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The German Wirehaired Pointer: A Falconer’s Dog

Falconry is a challenging field sport, in a wide variety of terrain. The quarry may be in the woodland or the open fields, moorland, or on water and marshland. Such is the variety of species, that a falconer, who does not specialise in one specific quarry, needs a very versatile dog to be the provider for either hawk or falcon. Guess what – one of the best dogs to support this activity is the German Wirehaired Pointer! Although this tradition has not been lasting for a long time, it is going to grow in the future and the demand for the GWPs will be huge!

In the UK, the GWP came into falconry prominence as just such a dog. In its native homeland in Germany it was truly a formidable all-rounder developed specifically to deal with the element of owning one dog capable of a wide variety of tasks in the field. Michael Woodford in his book ‘A Manual of Falconry’ published in 1960 shows a magnificent photo of a GWP lying down beside a goshawk on her perch. This is one of the defining moments for the wirehaired pointer, as it captured the imagination of those who wanted to move away from traditional pointers, setters and spaniels to a breed that could incorporate all their skills, plus there was not the need to be encumbered with a large kennel of specialist breeds to perform a singular task in the field.

After the Second World War GWPs had been imported into the UK in very small numbers and were a rarity. It was not until 1976 when 5 founder dogs were imported from Holland that the opportunity to own this breed was made available for those who wanted to see just what these gundogs were capable of.

With their tough wire coat, excellent pointing skills and a capacity to learn and develop their ability in the field to the highest level, they quickly became the dog of choice for the modern falconer. Unlike some other dogs, this breed is very easily trained for the falconry purposes and therefore it is always expected to achieve a success with this breed.

Falconry manuals and reference works rarely refer to how to train the dog as authors tend to concentrate solely on how to get the falcon or hawk prepared for the field. The truth of the matter is the dog is an essential ingredient to proficient hawking. It had become customary for the falconer to concentrate on flying the hawk whilst an assistant hunted the dogs either for the flush or for the point. Therefore you could indulge in having several brace of setters or pointers, or a compact team of spaniels.

The GWP is very quick to learn. They simply love to run around, and they enjoy in commands and directing them! Despite the fact that they also have strong retrieving instincts, there is no conflict in their minds when working with hawk or falcon. Much of the early work that they are taught is exactly the same as training the dog to the gun. They need to be able to sit, stay and be steady on command. As the become competent they will continue to put into practice this training in conjuction with the hawk or falcon. Once they learn the basics, the further progress is easy!

Their capacity to switch from dense woodland with bramble and briar undergrowth, to endurance running on moorland producing a perfect point for the falcon, makes them highly desirable and truly a great all-rounder.  They can be hunting and pointing for goshawks and Harris hawks, and switch their attention to partridge, grouse and duck for the falcon.

Young wirehairs need to be taught their lessons carefully as falconry dogs. This discipline branches away somewhat from shooting, as the dog will eventually be relied upon to do much of the field work away from the falconer and having located the quarry to be very steady on point, quite often for some time, whilst the hawk or falcon is brought into a commanding position, prior to the flush.

Knowledgeable breeding of GWPs for work in the field is paramount if the owner is to benefit from them as falconry dogs. The quality of selection in Germany is such that the very best dogs and bitches are used to produce the next generation’s working gundog. This pattern can also be seen in many good kennels in the UK today.

There is a tendency to believe that all wirehairs will make good dogs in the field whether for gun or hawk because that is what one expects from them. Unless they have been bred specifically as working dogs and both dam and sire can acquit themselves in the field, in shooting or falconry disciplines, then the likelihood is that you will be disappointed. As a safeguard, if you are going to invest time, effort and money into training a dog or bitch then make sure it was bred for that purpose.