Sometime after 1650, a new kind of dog came into being all across Europe. This dog was the result of mixing various breeds of foxhound, bloodhound, greyhound, and setting spaniel types. Its original purpose was to partner with greyhounds in chasing down hares. The new dog went ahead of the hunters to sniff out the quarry. On finding the game, it froze in a crouching position, attention riveted on the hare. Then the greyhounds were released to begin the chase.
This new type of dog became known as the Pointer due to its unique purpose. Within a few years, nearly every European county had its own version. But the concept of pointing dogs perhaps achieved its greatest height in Great Britain.
For the next two hundred years or so, the English Pointer was a work in progress, as the instinct and appearance of the breed was continually improved and as it was adapted to changing trends in hunting. The first major change came after about 1700, when the flintlock gained in popularity among the aristocracy and wealthy young men took up shooting birds on the wing as a pastime. Because loading a flintlock was a slow process, hunters needed a dog that would patiently remain pointing as long as necessary. A more visible upright stance was also preferred.
To achieve these goals, pointer-type dogs from Spain were imported. While the Spanish pointers did bring with them the desired pointing behavior, they also introduced some serious flaws, including a slow, ponderous working pace and a fierce resentment of discipline in all forms.
Fortunately, the mellow setter was able to correct these defects. Repeated crossbreeding with several different setter breeds, particularly throughout the 1800s, sped up the gait and softened the unstable personality of the Pointer. But the keen nose and dedicated hunting instinct remained. Effective and elegant, the Pointer quickly became a favorite breed among the landed gentry.
The second half of the 19th century saw the Pointer taking up residence in the United States. The breed always remained close to its working background, becoming a favorite choice for quail hunters in the South. However, about the time of the Pointer’s arrival on our shores, dog showing grew popular among the American elite. Pointers were early on a natural choice, due to their sleek appearance and innate charisma. In fact, Westminster Kennel Club was founded as a shooting club by a group of Pointer and setter enthusiasts. In 1876, the club members imported a Pointer named Sensation for breeding purposes, and the following year decided to start a dog show. Sensation is featured on the Westminster Kennel Club logo to this day.
But regular appearances in the show ring did not change the Pointer much. It still remained a hunting dog first and foremost, becoming more prevalent at field trials than setters in the early 1900s. It ranks only 117th in AKC registration statistics, partly because it has never been popular as a family pet. But where bird hunters can be found, the Pointer can also be found. It has a particularly loyal following in the South, where it is simply known as the “bird dog.”
There are three variations on the Pointer, each with a different purpose:
- American field type: This is a high-octane dog built primarily for competitive field trialing. He has the drive and stamina to work for hours at a time, usually well ahead of the hunter.
- AKC field type: This version is also bred for field trials, albeit the more laid-back AKC trials. The AKC field Pointer retains the instinct to hunt birds, but works at a slower pace and sticks closer to the hunter. This makes him a good choice for casual weekend shooting.
- Show type: Pointers from show bloodlines are less active than their field counterparts (less active being relative). Besides strutting their stuff in the ring, show-bred Pointers can make good pets, watchdogs, and jogging companions for active families.
The Pointer lives with intensity. Although sweet and loyal, hunting instinct is what drives this dog throughout his day. He is a hot-blooded canine with boundless energy and alert senses. He loves nothing better than to run. Keep him fenced for his safety, and provide him with an outlet for his energy to keep him sane.
With his exercise needs provided for, the Pointer is an excellent family member, as he is loving, friendly to all, and innately clean in his habits. Puppies can be too rough in their play for small children or for seniors, but an adult Pointer who has been taught manners is affectionate and playful enough to be a very satisfying children’s companion. He is also amiable with other dogs. However, the Pointer is not trustworthy with cats, and under no circumstances should he be left unsupervised with other birds, whether pets or poultry.
Although always willing to put in an honest day’s work, the Pointer can be exasperatingly difficult to train because of his stubborn streak. He must first be convinced that you are a kind but strong-minded pack leader. Then he must be duly exercised to work off his excess energy. Provided that these conditions are met, the Pointer will learn with time, and he will never forget the lessons.
Note the differences between the various Pointer bloodlines. All are extremely energetic. However, the American field type is by far the most driven. The show type retains the breed’s competitive streak, but is content to channel that energy into posing and trotting. The AKC field type is intermediate in personality.
Working Pointers are born, not made. They may begin pointing as early as eight weeks of age. In the field, this dog will travel considerable distances in a short amount of time, pressing forward with one goal in mind—to find birds. He works with his head up, sniffing the breeze. On finding his quarry, he freezes into a point, head low. If the hunter needs a little extra assistance, the Pointer will be more than happy to track down dead or wounded birds. The one thing he will not readily do is retrieve.
The Pointer is everything a working dog should be—rugged and sturdy. Very few inherited problems exist within the breed, and these turn up only occasionally. Field injuries, particularly damage to the thin-skinned tail tip, are the most common difficulties that owners will run up against.
Otherwise, the most frequently observed health problems in the breed are:
- Eye problems.
- Hip dysplasia.
- Skin allergies.
- Suitability for families with children and other dogs, particularly when mature.
- Tidy habits.
- Minimal shedding.
- Minimal grooming needs.
- Heat tolerance.
- Good health.
- Desire to hunt.
- Fast working pace.
- Untrustworthiness around cats and birds.
- Difficulty of training.
- Very high exercise requirements.
- Cold intolerance.
- Poor retrieving instinct.