulting in a life-threatening condition called gastric torsion.

You can minimize serious health concerns in a German Shorthaired Pointer by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions. Ask the breeder for health clearances for both parents, from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) for normal eyes. Confirm health clearances by visiting the OFA website (offa.org).

Trainability

Basics

The German Shorthaired Pointer is an enthusiastic learner and reasonably easy to train. Basic obedience is a must, but because of her hunting dog heritage the GSP is an independent thinker: exercise patience with her during basic training, using kindness and consistency, and positive reinforcement—food rewards and praise, for example. If you’re harsh, she’ll simply dig in her heels and refuse to execute your request. Keep training sessions interesting, short, and upbeat, and end on a high note.


Advanced Training

The German Shorthaired Pointer is an excellent candidate for advanced training, most especially for work in the field and in the water. The GSP is also used in search-and-rescue operations.


Sporting Dog Training

The entire world of dog sports is open to the German Shorthaired Pointer. Her personality, intellect, and physique help her excel at a number of dog sports, including dock diving, agility, pointing, tracking, retrieving, and hunt tests. But if your GSP is not a hunting dog, she’ll take it in stride and turn her natural environment into a veritable sporting event, jumping off your boat dock into the water with agility, leaping high into the air to catch the ball you tossed her, scrambling up rocks on your hike instead of going around them, and 'inventing’ her own agility course with the found objects in your back yard.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about German Shorthaired Pointers.

Explore Other Breeds

Historically the primary reason was to keep it out of harm’s way during the hunt. But now the practice of docking—or amputating—a portion of the GSP’s tail is more about cosmetics, and maintaining the breed standards for appearance. Veterinarians’ opinions on the subject fall at various points along a continuum. The tail of a GSP shown competitively must be docked to 40 percent of its original length, or the dog will be disqualified.

An emphatic, yes! When you crate train her properly, the GSP will view her crate as her 'den’ and safe haven when things get too hectic around her. And although she is a relatively easy dog to train, asking her to behave unsupervised for a period of time at home is a tall order for her. She will also appreciate having her crate along for travel.

On average, a German Shorthaired Pointer should be between six and eight months to begin training. But as for the length of time to train her, it varies from dog to dog, and can take anywhere from one to four months, depending on the type of hunting training you plan to undertake with her.

Even avid hunters understand this intelligent breed is sought after for more than hunting: she is also bred to track, to keep watch over territory and get rid of vermin, and certainly for companionship. The German Shorthaired Pointer can be perfectly happy as a non-hunting dog, but ignoring this highly social canine or sentencing her to a sedentary lifestyle is indeed unfair, as it would be to most dogs.