A Walking Hunter’s Gun Dog
In 1873, Eduard Karel Korthals, the son of a wealthy banker and cattle breeder in the Netherlands who happened to also be an avid hunter, decided that the breeds of hunting dogs available at that time left something to be desired for someone who preferred to do his hunting on foot. Having reached that decision, he set out to do something about it, and the end result of his work was the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.
Luckily for Korthals, he didn’t have to start from scratch. Griffon-type dogs were mentioned in history as far back as 1545. The exact ancestry of the dogs that ultimately became what’s known as the “Korthals patriarchs,” however, is subject to considerable speculation. A book titled “Livre des Origines du Griffona Poil Dur” traced the ancestry of griffons to an ancient breed called the “Griffon Hound” and referred to at least one cross to a Pointer but didn’t say which pointer.
One theory is that this is a reference to either the Braque Français or the German Shorthaired Pointer, while another contends that contributors to Korthals’ dogs included spaniels, Otterhounds, French Barbet and a setter. But the truth is that there have been a lot of dogs called griffons or griffon types, as historically many different breeds with wire coats and facial furnishings were referred to as griffons. For this reason, it is likely that the identity of the actual breeds that ultimately produced the dogs Korthals used to create his new breed has been lost in the mists of time.
Hart (GCh. Moonshine's Hart Beats Red White & Blue RN CD SH), Ruth Vogel’s Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, knows how to cool down after a warm early season hunt.
Whatever breeds formed the basis for the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Korthals wound up with a hardy, close-working hunting companion that also happens to be a fine companion dog in addition to the breed’s excellent bird-finding ability. And many of the same characteristics that make the breed an excellent bird hunter also contribute to its success in other dog sports.
“Any activity that requires a WPG to use its nose is a good fit for this breed,” says Ruth Vogel, whose current dog is Hart (GCh. Moonshine's Hart Beats Red White & Blue RN CD SH). “My favorite activity, other than hunting with Hart, is tracking. More and more people are also becoming involved in nosework and blood trailing. Of course, in Europe the WPG is a versatile hunter used for both fur and fowl.”
Hart doing what he loves the best.
Terri Korthals — no relation! — thinks one reason the breed can do so many different sports is because they are “scary intelligent.”
“They can think for themselves, plus they are light on their feet and agile,” she explains, adding that her dogs do tracking, coursing ability, barn hunt and, most recently, nosework in addition to working in the field as hunting dogs.
Korthals, whose current WPG is Tanner (GCh. U-Ch U-CDX U-RO3 Chukar Well Dressed Sharpshooter CDX JH RE TD CA RATO TFFC FDCH-S), delights in the breed’s clownish temperament.
“Since they’re also scruffy, they don’t take themselves seriously except when they’re hunting,” she says. “They make me laugh with their antics around the house. Then they’ll turn around and send shivers watching these talented dogs playfully bouncing around but then hit a scent cone, slam on point and not move a muscle.”
Terri Korthals’ Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Tanner (GCh U-Ch U-CDX U-RO3 Chukar Well Dressed Sharpshooter CDX JH RE TD CA RATO TFFC FDCH-S), found coursing to be something he liked.
Lindsey Latham believes the breed’s versatility is the result of a long history of independently working with people. “The breed’s biddability is sometimes challenging, but it’s always a fun journey learning how to make dog sports that are not as innate as hunting rewarding for the dog. But nose work, barn hunt and Fast Cat are all sports that use the Griffon’s prey and hunt drive as well as its scenting abilities.”
Latham’s current Griffon, Eli, is a certified search-and-recovery dog, qualified to find missing persons in wilderness settings when we don’t know if the missing individual is alive or dead.
“Because of this work, he can’t train for anything like nosework,” she explains. “He does hunt birds, and since he started bird hunting, I’ve found he has become much more serious about each of his specific jobs. He is able to focus much more on finding people when he’s doing search work. But if I’m wearing a hunting vest and carrying a shotgun, he knows the objective is birds. Once he retires from search work, I think he’ll love both barn hunt and nosework.”
Eli (Glacier Kennels Dead Reckoning), Lindsey Latham’s Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, is a certified search-and-recovery dog, but takes time out from his full-time S & R work to do some hunting.
Lisa Durand has been active in importing Wirehaired Pointing Griffons from Sweden and Germany in the interest of maintaining genetic diversity and keeping the breed together so that there is no “split” between show dogs and field dogs.
“I hope we never let one aspect become more important than the other,” she says. “From the beginning when Eduard Korthals developed the breed, they have been versatile hunting both fur and feathers for a walking hunter. They had to be able to change from one task to another easily and think, solving problems on their own.
Ch. Glacier's SingleshotMountain NAVHDA Prize 2 is the first Wirehaired Pointing Griffon import from Sweden for Lisa Durand.
Durand, whose dogs are Ch. Glacier's SingleshotMountain NAVHDA Prize 2 and Ch. Griffinorr Chewbagga JH, says the breed’s natural hunting drive and a keen nose keep them competitive in many different dog sports. “I was fortunate in that my first Griff was very good. I wish I could say it was because Koko had such a good trainer, but it truly was luck. She was Winners Bitch at our first national specialty and then when we joined the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, or NAVHDA, at her first natural ability test, with absolutely no training, she earned a prize.”
The American Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Association was one of the first AKC parent clubs to take positive steps toward recognizing the importance of avoiding a split between “show” and “field” types. Toward this end, the association has created several awards for dogs that are versatile or have done well in both the show ring and the field, including the Brandy Memorial Award, which is given to dogs that are in the top five in AKC breed points for the year and have a Senior or Master hunt title. A number of parent clubs, within the Sporting Group and now in other groups, have since followed the example of the AWPGA, the German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America and the American Chesapeake Club in establishing special honors for dogs in the breed that are conformation champions and achieve top level titles in the breed’s historical work.
Chewie (Ch, Griffinorr Chewbagga JH), Durand’s second Swedish import shortly after his arrival from Sweden.
Like most Sporting breeds, the German Wirehaired Pointer is quite easy to train, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be issues that have to be fixed, one way or another.
“While Tanner learned the obedience exercises quite easily, like most Griffs he didn’t do well with drilling,” Korthals explains. “So, trying for perfectly straight sits or precise fronts was a struggle for him. He is trained completely through utility, but he lost the happiness in his work, so we stopped. The solution for him was to switch to rally, where I could talk and animate myself to keep him interested.”
She adds that she was a bit surprised to discover that Tanner also had some issues with field work.
“He was not thrilled about holding his point through the flush, shot and the fall. He is great at marking the fall when he stays put, but it took a lot of repetitions and positive rewards to get there. Unlike obedience, he seemed to understand that there was a reason for a lot of reps with his field work and he stayed happy throughout the process, most likely because there was a bird involved and he finally figured out that he was going to get that bird if he did what I wanted him to do.”
Flyball turned out to be another sport that Tanner thought was fun.
“There will be obstacles in training for any activity,” Vogel concedes. “But they are simply something to go over or around — admittedly, not always an easy task.”
For example, last year Vogel entered Hart in a walking field trial, running him in three classes in two days. She says they did “reasonably well given that I had never seen a field trial and had only read the rules.”
Hart and Vogel ran into a snag on his first tracking test when the field turned out to contain a number of wild pheasants.
The following weekend they entered a tracking test to try for Hart’s TD. The tracking field contained wild pheasants — certainly an obstacle for a hunting dog — and the 40-mile-per-hour wind that day didn’t help, either. Hart alternated between tracking and hunting — and failed the test.
“It was difficult for him to concentrate on following a track when he kept getting a nose full of pheasant scent,” Vogel reflects. “The failure to pass the test wasn’t Hart’s fault. He was just doing what his hunting training and his instincts told him to do.”
Vogel adds that while they failed the test, she learned a lesson. “I learned never to enter two activities that required scenting in such a short time span, and certainly to not enter a tracking test where we were also likely to find game birds.”
She hopes that some time this fall she and Hart will be able to complete his TD, provided she remembers those lessons learned.
“I always try to be doing something with my Griffs because, as is the case with most Sporting breeds, they are high energy and the training and participation in performance activities provides a release for some of that energy,” Vogel explains. “It also helps them learn how to work through the problems encountered in training and performing. They work well for praise and encouragement. Once they get through a problem, it rarely comes up again, although sometimes it seems like their attitude is ‘Whew! I did it and survived!’”
Post-hunt, Eli gets a little rest with the sort of mixed-bag the breed was originally intended to hunt — pheasant, quail and rabbit.
Latham noted that she and Eli recently ran into a rough patch in search-and-rescue training.
“Search and rescue is a full-time job, which means we can’t do much more than that, although Eli is also a hunting dog. But I discovered that I was micromanaging him during training searches. If he took a step back in training, I would put pressure on him and micromanage how he worked in order to correct the problem. This made both of us miserable.”
But when Latham took a more “hands off” approach, letting him work out the scent problems on his own and make his own choices, “that has brought us back very quickly to where we ought to be.”
For her part, Korthals is concerned about the breed’s increasing popularity.
“I worry that people don’t understand the need to keep these active dogs exercised, both physically and mentally. Griffs are smart dogs and need a job to do to keep them out of trouble,” she says, adding that there also seem to be more breeders who aren’t trying to keep both the conformation and hunting dogs as a single breed. “We don’t want to have two very different types within the breed, such as has happened with the English Springer Spaniel or some of the setter breeds.”
Vogel agrees. “As with so many breeds, a surge in popularity causes problems with many people not thoroughly researching the breed and understanding its need for both physical and mental stimulation,” she notes. “The AWPGA rescue has seen an upsurge in Griffs coming into rescue when the dog turns out to be inappropriate for their home situation. The WPG is sometimes called a ‘Velcro dog’ because they need to be with people. They are not suited to spend all day home alone or to be isolated in an outdoor kennel.”