The versatile hunting dog concept was first envisioned by the German hunter during the early 1800’s. Because of his persistence and determination, the versatile hunting breeds predominate in Germany today. Of all the versatile breeds, as manyDrahthaar are registered each year as all other versatile hunting breeds combined. Some historical background may be helpful in understanding the motivations and reasons for the phenomenal success of the Deutsch Drahthaar.
Feudalism was the system of land ownership in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. In the late 800’s AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was divided into kingdoms. In order to protect themselves from invasions from neighbors, the kings divided their land into large tracts called “fiefs”. These “fiefs” were then given to certain “Noblemen”, who in return provided the king with a military, and fulfilled the basic need for government and justice. As a result of the establishment of this feudal system, two classes of citizens emerged; freemen (LandLords) and subjects. The underclass had few if any privileges, while the lords had many. In the German culture, none of the “noble” rights were more treasured than the privilege of hunting.
In Germany, it was not until the early ~1800’s that this final vestige of feudalism was abandoned, and much of the land became public domain. As a result, the affluent middle class, which was emerging from the Industrial Revolution, could now purchase rights to participate in the “noble” sport of hunting.
While the nobility had the space and resources to maintain Large kennels, even successful middle classmen lived in cramped quarters. In addition, the expense of hunting would create the incentive to collect a “mixed bag”. For these reasons, an immediate need arose for an easily domesticated all-purpose hunting dog.
Only a few German “bird” dogs existed in 1800. They performed well in the water, the forests and in the fields (both on feathered and furred game). While these dogs also had great endurance and stamina, they may have lacked something in the areas of intelligence and trainability. These German pointers were almost certainly included in the kennels of the nobility, but these deliberate close working dogs may have been used most commonly by their games-keepers and perhaps by poachers.
Although the origin of these pointers is unknown, most speculation has credited the deliberate working ancestral strains of the English pointing breeds, and the water Poodle as having made significant contributions. Also, at least some influence is attributed to the herding breeds from northern and western Europe. (The fact that these versatile hunting dogs developed from the cross-breedings of several breeds should be expected. It is the natural way for a new breed to develop. Pure-breeding was a destructive mania that was to come later.)
Due to a lack of availability of these old “German” Pointers, the Germans briefly turned to the wide-ranging English Pointers and Setters. Soon, enthusiasm turned to regret. The English hunters used a retriever along with their pointers, but this was a practice that the German hunter could not afford. Attempts to breed the “German” Pointers with these imports was generally unsuccessful, however, they did make some contributions to “search”, “nose” and trainability of the versatile hunting dog.
For the next 3/4 century, breedings were for performance anywhere it could be found. This resulted in great strides in the versatile ” hunting dog movement; the motivation was to develop a hunting dog that “does it all”.
By the 1860’s, three categories of versatile hunting dogs could be recognized. These were divided into three groups according to coat length.
Longhair Pointers– Deutsch Langhaar (German Longhair)
Grosser Munsterlander (Large Munster Lander)
Kleiner Munster Lander (Small Munster Lander)
Shorthair Pointers–Deutsch Kurzhaar (German Shorthair)
Roughhair Pointers–Deutsch Stichelhaar (Stichelhaar)
(Later two other breeds were added to this group
These subdivisions would later form the basis of forming distinct breeds.
The economic wealth of Germany exploded in the 1870’s, and Germany began to compete with England for pre-eminence. This led to a period of Chauvinism during which breeders were encouraged to breed out the English influence. This was dramatized even further when the “Delegated Commission” was created in 1879 to categorize the German dogs into “breeds”. Considerable emphasis was placed on coat and conformation in describing the breeds, and the term “typically German” was often used.
Breed Clubs formed to support the various “breeds” and the artificial descriptions issued by the Commission were accepted without debate. A new preoccupation over “appearance” replaced the desire to improve performance. Pedigrees were studied and artificially contrived labels such as “pure-breeding” came into use. Arbitrary prejudices developed. Restrictions on coat and conformation were tightened. Dog shows were promoted and breeding for beauty became the rule of the day.
This new preoccupation with “pure-breeding” and “appearance” resulted in a profound deterioration in “performance’. This dealt a staggering blow to the development of the versatile hunting dog. The Stichelhaar, for example had nearly achieved true versatile hunting dog status in the 1870’s, but this popular breed suffered extensive deterioration from the dogma of pure-breeding. In a similar manner, other versatile breeds were delivered a heavy blow as far as consistent all-purpose hunting ability was concerned.
Karel Edvard Korthals began breeding Griffons for performance in 1873. He founded the Griffon club in 1883, and was able to successfully buck the trend of the day. Under his leadership, this club adopted the school of thought that all “roughbeards” were the same genetically and could be used interchangeably in breeding. With this philosophy, the Griffon continued to make great strides. Unfortunately, a few years later, his successors bowed under pressure and converted to the purebred train of thought.
With a void, once again In performance breeding, Sigismund Freiherr von Zedlitz (better known as “Hegewald”) took a prominent position in the effort to regenerate the old German hunting dog. Based on his findings in ancient breeding records, he decided to breed the Water-Pudel and the English Pointer, then cross this back to the German breeds. The Pudelpointer, as it was called, enjoyed much early success and lead to the formation of the Pudelpointer Club in 1897. However, a serious difference of opinion occurred early in the history of the club, and advocates of dogmatic “pure-breeding” once again prevailed. It seemed the basic ideals of the versatile hunting dog movement were doomed to failure.
Basis for a New Breed
In 1902, new evidence was presented which traced all German versatile hunting dogs to the same origins, and substantiated claims that English pointer blood was an important contributor to the Stichelhaar. With this encouraging news, and based on the breeding philosophy of Hegewald and Korthals, a new and powerful movement began. Using only dogs of proven performance, theDEUTSCH DRAHTHAAR was developed from four breeds, which were particularly well suited to rejuvenate the quest for optimum performance.
DEUTSCH STICHELHAAR–This is the oldest of the German Roughhaired breeds and probably is the closest tie to the medieval “German Pointer”. The Stichelhaar is an extremely rugged dog, not large but powerful and sturdily built. His coat is very coarse, and he has heavy beard and eyebrows. The Stichelhaar is best known for excellent retrieving tracking and water work. They are adequate pointers but may require some improvement in the areas of fieldwork and intelligence.
GRIFFON–This ancient breed probably originated from the various rough-haired breeds of Belgium, France and Holland. Griffons have a blocky-build and a distinctive “Griffon-head”. They are light brown in color, with heavy beard and bushy eyebrows. Because of intensive “pure-breeding”, they have usual conformity in structure, texture and length of coat and consistency in color. The Griffon is an elegant pointer with outstanding field manners, good intelligence and trainability, and with much natural retrieving ability. Areas needing improving usually involve tracking and aggressiveness.
PUDELPOINTER–This breed originated as a new attempt to regenerate the old idea of a “Versatile hunting dog”. These Poodle/Pointer matins were generally successful because of strict performance prerequisites to breeding. The Pudelpointer brings to the Drahthaar breed, the standard for conformation, good nose, pointing and retrieving ability, aggressiveness, desire for water work and a good protective coat. The emphasis, however, is on field and water work, forest work is subject to improvement.
DEUTSCH KURZHAAR –The original shorthair is often considered to be similar in many ways to the Stichelhaar, however, with an emphasis on field work rather than on water and forest work. Intelligence and nose are also outstanding. This breed is said to have contributed less to theDrahthaar than the other breeds.
Because of a balance of strengths and weaknesses between these breeds, the similarity of heritage and the truth in the theories of Hegewald and Korthals, good results were quick in coming. The motto of the fledgling VEREIN DEUTSCH DRAHTHAAR (VDD):
“TAKE THE GOOD WHERE YOU FIND IT; BREED AS YOU LIKE, BUT BE HONEST ABOUT IT AND THE RESULTS BE YOUR GUIDE!”
The performance requirements for breeding were idealistic and unyielding, and building on this corner-stone the Drahthaar movement began to approach its goal. Finally, after one hundred years of dreams there would be a dog for the German hunter: a true versatile hunting dog with excellent inherited performance qualities, practical coat and conformation, stamina, courage, determination, intelligence and a desire to hunt and to please; a powerful and noble dog, easy to handle and train, aggressive on game and yet a lovable and faithful companion.
Emergence of VDD
The young organization was at first ignored, however, as it gained strength, criticism became more frequent and intense. Soon the Breed Clubs, the hunting press and the Delegated Commission launched an all out attack. Never in the history of any breed club had an organization been opposed and ridiculed so violently as was VDD. Drahthaar breeders were publicly accused of “bastard-breeding” and of stealing the “blood” of other breeds. Drahthaar were called the “Cess-Pool” of the rough-hair breeds, and were labeled “Phantom Dogs”–whose owner’s claims were unattainable. In spite of all the opposition and attack, the Drahthaar movement spread though-out the country. The success of these dogs at the public dog trials was the only evidence needed to sway the broad masses of German hunters. In spite of the attacks by the “establishment”, the German Hunting Utility Dog Trial Register soon became the domain of theDrahthaar. By 1926, nearly half of all dogs listed in this registry were Drahthaar. What was once thought to be an unattainable “Phantom Dog” was now, by far, the most popular versatile hunting dog in Germany.
As if to celebrate its 25th ANNIVERSARY, a major VDD victory was announced in Berlin of August 27, 1927. At this important conference, the principles, which had been the basis for the foundation of VDD, were officially recognized and accepted. The minutes of this meeting acknowledged that all German pointer breeds had, Indeed, originated from a similar heritage, and it further stated that the methods by which the Delegated Commission wanted to regenerate the old “German Pointer” breed were doomed to failure from the very beginning. Appearance and pure-breeding were irreverent. In the final analysis, breeding based on PERFORMANCE was the path to success.
In breeding, “TYPE” denotes an IDEAL, or a goal in breeding. Further stated, it is all of the desired qualities in a single dog. In addition, the genetic combination must be so strong that its effects persist generation after generation. Since “type”, when achieved, can be consistently reproduced, it should serve as a basis toward which to strive.
As the Drahthaar made rapid advances, five distinct “types” began to emerge. These family types were not intentional, but were the chance culmination of effort from over a century of searching and breeding. Each type represents a perfect balance performance, coat, conformation, and temperament, and each possesses a unique character and spirit. The family types are named for the first dog which both exhibited the characteristic performance and the ability to consistently reproduce those same qualities through several generations.
These five DD family types were without exception, first manifested by males, however, there was a long line of bitches, which were proven carriers of the traits. The five existing family types are listed and described below:
WITBOI Type: Witboi vom Ruedenhof I Whelped August 6, 1896 Breeding:
Dam: META (Pudelpointer) Juno Altenberg (pointer/shorthair)
Sire: KARTUSCH I Mohr (black Poodle)
Appearance: Dark brown, light chest spot, 25 1/4 inches high
conf.– good looking, close coupled, elegant head, dark eyes
coat –ideal wirehair, medium length and density, heavy undercoat and beard.
Characteristics: Outstanding nose and lively search. Very good pointing style, passion for retrieving, “water love”, and aggressiveness on predators. Painstaking tracker, especially on blood (but has no hound nature, is therefore seldom loud on track. Develops young, but retains usefulness for a long time. Easy to handle, sound nerves and constitution.
LUMP Type: Lump von Berge Whelped January 16, 1899
Dam: Tilli Altenau (granddaughter of Cito Kraschnitz) (yellow pointer)
Sire: Fleck Kraschnitz Cito Kraschnitz
Appearance: Brown with brindled chest and legs, 23.6 inches high
conf.– Medium to lightly boned, elegant with regal heads, appear to be long in the body.
coat –Stiff wirehair with a tendency to shortness as well as thin undercoat and scanty beard.
Characteristics: The best qualities of the Lump type lie in their tracking dependability love for water and aggressiveness. They also exhibit fine nose and are elegant and steady pointers. This type is an impassioned chaser, more hound-like (loud on track) than bloodhound. They are of firm constitution and spirit. They mature young, but retain their usefulness long.
With proper selection, this type is easier to regenerate than the WITBOI type.
REGENT Type: Regent Auenheim Whelped March ~2, 1923
Dam Kascha Auenheim (from Pudelpointer strain)
Sire Sittarder Heiko Vero Schellenturm (fabulous nose and field manners)
Appearance: Dark brown with white marked chest, 24 1/2 inches high
conf.–Near perfect conformation, these are magnificent dogs medium large with elegant heads, and a noble bearing.
coat –ideal wirehair, medium long coarse hair, occasionally tending to shortness. Undercoat was sparse.
Characteristics: Above all, the Regent type is credited with improving the working form. In addition, it is credited with improving nose and work on feathered game; also an aggressive, water loving, trail willing dog with a sound character. These dogs mature early and enjoy a long working life. This type is still existent and with suitable matings, easy to attain.
ODIN Type: Odin vom Saarforst Whelped April 10, 1925
Dam Adda vom Saarforst
Sire Hasso Nibelungenhorst (old German heavy-type Shorthair)
Appearance: Liver-roaned, with blaze. 25.6 inches high
conf.– Nice heads and smart expression, but with ocassionally “open” eyelids. Tendency to large build with long back.
coat ~– Ideal wirehair, coarse with undercoat
Characteristics: Outstanding in tracking and are usually loud on trail, happy retrievers, aggressive and love water. Pointing abilities develop late, but are then very good, coupled with a galloping search. Somewhat hound nature, good character, intelligent, loyal and tough. The Odin type is the most prevalent type on DD today, due to the influence of Bluecher vom Geyerstein in the regeneration years after W.W. II.
HARRAS Type: Harras Bigge Whelped April 14, 19-24
Dam Cora Westick
Sire Lump vom Sauerlaender Bergwald (a descendant of Lump Yom Berge)
Appearance: An entirely new type, well differentiated from any of the foregoing. Liver color.
conf.–robust dogs with a strong head, a full muzzle, and a tendency to long back.
coat –coarse, dense wirehair, with a tendency to shortness.
Characteristics: Robust, steel-nerved, unflinching aggressiveness. Water loving, enthusiastic, loud on track with an excessive tendency to chase. Hound nature, therefore weak in pointing. These dogs require a firm hand in the field.
Although descriptions of these types have always been well published, VDD resisted the temptation to develop a written standard for coat and conformation for the Drahthaar probably because of the fear that it would tempt the “Show breeders”. However, when the “standard” was formally adopted in 1969, it reflected the broad categories of acceptability on which the breed was founded. This reflects the continued emphasis on performance and stresses coat and conformation only to the extent that the best function is preserved.
(Author’s note: To my knowledge, there does not exist in the English language an exhaustive or well researched documentation of the history of the Versatile Hunting Dog and the DeutschDrahthaar. This article is based primarily on the writings and translations of L. F. Armbruster, and other VDD/GNA Newsletter articles, which have been published over the years. In addition, I have managed to accumulate some information from the VDD Blätter, acquaintances in Germany and by word of mouth from other VDD/GNA members. In many cases, sources provided conflicting information, therefore, I cannot attest to the absolute accuracy of this article in every detail. It is written, however, with the intention of providing the membership with a sense of the spirit of determination, which must be inherent in this organization, and its members. If we use the early “Breed Clubs” as an example, we can see what in-fighting, petty jealousy, and “loss of purpose” did to the other versatile hunting breeds. The Drahthaar exists now because of a single-mindedness of purpose, and the uncompromising dedication of our earliest members. Its existence in the future, however, will be dependent on our unswerving ability to maintain this spirit —- Jim Grady)