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Of German Shorthaired Pointers, and of backyard breeders and puppy farms

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  • Of German Shorthaired Pointers, and of backyard breeders and puppy farms

    This is a story with two themes that run concurrent. It is about the delight of German Shorthaired Pointers, and it is also about the notorious “puppy farms” and “backyard breeders” and why buying from a reputable breeder is highly desirable. If you expect an expose with horrific pictures, then you won’t find in this article. Such approaches simply polarize people and what is needed, is calm, rational information and education to assist the public in understanding why, “puppy farming” and “backyard breeding” needs to be stamped out and made illegal.

    I have had a German Shorthaired Pointer (G.S.P) in my life since 1973. Most dog owners believe passionately that their dog is the best, and the breed they have is the best breed of them all. Because my experience is with G.S.P’s, I will speak of them, but I think what I will talk about is appropriate to all pure breeds.

    For the uninitiated some background to the G.S.P.

    The history of the German Shorthaired Pointer starts with the dogs, which were used for the hunt with nets on feathered game, especially in the Mediterranean countries, and in combination with falconry. Via France, Spain and Flanders, the Pointers came to the German courts. The most important distinctive feature of these dogs was their pointing performance. After the first double-barreled gun was made in 1750, a pointing dog was required even more. In full sight of the dog, game birds in flight were shot. That was the beginning of the transition from a mere pointer to a versatile gundog.

    This breed was also created to be a family friendly dog as well as a hunter. German shorthairs should be an affectionate and intelligent dog that is easy to train and willing to please. They are cheerful, friendly, comical and sociable. German shorthairs love children and do well with them, but sometimes as puppies they can be too boisterous.

    Most German Shorthairs make excellent watchdogs because they are protective and loyal to their family. They love to be with their people, and crave interaction and mental stimulation. A German Shorthair that lacks socialization and exercise could show behaviors such as aggression, destructiveness, and shyness.

    They are a dog of noble and balanced appearance, the conformation of which ensures strength, endurance and speed. Proud attitude, smooth outlines, lean head, well carried tail, firm shiny coat and well reaching, harmonious strides emphasise its nobility.

    German shorthairs are affectionate and intelligent which does make them easy to train and willing to please. If you read up on this breed, one theme will continue to be repeated, that they are cheerful, friendly, comical and sociable. German shorthairs love children and do well with them, but need to be taught from early on to be gentle, as adult dogs will make great companions to children and will protect them.

    A personal experience I had goes back many years to when my two boys were about 3 and 7 years of age. We lived on a rural property on the mid-north coast of NSW. The children would take great delight in hiding in bushes near the house, but we never worried because we knew our G.S.P, Chokky, was with them – always. Once I was walking down our driveway, and our horse suddenly bolted. Without hesitation Chokky tore into the paddock. Next thing I saw a snake flying through the air, and just as quickly, chokky leaping and grabbing the snake in mid-air, giving it a sever shake and breaking its back. That was one red-bellied black snake less to deal with.

    Now, I’m a member of the German Shorthaired Lovers of Australia Group, which is on Facebook . [] I enjoy popping in and out of the group because it’s stress free, a happy environment and there is a lot of enjoyment from swapping stories, sharing pictures and gaining information. We have even set up a Melbourne based ad-hoc group, that get’s together to allow our dogs to run in a pack off their leads at various dog-friendly parks around Melbourne.

    So I hope by now you have some idea why G.S.P’s are so attached to their families, and why once you have owned a GSP you will never go back to any other breed. During a discussion with a member who is an expat now living overseas, that the issue of poor breeding came up. The conversation went something like this:

    Member: I don't want a GSP! here in the US seriously, I don't like them!!! If you guys were here you would agree!! I am now looking at English Pointers but, shit even they have been Bastardized here! Seriously I need help!! It's just so shit here.

    Me: What’s the story with GSP's where you are, that creates such a strong response?

    Member: They are mostly of the white recessive Gene!! I may be the only one to hate it but, I do!! Lite coat light eyes I mean come on!!

    Me: Yep! Understand now.

    Member: I hope you do because I so want another GSP! But I know it won't come from this country sorry if that offends anyone!! I am lucky to know people in the UK and Australia if that means where my next dog comes from so be it!! I will do

    Me: Sarah, understanding your position is one thing, being able to help is another. I think we are all familiar with that old saying, "You don't know what you've got til its gone"! I can't help feeling if you take the time to track down each breeder mentioned in this post, you will probably find one who is willing to send OS. Then there is the issue of the actual transportation and then, quarantine. I have long suspected that Australian GSP's are among the purest, and best bred in the world. Sadly we have an ever-increasing number of backyard breeders who will inevitably breed defects into the dogs. It's one of those situations, where because we have bred such a wonder line of them, they have become very popular (I remember back in the 70's, people would look at me strangely when i spoke of a GSP). Popularity means demand, demand means $'s, so the back yard breeders set up puppy farms to cash in. The breed becomes a victim of its own success. We must fight a backyard breeding, we must educate, and at the very, very least - move out of wonderful groups like this, and get the message out to the general public.

    And so, I was sitting thinking how to move this message from the circle of people that understand the problem, to the wider community. This article sets out to achieve that. What is a “backyard breeder”, and why should we only buy from a “reputable breeder”? We need go no further than our own RSPCA for this answer. That organization says on this matter –

    “Backyard breeding is a term used to describe irresponsible breeding of animals. Often this is due to ignorance or neglect where a dog or cat accidentally becomes pregnant because the owner has failed to have them desexed. In other cases animals are deliberately bred so the animals can be sold. When such breeding is carried out on a large scale, the term puppy mill or puppy farm is used.

    What distinguishes backyard breeders from responsible breeders are the standards that the breeder meets and whether there is a known demand for puppies before they are bred.

    Backyard breeding contributes to the unwanted companion animal population in the community. Uncontrolled breeding and overpopulation ultimately leads to the euthanasia of fit and healthy unwanted animals every year.”

    Yet it goes further than this. As the RSPCA allude to in the above statement, in its worse form backyard breeding becomes a “puppy farm or puppy mill”. These are large scale commercial enterprises which have no concern for the welfare or conditions of the breeding dogs and have only one objective, that is to produce as many puppies as possible, at to sell them at the greatest profit.

    The RSPCA go on to say –

    “The main welfare problems associated with puppy farms include but are not limited to:

    • Extreme confinement - in some cases breeding animals may never be allowed out of their cage to exercise, play, socialise, have companionship or to even urinate or defaceate.
    • Inadequate veterinary care and general care (grooming and parasite control)
    • Unhygienic living conditions
    • Inadequate and overcrowded housing conditions
    • Breeding dogs and puppies born in puppy farms often have long-term health and/or behavioural problems as a result of the poor conditions they are bred in and a lack of adequate socialisation.”

    So who buys these dogs? Why, ‘you’ and ‘I’ do! We see those advertisements in the paper and we say, wow, that’s cheap enough! Sadly one of the largest buyers of puppies from the so-called “farms”, are pet shops! Are you aware that the majority of dogs you see in a pet shop come from “puppy farms”? Oh they look so cute, they need a home, and the shop is only too willing to sell one to you without discussing the dogs breeding history, and we? We don’t think to ask.

    The RSPCA continues on –

    “Puppies from puppy farms may be sold via any avenue of sale such as the internet, newspaper ads, markets, car-boot sales, pet shops or sometimes at the puppy farm itself. Puppy farms may also use a house as a 'shop front' to sell their animals from, so you don't get to see the appalling conditions they breed dogs in. We don't know exactly how many puppy farms there are in Australia as many puppy farms operate in highly remote areas and are unknown by authorities but with the advent of internet sales it is a growing national problem. RSPCA inspectors have rescued dogs from puppy farms where hundreds of breeding females have been kept in cages in appalling conditions.

    Be aware that any type or breed of dog can come from a puppy farm (purebred dogs, crossbreeds, mixed breeds). So you cannot judge whether a dog has been bred in a puppy farm based on the breed or type of dog. The only way to be sure is to visit the breeding facility and check out the conditions and the breeder. RSPCA Australia is strongly opposed to puppy farming. We advocate regulation of the breeding, supply and sale of companion animals to help set minimum standards and stamp out puppy farms.”

    Buying any animal that has been bred by someone other than a reputable (here you can safely read, registered) breeder, is buying trouble. This is especially the case with pure breeds. Take the GSP for example. GSP’s can suffer from eye problems, ranging from entropian to loose eyelids. Entropian is a genetic condition in which a portion of the eyelid is inverted or folded inward. This can cause an eyelash or hair to irritate and scratch the surface of the eye, leading to corneal ulceration or perforation. It can also cause dark-colored scar tissue to build up over the wound (pigmentary keratitis). These factors may cause a decrease or loss of vision. Others are prone to skin allergies and there are incidents of hip dysplasia, which is the single largest cause of arthritis in dogs.

    Now all breeds have genetic issues, the substantial argument is that when you but from a breeder you are buying from someone who knows the genetic history of the dog, and so you are either going to have a dog which is ‘genetically clean’, or at the very least, be in a position where you are going to have good clear information on the likelihood of any future issues. You will never get that information from ‘back-yard’ breeders or from ‘puppy farmers’.

    Finally, when you buy from a breeder you buy from someone who loves the dog they are selling you. The dog has been cared for from conception through birth, and even after you have purchased a new member of your family, the breeder will support you and advise you.

    All breeders I have gone to, have basically vetted me (and here I am talking about my family). We have met we have discussed our love for the breed and our understanding of the dogs needs before the dog has been sold to us. The last breeder I went to, a year ago even went to the extent of using Google maps to check our location for suitability of exercise. In return we send pictures of Bodi (our now 12 month old G.S.P) to her, and she sends back pictures of his brothers and sisters as they grow up. That is the care and concern that you will only ever get from breeders, and for many of us it is the basis of an ongoing relationship.

    But, I hear you cry, “the Pet Shop sells them cheaper!” Yes, but why? Remember, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is! You buy cheaply because there is no support, no care about the past history, or the future of the dog. Just remind yourself, the female that gave birth to that pup, will be literally thrown out on the street when she can no longer breed. Her life as a breeder was miserable. Her life after breeding, well, it is likely to be very short.

    One of the members of the GSP Lovers Australia, Tam, told me of a story of her dog Zena. She said, “Zena will be 10 years old in October, Lou (my partner) and I have had her for just over two years. It is possible that someone in Sunshine used Zena as a breeding bitch. She will be 10years in October and is very small and only weighs 15kg. So it’s possible that Zena having provided all the puppies she could, was then dumped! We rescued her from a lady who couldn't keep her. The lady, Melissa, didn't tell us much about Zena. She paid $200 for her 6 months earlier. The only information she could give us was that she got Zena from an Italian man from Sunshine. Zena has separation anxiety, which I'm working on, but Zena is that bad she is on daily medication, as well as rehabilitation and training. I'm studying with National Dog Trainers Federation, to become a dog trainer and behaviourist, so I can help Zena and other dogs. What Lou and I can do is to give Zena the best of life we can from now on.

    In a humorous end to her story Tam went onto say, " One thing about Zena, she has no, and I mean NO tail. At best she has a little stub that might be seen when she is very happy.” I certainly think that Zena must now spend a lot of time wagging that stub!

    Zena is not an isolated story; sadly the incidence of ‘dumped’ dogs – all breeds, is on the increase. She was lucky enough to find a caring and loving home. Many don’t, many are simply put down!

    So hopefully as you read this you will start to see why many of us are passionate about helping these wonderful animals are encouraging people to do the right thing. So, you say, “How do I find a good breeder, where can I get advice?” It’s so damn easy! Go to a group like the GSP Lovers Australia (on Facebook). Open up Google and type in, “GSP breeders”, and you will get a listing of all the Associations in each state, and many breeders. Uncertain about the breeder, check with the Association in your state. It takes a phone call, or an email. There are no excuses.

    We MUST stamp out ‘back-yard breeders’; we MUST stamp out ‘puppy farms and puppy mills’. Stop buying from these people, and they will have to stop breeding. It doesn’t get any easier! In the meantime we all should work toward a legal conclusion that results from legislation being enacted to make these activities illegal.


    Finally, In spending so much time recently talking with other GSP owners, It didn’t take me long to identify that many traits I have identified in the wonderful dogs has likewise been identified by others. This led me to writing “The German Shorthaired Pointer Gene Manifesto, which is reproduced here.

    The G.S.P Dominant DNA/Genes

    I suspect other breeds may share some of these traits, it seems to me from my personal observations of G.S.Ps over 37 years, and from comments made by members of the G.S.P Lovers Australia group, that these are the 25 dominant G.S.P genes (not in any particular order).

    1. Couch & Bed Surfing gene – they just seem to constantly be drawn to any available couch and bed with a tendency to develop an air of, ‘this is my rightful place!’’ and if there isn’t a spare gap, on that piece of furniture then the next gene kicks in.

    2. The Lap Baby gene. Regardless of whether they are three months or 13 years old, G.S.Ps cannot help but to find a lap, and lay on it. It’s funny; there must be some sort of process where this gene adapts itself to us, because once on your lap, you loose the desire to have them off!

    3. Closely related to the Lap Baby gene is the Head Resting gene. This seems to be triggered in the main, but not exclusively, in cars where there is a tendency to rest their head on an arm, hand and if an available limb is not available, they have been known to use arm rests, boxes and any other available items.

    4. The Doona/Blanket gene. G.S.Ps have an innate, in-built need to get under the doona or blanket. If a doona or blanket is not available they are very adaptive to climbing under any thing that is available. Try to convince them they shouldn’t, and gene # 7 kicks in.

    5. Slow To Grow Into Brains gene. Utterly loveable, funny, protective, active all these things, but it can take anywhere from 2 years upward for a GSP to grow into in to its brains. This unfortunate genetic tendency will result in behaviour that moves from the hysterically crazy to the insane.

    6. Empathy gene. This has developed to counter-act the Slow To grow into Brains gene. If a GSP accidently hurts you, or sees someone is hurt, the empathy gene kicks in and they are all over you, to make it better. They just know when they have gone too far (however, because of the Slow To Grow into Brains gene – sometimes you do have to point it out to them). The Empathy gene works well in conjunction with the next gene.

    7. The Gaze gene! Oh this one manifests itself in many ways, from those eyes that will melt your heart as you are trying to come to grips with the fact that the Slow To Grow into Brains gene has resulted in the stuffing in the cushions now equally distributed around the house, and you are trying to find words to describe how you might be feeling – they give you the ‘gaze’. Forget it – it’s over, your heart has melted. The Gaze gene also represents part of the next gene kicking in.

    8. The Fixation gene. Heavens above, can G.S.Ps be fixated? Is the Pope a Catholic? Once they get something into their brain (even if they have moved through the issues of the Slow To Grow Into Brains gene), then it’s game, match – it’s over! I have watched a G.S.P sit under a tree ‘gazing’ endlessly at a bird. After 10 minutes I called out, “silly dog, it’s never going to fall out” – believe it or not – the darn thing fell out of the tree! It also kicks in with other things (I have noted, that a plate of cooked sausages on a table is an excellent trigger, for the Gaze gene). Some people have also labelled it the ‘Furtive Look’ gene, when the G.S.P wants to go out, or wants something or other, and will look, fixed, at you, while flicking its eyes in the general direction of what it wants. The head never moves, but those eyes flicker at a speed that requires stop-frame photography to capture.

    9. The Hunting gene. I mean no one should be surprised that G.S.Ps have this gene, but how it manifests is interesting. They will hunt anything and everything. They simply can’t help it. Balls, birds, tissues and toast, heating vents, hats, socks and stockings, people and possums – the list is endless and it often results in the next gene kicking in.

    10. The Bottomless Pit or Floor Vacuuming gene (the distinction is so close geneticists have agreed they are the same). No matter how much food you can give your dog, more is good! Particularly things associated with pigs (like ears, trotters, noses – preferably smoked), although other treats are very acceptable to G.S.Ps. Just when you think, ok, that will be enough, you turn to see your G.S.P doing a job on your floor that a vacuum cleaner company would be proud to claim it’s cleaner could do. Never, ever look too closely at what they are cleaning up (unless you are certain it is kosher), especially outside!

    11. The Aqua Control gene (colloquially known as either the ‘drool’ gene for small incidents, or the ‘Mouth Gush’ gene for more unfortunate and larger incidents). The Aqua Control gene will force your G.S.P to loose significant control of its mouth when food is being prepared, but is significantly dangerous in many dogs, when they have a large drink of water. If you are lucky (and this is a relative term here), your G.S.P will only open its mouth whilst walking away from the bowl. Most unfortunate in the house and largely due to kitchen floors being flooded and owners constantly having wet feet. Worse of all is when this gene has become in its critical form, and your G.S.P walks over to you (usually wagging its tail), and you go, “oh hi sweetie, how are you?” Oh, the dog is fine, but you aren’t, because they open that ever-friendly mouth, and out will pour a significant proportion of the last mouthful of water drunk – all over you!

    12. The Lean gene. Nothing to do with the (generally) wonderful body shape of your G.S.P. This gene manifests itself in a most distinctive manner. It applies to the condition that many G.S.P's suffer from, they seem unable to stand near anyone without the balance being effected, causing the dog to lean against the leg of the nearest Human in the general vicinity.

    13. The Velcro gene has been variously described as being in the same family as the Lean gene, and being a more recent discovery of a gene infected with gluons! This gene forces the G.S.P to attach itself to one of its human pack members. The poor G.S.P would love nothing more than to be very independent of humans, but this gene kicks in at birth and the poor G.S.P is doomed to a life trying desperately not to be an appendage of the human member of the pack. Fortunately the gene’s influence allows the G.S.P to attach itself to any member of the pack. In extreme cases the poor dog is forced to attach itself to other family pets, sometimes with dire consequences (especially with cats!). This is a very rare condition however.

    14. The Talking gene is definitely not only found in G.S.P’s, but my goodness have they managed, with selective breeding, to have seriously enhanced it. It has oft been said, never ask your G.S.P, “what’s wrong?” – because they will tell you, and they will tell you in chapter and verse, and just when you think the story is over, oh no! That is just chapter one, now comes the rest of the book. They will tell you when things are ok, when things are not ok, when they want feeding, when they want walking, when they want to play, when they ….. yep, actually, they tend to talk non-stop. Mostly, relief comes when one of the other gene’s kick in, especially the next one.

    15. The Instant Drop gene. This has nothing to do with the fixation or hunting gene. It has to do with that time when your G.S.P suddenly decides, ‘Enough!’ Time to sleep. They will tend to automatically enable to Couch/bed and Doona/Blanket genes – but in extreme circumstances have been seen to literally drop on the spot. And fall instantly into deep sleep.

    16. The Point gene (specifically built into a G.S.P) appears to be currently undergoing a mutation. Bred to point, an owner can expect this gene to kick in. Some members report that a subtle variation is appearing where the G.S.P is turning into a statue and becoming fixed for a period of time, where the owner cannot work out how to get the dog out of this state of being. This gene has manifested itself with G.S.P’s reported as pointing at pictures of birds and cats on walls. Current thinking is, that this gene has somehow spliced itself with gene #8 (the Fixation gene), and simple is unable to stop pointing. Identification of the object and it’s removal will work, although some owners have reported that a smoked pigs ear often activated the Bottomless Pit gene, and may snap the dog out of it.

    17. The Water Attraction gene probably mutated from the aqua gene, or vice versa. The major difference is that instead of water emanating from your G.S.P, it will seek out and engage active hoses, puddles, pools, streams or lakes. It matters not how large or small the body of water, a G.S.P has an immediate affinity and simple must enter said body of water, and on exiting activate both the Velcro and Leaning genes and share their wetness with you. For reasons that still has scientists scratching their heads, there is an exception to this in a growing number of G.S.P’s, and that is the dreaded bath – which is avoided at costs.

    18. The Psychic gene is one that manifests itself in so many ways. Your G.S.P just seems to (with an uncanny sense of timing) anticipate your every move. Humans expect this to be activated in order to have an orderly space around them, but your G.S.P has other ideas. This gene ensures they are located exactly where you are going to be. The result of this is spilt cups of tea, cutting boards of vegetables, plates of food, shopping and other assorted objects, spilling to the floor. This gene also works in very well with the following gene.

    19. Kid pact gene. Everyone knows (except dog experts), that G.S.P’s and kids get on really well. Whether it’s a new baby that brings wonderful milky or pooey smells into the house, or the toddler that discovers this wonderful creature will clean up the floor if it flings its food onto the floor, or the kid that manages to pass that unwanted food to the G.S.P patiently hunting under the table – it is a pact made in heaven. Not only that, with the Psychic gene kicking in the dog just seems to be in the right place at the right time, and the Bottomless Pit or Vacuuming gene activated, you can be certain the floor will be clean. Ever noticed how kids and G.S.P’s love the same toys?

    20. The Selective Hearing gene. Now this gene might seem to be a contradiction, given G.S.P’s are known to have excellent hearing. This gene over rides this wonderful hearing and can be seen kicking, in many ways. These can include but not be limited to- rolling in something dead while the owner is frantically screaming, “Ohhh No! Stop!” It also manifests itself when the Fixation gene is active, and the dog has decided that it simply MUST keep doing whatever it is doing, this is a generalisation of the earlier example and will manifest when watching birds, rolling in something not dead – but equally distressing such as a mud hole, or when the Slow To grow into brains gene has unfortunately mated with the Hunting gene, and your dog has hunted down and discovered an article of clothing and insists it must now activate the next gene.

    21. The Warm Spot gene. OK, we all like top be warm, but your GSP is a hunting dog, and so prefers the outside and the cold – Not! Be it in the bed, under a blanket, in front of a fire, perched on a heating duct, or that best spot in the sun, your GSP will find it, and when found, it will take heaven and earth to move it. Just try! In kids the Selective Hearing gene, and at the worse, the Gaze gene, in which case you’ve lost immediately. Either way, that GSP is not going to move.

    22. The Upside Down gene is a reminder that our GSP’s do not see the world our way, and will happily spend time lying upside down. It has been reported that it started as a mechanism to use the Gaze gene and concentrate on birds whilst relaxing, and has over many years mutated into a better way to simply sleep.

    23. The Problematic Spatial Size gene. Now try and convince any GSP owner that their dog is not incredibly smart (despite the Slow To Grow Into Brains gene). Yet this gene has owners shaking their heads in confusion. Why does my GSP constantly try to hop/sleep in a bed that is waaaaay to small? The answer is in the gene! They simply can’t conceive that it doesn’t fit!

    24. The Utterly Cute gene seems to be consistent amongst most breeds of dog (probably developed within dogs thousands of years ago), but the GSP has it in spades. Even when they break your favourite coffee mug, rip up the best pillow in the house, track mud through the house, leave chaos and disorder all around them, one look, one lick, one rub is all it takes. So in many ways this gene has given rise to many other genes we have identified.

    25. The Play gene. G.S.Ps are energetic so play is an imperative. They can’t help it and heaven help you, if you don’t find time to join in the game. The rules are simple. The game can consist of anything the G.S.P finds interesting (and finding things they aren’t interested in is easier to identify, because there are so few) and the rules are generally set by your G.S.P. - just go along with it, but don’t fall into the belief that you control the game. You might control how long the game goes for (if you’re lucky and can avoid the Gaze Gene) – but your G.S.P will alter the rules at anytime it suits them, and that will be often! Of all the gene’s discussed, this is the one that we can share in spades with our friend/companion/family member, and is the one that can end up with you both in a state of exhaustion. Just remember, your G.S.P will recover first, and the gene’s will kick in again, and off you go again. Life is never the same once you have had G.S.P Gene Therapy.

    (Rob Greaves - 2012)

    All pictures in this article are courtesy of members of the G.S.P Lovers
    Last edited by Mick Pacholli; 13 January 2014, 07:56 PM.