Tom Lounsbury: The adventure of getting to know a German shorthaired pointer

The litter of eight German shorthaired pointer (GSP) puppies, at eight weeks old, were all actively moving around in their outdoor enclosure, allowing me time to observe their interaction with one another.

I also had an opportunity to check out both parents nearby, which were exemplary physical examples of good breeding, and I knew they had come from tried and true hunting bloodlines, which is always a plus in regards to the potential of a selected puppy.

This occurred last August, and having recently lost my old Brittany spaniel, “Ranger,” I was in the market for a new bird dog. For nearly 50 years, I have been a devoted Brittany spaniel fan. However, this GSP litter was available close to home, and the dog breeder is a friend of mine, in whose ability to breed quality dogs I have faith, another distinct plus.

I have also had plenty of opportunities to hunt with friends who own top performing GSP’s, and it is a hunting dog breed that I have grown to respect and admire. GSP’s are a very athletic, powerful and robust breed, and watching them hard at work on a fresh scent, like a heat-seeking missile, eventually doing a unique stalk-creep and then going on a rock-solid point, is a pure delight to witness.

I was in the market for a female, and by the time I was able to check the litter of puppies out, only two females were left. GSP’s are normally liver-and-white in color, but there is a black-and-white variety, which this litter was. The litter’s father was a black-and-white roan, and the mother a solid black with white ticking on her chest.

The two remaining females were colored like their mother, and when it comes to puppy selection, the “paint job” has never been a priority for me. What is a priority is seeing how a puppy interacts with its littermates, as well a gut feeling I get when I pick up and hold the puppy.

The first female I picked up was squirmy and loved to chew and was clearly distracted with the moment. The other female was much calmer and looked me directly in the eye, and when she leaned out and licked my chin, well, folks, it was love at first sight! I do believe we picked each other, and she was soon resting in a box in my Jeep, headed for her new home.

My little female rat terrier, “Perp,” (short for perpetrator) was waiting at the door to greet us, but took on a somber look when I set the new puppy, which was similar in size to her at that time, on the floor after the initial meet-and-greet. To Perp’s shock and utter horror, the puppy immediately piled right into her and began mauling away in a boisterous but playful manner, and Perp’s snarling and snapping had no impact whatsoever.

Perp was soon heading for a safer place, and I could tell in that moment that the new puppy had a distinct “dominant streak” and could use her powerful front legs like a pair of clubs, which would be an asset in pinning wounded birds. However, Perp was none too pleased getting briskly clubbed and pinned by these legs!

This wasn't my first rodeo when it comes to dealing with dogs that have a dominant attitude, as it is simply a matter of letting them know I am more dominant than they are, and the key is to relate to dogs in their terms and not human terms. This is a lot less confusing for the dog.

My wife, Ginny, had a bunch of chew toys, treats, and quality puppy chow ready and waiting, and in no time the puppy, being attentive, affectionate and personable, had Ginny literally wrapped around its paw. Upon being given a bath, the puppy actually wanted to jump right back into the bathtub water, which pleased me for future waterfowl work. The GSP breed have webbed feet, are powerful swimmers, and are well known for the ability to retrieve downed waterfowl from the water.

A key objective right away was coming up with a name, something I’m none too good at (for instance, my three barn cats are named Stray-Kitty, Scaredy-Cat and Fuzz-Ball). So I decided to have my grandchildren decide on a name. Otherwise, I let them know, much to their dismay, that the new puppy’s name was going to be simply “Dog."

Because the puppy was a German breed, the grandchildren came up with “Zelda”, which took me a few days to get to roll off my tongue in a natural fashion. Sometimes I called her "Zella," "Zima" or "Zeba," but I eventually got it right.

One of the first trials of bringing a puppy home to become a family housedog (which I believe makes the best hunting dog due to the constant interaction) is the first night or two when they are alone in their crate and miss their littermates.

However, Zelda never made a whimper that first night, and never has since, and was also very easy to housebreak. She is clearly very intelligent and still always looks me right in the eye, something I truly respect. Zelda does, however, have a very unique whine when she wants something or desires our attention, which is similar to scratching a fingernail across a chalkboard, which she quickly discovered works, especially with a hard-of-hearing master like me!

Maybe it is because I’m getting long in the tooth, but Zelda went quickly from a cuddly little puppy to a leggy and nearly full-grown, albeit still cuddly lapdog. But then, large-breed dogs are like that. Originally I would just walk outside with her, but she soon got inquisitive and adventuresome, and I went to an extendable leash and a body harness, but Zelda soon could pull into matters like a draft horse, and I had to switch to a collar for more control. Eventually, I would have to adapt to other resources because Zelda wanted to spend more time outdoors than indoors.

A GSP is a finely tuned athlete which requires frequent exercise to burn off excess energy, or else they can become a bit hyper, which in turn can cause them to become rascals and get into trouble. The GSP breed also makes, as we have discovered, an excellent family dog and instinctively likes people and other dogs. Zelda is not a watchdog by any means, has yet to bark at a visitor, and is definitely a friendly, very sociable “greeter."

We have a big yard, but nothing is fenced in, and living in the woods means there can be temptations to chase, especially rabbits. The best investment I have made in Zelda’s regard is a PetSafe “Invisible Fence,” which features an e-collar that is connected (by radio waves, I guess) to an electric control box plugged into a wall outlet in the center of the house. This allows her to roam at will in a set radius around the house (no buried wire required). A warning beep cues the dog in before a shock is sent, and it didn’t take Zelda long at all to figure matters out. She now gets to roam and romp outdoors to her heart’s delight.

There is something I am anticipating and prepared for that will be a certain factor when early spring rolls around and skunks make their appearance. Zelda will no doubt automatically greet, and may even try to playfully pounce on, this new critter. Hopefully, it will be an unforgettable experience and only happens once!

I am truly looking forward to training Zelda for hunting, a process we are already in, the first part of which is our communicating effectively in the field, and she is a quick and attentive learner. She was a tad young and not fully trained to my liking to take out during pheasant season this fall. That will happen in due time.

The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association ( is an organization which promotes featuring dog breeds which can perform for all forms of hunting for a wide variety of game on land and in the water. There are 30 breeds thus far listed, and at the very top is the German shorthaired pointer, and for very good reason, because that is what this unique breed was created to be: versatile, energetic, and willing to please.

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