We take a closer look at the English pointer and assess its working capabilities.
According to many sources of literature and illustrations, the English pointer has been around since the middle of the 1600s. It is believed by many canine historians that although the breed was refined in England for sporting purposes, hence its name, it actually originates from Spain and was brought over to Britain by Army officers returning from the War of Spanish Succession.
To create a good looking dog breed with great hunting instinct, stamina, speed and tenacity, the breed has many ancestors from Spanish pointers and setters to foxhounds, bloodhounds, greyhounds and even bull terriers.
In the early days, English pointers were trained to 'hunt and point' hares in fields which faster greyhounds would then chase down, or point gamebirds which would then be caught in a net by the handler and added to a gamebag. Naturally, their skillset made them ideal for use in walked-up shooting situations once hunting with firearms became a thing, for they allowed the shooter to get within range and in a suitable position to take a shot before the quarry was flushed. Thus, optimising the chances of putting game on the table.
Today, a few hundred years on, the breed has changed little but is still favoured by many huntsmen and women and can be seen working on many grouse moors and rough shoots.
How many English pointers are registered in the UK?
(Photo credit: Paul Wilson)
Kennel Club records show that of the 91,194 gundog puppies registered to the organisation in 2018, 636 were English pointers, making them the 11th most popular gundog breed in the UK.
Traits and characteristics:
As a Hunt, Point and Retrieve (HPR) breed, a well-trained English pointer is a versatile option for the modern day hunter capable of taking on a range of roles, from pointing gamebirds to tracking deer.
Though there are some outstanding examples of English pointers being very obedient, they are a challenging breed to train as they can be easily distracted by even the simplest sights and smells, and their embedded hunting instinct can easily take over. When starting training, which must be done as early in puppyhood as possible, it is important to teach very basic commands in a quiet place with little or no distractions – such as people, animals, other dogs etc. Once the basics have been mastered one can begin to increase the difficulty of the tasks and slowly introduce distractions. It is important to keep sessions short, positive and enjoyable, and it is wise not to become frustrated or heavy handed with them as they are a sensitive breed.
It is uncommon for English pointers to be aggressive towards people or other dogs and make good family pets provided their high need for vigorous exercise (more than 2 hours per day) and contact with owners are met. A dog that is left alone regularly for long periods of time is likely to become destructive and chew on furniture or excessively bark, for example. A young dog may also jump a lot and become excitable around strangers, so an English pointer might not be the best breed to have around the elderly or small children.
English pointers are a medium-sized, muscular and elegant breed of gundog. They have some distinctive features such as a long, chiselled head, small ears and a short, tapered tail that is often described to appear like a bee sting. Their coat is short and silky to touch, and in most cases they are predominantly white with liver, black, yellow or orange patches.
Average life expectancy:
Over 12 years.
The health issues that English pointers are at a higher risk of experiencing include cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, heart disease and some severe neuromuscular diseases.
Other, less severe issues that are not uncommon amongst English pointers include skin allergies and hair loss disorders.
Feeding and nutrition – from the Chudleys' nutritionist:
“As a nutritionist, one designs a diet first and foremost to meet all the nutrient requirements to support a long, active and healthy life.
“For working breeds, fundamental nutrient requirements vary very little, if at all. There may be subtle trend differences between the breeds in terms of certain conditions that are more prevalent in one particular breed over another that may be helped by using appropriate functional nutrition.
“The key differences in nutrient requirements for working dogs stem from the duration and intensity of the work undertaken. The higher the workload, the more energy your dog will require. A very active dog will therefore need to eat more food, and as a result will get more of all the other nutrients it requires, such as protein and vitamins.
“It is important to know where that energy needs to come from. Sprint work requires a diet consisting of more carbohydrate and some fat – a diet of around 22–25% protein and up to 14% fat is preferred – whereas a dog working long days on a moor will rely more on fat and fat reserves – a diet with 24%+ protein and 14%+ fat works best.
“Finally, when it comes to choosing the size of the piece of food, studies have proven that all breeds prefer a kibble of around 14–16mm in diameter.
“So, choose a diet to suit your dog’s workload and type, and one that provides those functional nutritional aspects as well.”
Why do English pointers make good gundogs?
(Photo credit: Sarah Caldecott)
An English pointer's game-finding ability makes them perfect for the adventurous sportsman or woman, capable of searching for quarry of all shapes and sizes from small gamebirds to deer.
They are most commonly used for upland walked-up shooting, as when they pick up the scent of a quarry species they will stand on 'point' – with one front paw lifted from the ground, tail erect, and muzzle pointing towards the quarry. This allows the hunter to be able to predict where the quarry is and get into a suitable shooting position before it flushes the bird on command. Many experience a surge of adrenalin when an English pointer finally goes on point, and their natural use of the wind to scent game is a joy to behold.
Dogs can be taught to retrieve shot game, too, and will do so with great enthusiasm. But it is not uncommon though for a percentage of the birds picked to be deemed unfit for the table, which is why it is rare to see an English pointer picking-up behind the line of guns on a large driven day. However, this is a trait shared with a lot of HPR breeds.
Guns not used to shooting over English pointers are often amazed at the pace at which they work, how enthusiastic they are to find game, and their seemingly endless stamina – a dog may work for lengthy periods of time and cover multiple miles of tough terrain in a single day.