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German Wirehaired Pointer: Breed Characteristics, Temperament & More

MJ Shaffer

Last Updated: April 6, 2023 | 10 min read | Leave a Comment

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Hunting dogs have been working alongside people for millennia, and over time, specialized hunting techniques have developed, requiring specific canine traits. People began breeding dogs to assist with the hunt both on land and in water and to hunt particular types of mammals and birds. Dogs specifically bred to set and point at waterfowl were created by hunters selecting for these traits.

Early bird dogs would “set,” which means lie down, when they detected prey, allowing the hunter to net their game. These dogs became known as Setters. Pointers stood to attention with one front leg raised and knee bent, pointing towards the hidden animal. Both modern Setters and Pointers point at their quarry. For hundreds of years, hunters have been working on breeding the perfect hunting companion with a complete set of skills.

Three breeds with similar names, German Wirehaired, Shorthaired, and Longhaired Pointers, have more differences than their coat type. The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) is the Continental version of a Setter and a direct result of the quest to create the all-around hunting dog who can search, point, track, and retrieve game on land or water. Like all German Pointers, the German Wirehaired Pointer has webbed feet, making him exceptionally skilled in the water.

German Wirehaired Pointer
    • weight iconWeight50 to 70 pounds
    • height iconHeight22-26 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan14-16 years
    • color iconColorsliver and white spotted, liver roan, liver and white spotted with roaning or ticking, solid liver
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) is roughly the English translation of the name Deutsch Drahthaar (DD). However, some suggest that GWP and DD have become dissimilar enough to be separate breeds. Unlike British hunting dog breeders, hunters on the Continent sought to create all-purpose “utility breeds” who could work different birds and terrain and both land and water – sometimes within the same day.

During the early 1800s, German hunters focused on creating multiple types of wire-haired pointing dogs. The second half of the century saw them classifying dogs by breed instead of type. Some of these early breeds, like the Pudelpointer, with the addition of the Griffon and the Stichelhaar, formed the foundation stock of the German Wirehaired Pointer.

The Verein Deutsch-Drahthaar Group North America, founded in 1971 and not associated with the American Kennel Club, states that today, the Deutsch-Drahthaar is a distinct breed from the German Wirehaired Pointer. After WWII, the breeding trend was to have the then DD specialize as a pointer instead of being an all-around hunting dog. A different breed standard was created by the American Kennel Club (AKC), and they required no performance testing, which drove the two breeds further apart. Owners of AKC-registered German Wirehaired Pointers are more likely to use the names interchangeably.

German Wirehaired Pointer standing in snow looking back.
Finding a purpose to direct their energy will minimize the development of frustration-based behaviors.

Temperament

German Wirehaired Pointers have an abundance of energy and require regular exercise. They are perfect companions for jogs or lengthy hikes but benefit most from having a job. Outside of the hunting field, GWPs successfully compete in horseback field trials, agility and obedience competitions, and as service and therapy dogs.

The GWP benefits from early socialization if he needs to be comfortable around many different people. He can do well as a family companion if raised as such but sometimes bonds more strongly with a single family member. German Wirehaired Pointers can be opinionated and work best for people they like. Don’t expect GWPs to want to be couch potatoes or indoor dogs. They will need ample outdoor exercise and a sizable, securely fenced yard to be happiest.

GWPs were bred to hunt, so they have a natural urge to chase and potentially harm anything that could pass as prey, such as squirrels, birds, or rabbits. Carefully socialize them with cats, or they may chase them as prey. Some GWPs raised with cats do fine, and some adults may be able to learn to live with cats, but many breeders recommend against it to avoid a disaster. This prey drive might cause them to bolt during off-leash exercise and scale fences or walls in pursuit of their quarry. Approach all off-leash activity with caution and adequate awareness of your surroundings.

Size & Appearance

Everything in the German Wirehaired Pointer’s conformation is built for agility and a ground-covering stride, creating his athleticism and grace. The German Wirehaired Pointer is a medium to large dog standing between twenty-two and twenty-six inches at the shoulder, with females slightly shorter than males. They range in weight from fifty to seventy pounds.

With a strong neck and topline that slopes perceptibly from withers to tail, his short back and nicely rounded croup allow his hindquarters to drive him forward explosively. A well-sloped shoulder allows a free range of motion for a long stride, and the corresponding angles of his hindquarters cover the ground efficiently. His high-set tail is docked at two-fifths of its natural length. In the German Wirehaired Pointer’s breed standard, even his size relates to function in the field. His optimal size and balance make him an agile and versatile hunter in the field.

Coats & Colors

As the breed’s name suggests, the weatherproof coat is one of the breed’s defining characteristics. The GWP’s coat is wiry and thick with an undercoat that changes between seasons. Although it is almost imperceptible in the hottest months, it grows dense enough to provide a strong layer of insulation against cold temperatures and harsh weather in the winter.

Color-wise, the German Wirehaired Pointer must be some combination of liver and white. No two dogs are precisely the same, however, and his pattern is iconic. The GWP may be liver and white spotted, liver roan, liver and white spotted with ticking and roaning, or solid liver. His head is solid liver and may have a white blaze, and his ears are liver. The hairs in the liver patches of his body may be shorter than his white hairs. Although his hair is short and sleek over the skull, he has a medium-length beard and a mustache of whisker hairs that give him his distinctive look.

Exercise Requirements

German Wirehaired Pointer laying in the grass with a big stick in mouth
He can be a handful as a younger dog and is safest in a securely fenced yard.

The GWP was bred to work in the field, and even if he’s not being used as a hunting dog, he requires ample exercise and open space to run. His athleticism can power unexpected escapes and propel him over a six-foot fence. With socialization, the GWP can learn to get along with other dogs, and a trip to the dog park can allow him to burn off some energy.

Living Conditions

German Wirehaired Pointer laying on a sofa close up of face
The GWP may develop destructive habits and separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods.

German Wirehaired Pointers require attention and interaction. Although a large, securely fenced yard is necessary for this energetic pup, being out in the yard may not be enough to fulfill his physical and mental engagement needs.

Expect to spend quality time with your German Wirehaired Pointer walking, jogging, or some other interactive activity. The GWP is more energetic than the other German Pointers, Shorthaired or Longhaired, so he needs at least an hour of intense exercise, preferably more than once daily.

Puppies and senior dogs need less. Limit strenuous activity on hard surfaces to protect growing or aging joints. Because of their high energy level and need to run in wide open spaces, GWPs aren’t well suited to apartment life.

Training

German Wirehaired Pointer swimming in the water with a big orange toy in mouth
German Wirehaired Pointers are eager to please but require more patience than a typical retriever.

Naturally intelligent dogs who quickly pick up new commands, GWPs work most willingly for people they like. As with most intelligent breeds, they are sensitive to harsh corrections and need a quiet and fair handler. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help ensure that the GWP grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.

German Wirehaired Pointers were created to be hunting dogs. After basic obedience training, work with your GWP to retrieve a decoy, and then train your dog to seek the trail by scent. Use a spray scent to teach him how to follow the scent trail. The transition to working in the field will be the actual test of his readiness. The two of you will be ready to flush and retrieve downed birds before moving on to the next hunt or returning home at day’s end.

German Wirehaired Pointers are quick studies, but strict repetition may push them to rebel. They do not tolerate harsh reprimands or negative-reinforcement training. If you want your GWP to be able to handle time away from you during the day, you must spend quality time with him as a working companion, not just a field dog retired to a kennel each evening.

Health

German Wirehaired Pointer standing next to older person with hand on his head
You must watch for the following and consult your veterinarian for any concerns.

The German Wirehaired Pointer has a few health issues to watch out for but is a healthy and active breed overall.

Bloat/Gastric Torsion

Feeding only a single meal daily increases the risk of gastric torsion, also known as bloat. Bloat is a life-threatening condition in any breed but is most often seen in deep-chested dogs. Exercising immediately after eating a large meal or drinking lots of water is a predisposing factor. Splitting his ration into two or more daily feedings may mitigate the risk. Feeding a calcium-rich kibble with protein sources such as meat/lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal, or bone meal topping the list of ingredients may help him avoid this potentially fatal condition.

Eye Entropion

If you notice your German Wirehaired Pointer squinting and tearing from both eyes, especially when he’s young, consult your veterinarian. His tearing could be caused by eyelid entropion, a disorder where the eyelid rolls inward towards the eye. Entropion irritates the eye by the eyelid rubbing against the cornea, causing subsequent pain and possible corneal ulcers, perforations, or pigment on the cornea. Ultimately, vision problems can occur, but surgery can treat entropion. After he is six months to a year old, he may be able to have surgery to have a section of skin removed to alleviate the irritation.

Heart Disease

German Wirehaired Pointers can suffer from heart defects. When you are in the market for a puppy, be sure you’ve established a relationship with a veterinarian who can check over your new pup and work with a reputable breeder who screens for genetic disorders. If your dog develops heart valve disease, he will probably have a heart murmur which your veterinarian will diagnose and monitor yearly. When heart valve disease is diagnosed early, medication may be able to preserve your dog’s quality of life for a longer time.

Joint Dysplasia

German Wirehaired Pointers may suffer from joint dysplasia, a painful condition that limits mobility in many breeds today. Feeding your puppy for steady but slower growth may help avoid this condition. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a feeding program for your pup designed to limit the development of growth-related joint dysplasia. Breeding dogs should have an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP Evaluation, and buyers should choose puppies from parents with good evaluation scores.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

If your dog appears to be losing eyesight and has no visible cataracts, he may have Progressive Retinal Atrophy. PRA is usually asymptomatic until significant loss of sight has already occurred. Your GWP may be unwilling to go into a dark room or bump into things in a new environment, and his retinas may seem shinier than usual. If you notice your dog acting like his vision is getting worse, make an appointment to screen him. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for PRA, but you can modify his environment to make things easier for him.

Von Willebrand Disease Type II

Von Willebrand’s Disease, a clotting disorder due to lack of sufficient ‘Von Willebrand’ protein, is a severe coagulopathy that could put your GWP at risk of excessive bleeding. Ask your vet if they recommend performing the DNA-based vWD test from an approved lab to check for this disorder. A causative recessive mutation causes the condition. The testing lab will register the results from the DNA test with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.

Nutrition

German Wirehaired Pointer hunting with bird in his mouth
Feed him according to the food package weight chart and monitor his body condition to adjust intake as needed.

The average adult German Wirehaired Pointer will eat approximately three to four cups of food per day. How much you’ll need to feed your specific dog to keep him fit will depend on weight, age, and activity level. Although the GWP’s energy and activity level will be high, feeding him for slow, steady growth in his first year is particularly important as he is prone to joint dysplasia.

Choose a high-quality formula that matches your pup’s age to keep this active breed healthy and reduce the health risks associated with dysplasia. A high-quality kibble including meat protein, fiber, healthy carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals will meet your GWP’s nutritional needs. You’ll be less likely to need additional costly supplements.

Grooming

German Wirehaired Pointer being brushed on a bench
Check the soft fur between his toes and behind his ears daily for mats or burrs he may have picked up outdoors.

The German Wirehaired Pointer’s easy-care coat needs attention only a few times weekly unless he spends more time charging through the underbrush. You’ll need to brush him after the hunt to remove any dirt and debris he picks up outside, but his water-resistant coat generally stays clean. A metal comb will remove dirt and mats from his coat. Follow-up with a bristle brush will bring his coat to a healthy shine.

Regular brushing stimulates blood circulation and distributes oils throughout his hair, so even his rough coat glows with health. When seasons change, GWPs will shed their undercoat and benefit from being brushed with an undercoat rake to remove this extra loose hair. The two main shedding seasons are spring and fall, with the spring shed more pronounced.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

German Wirehaired Pointer puppy sitting in the grass
Look for a reputable breeder who screens breeding animals for genetically linked conditions.

You may expect to pay from $800 to $1,200 for a German Wirehaired Pointer from a breeder. You may need to check for available pups in hunting communities. Be sure the breeder you choose stands behind the health of their dogs.

Rescues & Shelters

Although German Wirehaired Pointers are versatile hunting dogs, they’re not a fit for every family. GWPs may be in rescue because their old families did not understand the breed’s energy level or did not have a secure yard for them. Be sure to consider adopting a German Wirehaired Pointer. A lonely pup could be waiting for his forever home at a shelter near you. As a bonus, adopting a dog is less expensive than buying from a breeder.

As your new best friend adjusts, give him lots of attention and playtime. Take him outdoors on a secure leash and allow him to enjoy the outdoors safely. Don’t forget to give him adequate exercise often to keep him from becoming bored and anxious. You may begin your search with an organization like the National GWP Rescue.

As Family Pets

In general, this breed is:

  • Intelligent and trainable.
  • High energy.
  • Suitable for an experienced dog owner.
  • Family-friendly with socialization.
  • Highly prey driven.
  • An excellent all-around hunting dog.
  • Medium to large size and build.
  • A loving companion in the field and the family.

Final Thoughts

The German Wirehaired Pointer’s versatility and eager disposition make him the perfect pick for the hunting family. Handsome and dignified with his deep liver coat and distinctive furry face, the GWP is a perfect blend of hunting dogs and working companions. This versatile breed is an ideal choice for active, outdoorsy families and individuals.

German pointer running in field

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