The Pointer is a gundog breed native to England. While most major kennel clubs refer to this breed as the Pointer, it is commonly known as the English Pointer, and some kennel clubs officially identify it by that name. The Pointer is not a versatile gun dog, and is only highly skilled at one task. However, it is generally considered to be the supreme pointing breed, and has historically been one of the most successful breeds in field trials. The Pointer is so popular as a working gun dog in parts of the United States that it sometimes known simply as the Bird Dog.
The Pointer is a very old breed, and it was created in a time before written records were kept of dog breeding. As a result, most of its origins have been lost to time, and this breed’s true history is a matter of substantial debate among dog experts. Most of what is said is pure speculation, but there is some information that can be gleaned by examining the past.
The modern pointer is a distinctively English breed, and it was definitely developed into its modern form in that country. However, most experts agree that it is descended from dogs that were imported to England from continental Europe. It is generally acknowledged that there was a pointing breed native to Spain known as the Spanish Pointer. This breed was imported into England at some point prior to the 1600’s where it became a popular hunting breed. The first records of Pointers in England date from around 1650. While the breed was commonly referred to as the Pointer, it was still occasionally referred to as the Spanish Pointer. It is thought that Pointers were originally a considerably shorter and stockier dog than the modern breed.
It is known that the Spanish Pointer was crossed with a number of other breeds by English breeders. The exact breeds that were used have long been a matter of debate. Almost all experts agree that Foxhounds, Bloodhounds, and Greyhounds were used. Most experts also agree that either the now-extinct Setting Spaniel or its descendant the English Setter (or perhaps both) were used as well. Other commonly suggested breeds include the Bull Terrier, the Bracco Italiano, and various breeds of Braque (French Pointers), as well as the several extinct breeds such as the Talbot Hound, the Northern Hound, and the Southern Hound. It is highly likely random bred Spaniel and Hound type dogs were used as well. There are no records of any of these crosses, but they have been extrapolated based on anatomy, behavioral similarities, and which breeds were commonly present in England throughout the centuries. Over time, the Pointer developed into a taller, leaner dog.
Although it has long been known as a gundog, the Pointer was actually developed so long ago that guns were not frequently used for hunting. The Pointer actually began its career working with Greyhounds and Lurchers (sighthound/herding dog crosses). The keen-nosed Pointer was first used to find and locate small mammals and to either point to their location or flush them from cover. At which point Sighthounds would be unleashed to chase down and dispatch the quarry. The most common game hunted in this way was rabbits and hares, although occasionally other species such as foxes were as well. Eventually, hunters realized that the Pointer was also skilled at finding birds. Similarly to how the breed hunted small mammals, it would locate birds and then either point to where they were hiding or flush them from cover. Hunters would then throw nets to catch the birds, or more rarely, send trained falcons to kill them. The Pointer was quite popular, but was considerably less popular than the various Spaniel and Setter breeds of the time. One reason for this breeds relative lack of popularity during this period was that it was known as a warm weather hunting dog. Pointers work much better in the warmth than the cold. This severely limited the breed’s use in much of the United Kingdom, particularly Northern England and Scotland.
Although with the advent of guns and their widespread use in bird hunting, the Pointer would begin to grow in popularity. This dog is known for hunting with great speed and for covering a wide area; traits that are not especially desirable when hunting with sighthounds, nets, or falcons, but are advantageous when hunting with guns. The Pointer’s rise in popularity would continue with the advent of field trials. These competitions were first held in the 1800’s. There are many different variations of field trials, but they all are designed to test a dog’s hunting ability. Many are based on how many birds a dog can locate in a certain time period. Because the Pointer hunts with great speed, it excelled at these trials, and quickly became known as one of the most successful competitors in them.
Pointers were developed for a very specific purpose. These dogs were exclusively used to hunt upland birds. This breed was not used frequently in wet environments, and was very rarely expected to retrieve. As a result, the ability to work in water and a natural retrieving instinct are considerably weaker in the Pointer than in many hunting breeds, especially those from continental Europe. However, the Pointer is regarded by many as the finest upland bird dog in the world, and also as the most skilled pointing breed.
It is unclear exactly when the first Pointers were imported to America. It is possible that this breed was imported as early as the 1700’s, although no records of the breed exist from the New World of that time. It is quite possible that the breed was less desirable to Americans, who initially required a more versatile dog for the harsh frontier environments. The first definite records of this breed come from America from around the time of the Civil War. It is thought that many Pointers were brought to America with British immigrants. Others were likely imported by American sportsmen. As was the case in England, as field trials became increasingly popular in America, so did the Pointer. Initially, the Pointer faced a great deal of resistance from American sportsmen who greatly favored the Setter breeds. In fact, for many years Pointers were not even allowed to compete against Setters in field trials. However, some American sportsmen quickly gained an appreciation for this breed’s skills. The Westminster Kennel Club was founded largely to improve the Pointer breed. The club actually selected a Pointer known as Sensation for its logo. Sensation was imported from England in 1876, and still serves as the club’s logo.
As the decades wore on, the Pointer continued to grow in popularity with American sportsmen. The breed was one of the first to be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1884. The AKC refers to the breed as the Pointer, and places it in the Sporting Group. The Pointer was also one of the first breeds to be registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC) when that organization first broke off from the AKC, although the official UKC name for the breed is the English Pointer. By 1910, the Pointer was had largely overtaken the Setter breeds as the preeminent working gundog in America. This was probably equally the result of the Pointer’s natural abilities and the fact that most Setters were being bred primarily for the show ring and not the field at that time. The Pointer became especially popular in the American South. Eventually, the Pointer became so ubiquitous as a working gundog in several southern states that the breed became known colloquially as the Bird Dog. The Pointer works best in the warm weather that greatly predominates in the region for most of the year. In the American South, the traditional quarry of the Pointer is the bobwhite, a species of quail. However, American hunters also commonly use the dog to hunt pheasant, grouse, and woodcock, as well as other game birds. In 1936, the Elhew Kennel was founded. This kennel produced a large number of working Pointers, and the dogs bred there were known as especially good competitors in field trials for several decades. Elhew Pointers had a large impact on the modern American breed. In 1938, the American Pointer Club (APC) was founded to promote and protect the Pointer breed. The APC became and still remains the official parent club with the AKC.
The Pointer has long been very popular with artists. This breed is known for being beautiful, which makes it a popular subject. Also, the Pointer’s use as a gundog makes it an ideal choice for outdoor scenes. As most of these dogs are primarily white, their color contrasts well against the brown and green vegetation on which they usually work. Some of the first artists to depict Pointer-type dogs were from France in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Desportes and Oudry were among the most famous painters to do so, and Mene was perhaps the most famous sculptor to depict Pointers. The breed made more frequent appearances in English art, and many of the scenes in these paintings could be from the modern day other than the costumes of the men in them. Some of the most renowned English painters who included the Pointer in their works were Tillemans, Stubbs, Alken, Ansdell, George Earl, and Landseer. This breed continued to make regular appearances in art throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, in England, France, Italy, and America. More recent artists who have painted the Pointer include Maud Earl, Ward Binks, Leon Danchin, and Marguerite Kirmse.
The Pointer remains a popular working gundog in the United States, especially in the American South. However, its position of preeminence has been greatly challenged by more versatile sporting breeds such as the Brittany and the German Wirehaired Pointer. However, the Pointer has continued to be among the most successful breeds in field trials, where it has always excelled. Unlike most modern breeds, a high percentage of Pointers remain primarily working dogs. Although it is impossible to get exact statistics, the majority of Pointers in America are probably either working or retired gun dogs. However, this breed is also well-suited to other tasks as well, and has competed very successfully in obedience and agility trials. The Pointer is regarded as one of the “showiest” members of the Sporting Group and has won many championships in the conformation ring. A small but growing number of fanciers are keeping Pointers exclusively as companion animals, a task at which the breed is quite well-suited provided that its owners meet its exercise needs. Although popular with sportsmen, the Pointer has become a relatively rare breed. In 2010, the Pointer ranked 111th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. However, the Pointer has a number of dedicated fanciers who are determined to maintain this breed.
Although comparatively rare, the Pointer is fairly recognizable due to its numerous appearances in art and the Westminster Kennel Club logo. Although a sporting breed, the Pointer is in many ways closer in appearance to a hound, especially the English Foxhound. The Pointer is a medium to large dog. AKC standards call for males to be between 25 and 28 inches tall at the shoulder and for females to stand between 23 and 26 inches tall at the shoulder. UKC standards want a slightly shorter dog and limit the maximum ideal height to 27 inches for males and 25 for females. Pointers are a fairly lean breed, and generally weigh less than what one would expect for a dog of this height.
The overall proportions of the breed are more important than actual weight, but both the AKC and UKC standards say that the ideal weights for the Pointer are between 55 and 75 pounds for males and 44 and 65 pounds for females. The Pointer is generally squarely proportioned, with its length being approximately the same as its height. However, these dogs are generally slightly taller at the shoulders than the hips, even though the difference is not greatly exaggerated. The Pointer is a true canine athlete, and should appear as such. This breed is very lean and muscular. The tail of the Pointer is more important in conformation shows than is the case with most breeds. This dog should have a relatively short tail, which is held straight out and level with the body. The tail tapers from the base to the tip.
The head of a Pointer sits at the end of a very long neck. This breed is famous for its “dish-face” which has become a staple of canine art. The Pointer’s head is proportional to its body size, and slightly rounded. This head does not smoothly transition into the muzzle which is quite distinct. This muzzle is set quite low on the face and connects to the head at almost a 90 degree angle. The Pointer’s muzzle is quite long, giving it both a greater area for scent receptors and the ability to carry large game birds. The muzzle is relatively wide and deep, and quite deep. This gives it the appearance of being square or blocky. The muzzle may either be level or be slightly raised near the nose. The nose itself is quite large, and is usually either Black or self-colored depending on the dog’s coat color. The eyes of the Pointer are oval shaped, and are generally a slighter darker shade of the color of the dog’s coat. These eyes are set underneath pronounced bony arches. The ears of a Pointer are relatively short, and should be slightly pointed. They are set slightly above eye level and drop down close to the head. The overall expression of a Pointer is one of intelligence and alertness.
The coat of a Pointer should be quite short, but also quite dense. The coat is not especially soft, but it should not be too coarse either. This coat should have a pronounced sheen. Different kennel clubs allow Pointers to be exhibited in different colors. The AKC allows Pointers to be liver, lemon, black, or orange. Lemon dogs are those with yellow coats and liver noses and eye rims. Orange dogs are those with yellow coats and black noses and eye rims. These colors may either be solid or have any amount of white. The UKC accepts all of those colors but also tri-color dogs, or dogs with markings of white and two additional colors. However, this color is considered a fault and is rather rare.
The Pointer is regarded as one of the finest of all working gun dogs, and has the temperament one would expect of a working hunting dog. This breed is known for being exceptionally even-tempered, and will rarely if ever show rapid mood swings. Pointers are known for being extremely loyal, and most will become exceptionally devoted to their families. This breed is certainly not a one person dog, but most tend to form an especially close bond with one person. This is a breed that would follow its owner anywhere without question. However, this breed is somewhat less clingy than most sporting breeds, and is generally fine doing its own thing. Pointers are generally reserved and aloof with strangers. They would much rather be with their families than other people. However, when well-socialized, Pointers will almost always be polite, and are almost never aggressive.
While Pointers tend to take a little bit of time to warm up to a new person such as a roommate or spouse, they will form close bonds with them if given enough time. Most Pointers will provide an alert bark, but this breed is not known for being a skilled watchdog. Additionally, this breed would make a poor guard dog as they simply do not have enough aggression. Pointers are known for being very good with children, especially members of their own families. These dogs are exceptionally tolerant of rough play, and many actually rather enjoy it. The average trained Pointer would leave a situation that has become uncomfortable or annoying rather than growl or snap. More than a few Pointers become exceptionally fond of children, and become close friends with them. Pointers under the age of three may not be ideal housemates for very young children. This is not due to any character flaw in the breed, but rather the fact that exuberant and clumsy young Pointers may accidentally bowl over small children while playing. Families that are willing and able to meet the exercise needs of this breed will be rewarded with an exceptional family companion.
This is a breed which has few problems with other animals. Although Pointers generally work alone, they are very accepting of other dogs. Most Pointers would prefer to share their lives with at least one doggy friend, but are fine with being an only dog. This breed is not known for having dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues. Most Pointers are also quite polite when greeting strange dogs, and are not especially prone to being overly excited to see them. Pointers are probably best suited to living with dogs of a similar energy level, otherwise they may annoy housemates in an attempt to play. Pointers show low levels of aggression to non-canine animals. While this breed is certainly a hunting dog, it has been bred to locate other animals and to occasionally retrieve them, but never to attack them on its own. As a result, most Pointers can be socialized to accept small animals. This breed generally gets along well with cats, although some may be slightly too exuberant and playful for feline tastes.
Pointers are very intelligent dogs, and are capable of learning a great deal. This breed has competed very successfully in obedience and agility competitions. Pointers are natural hunters and take to working in the field extremely quickly and easily. However, this is far from the easiest breed to train. If you are accustomed to working with other sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers or English Springer Spaniels, you will likely be highly frustrated by a Pointer. This breed definitely does not live to please and most are somewhat stubborn. Additionally, these dogs are very easily distracted and may ignore their owners if there is something too interesting to ignore. Additionally, Pointers are very aware of who is the dominant person/dog in any relationship. This breed is more than willing to accept the role of alpha dog, and will not respond to those who it considers lower in status than itself. However, Pointers are generally good-natured and are rarely obstinate. This breed is much more trainable than most Terrier, Hound, or Toy breeds, and responds very well to patient and reward-based training methods. Owners who are willing to take extra time and effort to train a dog are likely to be rewarded with a very responsive and well-trained Pointer. One area where Pointers may provide extra training difficulties is housebreaking. Many Pointers are slow to housebreak, and may take a few extra months of crate training and the occasional accident.
Unlike most modern breeds, Pointers remain primarily a working dog. Essentially all Pointers are bred with at least a fair amount of thought put into their working ability. While not all Pointers are skilled enough to become field champions, almost all are more than capable of becoming very good hunting companions. As a result, this breed has one of the highest exercise requirements of any dog breed other than a few herding breeds and working Terriers. Pointers are more than capable of working hard for long hours, and are definitely capable of many hours of rigorous play. These dogs need to get at least one hour (and preferably more) of rigorous exercise every day. This means a long job or run rather than a walk. Pointers strongly desire time to run around in a secure area, and it would be very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to keep this breed in an apartment. Pointers should have a yard, and the bigger the better. This breed will outwork even the most active families. Pointers can keep going for as long as you can, and then much longer. It is absolutely imperative that owners provide Pointers with the exercise that they require.
This breed will go stir crazy if it is not provided the activity that it needs. Pointers, especially young ones, who are not given the opportunity to release their energy will take it upon themselves to do so. This breed will become extremely nervous, hyper excitable, and excessively vocal. However, the biggest problem that unexercised Pointers develop is destructiveness. Owners who do not properly exercise their Pointers will have their property destroyed, especially their furniture and carpets, but also walls, floorboards, cabinets, and anything else in home. Many owners are attracted by the breed’s activity level. Owners seeking a bird dog for use on upland game are almost certain to be very pleased with a Pointer. This breed is also known as an excellent jogging and running companion. As one of the canine world’s greatest athletes, Pointers are willing to accompany their families anywhere, anytime, and will do essentially any activity, no matter how extreme once there. Once this breed’s needs are met, it will not be a hyperactive dog. Pointers which have gotten the exercise which they need tend to be very inactive indoors. Many owners are surprised to discover that this breed can actually be quite the couch potato. After a long day of exercise, this breed absolutely loves to lie on the sofa and relax.
Pointers were bred to hunt, and to hunt quickly. This is a breed that is very easily distractible, and will investigate anything that catches its interest. Pointers definitely follow their noses. Pointers are very likely to become so interested in something that they will ignore calls to return. Unless very well trained or confined in a secure area, Pointers should be kept on leash at all times. Pointers also tend to be escape artists. This breed has a desire to follow scents and to explore, and many are driven to break out. Pointers also happen to be quite intelligent and inquisitive and will discover any escape route available to them. If there is no easy way out, Pointers are more than strong and athletic enough to make their own, and can go over, under, or through even seemingly impenetrable barriers. Pointers should probably be kept in the home or in a very secure area.
As one might expect from looking at the Pointer’s coat, this is a breed with very low grooming requirements. This breed should never require professional grooming. All that a Pointer’s coat will need is a regular brushing, which should not take very long. A rubdown with a chamois or soft cloth will make the coat gleam. This breed is naturally clean and only requires occasional baths. After a day in the field, this dog should be carefully checked for potential injuries, especially around the feet. The ears of a Pointer may collect dirt and grime and should be cleaned on a regular basis. Pointers are considered average shedders. This breed will leave a fair amount of hair on your clothing, furniture, and carpets, but will probably not cover them. The lighter the color of the Pointer’s hair, the more noticeable it tends to be.
Pointers are regarded as a fairly healthy breed. They are primarily bred as working dogs, and genetic issues are not tolerated by most breeders. This dog also benefits from being comparatively less inbred than is the case with most purebred dogs. This does not mean that Pointers are immune from genetically inherited conditions, but it does mean that they tend to suffer from them at lower rates, and those conditions that they do suffer tend to be less serious. The Pointer is very long lived for a dog of this size. Their average life expectancy is between 12 and 15 years, and with proper care can exceed this by several years.
The most common serious health issue experienced by Pointers is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common conditions suffered by purebred dogs and is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. This malformation causes the bones to move incorrectly, which worsens over time. Depending on the severity of the condition, hip dysplasia can result in discomfort, pain, arthritis, and even lameness. Although the condition is genetic, environmental factors can impact its onset and severity. Once hip dysplasia develops, there is no cure. However, there are some promising surgeries that may prevent the onset of the condition, and there are numerous treatments for its symptoms.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A full list of health issues which are known to affect the Pointer would have to include: