History and Characteristics of the Deutsch-Drahthaar
Development of the Breed
So where did the breed Deutsch-Drahthaar come from? The idea of a versatile hunting dog that can serve all the functions required by a hunter came out of the political, economic and social changes that took place in 19th century Europe. Prior to that time hunting had been the privilege of the wealthy upper class that owned land and had the financial resources to breed, train, and manage large kennels of specialty dogs. As the feudal system decayed following the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent political upheaval in the 1800s, a new middle class emerged. This group gained access to hunting through land ownership, but unfortunately they did not have the necessary resources and knowledge to maintain the extensive breeding kennels of specialty hunting dogs. They also had not been schooled in the hunting ethic of the aristocracy, where humane treatment and conservation of game were highly valued. Breeding lines were lost and respect for the game became a thing of the past. The old aristocratic hunters watched with horror as their system crumbled.
A few men made it their lifelong passion to address these issues and were instrumental in the development of the Deutsch-Drahthaar, along with the testing and breeding systems that sustain the breed. Most notable among these was Freiherr Sigismund of Zedlitz and Neukirch (1838-1903), who took the pen name of Hegewald, the name of a forest near his childhood home. Throughout his life he wrote extensively in support of the development of a truly versatile dog suitable for all types of hunting and the preservation of das Deutsche Waidwerk, the hunting ethic of old Germany. His vision was just taking shape at the time of his death in 1903 with the development of the German versatile hunting dog movement.
The breeders who supported this movement looked first to the old German Standard Poodle for its retrieving, tracking and calm demeanor, and to the English Pointer for its nose, style and search in the field. Through a series of experiments they bred the best of the coarse-haired breeds — Griffon, Stichelhaar, and Pudelpointer — with the German Shorthair to ultimately arrive at the Deutsch-Drahthaar. Their idea was to take the very best wherever they found it and use it for the advancement toward the characteristics they wanted in a versatile dog. The crossbreeding strategy of these breeders was revolutionary and they received harsh criticism from other breeders. Nevertheless, they remained single-minded in their purpose and continued with uncompromising dedication until they reached their goal.
The motto of the founders of the Deutsch-Drahthaar breed became Through Performance to Type, and they developed a testing system to ensure that their breeding achieved this functional outcome. This motto is still the guiding force in the breed and is the main reason for concern whenever the DD is bred outside of the VDD system. Although dogs may have come from the same ancestors, it will not take long for their performance qualities to become diluted if this standard for breeding is not maintained.
It is interesting to note that a breeding strategy that received such harsh criticism in the beginning led to the development of a breed that is now the most popular hunting dog by far in Germany, producing upwards of 3,000 puppies per year. The breed club of the Deutsch-Drahthaar — Verein Deutsch-Drahthaar e. V. — celebrated its 100th anniversary in the year 2003.
Characteristics of the DD
Deutsch-Drahthaar translates as German Wirehair, and this coarse coat complete with beard and eyebrows (often referred to as furnishings) is perhaps the most distinguishing physical feature of the DD. The flat-lying coat of the DD varies from 2-4 cm — sometimes longer — with coarse, dense hair to provide protection from briars and all types of underbrush and a thick water-resistant undercoat to provide sufficient insulation for year around hunting, even in the coldest water.
The DD is a medium-sized dog with a strong muscular body. Males are between 61 and 68 cm in height at the withers and females are between 57 and 64 cm. The body is square, with the length of the body allowed to exceed the height by no more than three cm. Their legs are strong, straight, and well angled for long stride, powerful thrust, and great endurance. The head is broad to medium-broad with fairly high-set ears. The muzzle is medium to long in length, and medium-broad to broad in width. They have a strong set of teeth that form a scissors bite to aid them in holding and retrieving game of considerable size and weight. The tail is docked to approximately 2/5 its full length in order to avoid hunting-related injuries.
The most common color of the DD is braunschimmel; that is, brown roan with or without brown patches. Approximately 15% of the registered breed is schwarzschimmel, or black roan with or without black patches. And a few dogs are completely brown (braun) or brown with a white patch (braun mit Abz.). Whatever the color, it should be inconspicuous in the field and forest. Brown eyes are preferred over the yellow shades, although this does not affect function. It is common to mate a braunschimmel dog with a schwarzschimmel dog to restore the coat and eye pigment that would otherwise fade in the braunschimmel line over the generations.
The DD has inherited the love of water, the enthusiasm for retrieving and the companionable characteristics of the German Poodle along with the drive, nose, and pointing instinct of the English Pointer. It is an intelligent dog that learns easily and enthusiastically. It displays a mental stability that makes it well suited for the wide ranging demands of versatile work. The DD is passionate when working and has the endurance to get the job done. At the same time, it is able to calm itself and concentrate on challenging tracking assignments when required. The DD is capable of a high level of obedience and can be relied on to perform its tasks under the most difficult conditions.
In the field and forest the DD will search for game, pointing feathered game and chasing fur; in the water it will locate and retrieve ducks and geese. Whether in field, forest or water the DD will search long and hard for wounded game and retrieve them to hand. Likewise, it will blood track any wounded large game such as deer, moose, boar and even bear. Its ability to dispatch predators such as feral cats and foxes contributes to game conservation by minimizing their devastation of other wildlife.
While working to produce these tough, hard working dogs, VDD breeders are also aware that DDs must live harmoniously with their families. Although these dogs are expected to be aggressive with predators, they are also bred to be a suitable family member that is calm and friendly with people and other dogs.
For more detail on the coat, conformation and performance characteristics of the DD, see the FCI Standard - Deutsch-Drahthaar.